Several years ago, Rehan Choudhry, founder of the Life Is Beautiful festival, was working a corporate job and feeling burnt out. Over lunch one day, he shared his dissatisfactions with friend Ryan Doherty. Choudhry asked Doherty what he was working on. Doherty’s response: ideas for Downtown Las Vegas, including plans for the bar that eventually became Commonwealth.
“At the end of the lunch, I told him, ‘I’m more excited about what you’re doing than what I’m doing,’” Choudhry says. “And Ryan said, ‘When that happens, it’s time to leave.’”
Choudry resigned two weeks later, then devoted in his estimation three to four months conceiving of a Downtown festival that would combine music, cuisine, art and TED-style talks. He showed the plans to Doherty, who recommended that Choudhry talk to Downtown Project.
The rest of the story is well known … up to now. Today, that fateful meeting comes full circle as WENDOH Media has acquired a 50 percent stake in the Life Is Beautiful festival, which returns for a third year September 25-27. (Full disclosure: Doherty, with Justin Weniger, is co-owner of WENDOH Media, the company that publishes Vegas Seven and DTLV.com.)
In addition to acquiring the festival, WENDOH Media will also oversee First Friday, Downtown’s monthly arts event that’s being brought under the Life Is Beautiful umbrella. The First Friday name and brand will remain intact, and continue to be operated by Joey Vanas.
The parties involved say this new partnership was forged to take Life Is Beautiful and First Friday to the proverbial next level. In addition to Commonwealth, WENDOH—through its subsidiary Corner Bar Management—operates several successful Downtown venues (including Bunkhouse and Park on Fremont) and has hosted several Downtown events (GlowRun and Wednesdays Downtown, among them).
Choudhry says it’s well past time for the Life Is Beautiful team—whose raw enthusiasm and nimble thinking has helped fueled the first two festivals with lots of moving parts—to share a roof with Doherty and Weniger. “We’ve been running as a startup team until now; it’s time we got access to more resources,” he says. “And WENDOH has been building a team of talented, passionate people for 10-plus years now.”
“The focus of what we do has always been the community,” Weniger says. “And Life Is Beautiful is very important to this community, in terms of Downtown culture and growth. Ryan and I have always been big believers in music’s ability to connect people.”
Other than moving Life Is Beautiful to late September—which Doherty says will give Las Vegas something fun to do during “the midpoint between Labor Day weekend and Halloween”—the effect of the partnership may not be immediately apparent. First Friday will continue as it has, and much of Life Is Beautiful will remain the same, perhaps only becoming bigger in scope. But beyond the music stages, food trucks and fans, one big thing has changed: The founder of Life Is Beautiful is now able to fully share his dream with the friend who helped inspire it.
“I’m just excited to be working with my friend Rehan, and looking forward to what we’ll create together,” Doherty says.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY GEOFF CARTER