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November 19, 2017

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No panic at this disco as Rehan Choudhry summons Lionel Richie


Christopher DeVargas

Rehan Choudhry, shown here during his days as entertainment director at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, is co-founder of Life Is Beautiful.

Lionel Richie and CeeLo Green at Mandalay Bay

Lionel Richie and CeeLo Green at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Friday, June 6, 2014, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

The Killers @ Life Is Beautiful

The Killers close out Day 2 of Life Is Beautiful Festival on October 27, 2013, in Downtown Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Maybe the best way to understand the music lineup at the upcoming Life Is Beautiful festival is that it offers Panic! At the Disco and … actual disco.

This is in oblique reference to the onetime Commodores frontman Lionel Richie. Not the “Hello,” “Truly” or “Endless Love” balladeer (though those songs might be sung, too), but the man who delivered “Brick House,” “Dancing on the Ceiling” and the song that closed the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, “All Night Long.”

That is the Lionel Richie who Rehan Choudhry had in mind when he made the unlikely and eyebrow-arching move to book Richie into what is commonly expected to be something of a rock festival.

Though Life Is Beautiful is entering just its second year in downtown Las Vegas (the event is Oct. 24-26), it has achieved something of a rock identity. Highlights a year ago on the main stage included Las Vegas rock bands The Killers and Imagine Dragons and alt-rocker Beck.

If not rock, the lineup at LIB has certainly favored contemporary artists over nostalgia acts. This year, Kanye West, Foo Fighters, Outkast, Arctic Monkeys and … Lionel Richie top the lineup.

Nostalgia and mass appeal are driving the move by the event’s founder to bring Richie to downtown Las Vegas.

“I grew up on Genesis. I grew up on Rod Stewart. I grew up on Paul Simon — not the jam-band Paul Simon of today, but the ‘You Can Call Me Al’ Paul Simon,” Choudhry said before last week’s party at Brooklyn Bowl in the Linq formally announcing the LIB music lineup. “And I grew up on Lionel Richie. That whole era of music, I am nostalgic for it.”

As Choudhry was assembling the freewheeling lineup of bands and artists for this year’s event, he took a look at footage of Richie’s boffo performance last month at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. Richie covered hits from his entire career in the highlighted 8 p.m. Saturday slot.

“When I saw the videos, I knew that it was going to be a dance party with Lionel Richie,” Choudhry said. “I wanted that element, something that is going to be just a carefree and nostalgic dance-party vibe in downtown Las Vegas. Only a handful of people can do it, and he’s one of them.”

Choudhry then grinned and said, “Can you imagine ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ for 50,000 people? It’s going to be insane.”

Younger music fans might not readily appreciate Richie’s popularity in the late ’70s and through the 1980s, with The Commodores and especially as a solo act. He was as hot an artist, in sales, radio play and video popularity, as anyone in the world.

“It’s going to be amazing. Lionel is one of those guys the younger audience is going to look at and say, ‘I don’t get it,’ but he’s one of those artists, you know every word to every song,” Choudhry said. “And that’s true no matter how old you are. There are not many artists who can still perform at a high level who have that kind of legacy appeal.”

In a broader scope, Choudhry concedes a playful quality to selecting what types of bands will play LIB.

“We like to keep people guessing,” he said. “We want to offer the right experience and a great show. One thing I can promise about our lineup is it will be a fantastic show start to finish.”

Choudhry recalled a recent phone conversation with his father when he talked of the acts he had signed for this year’s event.

“When I said, ‘I got Lionel Richie,’ he went nuts,” Choudhry said, laughing. “He was like, ‘No way! You got him?’ I love it.”

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