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Third Annual Believer Festival Explores 'La Frontera'

The Believer Festivalis returning to Las Vegas for a third year, and this year, the theme is “La Frontera,” or the border.

The arts and culture festival brings together writers, artists, musicians and comedians for three days next weekend.

This year’s lineup includes Jill Soloway, the creator of the Amazon Prime show “Transparent.” It also includes comedian Tig Notaro, novelist Tommy Orange and musician and comedian Reggie Watts, among others.

“We’re creating a festival not only for the general public, but also this kind of merry band of performers who are moving through a journey together,” Joshua Wolf Shenk told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Shenk is the artistic and executive director of the Black Mountain Institute, which organizes the festival. Shenk said there will only be one thing going on at a time during the festival, which means artists, musicians, performers and writers who are here for the festival will be in the audience if they're not on stage.

He said it will create a feeling that they're here to connect, not just for a gig. 

Like the other offerings at the festival, Soloway's performance will be more than just a performance, Shenk said.

“We have a truly staggeringly cool performance created by Jill Soloway and featuring all kinds of fantastic performers with a focus on using comedy, music and intellectual dialogue as a way of addressing gender rights and transgender rights,” he explained.

Shenk described it as a "feminist tent revival."

Soloway told KNPR's State of Nevada the description comes from the circus-like atmosphere that has emerged at some of their book tour performances. 

“We just really like to pull everyone into one space and ask the questions about the intersections that are currently at play in our current power movement,” Soloway explained.

Soloway said they'll be asking questions about what we all find funny, what music we like and what happens when we get together to talk about tough questions surrounding feminism, race, gender, queerness and transness.

“I think it’s going to be a wild night of unexpected comedy and rabble-rousing and the feeling in the room of, ‘Okay, this can only be happening tonight. You have to be here to see this,’" Soloway said.

Shenk said the commonality of humor is the "stitching of the human fabric," which is at the heart of The Believer Festival.

The theme of "La Frontera" or borders grew out of another performance scheduled for the festival. The performance focuses on women crossing the physical border of the United States, but festival organizers felt it was a great theme for the whole festival as a way to explore how humans create and break down barriers. 

While the festival is only in its third year, Shenk sees it continuing to grow with the city.

“This is an extraordinarily earnest, authentic community," he said. "It is so contrary to the stereotype of Las Vegas and it just perfectly fits what I and the whole team at BMI and The Believer are into in the arts."

Joshua Wolf Shenk, artistic and executive director, Black Mountain Institute; Jill Soloway, creator, "Transparent"

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.