Once again, the flames had been extinguished.
For the second year in a row, Burning Man — that long-running surrealist art and music gathering in the Northern Nevada desert that answers the oft-queried question, What would it be like if “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” was set inside a Salvador Dali painting featuring a cast of steampunks aiming to create a sort of utopian artistic commune for nine days? — was cancelled this past summer due to coronavirus concerns.
Still, some 20,000 people showed up for an unofficial “rogue” burn in late August anyway.
Count Darren Blatt among them.
“It was just so beautiful how everyone showed up,” recalls the event producer for Las Vegas’ Lavish Entertainment. “I was out there and just so inspired to see everyone come together.”
What to do with that inspiration?
Bring Burning Man to Las Vegas, clearly. Cue the giant, glowing, neon-festooned pineapples and flame-spitting mobile dragons. And with that, Playa Playground was born.
Taking place this New Year’s Eve at Area15, the 12-hour marathon of music, interactive art installation pieces, food trucks, games, carnival rides and more will feature eight art cars and as many sound camps, all Burning Man veterans aiming to bring the spirit of that event 400 miles south of its home in Nevada’s Black Rock desert.
“We’re really trying to give people that experience outside of the Burn with our event,” Blatt explains from a conference room at Lavish Entertainment’s offices, which boast a full stage with a massive soundsystem in its garage. “People who have been wanting to go to the Burn but they can’t get off work or there’s too many issues — they can’t do the planning — we really want this event to inspire people to get a feel of that.”
‘Whatever you’re into, you’re going to be able to find it’
Simon the Turtle’s ready to party, you?
The luminous, reptilian-themed art car is one of the attractions rolling into Playa Playground, alongside The Giving Tree, a pulsating, anthropomorphic weeping willow, the fire-breathing Torch the Dragon and others.
They’ll be joined by sound camps like The Fluffy Cloud, a three-story-high sphere with a 60,000-watt, 360-degree sound system and a 33,000 LED light display, psychedelic hip-hop puppet show the Fungineers — because what worthwhile New Year’s Eve gathering doesn’t have a psychedelic hip-hop puppet show? — and the naughty NASA-themed Dancetronauts.
They’ll do their thing over three venues at Area15, including The Grounds, which boast four acres of attractions; The Portal, which comes outfitted with 360-degree projection mapping; and the A Lot, which is centered on a high-tech stage production.
The music will be provided by dozens of DJ-producers selected by the various sound camps.
“Just like the Burn, they bring their own lineup, they curate it all,” Blatt explains. “We didn’t know what to expect, and so we got a little bit of everything. Whatever you’re into, you’re going to be able to find it.”
It’s the most ambitious project yet for Lavish Entertainment, which launched in 2017 with a show at Hard Rock Live and has since put on 15 events in the electronic dance music genre.
“Over the last two months, we’ve been here day and night trying to get this together,” says Michael Giovi, chief operations officer at Lavish Entertainment.
Playa Playground will double as a fundraiser of sorts for the various camps to earn money via a portion of ticket sales to be able to return to Burning Man in 2022, assuming there is one.
“It’s a platform to help everyone make sure all these camps get back to the Burn,” explains Steffan Dalsgaard, Lavish Entertainment’s president, who says that the aim is to make Playa Playground an annual event. “It’s amazing when you see the final product and you see the amount of immersive art and different sound camps. It’s really going to be something completely different.”
For Blatt, though, the true allure of Burning Man — and by extension, Playa Playground — isn’t all the music and art installation pieces — it’s the people behind them.
“You meet amazing friends,” he says. “There’s no handshakes, there’s only hugs. No one’s talking about work — everyone’s got a busy life — but when they get out there, they’re just the little kid inside of them.
“You feel that energy everywhere you go,” he continues. “The stories that you’ll have after this event, they’re all going to be different because no one is going to have the same experience. Everyone brings their own unique little flair.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter and @jbracelin76 on Instagram