Having returned from a somewhat disappointing Ultra Music Festival 2012 in Miami, FL just a few months ago; I was looking forward to a different kind of experience in Electric Daisy Carnival Vegas this past weekend. Although the lineup was not quite as extensive as Ultra's, I was assured that the other elements of the festival (i.e. - rides, art, venue, etc.) would more than make up for it. They did not.
As my girlfriend Colleen and I got ready on Friday night, I was excited to test this assertion. We went downstairs to the designated "EDC Shuttle Pass" area at the Cosmopolitan hotel and were generally in good spirits, albeit frustrated with the somewhat sparse appearance of shuttles and the confusingly slow loading of passengers onto said shuttles by blue-shirted folk (more on them to come). This was especially irritating given the $70 and change fee we had paid for each shuttle pass.
When we finally did make it onto a large shuttle bus and set off for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway about 15 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip; we were quickly informed by the frustrated driver that his last trip took two hours. A collective sigh erupted as festival goers on the bus began identifying the acts that they had come to Vegas to see but would now miss.
At 90 minutes, the trip to the Motor Speedway was a good 30 minutes faster than we were all expecting; so spirits immediately improved as we were finally let out near the racetrack. The obligatory security lines were annoying but still better organized than most events of such a size, and we were inside within about 20 minutes.
Once inside, that first night--Friday--was indeed a magical experience. Colleen and I were greeted with one of the most giddiness-inspiring sights an electronic dance music fan could imagine. Pretty neon lights pulsating as far as the eye could see. Rides spinning and rising and falling with an invitation that signalled an OK-ness to the reverie of ridiculous costumes. And people. Tens of thousands of people as far as the eye could see.
In many other settings, this spectacle might have been enough to draw large crowds; but in this case, the music provided the glue the bound people together and caused them to flow from one stage to the next to the next (there were 7 in all). And while heavily electronic, within that parent genre there was plenty to choose from--Dubstep, Trance, Progressive House, Techno, Drum 'n Bass--something for all bass-kick loving tastes.
Throughout the night, there were constant surprises. Like happening upon the giant fire-breathing serpent and discovering that, not only were the flames being ejected from the snake to the music; but the fans were the ones controlling the pyrrhic discharges.
Or the fireworks that lit up the sky late in the evening and continued longer than many municipalities might be able to afford with their own shows.
Or the parachuters dropping in with flames blazing behind them.
Or the snake slithering around powered by several people on bicycles within the verterbrae.
Or the costumes.
Getting back to the music, I enjoyed bouncing between Dubstep (Excision) and Trance (Above and Beyond); but I would have to say the real treat of the night was a killer set of very chill drum 'n bass from High Contrast. Immediately following that was a solidly groovy trance set from Super 8 and Tab that brought with it dawn and memories of the raves from an era that seemed long past.
As Colleen and I headed out of the Speedway and toward the shuttles that would take us back to our hotel around 5:15AM, we remarked how EDC surely blew Ultra Music Festival out of the water in just about every category.
That was the last moment where the scales would tip in EDC's favor. For shortly after we arrived in the shuttle staging tent (you might also call it the refugee camp), it became apparent that things were moving very slowly. After a few minutes a shuttle bus headed back to the Cosmopolitan hotel did come, but we soon noticed that, for whatever reason, many more buses had been dedicated to service other hotels. After about 45 minutes, another shuttle bus came. And another 45 minutes after that. This continued for a total of two and a half hours, by which there was great anger in the crowd that had been exhausted before standing in line for over two hours. (We later heard from a taxi driver that some festival-goers had waited seven hours before deciding to walk back to the city, their exhausted figures being picked up by her cab that had been ordered to take them back to the city by a concerned policeman).
There were a few things about this setup that were particularly irritating.
First, as we waited for what seemed like a single bus to make the trip to our hotel and back to pick up more passengers; we saw that there were a good 20-30 EDC shuttle staffers clad in blue t-shirts (henceforth known infamously as "Blue Shirts") standing around doing little more than pointing in an obvious direction when a bus would arrive in a certain hotel's designated area. This clear waste of funds begged the question of why these people had not been charged with simply driving more buses, cars, or any other conveyance that might get our tired, shambling corpses back to our beds.
But alas we waited, and finally a brave, irate soul in our line convinced the Blue Shirts to allocate another hotel's bus to the Cosmpolitan (most of the other shuttle lines had emptied out by this point). We boarded the bus, and most of us slept for the good hour that it took to return to the hotel.
After Colleen and I finally arrived at the Cosmopolitan and shuffled back to our hotel room; before going to sleep we openly questioned whether it would be worth going back the next night.
It wasn't without some hesitation, but return we did; this time on a later shuttle. The shuttle wait and ride was thankfully shorter on Saturday night; though the bus driver did seem to keep the air conditioning cranked all the way up even after one of the sparsely clad passengers requested that he turn it down or off.
Upon arriving at the Motor Speedway, we noticed that the wind was blowing quite ferociously; but did not think much of it beyond the amusing effect it was having on some of the costumes.
After continuing on I made the mistake of getting in a security line that contained EDCers of both genders--this meant a much longer wait since only same-gender security staff could perform searches of attendees.
Colleen made it through security fairly quickly, but as I made it up to about 3 people away from being searched; one of the security managers walked down the line shouting "Stop your searches! Don't let anyone through!". With no explanation of course.
As we stood in line for a good ten minutes, it finally became apparent that the wind was threatening to shut the festival down, either temporarily or through the end of the night. Meanwhile Colleen and I had become separated--not a fun prospect given that cell phone performance amongst such a 100,000+ cluster of people was spotty at best.
Thankfully, a friendly police officer helped reunite us by bringing her back outside to where I was (one of the few human gestures by the staff or authorities over the weekend). After hearing from Colleen that the music had stopped, we decided that it would be best to head for the shuttles on the assumption that the event was canceled for the night; rather than waiting around and being stuck in very long shuttle lines.
As Colleen and I stood in a very short shuttle line, we actually felt a sense of relief at being able to head back to the hotel without having to relive the previous day's ordeal. Mind you, we had been looking forward to this music festival for months--but getting home the first day had left that bad of a taste in our tired mouths.
We were quickly loaded onto an awaiting shuttle, and we relished the opportunity to enjoy the Cosmpolitan and its bars for a few hours before grabbing some extra sleep.
On Sunday, the last day of EDC, we ended up taking a nap for a bit longer than intended and headed downstairs to grab a shuttle late in the evening. We were pleased to see that there were no lines and shuttles waiting, but we were not prepared for what would happen next.
As we made it to the bus loading area we were approached by one of the Blue Shirts and told that the buses were no longer running that night. Colleen and I expressed some shock, and the Blue Shirt quietly ushered us a few yards away from the buses (and later, we realized, from the other Blue Shirts). When we told the Blue-Shirted gentleman that it was our understanding that buses were going to be running back and forth from EDC all night, he said that only staff buses were running at this point. However, he said with a smile, for $20 he might be able to get us a spot on one of those buses because he knew how to "make things happen".
Upon hearing this, I was even further shocked but torn; taking the man at his word for a moment. But soon caution got the better of me, and I pulled out my phone, navigating to the EDC web site. I found the page for shuttle passes and red aloud the phrase "Shuttles will be running regularly throughout the night" to our Blue Shirted friend.
At that point he looked away, realized that his bullshit was not going to fly, and walked us over to one of the waiting buses. Mr. Blue Shirt then feigned a labored request for the driver to take us to the festival, at which point the driver responded "Of Course!" and cheerily agreed to take only two passengers on the 15 mile trip.
The ride was quick, and we got into the festival quite fast. Although we only stayed a few hours, Colleen and I greatly enjoyed sets by John Digweed and Porter Robinson, among others.
We opted to leave before the end-of-festival shuttle rush, and were amazed to see our friend Mr. Blue Shirt (a.k.a. - Mr. $20 Extra) from the Cosmopolitan hotel tending the line at the front of our shuttle line. As we walked to the front of the line I could feel the anger boiling inside of me.
Upon seeing us, Mr. Blue Shirt awkwardly said "We meet again", at which point I verbally went off on him for a good 15-20 seconds. "How much extra is it going to cost us this time?" I asked, loudly, so that other staff and attendees could hear. As other festival-goers approached, "Are you going to charge them an extra $20 to ride a shuttle for which they already paid $70?".
At that point I looked away, and let it be, irritated that the criminal would show his face in our shuttle line again.
The final ride back was long but uneventful, and Colleen and I were relieved to finally be done with the whole event. What amazed us is that over the weekend we had spent about as much time on a shuttle or waiting for a shuttle as we did being at the festival itself. Which is really a shame considering that the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a fantastically open venue, with plenty of space to accommodate stages, rides, art displays, food, and festival-goers alike. But until Insomniac can figure out how to make the logistics of getting 100,000+ people to and from EDC each night more feasible; I'll take even the cramped Ultra Musical Festival venue from which I only have to walk 10 minutes to my hotel any day.