Saturday, June 21, 2014 | 6:10 p.m.
At 4 a.m. the text flashed on the iPhone, a message from a friend of mine on the Las Vegas entertainment scene. It read, “Besides the cool helicopter ride, maybe you can explain the joy that is EDC.”
This person presents a complex appeal. The brilliance of Electric Daisy Carnival at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is its effective calibration of adrenaline. The entire audio-visual spectacle is designed and built to maintain a buoyant happiness — a joy, if you will — among 135,000 spectators spread across several hundred acres for six or seven hours.
EDC achieves that, almost flawlessly. The EDC scene falls somewhere between the mass doze-off at the original Woodstock and the riots that marred the Woodstock event of 1999. EDC is delivering the perfectly calibrated vibe: not too cool, not too hot.
Having stated all that, there is the inevitable logistic headache of reaching the Oz of electronic dance music. And, I am of the opinion that any scene — be it a James Bond chase segment, the climactic moments in any Vietnam War-themed film, the opening montage of “M*A*S*H" — is made more exciting with a helicopter.
This was the precondition of my attending EDC this year: Get a helicopter. The folks at Maverick Helicopters nodded at this suggestion of acronyms: LVMS VIP EDC. A trip to the speedway for any of the three nights is offered as an extended VIP package through event organizer Insomniac and event partner Marquee at the Cosmopolitan.
As even the novice EDC attendee (or helicopter passenger) might anticipate, this is not cheap. A privately chartered flight for seven passengers runs $3,000. Single seats for a one-way ride run $500. As Maverick Vice President Brian Brusa said Friday night from Maverick headquarters and airfield on Las Vegas Boulevard South, “Around here, everyone is a VIP.”
No kidding. It certainly was a scene befitting the bass-booming and color-splashed event at LVMS. The lounge itself was made over like a small version of Marquee, ablaze with colored lights and fortified by a Red Bull-sponsored DJ in the corner. Belvedere was an official sponsor, and cocktails flowed freely as those waiting in line bounced and danced while awaiting their flights.
In the two hours or so I spent at the Maverick lounge, such star DJs as Afrojack, Steve Aoki and Armin van Buuren (and their many-numbered entourages) checked in for flights. So did EDC founder and Insomniac CEO Pasquale Rotella.
Rotella’s arrival was almost incidental, and if you did not know his role in creating the largest mass gathering ever in this state, you would not have noticed him. He checked in and was led to a photo op with a bunch of lovelies in Belvedere flight attendant costumes. I caught him as he was just about to board his flight.
“We are really looking forward to a great event, and we have a lot of people who have worked very hard to make this weekend a success,” he said. “This just never gets old.”
For each night of EDC, the Maverick operation is made up of 16 pilots, all of whom are employed by the company. “We don’t use any contracted pilots,” Brusa said, adding, “We’ve got 28 members of the company here at the heliport and at EDC. It is a full-scale operation.”
Maverick makes 60 trips, back and forth, to LVMS each night. Flights are about 15 minutes long, and helicopters take to the skies about every couple of minutes. More than 300 guests and artists, including all of the headlining DJs and such dignitaries as Paris Hilton (who was far less animated during this year’s ride than she was a year ago) are aboard these flights.
As is the case with any helicopter ride over the city, the view of the Strip, downtown Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Valley is fantastic. And below, during our ride to the Speedway, a long, red sliver of taillights led us along our route. At peak times, the drive to the Speedway from the Strip exceeded two hours.
We touched down on the landing area on the northeast parcel of the Speedway, gazing down on the festival as we descended. An up-and-back trip itself was a full experience, but our group was scooped up by a staffer in a golf cart and delivered to a VIP entrance. Along with the state-fair fashioned carnival of thrill rides (including a genuine Ferris wheel and bumper cars) and food vendors was the EDC’s centerpiece and signature venue, the Kinetic Field main stage. More than 80,000 people swayed and brayed to the electronic stylings of van Buuren as the clock inched past 2 a.m.
This was all made visible from Marquee’s VIP deck, which overlooked Kinetic Field (an asphalt field, actually) and was decorated with tall tables, artificial turf and a high complement of private bars. Marquee also furnished a VIP cafe, its menu offering a three-course meal, the delivery of which could best be described as “unhurried” (the gourmet turkey burger I ordered still might be in preparation, actually). But when you are distracted by all the bright, shiny things, you do lose track of time.
As I walked through Kinetic Field and toward the Neon Garage, where dozens of spectators had spread out on the concrete or were dancing in the makeshift nightclub, I happened upon a familiar figure: Former Bellagio Conservatory chief Andres Garcia.
Andres seemed a little out of context to me, maybe out of his element, trudging through a teeming-with-partygoers EDM festival. But he was just where he was supposed to be.
“I am the project manager here now!” he shouted, smiling, over the din of bass and electronic noise. “I had you fooled!”
True. I’d spoken with Andres during the holiday season, and he made no mention that he was about to take a job with Insomniac. Now his imprint is all over EDC, especially the vaulting water fountains and twin owls that flank the Kinetic Field stage. It was great to run into a genuine VIP on a high-altitude night at EDC.
We had to cut our chat short. I had a flight to catch.