Wasteland Weekend 2015
Wasteland Weekend is a 4 day, Mad Max inspired, heavily immersive post-apocalyptic camping festival just two and a half hours outside Los Angeles in the deserts of California City. This event is not for the faint of heart; the weather conditions are harsh and there are no modern amenities. It's about as close as you can get to the apocalypse without all that pesky death, disease, starvation, and dystopian overlords. Which is to say, it's all the fun
parts of the apocalypse - music, dancing, fire shows, elaborate costuming, bad ass vehicles, drinking, fighting, boobs, weapons, gambling, and beautiful structures all built upon the remnants of the old world society.
I've been lucky enough to attend since 2012, with only one year missed in 2014 due to international travel - you can bet I'd have been there otherwise! Wasteland Weekend is now in its 6th and by far its largest year, due in no small part to the success of Fury Road and rabid anticipation of Fallout 4. Many of us lifelong diehards were wary of people we might encounter in the Wasteland this year. PA is becoming more mainstream all the time, so what did that mean for our beloved festival?
Well, Wasteland Weekend has not been without growing pains. We arrived Thursday in the afternoon a few hours after the festival opened, only to be greeted by a long line of cars - the first year this has occurred. Although it took about two hours for us to actually get checked in and into the grounds, even this was a fun part of the experience. We found some friends in line and made new friends before even entering the event proper. Folks were riding on the backs of cars, dune buggies drove through the line and handed out beers, and everyone was making conversation and smiling, so excited to almost be at Wasteland. The event suffered some issues at check in, but nothing was a match for the brotherhood, kindness and work ethic that exists among Wastelanders. Despite obstacles, the staff and volunteers rocked it. The whole event. All hail event volunteers!
After passing many well crafted road signs with quirky humor and obscure references, we cleared the gates, already deeply committed to the theme and spirit of the event. From the very second of arrival, Wasteland Weekend brings people together in their shared love. Even though we are together only 4 days, the bonds that are formed are eternal. We ride our Wasteland high for the next 361 days, impatiently awaiting the next time we can be home.
: People come to this event from all walks of life. There is a high concentration of mechanics and gear heads, medieval re-enactors from the SCA, burners, fire spinners, burlesque dancers, cosplayers, SFX artists, entertainment professionals, fetishists, metalheads, punks, Industrial fans, goths, LARPers, ex- and current military, preppers, weirdos and fans of all types. There isn't any real distinction between people when you're there - we're all Wastelanders
It is true, this year saw far more mainstream media coverage (we were even trending on social media, right below water on Mars!). It is true, we also saw a higher percentage of cosplayers and convention goers who were not wearing original designs. It is true, there were more people from Burning Man this year, who have always been a distinctly separate breed than we. It is also true that we saw far more "newbies" and even "looky loos", the unindoctrinated who thought that this whole Mad Max thing might be fun. It is true, there was a bit of animosity around all of these breeds, although it is something I saw almost exclusively on social media after the fact and not at the event itself.
But, these mainstream media sources brought with them incredible photographic evidence of the immense care people put into their costumes, their concepts, their structures and their personas. They brought with them kind words to help validate our awesomeness (not that we needed that, but it's neat to know other people recognize our combined talents as well). And it's cool to see us on the front page of Buzzfeed. "Hey, we helped make that! We were there!"
The cosplayers brought with them not only the broad concept of PA with which to connect, but characters and a specific universe as well. While I personally found the Borderlands cosplays to look odd against the backdrop with their bright colors, sci fi influence and cartoony cel shading, it was also amazing to see people so passionate about a franchise and getting out of their comfort zone and air conditioned hallways. I am glad to see people connect with any part of post apocalyptica. While many of us expected to be annoyed by vast quantities of War Boys screaming "Witness me!" and chroming each other at every opportunity, we were pleasantly surprised by how intimidating it was to see dozens of War Boys riding on the back of incredibly crafted cars. They brought with them a fantastically themed camp, complete with V8 altar and half a dozen vehicles, and stayed in character the entire weekend. None of these War Boys knew each other prior to the event - they had arranged a group through Facebook. "I just want to get drunk and ride on the back of cars all weekend" said one War Boy to me as he spun around a thunderstick skillfully (a trained martial artist). You go, cosplayers. Plus, where would we be without our beloved Lord Humungous?
The Burning Man crowd may have brought with them more colors and more toplessness, but they also brought an incredible respect for their environment. They raked their camps every morning for trash and made sure they left the desert better than they found it (something all Wastelanders aspire to, but some of us are still unfortunately learning how to do). The Death Guild also brought with them the mother fucking Thunderdome, which was the coolest addition to the event this year by far, although it has been a staple at The Burn for many years.
And yes, even though there were some folks who were obviously new to the whole post-apocalyptic thing, so what? We all were once. I remember my first time at Comic Con in 2001. I went with the intention of having a laugh at nerds (ah, to be a naive barely-teenager again). I left there a changed woman and the next year was back in full cosplay regalia. And if you don't leave Wasteland with a love of the apocalypse, hell. You're probably a lost cause and won't be back anyway :) There were a couple jerks to be sure, but 99.9999% of people at Wasteland are people I'd go to war for and would do the same for me.
Wasteland Weekend is whatever you make of it, whoever you are. So long as you aren't an asshole, respect others, pack out your trash, make some attempt at a costume and offer your friendship and hospitality, you are family to us. We ask little and give freely. Even the police who work the event are like our family - nobody is afraid of them and they don't hassle us. Even though we are a wild bunch, we respect each other and the space we use. Ever seen six cops climb the Thunderdome? How about a police humvee with a post-apocalyptic makeover? Ever seen a cop chrome a guy wearing a bra that dispenses booze? Ever seen a cop spin "butt pats" on a wheel and have a dozen half naked women slap him in the ass? I have. That's how we do.
: Being so deeply immersive, themed costumes are a requirement for the event. They don't need to be elaborate, although many of them are. Although I am involved in a number of costumed subcultures - cosplay, re-enactment, modeling, Ren, fantasy, sci fi, Steampunk, goth/metal, whatever - there is a reason post-apocalyptic is my favorite. Costumes are built with functionality, sustainability and creativity in mind. Originality is regarded highly in our community, and if you can make something actually function, or use a piece of material in an unexpected way? Even better.
There is also plenty of cosplay at the event - mostly Fallout, Mad Max, Borderlands and Wasteland. My favorite this year was the guy dressed as Buddy from Six String Samurai. Something about watching that dude climb the Thunderdome with his guitar was such a killer blending of worlds for me. Wasteland! Only at Wasteland.
This was the hottest year on record, so most of the spectacular costumes didn't come out until the evening. There were a lot more boobs out and about this year. Oh, uh. This event is 18+ only, by the way. Don't bring your kids.
: Ah, what would Wasteland Weekend be without our rides. Every day around 5pm you can enjoy the parade of vehicles as they circle the grounds. The coolest, most intimidating rides you've ever seen are literally everywhere you look here. Two storied cars, cars covered in weaponry, cars that look like they can withstand anything. There was even the smallest post apocalyptic go kart you'll ever seen, and a dude who made a lifesize mechanical wheeled horse with moving legs. Man, that fucker was cool. If you do nothing else at Wasteland but look at and ride on cars against the gorgeous desert setting, you'd get your money's worth. As amazing as they are on the big screen, they are even larger than life in person.
: There are all kinds of things you can do at Wasteland Weekend. Many are put on by the event staff and volunteers, and visiting tribes of attendees also host their own. During the day you are left to your own devices. We mostly hung out and tried to beat the heat (up to 102 this year) while cooking, crafting, bartering, shopping, and meeting neighboring camps. Around 2pm each day activities start up; everything from battle bots, to armored combat, Thunderdome combat, burlesque acts, fire dancers, wet t-shirt contests, live music acts, DJs and dancing at The Pit, hangouts at the Mushroom Cloud Lounge, free drinks run on donations at the Atomic Cafe, bouts of jugger matches, puppet theater, gambling for chips at the Last Chance Casino, and the new addition of a secondary community stage which hosted smaller but still fabulous acts.
The actual event space begins being built a weeks in advance by a team of talented, hard working locals doing the Lord's work amidst Satan's heat. Bless those folks for creating this experience for the rest of us. There is nothing like being inside Bartertown. I cannot stress enough how much I fucking love the ambiance. This year there was even the addition of a gigantic, rotted out ship, which I was told was an original from Waterworld. What. You can also visit the Wasteland Film Festival, full of expertly curated short films. It that looks so much like the theater from A Boy and His Dog that I found myself keeping a fearful eye for any lady-sniffing canines. There is also the Body Shop, where hair and makeup artists work for donation throughout the weekend (I got my hurr did into a sweet mohawk that lasted the entire weekend in exchange for a vest I had made). You can send letters to other attendees at the post office, listen to the Wasteland radio station, shop at a ton of neat vendors (far more than in previous years), or participate in tribe missions - the most famous being the hunting event put on by the Rust Devils. My favorite this year were the rad roach races put on by Legio X. There were even two weddings this year - one performed by the Lord Humungous himself inside the Thunderdome, to the cheers of "Two lovers enter! One couple leaves!"
, yes, Wasteland Weekend is getting big. The staff says it was about 2,000 people this year, although my gut tells me it was closer to 3,000. Yes, it may become harder to get tickets at some point. True, we have just about reached capacity for our space (although coordinators are working on that). There will probably be more normies as the years go on, but you know what? The fine folks at Wasteland Weekend have proven as the event expands, they will use the extra funds to bring us all sorts of cool new activities, setpieces and entertainment. Even the porta potties were cleaned more regularly this time around. But, you know. Don't put off going. You should go as soon as possible. Might I suggest Wasteland Weekend 2016? And 2017? 2018...you get the idea. I'll see you in the wastes. And we will ride eternal, shiny and chrome!
Article: Geek Girl Mistress Zelda
Photographer: JaW Images Art & Photography
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October 02 2015