Wasteland Weekend 2017
Article by: Geek Girl Mistress Zelda
Photos by: JaW Images Art & Photography
As the post-apocalyptic genre continues to gain popularity with the mainstream it leaves me wondering, "Will this finally be the year Wasteland Weekend loses its heart and is overrun with tourists who don't grok what the genre is all about?" And every year the answer is overwhelmingly and resoundingly "No."
I have been attending Wasteland Weekend
- the world's largest post-apocalyptic festival - since 2012. It is often referred to as "Burning Man meets Mad Max," but that is just lazy shorthand for the uninitiated and barely begins to encompass what Wasteland Weekend really is. (You can read my previous coverage of years 2012
, and 2015
The 5 day event is fully immersive. All attendees must be in post-apocalyptic attire at all times, and non-themed camps and vehicles are kept out of view of the main areas. Because of the care and detail put into the setting by the Wasteland Weekend crew and the event's attendees, it's easy at times to believe that we are genuinely the precious few to have survived some unnamed apocalypse. The event this year drew somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,850 people from as far as Australia, Japan, England and Denmark, all gathering in an otherwise isolated patch of nothing down an unmarked dirt road in California's Mojave desert.
Although I have been attending the event nearly since its inception, this was my first time as one of the elite themed tribes within the city walls - meaning that I arrived a day before the general public and got the opportunity to help erect the makeshift city practically overnight. After quickly outgrowing the event's original location, the team at Wasteland this year purchased their own plot of land about 30 minutes away from the original locale; I was excited to see in person what this meant for the event's longevity and growth. Unlike many events of this nature, Wasteland has somehow managed to grow exponentially while never losing sight of what makes it so special and unique. Itís no easy feat, as many other events have failed to achieve this goal Ė to grow their audience while retaining their core values. Many of us mourn the early years of events like Comic Con and Burning Man. Not so for Wasteland Ė although the majority of people I met this year were there for the first time, they were all fantastic additions to our community.
Wasteland Weekend provides the backdrop for a variety of entertainment and activities and offers a little bit of something for most everyone, so long as you are the kind of person who can handle the harsh realities of being in the desert away from modern comforts for nearly a week. There are a wide variety of both officially and community-run activities. The attendees have helped shape the atmosphere of the event by heavily contributing both to its aesthetic and its entertainment; Wasteland would not be what it is without them. They spend months (or all year) working on costumes, cars, camps and tribe missions just for the 5 days they get to spend at Wasteland. While it is certainly possible to come to the event with the sole intent of spending a couple days partying in the desert, I find that to be a massively wasted opportunity. The people who make up Wasteland Weekend are some of the most interesting, passionate, fun, caring, creative, hardworking and bizarre folks you will ever have the pleasure to meet. It is incredibly difficult to leave Wasteland Weekend the same as you went into it, for it not to become part of the very fabric of your being, to leave without having lasting friendships forged in fire and dust through brief, but intense shared experiences.
On Friday night, a friend arrived unexpectedly with his girlfriend to honor his brother who had passed away the night before he was supposed to arrive at the event. Jared, the owner of Wasteland Weekend, insisted my friend come to see his brotherís name inscribed upon the Shrine of the Fallen, where we remember our comrades for always. He was torn between sadness at the circumstances and overwhelming awe at the event and its community which welcomed him into its madness for no reason except a shared love for the apocalyptic genre. He has spent the past week excitedly planning a post-apocalyptic car build.
At one point, an RV full of propane tanks went up in flames, taking 2 neighboring vehicles with it. The crew was quickly effective at containing the fire with no injuries and minimal loss to property. Within 2 hours, they begged us to stop donating goods, so overwhelmed were they with the generosity of Wastelanders looking to feed, clothe and provide for their own.
One of my tribemates has had an incredibly rough year and has been struggling to find a place where he fits in and feels cared for. When we arrived home after the event, his words were ďI had no idea such a paradise existed.Ē He spent the entire week socializing and bonding with all manner of people, quite the opposite of his experience back in the ďrealĒ world.
If this retelling of the event sounds personal and intimate, it is because Wasteland Weekend is an intensely personal and intimate experience. Yes, I could tell you how Wasteland Weekend has a wicked cool main stage where they feature musicians, burlesque and fire performers, costume contests and Immorten Joe having a DJ battle against Lord Humungus. Truly, it is awesome seeing people battle in the Thunderdome strapped to bungee cords, or in cage matches adorned in full armor, or facing off in the post-apocalyptic team sport game of Jugger (somewhere between football and LARPing). And absolutely, gambling with bottlecaps in the Last Chance Casino, smoking hookah in the Mushroomcloud Lounge, drinking at The Atomic Cafť, and dancing in The Pit with the actual Exxon Valdeez from Waterworld looking out of place yet entirely at home in the desert is an experience you wonít find anywhere else. And holy shit, how did the tribe of the Wasted Saints build and erect such a gorgeous building facade with such a lovely altar and stage inside, and where did they find these surreal bellydancers and aerial artists? How did the Nuclear Bombshells clan build a stage that looks so indestructible and permanent, with such impressive lighting and sound so far from any power sources, and make it available to so many types of performers over such a wide range of gender identity, sexual orientation and body type? Is that a goddamn human claw machine over at the Caution Tape Carnival, and man Iím glad Iím camped next to them because you can see that structure from goddamn miles away (was it really just dirt here yesterday???). And wow, how good does it feel that people have had such a positive response to our first year themed tribe, the Nuke Review Theater (complete with Gauntlet Legends arcade machine), and that we had to have two showings of Zardoz due to popular demand. And of course itís a blast to participate in the bounty hunting game the Rust Devils run every year, and man itís a lot harder now that 3,850 people attend than it was when it was less than half the size.
There is a fun quirkiness to the Fallout themed area of Sanctuary Hills (itís just as beautiful in real life as it is on a screen), a swankiness to the members-only club of Ghoulcrest Hunting Lodge, a playfulness to the Western inspired Badlands Bordello. There are beautiful handmade things to buy and barter for in Bartertown, and did I really leave the event with a fire mohawk, 4 spines worth of vertabrae and a taxidermy deer ass with googly eyes on it? Wow, there must be 150 themed vehicles this year in the car cruise, including one made out of an old casket and a chariot pulled by a motorcycle instead of a horse. Itís also super fun to collect as many customized tribe bottlecaps as you can. Even with 6 days in the desert, it is impossible to witness or experience it all. I would be remiss to not mention the things above, but you could just as easily hear this from dozens of other press outlets that come for a day but donít get integrated enough in the event to really see that this is all just the stage on which our shared experiences play out.
Although Wasteland Weekend only happens once a year, the community is incredibly active year round. There are numerous planning groups on Facebook, as well as special interest groups for things like costuming and cars. Smaller events throughout the year have also continued to grow in number, organized both by the community and Wasteland Weekend crew. If you missed Wasteland Weekend, there are still the Winter Games in February (a Jugger centric event), the Wastelanderís Ball
(a post-apocalyptic masquerade), Uranium Springs
and End of Days in Arizona, a post-apocalyptic car show, shopping events at WarMart, and Wastelander invasions of other events and locales.
While our apocalypse is just in jest, should that day come in my lifetime, I would hope to so lucky as to have these people at my side rebuilding society Ė just a little kinder, more compassionate, more stylish, more self-reliant, and a lot more fun. The rest of the world could stand to learn a thing or two from those that call themselves Wastelanders.
Article by: Geek Girl Mistress Zelda
Photos by: JaW Images Art & Photography
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October 07 2017