Couples embracing amidst the onlooking crowd as hundreds of drones interact in the sky in a synchronized light show. Friends leaping off a massive inflatable bounce tower (reminiscent of Nickelodeon’s Fun House) into different ball pools like a slightly grown-up version of Chuck E. Cheese. An apocalyptic dodgeball court where teams challenged each other in a Blade Runner-esque battleground while drummers banged on just outside either end of the fence.
And a variety of performers woven into a tapestry of music that had the familiarity of a well thought-out soundtrack all beneath the backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip.
The first Intersect Music, Arts and Tech Festival included all of this on Dec, 6-7 at Las Vegas Festival Grounds. After the inaugural two-day festival, it’s clear that the risks paid off. As a whole, Intersect took on the vibe of showing off what an event might be if each of the details and ingredients – such as lighting, open space away from the stages, art installations and performer selection – could be chosen and executed to build an experience as a whole (perhaps if budget restrictions were not much of an issue.)
The Festival Grounds sit at the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas Boulevard surrounded by the glow of casino towers. Intersect had multiple stages combined with a large hall made up of art installations and interactive areas, some of which spilled out into the open areas at the center of everything. The Experience Tent looked like what an overgrown kid would choose to fill their home with, with a free arcade of ’80s video games, largescale laser and light installations created by different artists, and the towering ball-room bounce house where 20- and 30-somethings squealed while fighting through ball pits before sliding down to the exit.
Nearly 30 bands and performers played the festival’s three stage areas. Of note was the diversity of artists, and the high-performing caliber that each brought. It’s rare to see a lineup where even the openers are great at not just playing music, but creating and contributing to an ambiance.
Groups and singers such as Spoon, Japanese Breakfast, Snail Mail, and Weyes Blood supported headliners that spanned the musical spectrum, including Kacey Musgraves, Beck and Foo Fighters. Split onto a massive main stage, an intimate but ample dome and a large electronic music tent, the indoor atmosphere allowed the fest to put on a light show for each performance, even in midday. And the lights were notable.
The visuals took each performance from being simply music to a multi-sensory experience. The quieter and more experimental artists who performed in The Dome, a large white dome stage, were paired with light shows playing off of the interior ceiling, which, combined with the Astroturf floor, created a uniquely intimate atmosphere.
Heights of the atmosphere were reflected in the crowd. The number of couples just holding each other, singing along to performers like H.E.R. or Chvrches, was notable. At the first-year fest, no one knew what to expect. Some were pretty surprised at the scale they had walked into.
The elephant in the room was Amazon’s sponsorship of the event. While Amazon Web Services attached its name to the festival – and without doubt provided the funding that made such a unique event possible — the company’s partnerships with Department of Homeland Security and ICE led some performers to drop from the bill when Amazon’s role was announced.
For an event sponsored by major tech companies, it didn’t go off without some notable technical difficulties. During her headlining set, Kacey Musgraves joked, “Welcome to our TED Talk” and “You saw our PowerPoint” when the video screens behind her were glitching and not playing the intended visuals, but rather clips of computer desktop screens.
And while there were two synchronized drone shows, one was a less impressive display that was just an ad for the company sponsoring it, while the larger one was an impressive electronic version of a firework display — with hundreds of small, individual lights shifting and reconfiguring to portray new images and shapes choreographed to one of Musgraves’ songs while the Vegas skyline features of the Stratosphere Tower and other nearby casinos glowed in the background.
Overall, Intersect was impressive. Hopefully, it is a sign of what large festival style events could be in terms of art and interactions being a major focus in addition to the performers making up the lineup. The attention to the multi-sensory features of the event could set a standard for future festivals and experiences.
— Shaun Astor and Holly Comanse