For the first time in its short history, Wasteland Weekend will begin on a Thursday with the post-apocalyptic bash beginning September 27 in the desert outside California City, two hours to the north of Los Angeles. Now in its third year, Wasteland Weekend pays tribute to the Mad Max films with visitors flocking from around the world to celebrate George Miller’s vision of a high octane, mohawked mad, mad world. Tickets sold for $55 initially but are now $100. A more important consideration is having a post-Apocalyptic costume or two prepared or you won’t get into the entirely immersive environment of Wasteland Weekend.
Total Immersion at Wasteland Weekend
Asked whether anyone has actually been turned away at Wasteland Weekend’s gates for lack of appropriate dress (or decorum), Jared admitted that it has not happened yet, though I imagine anyone willing to drive out to the middle of nowhere in the California desert probably is trying to legitimately attend. However for members of the media (of which there should be plenty at Wasteland Weekend) or anyone else underdressed the Wasteland Weekend staff will be offering Wasteland Makeovers at their Body Shop to give them, “the works,” in Jared’s words, using Wasteland Weekend’s hair stylists, body painters, and extra costumes to fashion a cohesive believable look. In another effort to provide total immersion, Wasteland Weekend is also restricting video recording activities by the press with special authorization required, in part to avoid attendees having too many cameras in their faces the entire weekend.
This focus on immersion and staying true to Wasteland Weekend itself extends even to the musical acts, who will all be performing in costume. More importantly to WW’s Entertainment Director, any growth in the size and fame of the bands involved should happen organically. Jared and the WW staff are trying to avoid having fans of a band who only show up to see a Rob Zombie or a Nine Inch Nails and are not invested in the post-apocalpytic look and feel of Wasteland Weekend. It’s a feel that Jared even laughingly admits is far from realistic, even if that is the base guideline that Wasteland Weekend is shooting for: what would the Wasteland look like if the Apocalypse happened today? While a Pipboy from the Fallout franchise of video games or Nuka-Cola beverages are accepted and even encouraged, the theme of Wasteland Weekend is not ray guns or a futuristic imagining of the Apocalypse, but instead one based in current reality, even if that “reality” is V8 engines in a world with limited fuel. Fallout power armor is a bit too much for this vision as is Star Wars Stormtrooper armor; however any aspiring Ghoul from the Fallout franchise or just a plain zombie is gently redirected to just be a radiation victim at Wasteland Weekend.
“If I could only take one vacation a year until I die, this is going to be it.”
– Dave Dufour
It’s this sense of immersion that has captured the passion of Dave Dufour who now is in his second year at Wasteland Weekend. Dufour’s Road Rash tribe gets its name from the scars up and down his arms from a motorcycle accident. The red-mohawked Dufour won’t attend Burning Man for the simple reason that at Wasteland Weekend everyone is in costume, including the EMTs. There are no lollygaggers at Wasteland Weekend Dufour is happy to say, even going so far as to tell his wife, “If I could only take one vacation a year until I die, this is going to be it.”
Variety of Wasteland Activities
One of the differences between last year’s Wasteland Weekend and this year’s is the move from one live band to six, including the industrial noise band Larva flying in from Spain. Besides Duel at Dusk Productions, Entertainment Director Jared is looking forward to seeing the performances of Celsius and Sorex Circus, besides a mystery performance group which will be appearing late Saturday night. Wasteland Weekend is also able to augment its entertainment via the tribes and their offerings, such as the Wasteland Casino where gamblers can play for bottle caps and turn their proceeds in for Wasteland prizes on Saturday night. Alternatively winners can use their ‘caps in an auction, also late Saturday night. One of Jared’s responsibilities is ensuring that there is a “unified theme” to everything unlike say at Burning Man where everyone does their own thing. Another new attraction this year is the Wasteland Weekend Film Festival featuring a series of post-apocalyptic short films under 20 minutes in length.
Circus at the End of the World and Mr. Dark’s Emporium
Hollywood weapon maker and prop master Dave Baker will be returning for his second year at Wasteland Weekend, selling as Mr. Dark at Mr. Dark’s Emporium. He will also be offering the Dagger and Dark’s Circus at the End of the World in cooperation with knife-throwing talent Jack Dagger. When not personally dodging or being hit by Dagger’s edged implements, Baker will also be conducting a staged fight of his own and sharing his charisma. The Circus at the End of the World is a test venture for Baker and Dagger as they would like to be able to run it at steampunk conventions, martial arts conventions like Combat Con, and other gatherings. There will also be poledancing and a post-apocalyptic magician in the circus, as well as a post-apoc pool table. Whipmaster Anthony DeLongis will be cracking with his wife and cosplayer Sara Warner will be fighting in the Gladiatora Apocalypto where the audience will decide who lives or dies. Baker’s favorite Mad Max is Beyond Thunderdome because it pushed the evolution of Mad Max forward so nicely.
As for Mr. Dark’s Emporium, Baker will be selling weapons and other post-apoc/horror/fetish pieces ranging in price from $125 to $300 for his handcrafted “future primitive” pieces. Topping out the price range are his futuristic kukris, the traditional weapon of the ghurka. Baker, who runs the Hollywood Combat Center, has been very busy since Combat Con, building out all of the retail display pieces for Eli Roth’s Goretorium on the Las Vegas Strip, a year round haunted house offering horror weddings starting at $4K. Baker was out to Wasteland Weekend early preceding even the WW staff, but returned to his workshop to finish some pieces for a British escape artist.
No Lone Wanderers at Wasteland Weekend
For Dufour and Baker, Wasteland Weekend comes down to the community created and the friendships forged in the California desert. Dave Dufour’s fondest memories of last year’s WW are of simply meeting other Wasteland wanderers at the Atomic Cafe, including visitors from Ontario, Canada. Dufour is “so looking forward” to seeing the same people this year. To Dufour, the Facebook group Wastelanders Unite is like a second family. For Dave Baker it’s also about the personal connections as well as being around so many other creative people such as the Red Fork Empire tribe with its artists and builders.
LARP or Not? Pre-Enactment
Wasteland Weekend’s website is very tongue-in-cheek about the topic of whether the event is a LARP, but also clear saying “no, this is not intended to be a LARP gaming event. But I guess if you want to do that sort of thing while you’re out in the wasteland, we’re not going to stop you. But we reserve the right to make fun of you. Up until you wipe out all our hit points with a magic missile.” Jared was quick to correct some of my associated misunderstandings about the Weekend: no, I would not be trading in my dollars for bottle caps for use throughout Wasteland Weekend at places like the Atomic Cafe or with vendors like Dave Baker and no, I wouldn’t be one of the two men entering Raven’s Conspiracy’s version of the Thunderdome. More importantly Jared estimates that only a small minority of attendees will be playing and acting the part of a character or answering to a different name. Instead Wasteland Weekend is more akin to historical re-enactment of the future, or pre-enactment, as Jared terms it. The former D&D player and fan of Steve Jackson Games Car Wars also draws a comparison between Civil War re-enactors gathered around their tents and campfires away from the actual battles; that is what Wasteland Weekend is for the post-Apocalypse.