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Neon Carnival Goes Country

Bolthouse Productions’ star-studded Neon Carnival marked its 10th year with a new event during the Stagecoach Country Music Festival.

Emily Chavous Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

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This year, Bolthouse Productions teamed up with country promoters Boots on Stage to fête Neon Carnival’s 10th anniversary during the Stagecoach Country Music Festival.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JERRITT CLARK/GETTY IMAGE

Brent Bolthouse launched Neon Carnival a decade ago for two reasons. First, he wanted to stoke the childlike camaraderie and uninhibited joy that comes with a midnight game of Balloon Darts. Second, his friends needed a place to party post Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and after the sets wrapped, all eyes were on him — a professional party thrower — to keep the revelry alive.

“I was backstage with my friends; it was Saturday night,” recalls Bolthouse, who grew up in Joshua Tree and settled in L.A., where he founded his nightlife and hospitality firm, Bolthouse Productions (responsible for collaborations with Vanity Fair, Prada, and Mercedes-Benz). “The headliner was over, and everyone backstage looked at me and said, ‘What are we doing now? Aren’t you doing something?’

“I saw an opportunity. We pitched [the concept] to some of our corporate clients, and the first to pay attention was T-Mobile. That was the beginning of Neon Carnival, with Danny Masterson, Steve Aoki, and DJ AM doing this DJ battle in a triangle on the dance floor. It was pretty fun.”

The idea of a carnival theme ignited a few years earlier at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Bolthouse threw the private VIP event that debuted the record-breaking steel coaster Tatsu. They closed down the park, set up open bars across the grounds, and some 5,000 who’s-who attendees got access to the new ride and the rest of the attractions, sans any lines or fawning fans.

“I looked at the euphoria on everybody’s faces,” Bolthouse says. “Literally, Gwen Stefani runs past, high-fiving me, and she’s like, ‘I’m so happy! I’m with my band, with my friends from Hollywood. We’re all going on rides. I’m totally safe. This is the greatest day of my life!’

“This lightbulb went off in my head — we need to figure out a way to throw a party [like this again] because you can’t do Magic Mountain all the time.”

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PHOTOGRAPH BY CASSIDY SPARROW/GETTY IMAGES

Sabina Gadecki and Tyler Rich attend The Neon Carnival with “POKÉMON Detective Pikachu” and The LG Mobile Experience.

Neon Carnival set the trend in outside programming coinciding with Coachella, and eventgoers and media tout the invite-only event among the world’s greatest after-parties. The Weekend 1 soirée, which has no affiliation with Goldenvoice, drummed up early buzz with A-list regulars like Leonardo DiCaprio. (He and Bolthouse go way back to the time a then-baby-faced Leo hired the events master to engineer his 24th birthday bash. As Bolthouse tells it, “He was just another kid in Hollywood we knew who grew into this really famous person.”)

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PHOTOGRAPH BY JERRITT CLARK/GETTY IMAGES

DJ Ruckus onstage at The Neon Carnival.

This year, Bolthouse Productions teamed up with country promoters Boots on Stage to fête Neon Carnival’s 10th anniversary with the launch of a second installment during Stagecoach Country Music Festival.

“This is an experiment, and hopefully it activates,” the impresario says. Until now, it had only been possible to organize one event due to location constraints. “For years, we talked about how we could do [a second]. But taking it down and putting it up again is way more expensive than just putting it up.” In 2018, Neon Carnival relocated from Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport to HITS. The move away from an active tarmac to an equestrian center whose season runs January through March meant Bolthouse could hatch a sequel and avoid the cost of razing between weekends.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY JERRITT CLARK/GETTY IMAGES

Kelly Osbourne and Jimmy Q take a ride during the Neon Carnival.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY JERRITT CLARK/GETTY IMAGES

Neon Carnival founder Brent Bolthouse and actor Taylor Lautner.

Indeed, the honky-tonkified experiment “activated.” Guests included Stagecoach performers Sam Hunt and Tyler Rich, Kelly Osborne, Colton Underwood and Cassie Randolph of The Bachelor, Gregg Sulkin, Jessica Szohr, Scott Eastwood, Super Bowl champ Rob Gronkowski, and so many faces you’d recognize from Instagram. This is the place where Hollywood types go to let loose and avoid the prying public eye. For Bolthouse, the carnival has become a reunion of summer-camp sorts. “I have friends from all over the world, who either do what I do or are in music or fashion or some sort of entertainment world, who I don’t see all the time,” Bolthouse says. “The music festival is big; there’s 100,000 people there. I don’t run into them. But at Neon Carnival, we come together. Rarely do you see all of those people together and get to talk and laugh.” Many mingled in the tricked-out, indoor Heimat VIP lounge, but security was so tight the entire venue might as well have been designated “very important.”

Grassy hedges adjacent to the lounge enclosed an open-air tech nook activated by returning carnival sponsor LG Mobile Experience. Here, guests got a look at the newest LG smartphones and had the chance to kick back in an open-air, dual-display video-gaming zone. Photo-ops, including one with a massive, inflatable Pikachu, dotted the property courtesy of this year’s other title sponsor, the upcoming Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures film Pokémon Detective Pikachu (in theaters May 10).

Kayper, DJ Ruckus, and Dee Jay Silver spun a mix of country and rock mashups along with the event’s mainstay EDM, hip-hop, and poppy throwback hits, and the neon spectacle pulsed all night.