Neon Carnival's Brent Bolthouse Shares Exclusive Party's History: "You Can't Buy Your Way In"
The annual over-the-top Coachella party in the desert celebrates a big milestone this weekend and expands to Stagecoach weekend.
L.A. nightlife impresario Brent Bolthouse might be best known for the long-standing Santa Monica hot spot The Bungalow, which has since expanded to Huntington Beach, but Hollywood stars are additionally familiar with his invite-only Coachella weekend star-studded party Neon Carnival, frequented by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kendall Jenner.
Set apart from the festival, the expanded afterparty, featuring carnival games, a Ferris wheel and bumper cars, mixes a dance party (with beats spun by DJ A-Trak) with childhood fun for the VIPs who go to Coachella. This year, to celebrate the carnival's 10th anniversary, Bolthouse, who grew up in nearby Joshua Tree, expands the festivities and extends Neon Carnival — which is sponsored by Levi's, LG and upcoming film Pokemon: Detective Pikachu — will take place both on Coachella's weekend one and what the party calls "weekend three," when Stagecoach will take over the desert.
Before Coachella kicks off on Friday, Bolthouse told The Hollywood Reporter what's new this year, what he's excited for and recounted 10 years of partying in the desert.
Last year, Neon Carnival moved from being at the airport to the HITS equestrian center. Why the move?
The airport is going to turn into an international airport, so the rules change a bit and we weren't going to be able to have a party on an active runway with international planes coming and going. We found a piece of property within the HITS compound that was really ideal — against the road and behind a barn, it had trees around it. We worked with the owners of HITS to plant grass and turn it into an amazing grass field the size of three football fields, just to put it into perspective. That's going to be our new home for Neon Carnival for years to come.
How will the guest experience be different this year?
We're excited to see what happens this year when we're on grass. People could go lay down and look at the stars, have a little more of a festival feel. We're going to have two separate entrances that allow, hopefully, to dissipate some of the front door experience — it's not quite as hectic as it's been in the past, and it will take some of the pressure off of both doors.
What part of Neon Carnival do you look forward to year after year?
This is our 10th year. It's really one of those parties where people are having so much fun. You go to the festival and maybe not see your friends because you want to see this band and they want to see that band, and everyone kind of runs around. The nice part of Neon Carnival is everyone comes together from all over the world at the end of the day. It's a reunion of people from fashion, music and entertainment. They come together and you get to see all your friends in one space.
How have you been able to translate the longevity of your L.A. nightlife venues to Neon Carnival?
We have The Bungalow in Santa Monica and we're opening more Bungalows: one in Long Beach, La Jolla and a project up in San Francisco. We've tried to move into [an arena] that seems a little more sustainable and stable and not just trendy as nightclubs. At Neon Carnival, what we really tried to do is that it's always a situation where you can't buy your way in — it's guest-list only.
Neon Carnival has many A-list attendees, how do you curate the mix of people who attend?
We curate the tables, we think about the table mix, [which is] really important to us. It's not a situation where we're selling tables and everything goes to the highest bidder and that's always how we ran our nightclubs. Something happened in nightlife where wealthy individuals became the Leonardo DiCaprios of the nightclub world, where celebrities became number two and the wealthy became number one — that, to me, is not ever how it should be. There can be a balance of both, but nightlife experiences for me were never about the money. It was about the experience and if you made a great, timeless experience, the money would follow. We take that approach with Neon Carnival.
How is Neon Carnival replicated?
It takes a tremendous amount of resources to make Neon Carnival happen. It's not like suddenly the market is going to come and start doing a million-dollar party. Those are big budgets, so I think that helps us stick around for a little while.
What will the music be like this year?
We added A-Trak as the DJ this year, as our headline DJ — he's an old friend. As a producer, we're super excited that he's on board. We've always tried to use DJs that crated a fun atmosphere and we weren't trying to go for [Coachella] headlining DJs.
Why the expansion into weekend three, when Stagecoach will be held in nearby Indio?
I looked at the space and there's nothing going on. I know a lot of people who go to weekend three and have so many friends [who] love country music. I just figured let's have the great experiment. It probably won't be as crazy, especially being the first year, but I think it's exciting.