San Manuel Amphitheater
This year's Nocturnal Wonderland could win an award for most improved rave.
The festival, held at San Bernardino's San Manuel Amphitheater for its second time, underwent a few crucial upgrades: They main stage was moved to a more centralized location, the walkways were improved, and the parking wasn't so godawful.
People were clearly psyched about the changes. Even the security guards felt the good vibes–some even fist-pumped.
Here's how night one went down:
8:42 pm: While trudging the mile long walk from the parking area to the entrance, I met a fourth grade teacher who had just driven in from San Francisco. “I told my students I'm going to a 'show,'” he said, “They don't need to know the details.”
9:29 pm: Made it in! The buff information booth worker with body glitter on his pecs didn't have any festival maps so he pointed me in the direction of the Labyrinth stage. But that info was unnecessary–I only had to follow the lasers.
9:43 pm: Recent college grad and house DJ 3lau had the crowd (and six giant robot bears on the stage) bouncing to a groovy mashup of Ellie Goulding's “Burn” and Duke Dumont's “Need U (100%).”
9:57 pm: Encountered this totem, a DIY pole structure used to help ravers locate each other in a crowd. I totally relate to that lego dude.
10:12 pm: On the way to the Sunken Garden stage I ran into several different people who were dancing on their own, sometimes to no identifiable tune, including this kid who could probably take on Nicki Minaj in a twerk-off.
10:51 pm: When Brillz dropped a filthy remix of a Waka Flocka Flame song, the DJ's hype man Oz began flinging his arms and blue braids to the beat. The Twonk Team leader's set sounded like a mix you'd hear on KDAY, only with much more bass. Everyone was digging it–even the security guard (see below).
11:22 pm: A girl in a Lady Gaga-esque disco ball mask gave me a hug and a note that said, “Never give up hope. You are a beautiful soul. Love, The Universe.” Ah! The feels!
11:45 pm: Grabbed some free earplugs from a hospitality booth. So happy that's a thing.
12:02 am: Sat in on a meeting held by Insomniac's Consciousness Group–an organization that provides festival-goers with a non-judgmental space to talk about their dedication to soberness or struggles with addiction. After they shared their stories they gave me some candy (like, actual candy) and I was on my way.
12:27 pm: Stumbled into what looked like a Victorian-era swingers party in the Upside Down Room, a new stage inspired by scenes from Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carol would be proud.
12:55 am: Dutch house music darling Martin Garrix dropped Sebastian Ingrosso's ultra overplayed “Reload.”
1:15am: Martin Garrix plays “Reload.” Again. We get it bro. Cue to grab tacos.
1:47 am: As I enjoy my tacos I witness a girl teaching a first-timer how to exchange Kandi. Fireworks from the Labyrinth stage explode as the veteran rave-goer locks fingers with the newbie and slips a multi-colored pony bead bracelet from her wrist onto his. They embrace. Aw.
2:14 am: Walking the molly trail of tears back to my car, a guy asks me if I'm alone. “Yes,” I say. He then asks, “Oh my gosh, what if you got hit by a meteor in there?” I had a feeling a cuddly raver would've had my back.