Mark Wahlberg, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Simon Rex, Jason Biggs, Vince Vaughn all in one small venue partying in Hollywood. No one batting an eye at each other. Everyone having a blast! When I visited Los Angeles from the east coast over ten years ago I quickly learned these parties at various Hollywood locations were the result of Brent Bolthouse. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s celebrities actually went out, pre-social media. Brent Bolthouse gave Hollywood what they wanted, a place to kick off their shoes, let loose, and feel safe. It’s now been over ten years and I’m standing in line at 10 pm on a Saturday in the middle of nowhere waiting for a school bus to shuttle me to Neon Carnival in the desert of Thermal, California. Brent Bolthouse’s name is still buzzing around me.
If you haven’t already heard of Bolthouse, you know he is the mastermind behind the “Golden era” of Hollywood, and Neon Carnival. The adult playground known as Neon Carnival brings thousands of guests from all over the world to party and dance the night away with the best DJ’s in the world along with a carnival of sorts filled with free rides and games, and of course many branded photo opps. A city is literally built on an airfield from the ground up. This year the major sponsors included Levis, Don Julio, Tinder, and Lokai. The premier after party is invitation only, and not affiliated with Coachella even though it occurs on Saturday after the music festival.
“It is a cultural event driven by fun, the only party in America where you can see your friends from all over the world, coming from the major cities. There is not another party like it. That is part of the magic, seeing people all at one time.” – Brent Bolthouse
In 2012 Bolthouse opened The Bungalow in Santa Monica, a restaurant bar at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. A new location is set to open soon in Huntington Beach. You may have seen him on Entourage or The Hills playing himself, but one thing is clear, Brent Bolthouse has been an influencer before there were influencers.
Interview with Brent Bolthouse:
Q: How did Neon Carnival start? How did this happen?
A: I came up with the idea when I was at Coachella and everyone was asking me where was the after party. I try to see what’s missing. I try to fill that hole. I was doing a lot of work with T-Mobile. We pitched it to T-Mobile as a carnival idea, and it took a year, but they finally agreed to do the party. In about the third year, things shifted. We decided not to publish for 944 magazine, came up with the name (Neon Carnival), launched this party with rides at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Four to five thousand people in Hollywood were there. We brought everyone together in a way people that people could have fun and enjoy themselves. Eat funnel cake, run from ride to ride free, rockstars and celebs everywhere, curated list…even Gwen Stefani said this was the best thing ever. The event produced a childhood euphoria, endorphins, dancing – the birth of Neon originated at Magic Mountain…There is a fever around Neon Carnival. It is super infectious. Now the industry is all bottle service driven. Now celebrities don’t party. They don’t go out really. Neon Carnival is almost like the last frontier, what it use to be like on a Monday night in Hollywood.
Q: What makes Neon Carnival the most sought after party? Why do you think everyone wants to attend?
A: Guest list only. We don’t sell tables. We curate the room. We want to make sure sound system and the DJ’s are the best. It is a party for our sponsors and friends that are celebs. It is an opportunity to have fun with no paparazzi.
Q: Why do people want to come?
A: We are a “market leader.” We let everyone celebrate with no press. Perhaps it is social media, and the perception of what people are doing. Fifiteen years ago I lead the charge with the SuperBowl Maxim parties and convinced some of heavy hitters in show business to do an Oscar after party – no press, just a party to let them celebrate and really kick off their shoes. For over a decade all over the world Jeffrey Best and I threw the Maxim Super Bowl parties (and girls were now coming to football games). It changed the way corporate America did parties.
Q: How do you select brand sponsors?
A: Levi’s is a perfect sponsor for us because of their heritage and who they are and what they represent. It is their second year sponsoring Neon Carnival. They are an iconic brand we love working with…
Q: How do you choose guests or do the PR/brands take care of that?
A: It is a curated guestlist, and we want to keep a good mix of people. We are lenient on who we say Yes to. We say ‘Yes’ to thousands. Many people travel in packs to Coachella, so how do you say no to people if they are staying in a house with say 12 other people? We have a team of people who help. I’ve worked with Jennifer Rosaro for years and she acts as a gatekeeper.
Q: Can you share any performances we can expect?
A: I have a deep respect for Skip and Paul from GoldenVoice. After the festival we go late and we never really book big name talent because that is for the Coachella Music Festival. We book the best nightclub DJ’s, and sometimes big talent wants to come.
My fav DJ is Kayper. She is amazing! The best nightclub DJ in America. She is the closest thing to magical DJ AM since his passing…to be able to create that fever. I discovered her at Hyde on Sunset, when it was that tiny place…She had all the kids dancing to 80’s music in a fever…She knew how to make people dance; she created a frenzy She plays for the room. She gives the kids what they want. I talked to her manager and told her I wanted her to DJ Neon Carnival. I’m excited to see what she does at Neon…Right now she is practicing…She DJ’d my wedding for 100 people. Everyone was like, “Who was that? That was the best time of my life.”
Q: Who is your favorite celebrity who has attended?
A: Clint Eastwood came a few years ago with a squirt gun like Dirty Harry.
Q: Do you have any close celebrity friends?
A: Dillon McDermott. My job is to make sure they have the best time of their lives. That is my primary purpose, not to be their friend but that can happen.
Q: Who would you love to get to come to Neon Carnival this year?
A: Lady Gaga.
Q: Does anything make you nervous about the event?
A: Fear has left me, but for years I would worry what if nobody comes to our party. I don’t have fear now. After this hour talking to you, I will have thousands of email requests, some weird, like I owe them a favor or people expect that I should take care of them. I have a hard enough time making sure my own friends and family get in, let alone strangers. I have a huge Rolodex. Does anyone know what that is anymore?
Q: What makes you happy? Has that changed in the last 5 to 10 years?
A: I love creating moments in time, people having a great time celebrating life. A carnival is timeless. If we are dragging them out, that’s success! [I use to do little parties with Prince. He would be on the dance floor with the dancers. He liked to dance. He was a club kid. He didn’t do it very often. Those are the moments!]
I like taking photographs with my Leica Monochrome camera, which I have been doing for 20 years. I like taking pictures of my wife.
Q: How do you think you became so successful?
A: Early on it was Brent Bolthouse Productions. I saw there was a future in young Hollywood. I wanted to bring some integrity to promoter life. My schooling was life. I was pumping gas in the valley at 19 after moving from Joshua Tree to get sober. Then I started running Hollywood nightclubs. I was a high school dropout. I didn’t know anyone in LA. I was approached to do a night club, I said No…a few friends talked me into it. I finally found a location up on Sunset…we didn’t know what other promoters were doing. We picked a night with no other events, no competition, a lot of people came, parking in back, rented a sound system, found a DJ, gotta give credit now to that DJ we found; it ended up being successful. In my twenties I opened and closed many restaurants. My journey was learning how to make a business. It kindof fell in my lap. I found myself good at it. Come to my party, come to my nightclub. Some of the guys I started with became other things….I was the first guy to do multiple nights – 15 years in night clubs. I was an outlier, the right place at the right time.
Q: Now that you are married, will you slow down or decide to stop Neon Carnival?
A: We have had a good run. I will continue to do it as long as people want to do it and it is culturally relevant. My wife doesn’t party but she loves Neon Carnival, but she has a table away from the masses.
Q: Is it true Neon Carnival may move next year?
A: Since the airfield may potentially become an international airport, there is a concern with the FAA. Although the County of Riverside is a joy to work with, they let us know that we should explore our options in case it happens this year. It is an open desert, so there are many places to find.
Q: What are some of your LA favorites?
Q: Favorite band?
A: I am obsessed with Tinariwen. They are rock blues Middle Eastern fusion. Their new record is so beautiful. It comes out in February.
Q: Favorite Restaurant?
A: Sushi Park on Sunset. I also love ramen, this place on Vine and Fountain.
Q: Favorite food served at Neon Carnival?
A: Fat Burger was always so good.
Q: Favorite LA escape?
A: We just bought land at Running Springs, CA between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear. I love Ojai and Santa Barbara. I grew up in Joshua Tree.