Maybe it was the ticket price, $39-$99 for the opening night of an inaugural festival. Maybe it was a failure to communicate, not so much as a stage schedule posted at the event. Maybe it was a calendar issue, booking the festival the same weekend as established twice-annual musical celebration Neon Reverb. And maybe the kicker was the $10 parking in a town where it's free to valet. All these hypotheses ran through my mind as I stood at Royal House Friday night, a ghost town, as headliners The Whigs took the stage for an audience of 30 max.
While the Pastel Project didn't garner a crowd—hardly enough bodies to merit a dinner party—it did bring good intentions to the table. Even with Le Butcherettes dropping out on Thursday (due to a family emergency), the festival delivered a diverse lineup Friday night. Mini Mansions, Classixx, The Album Leaf, Tennis and The Whigs performed on the outdoor stage while American Royalty, Zach Ryan and the Renegades, White Arrows and more held down the fort inside. Credit is also due for attempting a full-blown arts celebration in the lot behind The Royal House, as the festival offered food trucks, local art vendors, beer stands, a 90-foot ferris wheel, even fire-breathers. On-site lodging for non-local attendees was also a perk, no Coachella-esque showering at hand washing stations necessary. The visual centerpiece of the art displays was a school-bus-turned-preying-mantis, strategically shooting fire out of its antennae to comically alarm passersby.
The lack of patrons didn’t stop the bands from putting on entertaining shows. The Album Leaf’s ambient, often-instrumental tunes flowed outside, as Zach Ryan and the Renegades’ outlaw-rock stirred up the indoor stage. Husband and wife duo Tennis didn’t let an early technical mishap ruin their set as singer Alaina Moore “almost literally went deaf” after an ear-piercing feedback flair nearly knocked her over. But they recovered quickly and continued playing soulful favorites, including “Barefoot” and “Petition”.
The highlight and headliners of the night, The Whigs, brought a new sense of enthusiasm to the event, praising Las Vegas for its hospitality and joking about intentions to gamble away their per diem. The natives of Athens, Georgia, blasted through their set as if the venue was packed to the brim. In reality, the handful present were enjoying our own private concert. Between songs, fans were able to engage in friendly banter with the band, enthusiastically letting the Whigs know they justified the entry fee.
While the potential of the 2012 Pastel Project was squandered, The Whigs left a good taste in my mouth and hopes of a return for the festival in September. There are kinks to work out, but more than anything Las Vegas just needs to show up.