HISTORY

A BRIEF HISTORY OF WASTELAND WEEKEND

Wasteland Weekend began in 2010, when three Mad Max fans who had attended other, smaller fan gatherings decided to start their own. The original three founders of Wasteland Weekend were Karol Bartoszynski (who had organized some of the first Mad Max meetups in the early 2000s),  Jared Butler (a Los Angeles screenwriter and voice actor), and James Howard (a veteran of San Diego nightclub promoting).

 Joined by other Mad Max fans (including military re-enactor Paul Denton, who would almost single-handedly create the temporary sets and structures for the first event), they set out to create something that had never been done before: A fully-immersive fan event that would really feel like living inside a movie.

Wasteland Weekend was the result. A desert festival based heavily on the Mad Max films, but incorporating other iconic pieces of post-apocalyptic pop culture. The 2010 event attracted approximately 300 people, as well as media attention. They even received a video greeting from George Miller, director of the Mad Max films, who sent along a sneak peak from the pre-production of Mad Max: Fury Road in Australia.

Wasteland Weekend 2010
Wasteland Weekend 2010

In 2011, James Howard moved on from the event, and Karol and Jared were joined at the senior management level by professional photographer Adam Chilson, who not only brought his background in visual arts, but also a decade of trade show set-up experience. Adam became the event’s art director / build supervisor.

The 2011 event nearly doubled in size and included large new set pieces such as the iconic Wasteland Gates, as well as the now familiar layout that separated a completely themed “Wasteland City” from a less-strictly enforced camping and parking area for those attendees who may have had their costumes ready, but did not possess fully-themed cars or campsites.

Perhaps most importantly, 2011 introduced the “tribe” concept. The first de facto tribe had been a group of teammates playing Jugger (a post-apocalyptic version of armed football/rugby, based on a cult 80s movie) and camping together at WW2010. Now, tribes became an officially-encouraged aspect of the event, and attendees ran with the concept; one notable tribe from 2011 were the “Last Chancers” who began operating their “Last Chance Casino” at Wasteland that year.

Wasteland Weekend 2011
Wasteland Main Gate 2011
Wasteland Weekend 2011


2012 saw attendance at Wasteland increase to around 1,000 people, and the combined effort of staff and volunteers started to finally bring to fruition the founders’ dream of a fully-immersive, movie-like environment. The fully-realized version of the Atomic Cafe bar was also introduced that year, built from discarded car parts.

Atomic Cafe 2012
Atomic Cafe 2012

 The following years saw more growth, and more spectacle, as attendees began to unveil campsites, vehicles, and costumes that they had worked on for years, inspired by their first visits to the annual gathering. In fact, by 2014 there were over 100 custom-made vehicles driven out to the event, from all over the continent. The live music aspect of the event began to come into its own as well, with a full lineup of bands playing on a custom-built Wasteland main stage in both 2013 and 2014. Other ongoing fixtures of the Wasteland Weekend environment also emerged over the years, including the car cruises, bounty hunting games, bonfire dance pit, film festival, fire spinning area, post office, RC car battles, the wasteland-makeover beauty parlor known as the Body Shop, and more.

Wasteland Sunset 2013
Wasteland Sunset 2013
Wasteland Vehicles 2013
Wasteland Vehicles 2013
Wasteland Main Stage 2014
Wasteland Main Stage 2014
Wasteland Weekend 2014
Wasteland Weekend 2014

Co-founder Karol Bartoszynski left the organization after the 2014 event.

For 2015, as the long awaited release of Mad Max: Fury Road in theaters created new fans, Wasteland Weekend saw even more growth, with attendance topping out around 2,000 people, not to mention more costumes, camp creations, and post-apocalyptic cars than could be seen anywhere else in the world. 2015 also saw the addition of the Death Guild Thunderdome, long a tradition on the Burning Man playa, now taking its natural place among the revelers of Wasteland City. For the first time, tickets to the event sold out.

2016 was to be the final year at Wasteland’s original location in H-Park/Camp H in California City, a spot the event was rapidly outgrowing. The theme zones were expanded significantly, with a large amount of themed camping by major tribes now taking place outside the walls of Wasteland City, as well as inside. Tribes went on a building spree, expanding camps and building towers, taking the city vertical and lighting it up more at night. The security and medical stations were upgraded to military-grade air-conditioned all-weather tents (which came in handy when Wasteland experienced its first ever dust storm on Thursday). Tickets to the event sold out for a second year in a row and the total population on site hit 3,200 people.

2017 marked a new beginning and a new home. A large piece of private property was purchased for the event, a few miles away from the old site. The event wasn’t just bigger, it was longer, having expanded to five days, running Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets sold out for the third consecutive year and the total population hit 3,800 people. New main gates with new guard towers were built (with a new flaming “Wasteland” sign across the arch). Two side stages (run by the Nuclear Bombshells and the Wasted Saints tribes) were officially incorporated into the entertainment zone to host acts outside of the main stage. 11 live bands played (a new record) and an aerial performance rig was added near The Pit dance area. The car cruise had become so large that several smaller cruises were split off from it, including separate cruises (and judging) for replica vehicles, motorcycles, and ATVs.

2018 was the second year at the new location and Wastelanders were beginning to get familiar with the beautiful Mojave desert plain sheltered by rocky hills, soon to be known as Wasteland Valley. 2018 featured a major upgrade to the Wasteland Film Festival movie theater, now located next to the main stage and showing films during the day in an AIR CONDITIONED theater. The archery range returned after some years away, and a THIRD entertainment zone was added in the newly built area known as THE DEN (anchored by the veteran Road Rash tribe). World-reknowned post-apocalyptic costume and prop makers, Mark Cordory from the U.K and Dmitri Zaitsev from Germany both flew over to teach workshops at the event, and the Command Center got a much expanded crew lounge that doubled as a workshop / instruction space. And on top of all that, actor Nathan Jones (Rictus Erectus from Mad Max: Fury Road) made a special appearance, wearing his actual costume from the film, sent over personally by director George Miller.


2019’s event was the TENTH Wasteland Weekend.
Ten years. Hard to believe the end of the world lasted so long.
Year ten had an overall population of approximately 4,300 people. Another sold-out, bigger and better event. It saw the triumphant return of band 3Teeth, as well as other popular acts, both returning and new.
Special nods to the 10th year were everywhere: Some of the most popular music acts from past years returning (such as 3Teeth) alongside new performers like Hocico. Ten tribes, one representing each year of the event, paraded through main gates on opening day. Previous souvenir items were brought back with special “year ten” crests added. A wrecked car was dropped by forklift in front of the main stage on Saturday night for the crowd to dance on top of.
Sadly, it was also the final year of the salvaged wreck of the Exxon Valdez prop from the film Waterworld, that had served as the “Deez Stage” for years (the structure had deteriorated to the point where it could no longer be used/transported and retrofitting it was simply not viable).
On the downside, unseasonably cold weather rolled in by the weekend and high winds curtailed some of the fire performing and pyro fx that would normally take place at the main stage. But many attendees still declared it the best Wasteland ever.

Photo of the Deez by Bryan Humphrey

The eleventh Wasteland Weekend (2020) was postponed due to the pandemic.

The 2021 event (the eleventh) marked a triumphant return to the Wasteland. With the pandemic still on everyone’s minds, the population was much smaller for that year, but spirits were high as everyone who attended felt a sense of relief that the event had survived at all, after many other events and business sadly shuttered during 2020.

By 2022 Wasteland was growing again. And one of the most significant changes for the Wasteland Community and the Wasteland World company actually took place early in 2022, prior to Wasteland Weekend 12. This was the introduction of a SECOND large annual event put on by Wasteland World, called Neotropolis. A sort of sister festival, Neotropolis was put on by the same organizers and was held on the same piece of land, but in the spring (April) featuring a cyberpunk / sci-fi vision of the future.

Adam Chilson retired from the Wasteland World organization in the spring of 2023, leaving Jared Butler as the majority owner and sole remaining founder. JR Morris, longtime volunteer and senior staff member, became the new Chief of Operations.

By the summer of 2023, Wasteland had its first sold out event since pre-pandemic times. People Make Games came out to the event, and the resulting video which so wonderfully showcases how welcoming and kind Wastelanders are, has 1.6 million views on YouTube.

In 2024, as part of promotion for George Miller’s upcoming “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” Wasteland Weekend was contacted by Warner Bros. Pictures to provide vehicles and costumed Wastelanders for a special ‘stunt’ on Hollywood BLVD that coincided with Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth being delivered by custom-built chariot to “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Miller was heard exclaiming, “I feel like I’m back on set.” (You can see more about that here). 

Tickets for 2024’s event, taking place September 25th-29th, went on sale May 14th. 

The future of Wasteland Weekend is looming large and bright – like a mushroom cloud.


Wasteland Weekend aerial footage

Wasteland Weekend