Your official title is director of experience and art creation for Insomniac. What exactly does that mean?
We create the beauty. We bring items that go with [every Insomniac festival]. In the case of Electric Daisy Carnival, having eight stages themed beautifully with music and lights, we need to provide the environment—the items that will make people say, “Wow, this is a great festival!” The trees and mushrooms and light trees and beautiful grass and props all over the place. My job is to create and bring new elements to the site.
Before working with Insomniac, you were Bellagio’s executive director of horticulture, where you oversaw the conservatory. How did that experience prepare you for this?
[It’s like] I got a master’s degree from Bellagio, because it’s such a great, established, structured corporation. I went through all the levels. I was hired as a gardener, and I went all the way to executive director of horticulture. I had the opportunity to go to so many classes and seminars because that’s what they do. They prepare middle management so we know what to do when a customer is not happy. What is it that the customer is going to take away? We gotta provide that “Wow!” factor. We gotta provide an impression at every point of contact.
Were you familiar with Insomniac before you were hired?
Yes. One of the main reasons that I made the switch is my son. He’s 24 now. Four years ago, he came to me and said, “I need $600.” For what? “EDC. They moved it from L.A. to here.” OK, so what’s EDC? He goes on the computer—you know how kids are these days—and he shows me. I say, “OK, OK.” So when the opportunity came to me, I spoke to him. I said, “I was approached [with a job offer]. What do you think?” He was like, “What! You have to take it, Dad. [Insomniac CEO and founder] Pasquale Rotella has this vision …” And I go, “Who is Pasquale?” He goes to the computer and plays a video for me. Long story short, Pasquale and I had many meetings. We agree in so many ways, because I also have a crazy mind.
What kind of impact does festival prep have on your schedule?
We are pulling 16-20 hour days now. I’ve been married for 28 years. [My wife and I] have an understanding since I took this position. I said, “This is what it’s going to take for me to do this. Are you in with me?” And she goes, “Yes, do it.” But she knows that from now until June 30, we are divorced. I have a mistress—her name is EDC. All of my time, all of my effort, all of my thoughts are devoted to make sure that when the DJ turns off the volume on Sunday, June 21, people will take away something. Either it’s a picture of a prop, a light, a selfie.
EDC revolves around electronic dance music—do you actually enjoy listening to it?
My son was listening to it and I asked him, “What is that?” He said, “Dad, it’s EDM!” Then I got into the business and started listening. Calvin Harris made a song for my wife, [“Feel So Close”]. Now, every time he plays the song, I have watery eyes because she’s not there with me. I record that song at every festival, and I send it to her. When we are here in Vegas, we make sure we know when Calvin is gonna play the song. I have to be with her. We dance. We kind of cry. And then I have to go back to work.
Having started your Las Vegas career in manual labor, are there ever moments when overseeing these massive festivals feels surreal?
Every day. Just this morning, I was driving in and my mind was all on EDC. I literally pinched myself driving to work. I thought I was dreaming. I feel blessed that this opportunity came along. I’m preparing for [an event] that more than 400,000 people will come to. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Between your work for Bellagio and Insomniac, do you have any idea how many selfies you’re responsible for?
[Laughs.] We had people in the conservatory counting how many people came in a week. We divided that by seven days. And we found out that 22,000 people visited daily. My last Christmas display, we had 3.5 million hits online. Then when I think of EDC or Insomniac, I think it’s in the millions and millions.In my previous and current job, we walk and we listen, because we gotta make sure that we understand what we did well and what are the things that make people go, “Hmm, I don’t understand that.” Art, which is what we do, doesn’t care if you like it or not. Art cares if you’re paying attention. But as producers, we’re gonna be sure that we satisfy the majority. Not 100 percent— that’s difficult. But if we satisfy 80 percent, we did a good job.