Thousands cheer burning of wooden showgirl at First Friday

For about 10 minutes Friday night Lucky Lady Lucy was the brightest light in Las Vegas.

Organizers of First Friday torched Lucy, a 20-foot-tall wooden showgirl, in front of thousands of cheering locals.

The crowd showed up downtown in the Arts District to soak in the vibe of Las Vegas' spin on Burning Man, the Northern Nevada counterculture event in the Black Rock Desert.

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey looked on while Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Internet retailer Zappos, who with three friends revived the dormant First Friday event, lit the fuse leading to Lucy.

Harvey said Las Vegas was the first city to officially embrace such a burn.

"It is actually really elegant it is in Las Vegas," he said. "Our event is about self-reinvention. Vegas is always reinventing itself and reinventing itself."

Lucy, whose construction was months in the making, burned on a vacant lot that minutes earlier was a carnival of costumed dancers, fire performers, brightly colored spotlights and live music.

A crane hoisted Merritt Pelkey, one of the artists who created Lucy, to the top of the sculpture while he doused the frame with accelerant.

"It is real," said Leslie Bocskor, chairman of the Society of Experimental Arts and Learning, another contributor, as final preparations were under way.

It was the first time anyone involved had organized such an event in an urban area, and Bocskor said countless hours were spent preparing to make it happen, from building Lucy to securing a site to maintaining the authentic spirit backers said was key to success.

"In some ways it is more real than Burning Man because this is the first time it is happening" Bocskor said.

Also watching was an engine company from the Las Vegas Fire Department.

Firefighters worked with organizers to ensure the event was safe. The diameter of the site was twice the length of the sculpture, leaving plenty of space between Lucy and the crowd were the frame to break.

Also, builders rigged wires to the frame of the sculpture that would have allowed them to pull it apart if it appeared about to topple.

"These people have bent over backward to help us," said Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski.

The burn was a major event for First Friday, a monthly arts festival downtown that had been on hiatus for the summer and was considered by some to be in jeopardy before Hsieh, Joey Vanas, Fred Mossler and developer Andrew Donner stepped in.

Since taking over, they have sought to build buzz for the event by attracting quality art and incubating a counterculture vibe.

Hsieh said Vanas was inspired to take over after visiting Burning Man last summer.

For First Friday enthusiasts the infusion of energy was a long time coming.

Ray Garza, 55, a 19-year resident of Las Vegas, said he is seeing it in the quality of the art.

In recent months, Garza, a marketer and artist, said it has become clear there is more quality art associated with the event, which contributes to the buzz and helps attract better art.

"People are putting some love, they are putting some real heart behind the art," Garza said. "Had First Friday closed, it would have been a real black eye on this town."

Contact Benjamin Spillman at or 702-229-6435.