The sky aglow with bursts of color, necks craned upward, it was like the Fourth of July on the 6th of December, albeit with remotely flown aircraft in place of fireworks and a woman’s awe-suffused voice substituting for the boom of spent explosives.
“Yeah, these are real things,” Kacey Musgraves sang in wonder-struck tones on “Oh, What a World” as 500 Intel Shooting Star Drones flew into formation.
Musgraves would perform the song in the flesh shortly thereafter in a nearby Quonset hut the size of a couple of football fields.
But for now, it was a recording of the tune that played at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds on Friday as the drones floated into view, first amassed together, like a flock of luminescent geese, then spinning off into a variety of patterns — a jellyfish, stars, the female form — before culminating in a giant, rainbow-hued smiley face.
The show, which was programmed by an all-woman team in a nod to women’s contributions to technology, came at around 11 p.m. during the opening night of Intersect, a new music, arts and tech festival with a CES-meets-Coachella kind of vibe, though not nearly as sizable as either.
The idea for Intersect sprang from AWS’ re:Invent conference, a learning seminar for the cloud commuting community that also features a live music component, which is held here annually and has grown to 35,000 attendees.
Intersect essentially takes that private party public while expanding it into a two-day festival.
It’s a substantial endeavor: With the festival footprint occupying over 1.5 million square feet, it took 350 crew members a day and 250 trucks worth of production to construct the site.
Their efforts came to loud, flashing life on Friday.
Seventeen live acts took to three different enclosed stages: Supernova, the largest, which Musgraves headlined; Infinity, where dance music artists reigned; and The Dome, which was largely the province of various singer-songwriters, performing amid clouds of dry-ice, laser lights shooting through the haze.
Outdoors, the fest’s courtyard glimmered and popped with abundant visual stimuli and a chainsaw-wielding ice sculptor amid a crowd of thousands of concertgoers.
The centerpiece was The Monolith, a six-story video tower displaying the works of video artists such as Kadavre Exquis and Destruction Club, the latter of which focused on immersion with a presentation akin to walking through a holographic corridor, like you were crossing the threshold into the realm of “Tron.”
Sitting beneath the thing, surrounded by palm trees, was akin to getting swallowed in a vortex of swirling colors and shapes.
Nearby was Spanish studio Tigrelab’s interactive “Mixed Mirrors,” where attendees could stand in place in front of a cylindrical video wall and have their picture taken, which then would be incorporated into a black-and-white pastiche of body parts.
Elsewhere, distractions were the attraction.
Though Intersect may have an eye to the future, it also acknowledges the pleasures of the past. To wit: the Experience tent was a maze of vintage arcade games, quarter gobblers of the ’80s like Ms. Pac-Man and Joust, in addition to hands-on throwbacks like Pixel Pistons, a massive inflatable ball pit where grown-ups could indulge in this kind of fun without fear of getting booted from the local Chuck E. Cheese.
Just outside was the Battleball field, enclosed in a chain link fence, flanked on each end by a drummer pounding out primal rhythms, as short games of dodgeball ensued.
“Please, do not throw the balls at the ground,” the Battleball host instructed his charges at one point. “The ground is already sad.”
Ultimately, though, the music was the main draw, Friday’s lineup deep and diverse.
“This is the first year of the festival,” alt-rocker Beck announced during his impressively invigorated set at Supernova, where he delved into new album “Hyperspace,” airing the ghostly, ethereal “Dark Places” for the first time. “We’re breaking it in, like a new pair of shoes, scuffing up the bottoms.”
Dancing shoes got more than a little scuffed during Jamie XX’s alternately blissed out and bracing set at Infinity, which ranged from vintage techno to full-contact electronica.
A similar blend of the ’80s and now came from Scotland’s Chvrches, whose sound mines several synth pop staples — shimmering keys, robust bass lines, arcing guitars — to form a musical bedrock for frontwoman Lauren Mayberry to practice her vocal calisthenics, her stage presence suggestive of caffeine incarnate.
Chvrches were followed on the Supernova stage by H.E.R., aka 22-year-old soul upstart Gabriella Wilson. When Wilson strapped on her guitar to lead her band in by turns aching and concussive R&B, it was a cue to steady yourself in the face of the power and poise to come.
And then, reducing all of the high energy to a low simmer was Kacey Musgraves.
Her opening number, “Slow Burn,” was a mission statement of sorts, a laid-back country pop mood enhancer about taking your time in the pursuit of whatever it is you’re pursuing, secure in the knowledge that you’ll get there eventually.
Musgraves favors understatement over aplomb, easing into her performance, backed by a six-piece band in matching suits. Even when singing of emotional anxiety, as she did on “Happy &Sad,” it felt reassuring somehow.
In one of the more ironic moments of the night, Musgraves had to deal with technical issues at a fest dedicated, at least in part, to technical advancements.
Early on in her set, the video screens displaying her performance began freezing on and off. At one point, the computer screen controlling the video presentation was briefly displayed.
“Welcome to my TED talk,” Musgraves quipped on cue.
Oh, what a world indeed.
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476.