Jerly and Ken Her drove to the Nevada desert from Los Angeles this weekend to participate in one of the largest lantern releases in the world. This time, they got their money’s worth.
The brothers bought tickets for the RiSE Festival with some friends last year but were told a half-hour before the planned mass release of floating lanterns that the event had to be canceled because of an incoming storm.
They drove home disappointed, with unlit lanterns covered in written wishes and anxieties that they didn’t get to release. But their tickets rolled over to this year, so they brought their other brother Fang to try again.
“Some of our friends who came with us last year didn’t want to come back,” Jerly Her said Sunday at the festival, held at the Jean dry lake bed, about 30 miles south of Las Vegas. “But we want to get the experience we paid for.”
For its first five years, the festival took place over Friday and Saturday. RiSE Festival co-founder Dan Hill told the Review-Journal last week that this year’s festival was extended to three days to accommodate those who had to go home unhappy, some without a refund, last year. Next year, he said, the event will return to its two-day format.
RiSE volunteer coordinator Amy Poulson said about 5,000 attendees from last year came back Sunday, in addition to 2,000 to 3,000 more who bought tickets.
The start of the festival felt like a more intimate Coachella. Everywhere one looked, one could see people in boots and flowy skirts, hosting Instagram photo shoots despite the sign near the entrance encouraging attendees to “be in the moment with us” and put their phones away.
Skies were clear as festivalgoers started rolling in at 5 p.m., with live music, food trucks and photo ops as entertainment before the first lantern launch. While they ate, attendees decorated their lanterns.
Some wrote prayers, some wrote messages to deceased loved ones, some wrote down the anxieties plaguing them, and some left their lanterns blank. When 7 p.m. rolled around, people gathered to release whatever was weighing on them. Two more mass lantern releases were planned before 8 p.m.
And it wasn’t an individual experience, even for those who showed up alone. Musical headliner Zack Grey emphasized the importance of helping one another to release the lanterns and sharing in the moment.
The event was emotional for many. Grey told the crowd during his set that he and his mom had cried while releasing their lanterns Saturday night.
The center of the venue held a small stage, where artists the Exes and Grey performed to kick off the evening. Fanning out from the stage like sunbeams were 3,000 torches popping out of the ground that were used later to light the lanterns.
Beverly Howard and her husband, Stan Owen, came all the way from Washington, D.C., for what Owen called his wife’s “dream birthday weekend.”
The couple saw Rod Stewart perform in Las Vegas on Saturday night, then released a lantern adorned with Bible verses at RiSE on Sunday.
Howard said she had never been to a lantern release before and called the experience “magical.”
“The videos are absolutely beautiful, and I knew I had to see it in person,” she said. “The fact that RiSE and Rod Stewart were both here on my birthday weekend was just perfect.”
Vance Vlasek, the master of ceremonies for the night, said the purpose of the event was to lift people up and rise above negativity. He encouraged people to imagine that the flame was love when they were lighting their lanterns before the first release.
“It’s what fuels your intention,” Vlasek said. “If you’re letting something go and burning it away, do it with love. If you’re starting something new, spark it up with love.”