Alienstock is on, and people are already gathering. On Wednesday, Sept. 18, a day before the original Alienstock festival was scheduled to begin, KTNV reports that people had started to show up in Rachel, Nev., the closest town to Area 51.
In the wake of Matty Roberts’ pledge to invade Area 51 — a highly-classified military base long believed to be a secret alien holding site — going massively viral over the summer, the extraterrestrial enthusiast said he was launching an alien-themed festival dubbed Alienstock that was going to take place in Rachel in lieu of the raid.
However, on Monday, Sept. 9, Roberts announced that he was backing out of the event in Rachel, which was set to take place in a little over a week, and instead moving Alienstock to a “safe, clean secure area” in downtown Las Vegas.
“Due to the lack of infrastructure, poor planning, risk management and blatant disregard for the safety of the expected 10,000+ Alienstock attendees, we decided to pull the plug on the festival,” Roberts’ statement on the Alienstock website reads. “We are not interested in, nor will we tolerate any involvement in a FYREFEST 2.0. We foresee a possible humanitarian disaster in the works, and we can’t participate in any capacity at this point.”
Roberts has said that he created the original Storm Area 51 event as an “entirely satirical” meme page, but with over 2 million Facebook users “going” and another 1.5 million “interested,” he decided to refocus his efforts on an initiative that was less likely to draw attention from the U.S. Air Force.
“Alienstock is a brand that stands for unity and concern for like minded people,” he said in his Monday statement. “It’s grown into much more than a location. It’s a phenomenon that can only promise absolute safety and peace, and we need to move the festival to guarantee that.”
Here’s everything we know about Alienstock so far.
What is Alienstock?
According to its website, Alienstock was originally a “party in the desert” that would feature camping, music, art installations and surprise performances. Brock Daily, one of Roberts’ fellow organizers, told TIME that a lineup of mostly EDM performers would be announced in the weeks leading up to the festival.
“They can’t stop us from gathering and celebrating aliens! This event is taking place whether we set up or not — it’s basically its own entity now,” the site read. “We’re aiming to establish something unique here, a meeting place for all the believers. Come out to the desert to dive into a world full of live music, arts, and camping under the stars.”
The festival was meant to bring together people who are interested in the mystique surrounding Area 51 without encouraging them to attempt an illegal raid on a top-secret military installation.
“We encourage attendees to bring all of their essential needs — and we ask that everyone remember to fill up those gas tanks!” the site noted. “We’ll have the critical infrastructure set in place, we can’t wait to share this experience!”
Although several locals met with the Lincoln County board of commissioners on Aug. 19 to discuss ways to prevent Alienstock, the board ultimately issued the special permit for the festival. However, at the recommendation of the county sheriff’s department and emergency management office, the county pre-declared a state of emergency for the weekend just in case. “We felt it was prudent,” Bevan Lister, the board of commissioners representative for the seat in nearby Pioche told TIME.
On Aug. 28, Nye County, which is home to the Alien 51 Travel Center in Amargosa Valley, became the second local Nevada county to preemptively declare a state of emergency for this weekend. “The concern is that we just don’t know,” Nye County spokesman Arnold Knightly told the New York Daily News. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen, or who’s going to come through.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has also declared “temporary flight restrictions for special security reasons” for the airspace around Area 51. On Sept. 13 and 16, the FAA issued two NOTAMs (notice to airmen) banning all aircraft (including helicopters and drones) from flying over areas close to the towns of Mercury and Rachel, Nev., as well as the southern end of the U.S. military’s Nevada Test and Training Range. The bans will be in effect from Sept. 18-23 and Sept. 19-23, respectively.
As of Sept. 9, Roberts has abandoned the plans for the original festival in favor of joining forces with Area 51 Celebration, a one-night concert that was already set to take place at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center before Roberts ever reached out to the organizing committee.
“The time has come to sit back, share a beer, and talk all things aliens. Instead of storming a government base, the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center is partnering with Collective Zoo and Bud Light to host an out-of-this-world evening of top-secret entertainment on Thursday, September 19 with the Area 51 Celebration,” the event page on the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center’s website reads. “Come in peace, we have everything you need to make this celebration a blowout, including a classified lineup of music artists specially curated by Collective Zoo.”
Roberts told TIME that the decision was made after a dispute over security, sanitation, medical personnel and insurance permits. “There were a lot of red flags that popped out as far as business goes,” he said.
When is Alienstock?
Alienstock is taking place the same weekend as the original Storm Area 51 event: Sept. 20-22. Early birds began to arrive on Wednesday, Sept. 18, a day before the festival’s original start date, which was intended to be devoted to parking and organization. The festival officially begins on Friday, Sept. 20 and ends at noon on Sunday, Sept. 22.
“We’re doing everything in our power to establish an amazing experience,” the site read. “You can expect a gathering that defines our current generation. From the new people you’ll meet, to the new music you’ll hear- this will be unforgettable!”
Area 51 Celebration is a one-night-only event that will take place on Thursday, Sept. 19 at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. Doors are set to open at 7 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m.
Where is Alienstock?
The Alienstock festival is underway in Rachel, Nev., the closest town to Area 51. Rachel, a town with an official population of just 54 people, is located about two hours outside of Las Vegas and sits near the midpoint of Nevada State Route 375, a.k.a. the Extraterrestrial Highway.
The Alienstock website claimed that the festival had secured the entire front portion of Rachel with the help of the Little A’Le’Inn, the only hotel and restaurant in the town. However, the town’s website warned that Rachel was not prepared for an event of that caliber and that its residents would not allow their town to be taken over.
“If you plan on attending the event you must be experienced in camping, hiking and surviving in a harsh desert environment and have a vehicle in good shape. You must be prepared to be completely on your own for food, water, gas etc. We expect cell service and the internet in Rachel to be offline. Credit card processing will not work, so bring enough cash,” it read. “A dubious group claiming a connection to chaotic events like Burning Man and the Las Vegas Electric Music Festival has taken over the Rachel part of this event. They threaten to ‘take over Rachel’ and claim that the residents are ‘on board.’ The residents were not asked and are not on board and will certainly not allow their town to be taken over.”
Some of Rachel’s residents also shared their personal objections with Alienstock with TIME. “The locals are not on board, nobody asked us, and we don’t appreciate anyone threatening to take over our town,” Joerg Arnu, who first bought property in Rachel in 2003 and runs the town website, told TIME. “I’ll do anything in my power to prevent this.”
“We have no fire department out here. If a fire started, there’s no way of putting it out,” Bob Clabaugh, a retired pilot who has lived in Rachel for more than two decades, added. “There’s just a lot of reasons not to have this many people here without a serious planned system set up for it.”
Even Connie West, who co-owns the Little A’Le’Inn with her mother, Pat Travis, had expressed concern over how the event would play out. “I can’t wait until it’s over,” she said, adding that she shared the same misgivings as her fellow Rachel residents despite the fact that she was cooperating with festival organizers to rent out parking spots on the land she owns surrounding the inn. “I’m just as terrified as they are. I live here too, and I’m just doing my best.”
In his Sept. 9 statement on the Alienstock website, Roberts claims that West, the holder of the permit for the festival, failed to fulfill her side of the Alienstock bargain.
“The permit holder (Connie West) was given multiple opportunities to provide us with the proof that things expected at this festival were in place. In fact, she refused to provide to us, as agreed upon, contracts, proof of deposits or any paper proof of anything,” the statement reads. “We are officially disconnecting from Connie West, Rachel NV and Alienstock’s affiliation with them. We will no longer offer our logo, social media, website or Matty Roberts likeness or scheduled appearance.”
An alternative event, Area 51 Celebration, is set to take place in downtown Las Vegas at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. However, West told TIME in an email that there will still be a festival in Rachel despite the split with Roberts.
“I’ve paid it out of my pocket anyway because nobody had any money,” West said of her planning for Alienstock. “It’s still going full blast. I’ve got a $17,500 down payment to security, and half of that is nonrefundable.”
Who is performing at Alienstock?
The lineup for Area 51 Celebration has yet to be announced, but the Alienstock website promises “EDM artists and some unique art being displayed for an ‘out of this world’ gathering!”
As for the original festival that is still set to take place in Rachel, the rock trio Wily Savage is confirmed to perform that weekend alongside other musical acts including The Weird Kids, Daylight Sinners and Madison Deaver.
“We saw it right around the time that it started blowing up, when it was hitting a million people,” Alon Burton, Wily Savage’s singer and guitarist, told Slate of the Storm Area 51 event in August. “Jeremy, our drummer said, ‘Hey, we should go play that.’ We’ve spent some time out in Nevada, and he was aware of the Little A’Le’Inn. So he just called up Connie West, the owner of the Little A’Le’Inn, and made arrangements for us to play. This was before they even decided to change the [Facebook] event into a music festival.”
The Alienstock website now states that any performances that take place at the Little A’Le’Inn “will not be affiliated with Alienstock’s brand or likeness.”
According to the website for the festival in Rachel, the musical lineup will include The Weird Kids, The Battery Electric, Daylight Sinners, Future Twin, Will B, Speed of Light, D Pel, Madison Deaver, Doglord, Lauren Kershner, The John Whites, The Will Shambergs, Plnt9, Bryce Xavier, Blunderbusst, Brothers of Alien Rock, Pynk Le’monade, Sad bug, and Symptom.
Music producer and songwriter Mike Fern of the Brothers of Alien Rock, a Florida-based group that dresses up in silver alien costumes and masquerades as a band of “stranded aliens left on Earth” with the “will to rock,” told TIME that the Brothers have even worked up some new singles to perform at the festival on Saturday. Fern says that one of the band’s new songs is an on-brand headbanger dubbed “Don’t Storm the Gates” that documents an alternate future in which humans help “rescue the aliens so they can go on to put on the greatest show of all time.”
How much are Alienstock tickets?
The Alienstock festival is free to the public but organizers were asking for donations to help pay for food and water, portable toilets, stages and music, staff, emergency services and security. The website for the festival in Rachel is offering weekend parking passes that range in price from $60 to $1000.
Roberts and Frank DiMaggio, a consultant who says he has years of experience producing festivals in Nevada, told TIME that all the money that was donated for the original festival has been refunded. “Anything that came in as a donation got refunded through PayPal,” DiMaggio said. “These kids never wanted to earn money from this.”
Area 51 Celebration is free. Attendees must be 21 or older to enter.
How have people responded to Alienstock?
Since Alienstock was officially announced on Friday, Aug. 9, over 11,000 people have clicked attending on the accompanying Facebook event while another 16,000 have said they are interested. Meanwhile, the Little A’LE’INN is already booked for the weekend. “We’re embracing it, that’s all we can do,” West told KVVU-TV.
Arnu told TIME that he thinks the festival in Rachel becoming more low-profile is probably the best possible outcome for everyone involved in the event. “I think it’s a blessing in disguise for them,” he said. “This makes it more manageable for [West].”
As of Sept. 10, the latest, but not entirely unexpected, development in the story was that two people actually attempted to go through with the original idea of invading Area 51, or at least a restricted government facility right outside of it. Police officers were called to the Nevada National Security Site, a government nuclear facility 10 miles outside the military installation, after two men were spotted inside its perimeter, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office said in a video statement.
The two men, later identified by deputies as Ties Granzier, 20, and Govert Charles Wilhelmus Jacob Sweep, 21, are both reportedly YouTubers from the Netherlands and were arrested on trespassing charges. Police said that Granzier and Sweep told them that they saw the “No Trespassing” signs at the facility but ignored them because they wanted to see the site, which is near Area 51.
-With reporting by Rachel Greenspan and Raisa Bruner