Festival All-Star: Paul E. AmoriArticle by: Graham Berry|@Festival_Writer
Fri June 02, 2017 | 10:00 AM
For the last few years at Lightning in a Bottle , “immersive experiences” like Frontierville and Super Tall Paul's Jive Joint have dazzled the eyes and ears of festival adventure seekers. However, one such installation vies for a different “anatomical piece” of the crowd. We're talking about Amori’s Burlesque & Casino , which aims for fest-goers' hearts. While fans of LIB will certainly recall the Casino's enchanting fire performances, risqué burlesque, live music, sexy lounge spots, and fun daytime discussions from LIB's previous years, not many of them are familiar with the beating heart of this amazing place, Paul E. Amori.
I set out to talk with Amori in a rare, out-of-character interview to get an insider's look at the charismatic man who is shaking up the West Coast festival scene with the power of love – and to talk about Amori's Burlesque & Casino's evolution. To start us off, Amori took a few moments to explain his origin story.
“Paul E.'s story is he was born a poor Italian child in this small town of Baccameculo, Italy, in the South of Italy, right where Sicily is kicked in the ass by the boot," he explains. "His father, Gimmesomamore Amori, was but a poor dildo sculptor who toiled in his lab everyday trying to figure out the ultimate means by which to create love and pleasure. Paul E.'s mother, Paul E. Esther, unfortunately died in a tragic accident, the exact circumstances of which are unknown, but it’s said she was found in the laboratory with a smile on her face that couldn't be wiped away for ten days. Leaving Paul E. to learn the arts of love by himself and from his father who sent him to America to spread his message and gospel of love.”
Photo by Reid Godshaw
The Rise to Power
In 2012, a longtime friend of Amori's named Ian Xavier, who is one of the founders of Frontierville and the Grand Artique, told him about the faux mayoral election they had thrown the previous year. According to Xavier, something was missing; they had two solid candidates in Wesley W.C. Thornbush and Tyler Hanson initially, “but they lacked a really good third party candidate.”
Xavier mentioned this to Amori in passing, thinking he might be a solid choice for the role. Amori agreed to do it, with one caveat. Seeing that his campaign rivals were “all kind of in character” he set out to develop one of his own.
“I created this sort of spoof character of a bunch of my friends in the polyamory scene and I named him, not so subtly, Paul E. Amori,” he explained. The overwhelming response inspired his “Vote for Love” campaign strategy along with the encouragement needed to take his character to the next level. Excited to see what would happen, Xavier added Amori to the ballot. When Thornbush and Hanson started asking “Who is this guy?” Xavier reassured them.
“Trust me,” he said. “It’s going to be good.” And it was.
His first day at the festival in full Amori regalia, Amori, “looking at that point a little like Borat,” set out to find W.C. Thornbush with “an entourage of comely coquettes” in tow.
“I went over to the Grand Artique first to look for him," he remembers. "He wasn’t there and so I took the girls and we started down the kind of main market thoroughfare. And it was like something out of a Western movie. Literally, a tumble weed passes in front of us and I look up and we see each other.”
Thornbush locked eyes with Amori as he approached.
"Mr. Amori, I presume."
It’s helpful to note at this time that Amori has a history of butchering Thornbush’s name. So without a moment's hesitation Amori turned to him and said, "Mr. Thornpatch.”
W.C. exploded. There was only a small crowd gathered but the exchange became one of the most talked about encounters at the festival and the people wanted more. That’s when improv-based debates really started to take off at Lightning in a Bottle, and Amori took to it with ease.
Photo by David Gueringer
“I was a theater actor for many, many years and improv's kinda my thing,” he explained. “I just slayed it at the debates. W.C. was not prepared for Amori’s constant barrage of below-the-belt sexual innuendos, so it was a bit like stealing candy from a baby and I just won the people over. They thought it was hysterical.”
In the final days of the festival, ballots were cast and Amori’s character took the election by a narrow margin. “It was a total shock to me, I thought even if I did actually get the votes I didn't think they would let me win.” As the newest addition to the ballot, it just seemed “too insider” to actually be able to claim the title.
In an inauguration ceremony (of sorts) on that Sunday most of the 10,000 or so folks who were gathered to see Bassnectar had no idea an election had even occurred, so the news that a winner was being announced was befuddling. In keeping with the Frontierville tradition W.C. Thornbush was declared the winner of the mayoral race only to simultaneously be accused of voter fraud – the consequence of which would be death.
Amori explained, “They do this thing where they kill him. He always sort of dies, it's part of the shtick. And so he's hung in front of the audience and they had a pretty like...well, these are Lucent Dossier folks after all, so they have a full-on rig and it looked like the guy was actually getting hung.” The crowd was shocked and confused.
W.C. was released and a silence fell upon the crowd. The audience had no idea what was happening and in the corner backstage awaited an eager Paul E. Amori who sensed that he was about to step onto the stage at perhaps the most awkward moment possible. A rushed MC tried to keep the show moving and turned to Amori, shoved a mic in his hand, and said “You gotta do this quick! Mr. Amori, you got two minutes.”
"I want to thank everyone for voting for love. You voted for more multiple orgasms, more random sexual encounters with strangers in a Port-a-Potty, and more nude swimming in the lake. And of my late opponent, W.C. Thornpatch, well at least he can say he was finally well hung."
Photo by Reid Godshaw
The silence was broken as the crowd howled with laughter and a festival legend was born. It was in this moment that Amori came to see all that he had accomplished and what could be possible. For several hours, countless people approached him saying “Oh, Mr. Mayor!” He stayed in character all night. It’s an LIB tradition that sunrise is celebrated at the Temple, and that particular morning Amori (out of costume for the first time all night) was finally reunited with Xavier. “We kept missing each other all night and when we finally saw each other at the Temple we just laughed our asses off about how successful the campaign was.” And that’s when Amori uttered four words that would change his life.
“Amori’s Casino and Burlesque,” he said. “Dude, next year I’m gonna build this thing.”
Kickstarting a Community
Xavier and the folks at Frontierville were all big supporters of the idea, but by the time they approached Do LaB with the plan, the festival was only a few months away and budgets had already been allocated for the year. “This is great,” they said. “We love this idea, but we can’t give you any money.”
Amori knew he had Do LaB’s blessing just not the funding he needed to build the thing. Already armed with knowledge of the science of crowdfunding, Amori did it on his own. He created an IndieGogo campaign with a video to send out a cry for help to the community. The campaign turned out to be an incredible triumph, raising $15,000 in just over 20 days.
The campaign spread across the festival community and news of these efforts even reached the ears of Do LaB's leaders. “They watched this whole plan come together and were as shocked as I was when the money actually started to roll in," Helix remembers. "At the end of it we went ahead and made it happen. They were really impressed and pleased with the amount of energy and attention that I put into the project.”
Perhaps then, part of the charm of Amori’s Casino & Burlesque is rooted in commonly held affections for the festival community at LIB and a shared will to see the love for it – and the love in it – grow.
The Foundation of Amori's Festival Love
No stranger to the festival scene, Amori has been attending these events for a decade or more. While many others start with smaller events and graduate to Black Rock City, his first festival was Burning Man – which shaped his positive attitude towards mandatory participation. Building Amori’s Casino & Burlesque gave him the opportunity to offer something unique, so he asked himself: What would I like at a festival?
“I like the DJs and the partying as much as the next guy, don't get me wrong, but the thing I’ve always liked most at festivals has been meeting people and the community that comes out of it," he said. "I thought of building a place that I would want to spend a lot of time and I always feel like there's a shortage of places where you can just get comfortable, hang out with friends, listen to great music that's not totally overwhelming everything else, and watch some cool performances.”
Then he adjusted in his chair and looked off into the distance with a subtle grin. “I also thought it would be unique to make it a little more sexy," he continued. "There's a fine line between sexual and sexy, and I think if you can walk the right side of that, sexy can be so fun and so engaging. What I've always tried to do at Amori's is keep it on the right side of that sexy factor. It’s tongue-in-cheek and fun for people but not creepy and weird, even though Amori is kind of creepy and weird – in the best possible way.”
In February, Amori hosted a Valentine’s dinner packed with entertainment and talent – an emblem of Amori's continued growth beyond festival grounds. Seeing such evolution, I asked him what his plans were for Amori’s this year. Recalling that W.C. Thornbush was fond of accusing him of building “the place out of duct tape,” he pointed towards the possibility of a fresh look for Amori’s that will be modular in nature so that it can be easily transported, set up, and taken down.
Behind the new look, he credits designs to Mike Russek, a quintessential powerhouse of imagination with his team of creative wizards at 1028 Designs (he's worked with Skrillex, Alex Grey and more). Under Russek’s guidance the new design makes bringing Amori's to other festivals a possibility.
According to Amori, “If we are able to accomplish even half of what we're talking about doing it’s gonna be gonzo! The entire front of Amori's is gonna be projection mapped.” More casino-style games will be introduced and, rather than one undivided structure, there will be separate rooms along corridors “each with their own thing happening inside of them.”
In what could possibly be a later vision, Amori hinted: “When everything else in the festival is on dirt, if you walk in and you have wood flooring – that's what we are shooting for – you feel like you're in a completely different environment. I can't state enough how big a deal that is to walk into the place and feel transported.”
In addition to all that Amori, said “We are going to be building a Chapel of Love” where Amori can perform weddings in character. And to top it all off we will be doing dinners at Amori’s, an actual Italian dinner in a restaurant-like setting complete with live performances and candlelight. “I haven't really seen anything like that at a festival,” said Amori. “Sure there's plenty of great food, but to have a sit-down dining experience I think is a really fun idea.”
A Message of Love
As we finished our talk I turned to him and asked what message he would want to share with anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity yet to visit his Casino & Burlesque.
“Maybe it’s someone's first Lightning in a Bottle,” I said. “Do you have any words for them?”
“Sure,” he said as he smiled proudly. “I would say come to Amori’s for great music, sexy, beautiful people and incredible performances. But more importantly, come to Amori's to be a participant, to have a taste of the love that makes a festival like LIB happen. Amori's is a place that's designed to make people feel happy, feel joy and feel taken care of. And in that, it's also a place to feel comfortable, in all senses of the word, to feel like you can express yourself; and that you can also kick back and lounge, take a little refuge from the weather, dance your ass off, see a great show and meet up with all your friends who you know will be there. But, most importantly, come and share the love.”
The Next Mayor of Los Angeles?
Within the utopian confines of Lightning in a Bottle, the kind of love and kinship Amori is everywhere. In the real world? With all the stresses of daily life, not so much. Amori, ever attuned to where his welcoming and affectionate vibe of togetherness is needed most, knows this and did something about it. He entered the race for Mayor of Los Angeles. For the first time ever, an interactive artist steeped in music festival culture applied the ideas and solutions from the festival community directly into a real-life play for public office. The election took place on May 16, 2017.
In his Vote 4 Love campaign, Amori distinguished himself from other candidates of the day by running on what he called “the Love Party” platform, which asked voters a simple question: “How do we create the most love for the most people?” His campaign focused on love as a core value; improved voter turnout; and crown-sourced solutions to problems plaguing the city of LA like homelessness and loss of film industry revenue.
Do LaB's cofounder Josh Flemming has announced an endorsement of Amori's run. "We are humbled and excited to see one of our own out there being a voice for good. In the dynamic and all too often disheartening landscape of American politics, it’s refreshing to see someone from the local community of artists leading the charge to bring hope to areas and people that need it most."
"I decided to take the campaign slogan behind my original bid for mayor of LIB, 'Vote 4 Love,' out of the confines of festival culture and into the broader world by running for mayor of Los Angeles," Amori told Everfest. "Though it may have initially seemed like quite a stretch to some, when you look at what Amori and Amori's has always stood for, namely fostering love and encouraging self expression, it makes total sense to want to bring that into politics, especially in the Trump era."
Amori says he learned unexpected lessons from his foray into politics, and most profound was the impact the campaign had on him personally.
"...The mantra of 'what would love do?' which I applied to every decision I made during the election, changed my life indelibly and has opened me up to even deeper love of myself and others," Amori reflected. "This year at the Bottle, all of the incredible team at Amori's rededicated ourselves to bringing that love to the people of LIB by making them feel loved, welcomed and inviting them into our family. And all of this certainly contributed to making this our best year yet!"
Even if Amori did not become the Mayor of Los Angeles, his ideas and the ideals of festival culture and the larger creative community held the spotlight in one of the biggest cities in the world. How's that for taking progressive festival culture to the big leagues?