Knight Rider Festival (Las Vegas)

So randomly last Monday I went to to read about the fate of the new tv show. I hadn’t watched anything more than the pilot, and I’d assumed it was probably canceled or close to being canceled. While there I confirmed neither thing but did see this cool banner at the top of the page advertising Knight Rider Festival with such guests as Glen Larson, Rebecca Holden and Catherine Hickland. At one point even David Hasselhoff was potentially coming to the show. It looked like a grand time to be had by all. But alas, it had to be in Germany or the United Kingdom or something right? Las Vegas? THIS weekend? Seriously?

What were we to do? My wife and I hastily booked a Virgin America flight to depart after work on Friday and return early this morning. We found the only hotel in the area with rooms available, which was a Motel 6 with horrible reviews on Yelp, and we got excited. We were going to see many replicas and original KITTs and meet some of the people that made Knight Rider happen. It was a great way to motivate me to complete the rest of a really rough work week.

So everything went according to plan, I picked up our boarding passes after riding in to the airport on BART. My wife found a spot in long term parking and brought our two carryon bags, which contained our still camera, video camera, a change of clothes, toiletries and address information for the Motel 6, a map of food in the area and potential shuttle information.

We boarded the plane without incident and even though we couldn’t sit together due to the plane being full, we got through the flight fairly comfortably and arrived in Las Vegas at around 9:00pm Friday night.

It took an awfully long time to cross the terminal at the airport and reach the taxi area, only to find out that the shuttle area was across the airport. We settled on Bell Transportation for our shuttle to Motel 6. I was a bit scared when our driver didn’t know about the Motel 6 and had never been there. I wasn’t a bit worried about the driver. I was worried about the hotel. We were the first on the shuttle bus and the last to get off. It turned out that our driver had just moved to Vegas four weeks prior and this was only the fourth day of her second week on the job. Everyone was complaining about the time it took her to get them to their hotels, with the girl behind us calling her friends four or five times telling them she was going to be late because of the bad decision she had made to hop on a shuttle bus. The truth is, while it took a while, it was a smooth ride and fun to see the city without driving in it. We got to our hotel around 10:50pm, just in time for the girl at the front desk to say “Uh, it will be about 15 minutes…” and take off. We sat there a bit dumbfounded. Then a stoner dude came out and was just standing there and then someone else came in and tried to check in before us. We got our keys to our room, on the third floor up the stairs. We got inside and it was sticky hot and as my wife predicted, the air conditioner was not working. I took a shower and the towels were gross and not clean. The bed was uncomfortable but we needed sleep. So we suffered through a bit of inconvenience but it was good to be there. We were also literally only two blocks away from the festival.

We woke up at some crazy hour of like 7:30am or something like that. We walked over to Fremont Street Experience and heard the “DeceptiKARR” about a quarter mile away with its scanner bar sound. The KITTs and KARRS were already starting to arrive. We walked down the 3rd Street Expansion gawking at all of them, pretty much in awe at how cool it was to be there with all of these cars. I noticed the festival organizer was among them. The DeceptiKARR which was part of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) Knights was really well done. It had the flip up doors, the yellow scanner bar, control panels and some things not in the show, like an in dash dvd player with color view screens and a giant HDTV in the trunk. I also noticed a KITT that even had the old black and white view screens and camera in the front. I saw one that had a leather jacket over the seat that was actually signed by David Hasselhoff. It turned out that one had been in a Jamie Kennedy film a few years back when Hasselhoff made a cameo. The owner bought it and restored it. Another one was kind of plain but had an authentic KNIGHT California license plate. There were several others as well, including the DeceptiKARR’s KITT counterpart from GTA Knights. Seven cars from Knights of the West Coast and an Oklahoma Knights KITT as well. I got a shot of them all parked in a row. Crazy. We went in and some of the others were already starting to park along Fremont Street.

We had breakfast at the Paradise Buffet in the Fremont Casino. It was a good buffet and we ate our fill in hopes we would be able to make it through the morning events without any need to stop for more food. We walked along the Experience for a bit and saw the DeLorean from Back to the Future and more KITTs, another KARR from and some stock Shelbys and Trans Ams for good measure. The drivers all seemed really polite, letting people pose with their KITTs or in their KITTs. One even had William Daniels’ voice talk to you as KITT with classic clips from the series. Another “normal” Trans Am had the Knight Rider Mio attached.

We set up in front of the real Attack KITT, Hero KITT and Knight Rider Festival official replica KITT at the 1st Street Stage for the first Q&A around 9:30am. There was supposed to be some color guard, dignitaries, staff and celebrities thing at 10am, but that didn’t seem to happen. I did buy a good deal of merchandise though at around 10. I got a “Evil Twin” and “My other car is a Knight Industries 2000” bumper sticker and a Matchbox original KITT from Knights of the West Coast, two Knight Rider Online tees for my wife and one for me, two official autograph sheets, two festival name badges and Knight Rider Online button packs series one and two from the folks at Knight Rider Online, the amazing book authored by Nick Nugent from Knight Rider Companion and a Knight Rider Festival coffee mug from the folks running the event. I also picked up a few copies of the Special Collector’s Edition of Today in Las Vegas magazine, which had KITT and Deanna Russo on the cover.

Around 10:50am, Paul Casey made some announcements from the 1st Street Stage. My wife had wandered toward the 3rd Street Stage to see if anything was going on. She said she’d heard “White Bird” playing on the way back. Paul announced that the first Q&A which would be followed by autographs would be on the stage in front of us. That would be followed by another Q&A and autographs on the other stage later in the afternoon. It was supposed to be at 1pm. The Q&A was preceded by such Knight Rider luminaries as Buzz Bundy (stunt driver), Stu Phillips (composer of the Knight Rider theme and the first 12 episodes of music for the series), Catherine Hickland (guest star on three episodes, David Hasselhoff’s ex-wife), Jack Gill (stunt driver) and George Barris (fabricator and “King of Kustoms”) and Dennis Braid (who worked with George Barris on the Super Pursuit Mode KITT) all signing the official festival car. Then a representative from Shelby Automotive talked about the screen used KITTs on display from the new series and the features that were added to them.

The first Q&A, introduced by Paul Casey and moderated by Neil Epstein from Knight Rider Online, had Stu Phillips and his wife, George Barris, Dennis Braid, Buzz Bundy, Jack Gill, Catherine Hickland and Rebecca Holden (April from the second season). It was great to hear them all talk about their love for Knight Rider and they also really expressed an appreciation for the fans that have kept it alive and for the people in attendance at the day’s charity event. The only out of place question was a fan asking if there would be a season two. No one in attendance on this panel was a part of the new series. A portion of the way through, one of the guys that worked on Team Knight Rider (represent!) brought out a George Barris custom KITT pedal car onto the stage.

Once the panel ended we rushed across to the information booth and got in line for autographs. Don Peake (composer for the rest of the original series after the pilot and first 12 episodes) was selling cds there and I bought his three Knight Rider compilations from his producer. Then we got autographs from everyone involved in the Q&A, the guy from Team Knight Rider and Ron Martinez (associate producer for Knight Rider). Ron was really great to talk to and he was the star of the second Q&A later in the day. When I was at WonderCon last year I watched Bill Willingham tell stories for several hours. Had we had the opportunity, I could have watched and listened as Ron did the same. He wrote “thanks for putting up with our antics” on my wife’s poster. Great guy. They were all great. Very personable and Catherine and Rebecca even posed for photos with my wife.

Because the line was so long for autographs, the 1pm Q&A became a 2pm Q&A. We stayed by the 3rd Street Stage, which was flanked by the GTA Knights KITT and DeceptiKARR. Michael Scheffe (the designer of KITT) and James Winburn (David Hasselhoff’s stunt double) were there, as was Nick Nugent (author of Knight Rider Companion). Someone came out and announced the Q&A time change and I went and got a water at Walgreen’s and official white Festival tee shirts. I debated getting autographs but had no sharpie. So we just waited a bit and enjoyed the atmosphere.

The second Q&A was apparently supposed to include Justin Bruening (Michael Knight from the new Knight Rider) but he was running late. So it ended up being Michael Scheffe, James Winburn, James Smith (prodige’ of Buzz Bundy who did some stunt driving with the KARR on the roof of the Golden Nugget parking garage on Friday and did some stunt work for Bumblebee in Transformers), George Barris, Buzz Bundy, Dennis Braid, Don Peake, and the guy that played the voice of KITT at Universal Studios when my wife sat in and talked to KITT as a child. But mostly this second Q&A was an opportunity for Ron Martinez to share stories, which were great. I enjoyed the second Q&A because it told a lot more about working on the show. There was also a cool story from the Universal Studios KITT voice actor about how he was driving the tour tram and Jack Gill sped up and was driving right for them in KITT and got dirt all over the tram guests. He thought he was going to get a lot of complaints, but the guests thought it was part of the show. After the panel, they brought the tables down and did autographs. Justin Bruening showed up, said a few words and joined the autograph table. He geeked out at the original KITT and the DeLorean and was cool enough to sit in and sign the GTA Knights cars before golf carted away later in the evening to the 1st Street Stage.

That was a wrap for Q&As and autographs. We missed out on meeting Glen Larson, who only chose to attend the Friday night VIP party, but it wasn’t a big deal. It was a special day for fans and friends of Knight Rider. We walked back to the 1st Street Stage and took some photos with the original KITT and got an autograph from Nick Nugent on his book. He said originally the book was in black and white and the publisher did a poor job with it. So he went to the forums and asked what people wanted. They wanted color glossy photos and it ended up being better to self publish. So he has a limited edition of 2,000 $50 book. Great deal if you have the opportunity to purchase it. The stars and those involved in the production loved the book and the replica cars that fans brought out. One guy got a seat cushion and a front end bumper autographed as well. There were some dedicated people there.

Sadly though, the crowd was smaller than I expected. I thought it would be hundreds and hundreds, it was more like one to two hundred. Many of which were just onlookers who “remembered that Knight Rider thing”. One guy didn’t even know what Knight Rider was and said he thought the car was a firebird or something but didn’t know what that thing on the front was.

We had some dinner at Uncle Joe’s Pizza and went back to the hotel and rested for a little bit. Then we headed back out and had a scoop of gelato. The KITTs, KARRs and DeLorean packed up and rode off into the sunset. I lost $9 on Flip Flop Deluxe nickel slots at Fitzgerald’s. We had some chicken nachos and my wife had some Flan at Las Vegas Mamacita’s.

Then we headed back for the evening concerts. They played a Knight Rider Theme remix on VivaVision (the giant dome screen that stretches across Fremont Street Experience) and then showed footage of James Smith’s KARR stunt from the day prior on VivaVision as well. Stu Phillips, Rebecca Holden, Don Peake and Catherine Hickland were all scheduled to perform with Paul Casey and his band. Rebecca opened up with some songs from her latest cd, Dare to Dream and then Stu did a “comic relief” rap version of the Knight Rider Theme. Catherine didn’t sing but did come out to say a few words thanking the fans for coming out to the event. Paul did some of his own songs and some Elvis covers (he used to be an Elvis impersonator in a Vegas stage show). They broke and Rebecca did an autograph signing. I bought the official black festival tee shirts between sets to have a complete collection. Don Peake opened up with Paul’s band for the second concert and after he was done we headed back to the hotel, tired, but having had a great time.

I slept off and on between 11pm and 4am. My wife packed up everything and at a little after 4 called for a taxi. I tried unsuccessfully to check out at the front desk and she took the keys back up and left them in the room. Western Taxi picked us up in front of the Motel 6 and the driver asked us if we wanted to take the highway. I said whatever was fastest was fine. We indicated we’d had a good time in Vegas and that it was our third time there and that we were from San Francisco when he tried to make small talk. He randomly asked if we thought the car smelled like weed. He said he had just picked the car up and thought it had. It didn’t that we could tell. We got to the airport rather early, just before 5am and went right through security with no line. They looked at our four ounce (can’t have more than 3oz) toiletries and let us pass. I got a shaken iced green tea and a fruit cup from Starbucks, which was the only thing open. My wife curled up and tried to nap a bit in the terminal. I played some Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars and at one point could detect the distinct smell of Mrs. Field’s cookies. I walked over to investigate and they were still baking. Eventually I got a nice warm chocolate chip and a nice warm macademia nut cookie that my wife and I shared before boarding the plane.

The flight home, I was unconscious for most of it, except the occasional baby crying or guy laughing. My wife played some Taipei on the Red system and I don’t think she slept.

We got home safely and got the bus to Long Term Parking just as it was pulling in. We stopped off at McDonald’s for breakfast and I ate while my wife took her grandmother to church. When she got home, we both used the internet a bit and then she went and picked her grandmother up and we slept for a good six or seven hours.

It was a great weekend that was completely unexpected and unplanned before last week. Yes we spent the majority of our yearly bonus money for this trip, but it was well worth it.

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