It has been a common sentiment amongst those that I’ve questioned about their time at Desert Daze 2016, that it was the most meaningful festival experience they’ve ever had.
Same question. Same answer. Young, old, audiophiles, casual music fans, frequent festival attendees and those that loathe the format. Almost every person I spoke to this weekend gave me a variation of the same answer to my question- “Desert Daze 2016 is the best festival I’ve ever been to. And no, I can’t quite explain what it is or what makes me feel that way.” But given that I’m a writer and my actual purpose here is to attempt to take a photograph of this festival with my words, I will make an attempt to do so. My fear is that attempting to quantify the sentiments could steal some of it’s magic, almost like the Native American belief that if someone takes a photograph of you, it steals a piece of your soul.
How would you describe the onset of love or a faith in G-d or religious ideology- It just is. And if you’re saying to yourself that is a bit over the top or hyperbolic, you’re right.. To describe the how or the why, one could describe the feeling in the pit of their stomach when the woman they love walks in the room or the warmth of being welcomed into a neighborhood you just moved into. I’ve heard the hype over the years and I’ve been informed about its “psychedelic soul cleansing” properties and its “spiritual awakenings” but never have I had the pleasure of experiencing all of these hippie dippie cliches I’d heard it given until this year. Imagine for a moment what John Lennon and Mahatma Gandhi would come up with after they’d been given five tabs of blotter and permission to do whatever the hell they wanted in one of California’s most isolated areas and you’ve got Desert Daze 2016. Fortunately, it still has that “its only been around for five years” appeal to it, and hasn’t been tainted with Instagram models trying to capture the perfect angle of their duck lips or bros that are just trying to get maggot; it is simply and purely about the music and the community – just what it’s matrimonial founders, Phil Pirrone (JJUUJJUU) and Julie Edwards (Deap Valley) had intended it to be. It’s the closest thing to Woodstock circa 1969 that our generation has been offered – and that says a whole lot coming from someone whose “hate more than love” experience with festivals initially left me hesitant to drag around my crumbling corpse in the stifling heat of Joshua Tree for three days.
related content: Desert Daze 2015: A Throwback Festival for the 21st Century
My friends and I arrived to the Institute of Mentalphysics – a palace of the “experiential method of self-realization that teaches the oneness of life embodied in all substance, energy, and thought” around 6pm on Friday evening. We followed the white flags that were held high lining the parking area in symbols of the all-seeing eye, 5 pointed stars and a myriad of other symbolic meaning I am largely unfamiliar with. We surprisingly got our wristbands without any sort of “whos list are you on?” bullshit that often comes with large festivals. The general entrance into the festival is through a lantern lit walkway surrounded by tall, beautiful greenery, which spits you out to be greeted by a golden statue of Buddah, who is a permanent tenant of this terrain. Surprisingly, there was a light breeze and a forgiving climate all weekend long, which immediately gave the impression that all the stars aligned in a karmic salute to the festival once known as Moon Block Party.
“There are so many fucking people here dude!” I overheard one festival goers exclaim to his friend. He must have attended last year because I was told this year was the highest ticket sales for the festival to date. I made my way over to the Block Stage, which was surprisingly easy to find in the dimly lit festival grounds, to catch Temples mid-set- just follow the kaleidoscopic beams to find a stage clothed in white fabric and an immodest mania of light and sound.
Having their psychedelic melodies as the first band to lubricate my sense of sound with music, while swirling colors projected behind them, compliments of Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show, was probably the sweetest way I could have began my three-day journey. After their set, I wandered around the festival grounds and even in the most sober of states, I managed to trip over a few spiked shrubs while attempting to make myself familiar with the area. There were art installations, coy ponds, and a really relaxing looking couch in the middle of nowhere with a 1996 TV stationed in front of it.
After a rather confused adventure to explore the area, I made my way back for my most anticipated act, 1960s rock n rollers, The Sonics. They played “Have Love Will Travel” and I broke out into a careless stream of dance moves, while screaming, “I fucking love this song!” like a 13 year old girl at a Bieber concert. Up next was King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, whose name you absolutely need to have on your radar. The Aussie natives are definitely a force to be reckoned with. Their ability to incorporate elements of psychedelic rock, jazz, krautrock, soul, and more than a subtle similarity to the sound of Thee Oh Sees, will leave you wondering what you just listened to, in the most mind bending way. After a performance as such, I was content with calling it a night.
I was awakened to the thunderous sounds of the wind and a beautifully blue sky. A big breakfast and a few tequila shots later, I was ready for the shenanigans that would be brought on by day two.
related content: The Sonics Teach Garage Rock History 101 at The Observatory
Upon entering the festival grounds in the daylight, juxtaposing last night’s arrival at dusk, I felt like I was in a completely different location than where I was only 12 hours prior. Past shiny silver airstreams turned clothing vendors, food trucks, and a “kombucha on tap” social area, I staggered along the dusty roads in the mild heat, just to catch the last 20 minutes of Death Hymn Number 9 over at relatively far off Wright Tent. The sound was unlike any other time I have heard them live, and they were as unapologetic and explosive as ever. Leave it to DHN9 to play a cover of Little Richard’s,“Tutti Frutti” and cause a dust storm from the madness that ensued in the pit.
I caught a bit of Clem Creevy’s vivacious and mildly militant new demeanor during Cherry Glazerr and then leisurely made my way over to the Block Stage to catch Wand. The desert sun was beginning to set, and the mountain silhouettes turned to a deep shade of blue, while the cotton candy skies lit up in pale shades of pink and purple. The sun kissed my face as the wind sent shivers down my body. Wand began to play and everything was in harmony. They played a Neil Young cover in hopes that “he would be able to hear it from here” as he was only a stones throw away at Desert Trip. The white fringes of cloth hanging and swaying in the wind above them and the Joshua Tree backdrop lent itself perfectly to the vibe of the California natives and their heavy, psychedelic tunes.
All of these overwhelming emotions made me thirsty, so the remainder of the day consisted of me drinking kombucha vodkas, tucked away safely in the artist village, and trying to hitch rides on the back of carts to catch the talents of The Coathangers, Thee Oh Sees, The Black Angels, Night Beats, Connan Mockasin, and of course, Primus. Despite being in a relatively obliterated state, I can still recall the 200% energy put in by The Coathangers, the immaculate sharpness of every drum hit and a very animated John Dwyer, the MTV music award blow up astronauts lining the stage as Les Claypool sang “My Name Is Mud” and donned his pig mask and bow to slide across the strings of his stand up bass and the soothing psychedelic calm that carried my dancing feet for Connan Mockasin. Slackened by booze, a large group of us headed back to The Black Angels’, Christian Bland and his temporary abode to further carry on the shenanigans.
Despite the amazing time I was having, I felt a deep sadness wash over me – I knew the festival would be coming to an end the next day and nothing kills the moment faster than anticipating the future. I was in a state of euphoria I never wanted to leave.
“I don’t know how other people’s times were, but I had fun. I saw Primus, 15 year old dream accomplished” Chad of Meatbodies told me, whose band was the first I got to see on the final day.
The L.A. natives lived up to the haphazard liveliness they always seem to induce back home and caused one of the largest pits of the entire festival. The next few hours were spent running back and forth two very separate stages, attempting to catch both Deap Valley and White Fence; two bands that I wish I could have spent more time indulging in. I got hit with a sense of urgency around 6pm when Metz took the Block Stage. They played so fucking loud, with such conviction, that I was grateful to be on the side stage, able to watch the drummer hit every hi-hat to the point of looking like he may fall over and pass out from exhaustion. Beach balls flew under shoes hanging from wires above the crowd. Metz is the kind of band that is better live than on record and one that surely knows how to up the ante. I cut their set short so I could ensure I wouldn’t miss any of…
POND – a band I have been longing to see for quite some time now. I wound up side stage and all the feels flowed throughout my body. I was stoned. I was 15 feet away from the drummer. I was dancing to POND, and momentarily, life was perfect. While I was chilling extremely hard, I unsurprisingly lost all of my friends. As luck would have it, in an environment such as Desert Daze, I immediately made some new friends and we made our way to grab a few drinks together. As laughter flowed freely and smiles grew from cheek to cheek, me and my new friends managed to pick up some new, new friends on the way.
“Yeah me and my girlfriend live on a farm just up the road. We’ve never been to anything like this”, a local named Nick told us. “We work on the farm, we’ve got a couple of goats, and we just decided to come by. Everyone is so nice! There are such good vibes here man!” My new friends encouraged a group hug and we exchanged Instagram accounts with our new favorite goat herder before whirling our way over to catch Foxygen. Good vibes indeed man. As a huge Foxygen fan and being that this is the first time I’ve seen them live, I was ecstatic when they opened with “San Francisco”. Watching them twirl around stage backed with anthemic horns, truly made for a memorable, hour long set despite the unexpected half hour late start time.
As a result, New York’s 1970s influential punk rockers, Television were then delayed as well. The organizers of Desert Daze, which this year included prominent L.A. promoters, Spaceland Presents, took painstaking measures to insure that their well rounded audience of music lovers would endure little conflict in set times.
The tardy time of Television’s Desert Daze set didn’t matter as the audience roared with ebullience when they did begin to play. Friends from L.A. had driven all the way to Joshua Tree, only two hours prior, JUST so they could catch the infamous CBGB rockers. After what felt like a short-lived blur of a performance, I headed straight to the artist area in hopes of finding my friends. Alas, they were nowhere to be found.
Just then, I realized that The Brian Jonestown Massacre were playing a two hour set and I didn’t want to miss much. I allowed their melodic tunes echoing off the Joshua Trees to lead me to their stage. I was freezing from the piercing wind, albeit content on my walk back alone. I was lost in the dark, following the sound of the music, and I was the happiest I had felt in a very long time.
Desert Daze 2016 stripped me back to the basics that my soul had so longingly searched for in a busy metropolis such as L.A. After a good 30 minutes of wandering the desert alone, I headed to the front of the stage where The Brian Jonestown Massacre was mid set. I showed the security guard my wristband. He replied with “those wristbands finished a few hours ago”. I had no idea what he was talking about and I was gutted I wouldn’t be up close and personal for one of the most memorable acts of the weekend. He looked at me and said “is it just you?” smiled, and let me into the photo pit. It was THEIR performance that lead my “psychadelic soul clense” I alluded to earlier and it enhanced this “spiritual awakening”. I was at an effervescent stage of existence, while the scintillating stars and moon lit up the night sky. The BJM played Anemone at Desert Daze 2016 and everything felt so overwhelmingly magickal.
Desert Daze is described as, “not a music festival but a festival of music,” however, it is so much more than that. For three days straight, nothing mattered but music, love, and harmony. It’s not just connecting with people but it’s the people, music and mother nature together in a trifecta of connectivity.
“The institute of Mentalphysics was the perfect setting for Desert Daze’s mind melting vibes. No hassles, friendly people, free samples of all kinds everywhere. Best Desert Daze yet!” said a reminiscent Matt Adams of Sugar Candy Mountain, and I couldn’t agree more.
As we began our journey back to LA on Sunday night, to the naked eye, it seemed we were left with nothing but dirty boogers and blurred vision. But memories are the intangible assets of experiential events. Like love and religion, there is no way to quantify the magnitude of their effects. Think about the things that induce a smile or an orgasm. Think about the loyalty of a friend. Think about how you felt when you peddled the wheels of your bicycle for the first time and that’s what it felt like to be at Desert Daze 2016. The best festival I’ve ever been to.
Words: Paige Vreede
Photo/Video: Josh Allen