In its fifth year, Desert Daze moved to Joshua Tree with a bigger lineup, massive stages, more artists and crazier antics.
While this small, strange festival in the desert grows, the ‘stay weird’ spirit remains. It captures the true trippy, hippy style of anything goes and everyone’s welcome, and it rules.
The three day music and arts festival spanned all genres of rock ‘n’ roll, with a lineup ranging from high school aged Cherry Glazerr to super garage rock legends The Sonics who have played together for 50+ years. Drawing a crowd that stretches from babies in headphones to crusty old men, people from deep within the crevices of Southern California’s alternative cultures turned on and tuned in.
Classic rock gods of the past simultaneously played down the road to rich old folks at Desert Trip. But the true rock ‘n’ roll junkies caught sets by extremely influential artists like Television, Primus, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, as well as modern icons like The Black Angels and Washed Out, blowing minds and making dreams come true.
Music isn’t the only entertainment found at Desert Daze. There are full-scale art installations, vendor booths, interactive huts, live painting, cold pressed juices, performance artists and even #ThatFuckingPanda running around the grounds. At the psychedelic new setting of Joshua Tree’s Institute of Mentalphysics (420 desert acres advertised as “a portal to your inner being”), everything felt expanded without ever being too far out.
Scrambling down the 10 freeway to get to the festival from a Friday day job, I arrived in the evening to catch sets by Toro y Moi, Washed Out, The Sonics and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. The Moon and Black stages were backlit by a full moon and the silhouette of Joshua Trees. Artists projected psychedelic ink/oil art and hanging from the stages were flowing white cloth fringe or LED color swirled screens. Everything gave both eyeballs a lot to take in.
Saturday daytime was a packed lineup of several local Southern California bands, with awesome sets from The Mattson 2, L.A. Witch, Cherry Glazerr, flashing the crowd a full moon of their own, and Wand. Thee Oh Sees, wow’ed the audience with perfectly synced up double drummers, putting everyone into a stupefied trance. The night got heavy and near perfect when The Black Angels played their 2006 album Passover in it’s entirety, followed by Primus’s once-in-a-lifetime headlining set. Lead singer Les Claypool made the only political, subtly pointed remarks on Trump. “I am at this point so famous I can grab women by the vagina. And I say ‘vagina’ because I’m a gentleman.”
Sunday kept the party going, with a mellow electronic set from Teebs, garage rock show from extraordinaire White Fence, a metal mosh pit from Metz, and an Earth-shattering trippy performance from Tame Impala alt project band Pond.
There’s something for everyone at Desert Daze, especially if that person likes to get freaky and doesn’t give a fuck. There’s none of the standard EDM tents and tacky festival fashion usually found. The word “fashion” is a non sequitur, as one can literally wear whatever he or she wants. Or wear nothing. A watermelon as a hat, a burlap sack tied together with rope, the most clichéd peace and love hippie garb or head to toe rainbow glitter paint. Nobody would blink an eyeball. You could even paint your face as an eyeball. As Ryley Walker put it, “Everyone is so beautiful out here, I feel like a stuffed baked potato.”
The magical thing about Desert Daze is that in an ever-expanding festival market, it remains a true and genuine celebration of music, created by a bunch of musicians and their friends. It banishes all the shitty things nobody likes about our modern culture, if only for three days. We feel good, we feel connected, we feel joy and love. The only judgment is don’t be judgmental. The only rule is there are no rules. “It’s so nice to see people enjoying themselves together in these dark, fucked up times we’re living in,” Nick Allbrook of Pond put it.
We couldn’t agree more. As The Sonics said, “The road goes on forever but the party never ends.” Cheers Desert Daze, see you at next moon block party. I’ll be dressed like an eyeball.