Desert Daze Festival
October 12-15, 2017
Joshua Tree, Calif. at the Institute of Mentalphysics
Words by Rachel Bennett
Photos by Rachel Bennett and Travis Trautt
A common question in the music industry these days is whether or not rock music a dying genre. Most radio hits are meaningless fluff from country, hip-hop and pop genres, and it seems like rock and roll is becoming less and less popular among the general public.
Contrary to what the top 40 charts say, Desert Daze Music and Arts Festival is evidence that the rock genre is in fact alive and thriving; the nostalgia of the 1960s and 1970s (and 80s and 90s) rock heyday exists as a modern reality. The festival makes it clear that in cities like LA, Seattle, Austin, and Brooklyn, in countries like Australia, England and Canada, in fact in most urban places, there is a solid rock music scene with a strong following of dedicated fans.
And oh man is Desert Daze pure magic. The event takes place at The Institute of Mentalphysics, one of the oldest spiritual retreat centers in the country. It’s in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park where the stunning landscape of twisted trees and piled rock mountains creates powerful energy, and gives space for a community to come together, for self reflection, and for music and art to flourish removed from the bullshit of everyday life.
Started by musicians for other musicians and creative souls, Desert Daze originally enticed my friends and I with the lineup of incredible performers. The talent didn’t just look good on paper, though. At every single show I caught, I could tell that the musicians were fucking stoked to be there, sharing their musical power with us all, jamming out as hard as they could with genuine emotion.
The weekend included every kind of rock music imaginable; from the 1960s- reminiscent groove of the Allah-Las, The Babe Rainbow, and The Creation Factory, to the more hardcore work by Boris and Sleep; from the garage and punk of Ty Segall and GØGGS, to the psychedelic rock of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard; from the psych-surf of L.A.Witch, to the dream-pop of Winter and Sunflower Bean, to the classic sounds of Iggy Pop, to the babelicious rock jams of Deap Vally.
The list goes on and on and on. It was actually agonizing the amount of amazing music I had to miss to see other amazing artists. I urge everyone to just go through the lineup and listen to any of the bands that are unfamiliar, because I assure you they won’t disappoint. I was especially enamored with The Creation Factory’s groovy 60s nostalgia, the way Ty Segall’s other project GØGGS engulfed the crowd with their insane energy, and the amazing stage presence of Deap Vally.
The forceful power of music was contagious, spreading good vibes among all the festival attendees. I don’t think I met a single person who seemed pissed off or unhappy, and people were very open to talking and sharing pieces of themselves.
During King Gizzard’s set I crowd surfed for the first time, entrusting my body to a group of rowdy strangers; at one point when I felt myself falling I closed my eyes, bracing for the ground, but instead was lifted up higher, safe in everyone’s hands. My friend Rob, who had injured himself weeks before, ironically while dancing, braved the festival with a broken foot; the string lights on his crutches attracted new friends like moths to a flame, and he was stopped many times by people saying you’re a champion! and other words of encouragement.
At the last set of the festival, I watched as the crowd passed around a rainbow donkey piñata, surfing him above our heads with whimsical joy, which then turned to frenzied intensity as hands grabbed and tore at the donkey, ripping him limb from limb until he was destroyed. It was an animalistic moment, the crowd becoming one unified being, communing around pure, inhibited chaos and glee in the darkness.
Finally, the visual art at the festival blew me away; the grounds and stages were curated thoughtfully, every nook and cranny filled with beautiful images and surprising installations to help expand one’s mind on drugs or not. Oh Desert Daze; I will think of you fondly all winter, when the grey drizzle of the Pacific Northwest creeps into my bones and makes me yearn for the bright blue sky and dusty warmth of the desert.
Travis and I captured as much of the event as we could.