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festival review: desert daze 2018

The long-anticipated weekend was finally here. Months of planning, overcoming anxieties, and over preparing was finally about to pay off – the Desert Daze festival had finally arrived.

As we pulled up to the festival site, we were greeted with a long line that wrapped into the residential streets surrounding the area. Not thinking much of it, we continued enjoying our time people watching and listening to music. Nearly an hour and a half later, as we inched forward, still on the same street, the excitement had not waned. Then, after four and a half hours of sitting in line in the car, we finally entered the camping area. Luckily, the area we were directed towards was close to the entrance of the festival grounds and the bathrooms, and we were able to set up our tent next to where we parked our car. After setting up our tent, decorating with fairy lights, and packing our backpacks for the day, we were ready to get our press passes and head into the actual festival. We had arrived at Lake Perris at 12:50 p.m. that afternoon, and after settling down and getting our press passes, we entered the festival at around 7 p.m.

We walked around the festival grounds to try to get a sense of where things were located. Upon entering, guests were greeted with a neon sign of the Desert Daze logo. Colorful lights and visuals hit you upon arrival, as music from various stages floated through the air. Throughout the grounds, there were beautiful art installments, giving guests something to always be looking at. From mirror illusions, to spiritual guidance art, to usage of light projections, the installments filled the grass and beach area with color and wonder.

Night one’s headlining band, Tame Impala, was perhaps the most anticipated band in the lineup. The Australian psychedelic rock band has defined modern psychedelia music and is often considered one of the most globally popular rock bands of our time. We waited for around an hour and a half at the Moon Stage, only about fifteen people back from the barricade. The struggles of the trip there evaporated as the excitement within us and around us built.
People around us were chanting for Tame Impala, and the overall positive energy coursing around us was unparalleled. Clouds rolled in, rain started to lightly fall, and lightning illuminated the sky every few minutes, but the weather only added to the energy as everyone gasped each time the sky lit up. Everyone was talking and sharing in the excitement; the people around us made plans with one another to all join together to dance, and we all counted down to when Kevin Parker and his accompanying band would finally take the stage. As the lights on the crowd dimmed, fifteen minutes after their scheduled set time, the visuals on the screens illuminated, and the crowd roared.
Fans danced, sang along, and embraced the falling rain and confetti that covered the crowd. Tame Impala played for fifteen minutes before Parker suddenly announced to the crowd that they had to leave. Confusion fell over the crowd and I looked to my friend very panicked. “They are not cancelling Tame Impala,” I remember telling them. The band walked off stage as the crowd lights turned on and a staff member grabbed the mic, announcing that there was a lightning storm right above us, and it was deemed a safety hazard to continue the show. They advised us to go back to our campsites and “take shelter.” Some people took off immediately, but, as we debated whether or not to wait it out, a bolt of lightning struck right above, and we decided to follow the exodus to the campsite.

The storm continued through the night, but by Saturday morning the rain had mostly passed, and the sky was beginning to clear up. The predicted high of the day was a brisk 67 degrees; we had packed clothing for a hot, Southern California music festival. As we pulled together what warm clothing we could, we set off to explore the festival grounds once again in the daytime. We spent some time viewing the various art pieces, which were different yet still beautiful, during the day. I found it to be quite interesting that some of the installments worked in one way during day time, and had a different effect during the night.
We then watched a talk held by Damien Echols on High Magick, a spiritual tradition used by Buddhism and other religions, at The Theater stage. Echols told his story of being framed for murders he did not commit, and his experience of being on death row as an innocent man. He discussed how Magick gave him strength while he was incarcerated. Having the opportunity to listen to his talk, gain perspective on how he views reality (or the lack thereof), and learn how his meditation and spirituality guided him through the abuse of the prison system was not something I had expected to discover early that Saturday morning, but I am very glad to have had the experience.

Throughout Saturday, we saw a number of musicians and bands including Cut Worms, Mercury Rev, JJUUJJUU, Chelsea Wolfe, and Slowdive. JJUUJJUU’s performance particularly stuck out to me, as one of Desert Daze’s founders, Phil Pirrone, is in the band. They performed at The Block stage, which was built with beautiful visuals. A huge screen behind the band matched visuals that were projected onto tarps that were strung above the crowd. Giant, soft, white, blown-up balls were tossed into the crowd, with the projections sometimes landing on them. JJUUJJUU themselves put on a great performance, even playing through some technical difficulties that The Theater stage had been facing all weekend.

We then watched Chelsea Wolfe and Slowdive at The Moon stage. Chelsea Wolfe’s deep, nearly haunting vocals mixed with dark stage lights set a very mysterious, enchanting mood. With no spotlight on her directly, the crowd watched on as her silhouette was surrounded by deep reds and dark blues that matched the beat of the gothic rock instrumentals.

Shifting the tone, the more ambient shoegaze/indie pop group Slowdive then took the stage. Their layered instrumentals and ethereal distortions captivated the crowd. They played a variety of their most popular songs, both from their albums from the 1990s and from their newest self-titled album which was released last year. They closed their set with a cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair,” which was their way of paying homage to Pink Floyd, who Slowdive claims is one of their biggest musical influences.
The headliner of that night was Australian psychedelic and experimental rock group, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Having worked our way to the barricade, the crowd started filling in moments before they took the stage. They played an hour-and-twenty-minute set that was non-stop energy both by the band and the crowd. Crowd-surfing, moshing, and dancing filled the floor as Stu Mackenzie’s unparalleled vocals sounded into the desert air. After walking on stage to AC/DC’s “Riff Raff,” the band played 21 of their most popular songs, including “Sleepdrifter,” “Wah Wah,” and, ironically, after the previous night’s events, “The Lord of Lightning.” Other bands continued to play through sunrise at The Theater stage, although we decided to call it a night and get ready for what the next day would bring.

Sunday morning, we decided to walk around the campsite. We were right behind the Mystic Bazaar area, where they held meditations, spiritual classes and ceremonies. We watched outside as they performed a modular soundbath, as it was overflowing with people inside the tent participating. A bit later, we returned to the Mystic Bazaar for “The Fool’s Journey, An Intro to Tarot,” which was a quick forty-five minute tutorial on the legend behind the tarot, what each card symbolizes, and how cards relate to one another in a tarot reading. The variety and amount of classes they offered for campers was not something I expected, but it helped immerse guests further into the festival’s culture. This is one of the many unique features that Desert Daze provides that you simply could not find at other weekend festivals.

My colleague and I then decided to eat our favorite meal of the weekend, chicken tikka-masala, and take a nap in The Beach area as we charged our phones. I find that the Sunday morning of festivals tend to be more relaxed as everyone recovers from the past two days in hopes to pull through one final night. It was the first day that weekend that it had been genuinely sunny, and there were people finally enjoying a swim in the lake.

Laying on the sand that Sunday morning, as I people watched, I took in the art pieces, and saw the sunlight reflect off of lake, I felt peaceful and relaxed. Although I wasn’t back at the Mystic Bazaar, I felt as if I was in my own meditation. The spirituality, love,  and acceptance that was felt in the air at Desert Daze was unlike any other festival I have experienced. From crystal vendors to the interactive art pieces to the individual interactions with other attendees, there was a spiritual element created through this festival.
We finished off the weekend by seeing Death Grips, an experimental group that defies the boundaries of any single genre. As we drove back, I began to reflect on everything that had gone on during weekend. After meeting so many people, discovering new music, and just enjoying the break from life’s stresses, it would be weird returning to the regular grind at 9 a.m. the next day. The spirituality I found at Desert Daze has left a lasting effect, and I am so grateful to have had to the opportunity to witness the various experiences the festival has to offer.

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