In 2012, Desert Daze started as an 11-day fest located in Desert Hot Springs, CA, just 30 minutes outside of Joshua Tree. It boasted a reputable but far from mainstream roster, consisting of bands such as Akron/Family, Here We Go Magic, and Bleached. And though it’s come a long way in the five years since its inception, the event still maintains an authenticity and spirit that few fests uphold these days.
In favor of concerning itself with which celebs made it to VIP, who looked best in their crop tops and booty shorts, and if Kim showed up with Kanye, Desert Daze, which is now a three-day fest in Joshua Tree, is committed to booking a flurry of talented rockers who collectively put on an electric, eclectic, and perfectly dazy show to complement that desert living.
And this year, being my first experience at the fest, I can happily attest that it was one of the most accessible, no-frills camping festivals I’ve been to, brimming with passionate artists that I was thrilled to have seen before they inevitably garner the mass attention they deserve.
Here’s a quick run-down of the fest, highlighting those stand-out moments, some meh moments, and hopefully providing some insight into what you can expect when you make the very rational decision to attend next year.
The festival grounds were nestled in a patch of desert just outside Joshua Tree National Park that could have once existed as a local college campus. The logistics team did a pretty impressive job of making the space — dusty, hot, with all the makings of, ya know, a desert — seem like a weird desert labyrinth that only starts making sense after your high wears off and probably not until day two or three.
There were three stages total — 2 outdoor and 1 in a tent — positioned far enough apart that the sound didn’t bleed from one stage to another, but close enough that there was ample time to make it to the next set before it started.
Peppered throughout the grounds were little pockets of trees home to hippie gatherings, couch clusters that offered a nice respite from the heat, and fountains for dipping your feet into…but mostly meditating by (as dictated by the signs).
There was also a modest, but mediocre, assortment of food trucks and vendors, and a “diner” that was really a cafeteria that was perpetually “opening the kitchen in an hour.” So the food situation was lacking, and you’re technically not allowed to start a fire (though we bent the rules a bit), which means pack heavy on the snacks and PB&Js.
A late-20s, early-30s crowd contributed to the fest’s low-key, accessible atmosphere. There were just a handful of teenage girls holding hands, weaving through crowds, and barely any hula-hooping. The attire consisted of breezy summer dresses and denim shorts for the ladies, short pants and high socks for the dudes, and a very prevalent 90s vibe. Overall, I didn’t find myself loathing everyone, which really spoke volumes to the type of refreshingly music-minded people you could expect to be camping next to.
Most Polished Performance: La Luz
The weekend in its entirety was essentially a showcase for empowering female musicians. Between La Luz, Cherry Glazerr, L.A. Witch, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Jennylee, and The Raveonettes, badass babes commanded the stage and boasted captivating, charismatic performances.
La Luz, the Seattle act consisting of Shana Cleveland, Marian Li Pino, Alice Sandahl, and Lena Simon, is yet another band to have secured the Ty Segall psych-rock seal of approval, as evidenced by the fact that he produced their second LP, Weirdo Shrine, and apparently urged Cleveland to integrate the fuzz pedal into her guitar playing.
In the beginning of their set, they played to a somewhat barren crowd, but by song three, people were shuffling in, entranced by the surf-rock harmonies and the cohesive bond of the band members. Soon enough they were playing to a “packed house” and vibing off the crowd’s energy and the breezy desert atmosphere.
Honorable Mention: Washed Out
Most Energetic Set: Cherry Glazerr
If you have never heard of Clementine Creevy or Cherry Glazerr before, I recommend you get tickets to their next LA show (they perform here quite frequently since they’re repped by the Burger label). Creevy started Cherry Glazerr in high school and almost immediately attracted the attention of Burger Records. She is a true female powerhouse, describing her style as “black leather neo-grunge,” and she’s not afraid to let loose on stage.
Her set at Desert Daze was fiery, energetic, and a little dark, and nearly everyone had their gaze transfixed on Creevy, who stormed around the stage with an awkward, lanky confidence that made you want to say “Fuck it” to all of your own self-esteem issues. By the end of her set, she had stripped down to just her tighty-whities and instructed the audience to stay true and never shave their legs.
Honorable Mention: Wand
Most Disappointing Moment: Foxygen starting late
When Foxygen emerged on the indie scene, they were the next big act to watch, drawing comparisons to Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground, and making every indie blog’s best new artist list. And yet, over the years, they’ve pushed some buttons with their misogynistic behavior, diva-esque stage demands, and shoddy and underprepared live sets. It seemed that their premature, unanticipated success was detrimental to the evolution of the band, but venues were still giving them a chance because they’re talented dudes.
Their set started late at Desert Daze, and so the most anticipated act of the weekend (Television) was instructed to start thirty minutes late. When Television frontman Tom Verlaine appeared on stage to announce that starting late was not his choice, he seemed a little peeved and so did the audience. Foxygen performed a decent set, but it was not worth the wait for them or for a band with three times their legacy.
Most Surprising Standout: Part Time
The lo-fi synth act Part Time is another member of the Burger Records family and a newer project for founding member David Speck. Speck’s voice is deep and silky and evokes a ’60s nostalgia, but it’s got an enveloping aura — truly music you can sit with for a while and get absorbed in.
And it’s even better live in an outdoor setting, with the desert dust and wind complementing the somber, breezy essence of the music. They played early but amassed a decent crowd in no time, and it was the perfect cure to mine (and I’m sure many others’) early-afternoon hangover.
Honorable Mention: Deerhunter
Most Memorable Moment: Television playing “Marquee Moon”
The most memorable moment was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be: Television performing “Marquee Moon” as the last song of their set. Due to their late start, the group was unable to return for an encore, and that was absolutely fine because there is no way they could have topped their impeccable performance of the 10.5-minute track off the eponymous 1977 album.
Billy Ficca on drums lived up to his reputation, especially on Marquee Moon’s opening track, “See No Evil,” and Tom Verlaine’s voice has sustained almost to a tee over the years. Television doesn’t tour much, so if there is ever an opportunity to see them perform, do yourself a favor and make sure you don’t miss it.
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