Putting on a music festival is like producing a movie. It’s an arduous, stressful process. You’ve got to book the best celebrities on the budget you’re allotted, play logistical tic-tac-toe from one day to the next, put out fires that only lead to bigger fires, and get it all sorted before the release date. Then you cross your fingers, hope tickets sell, and pray that the audience enjoys the spectacle. It’s stressful as hell, and Desert Daze founder Phil Pirrone can’t get enough of it.

Desert Daze is only two days away, and Pirrone and his team of about thirty people have spent the past year laboring over every detail of the four-day event. In fact, Pirrone doesn’t even see it as a yearlong project, but rather something he is consistently working on every single day. That’s likely attributed to the fact that Desert Daze is in its fifth and most vigorous year.

Photo by Danny Liao

The meticulously curated event has managed to set itself apart from the myriad of other music festivals inundating Southern California thanks to Pirrone’s tight-knit crew and community-first mentality. He believes that the festival curates itself in a way, explaining that “there are certain limitations that you’re at the mercy of. We’re trying to tell a story with our lineup and we’re trying to make it meaningful. So it’s not a hodgepodge of bands that are thrown together, they’re either connected to each other or they influence each other. We’re not gonna add something just ‘cause someone told us it’s gonna sell a lot of tickets. The entire lineup is a sort of alchemic thing that to a certain extent isn’t totally in our control. We guide it, but at the end of the day the people that say ‘yes’ say ‘yes’ for whatever reason. We’re very lucky to have Iggy pop and John Cale in the same lineup. John Cale produced the first Stooges record, so there are those little Easter Eggs, and that’s the point.”

Pirrone is very adamant about there being a “story” to Desert Daze every year. This year it’s based around the art direction, the lineup, and a deliberate sense of spirituality. “The art direction is based around singularity, and you have to come to the festival to understand what we mean and what angle we’re referring to. And on a philosophical level, it’s meant to be something that can facilitate the growth of your spirit. We want there to be some personal growth that takes place there, so every decision we make is sort of driven to promote that. It’s designed to be a place where people can come and have a found experience. And another way to answer that question is that [at its heart], it’s very family-oriented. It was started by myself and my wife, and our best friends and family. My flight manager married my best friend in the world, and my assistant talent buyer is one of my oldest friends. It’s like a family restaurant. We put a lot of love into it and I think that permeates. That’s where it was started, in a place of ‘we’re in this together,’ and ‘we’re in this because we love doing it and we love doing it with each other.’ I guess I’d compare it to how you’d feel in a Chiles verses how you’d feel at a mom & pop Italian restaurant. It just feels warm and you know the food is made with love.”

Desert Daze 2016

Pirrone praises the team of people working with him as some of the best people he’s ever had the pleasure of working with in his entire life. So the daunting nature of putting on an event as big as Desert Daze is a thousand times more feasible when working alongside people you trust and respect.

He began his festival career organizing Moon Block Party, a two day event that boasted an equally psych-rock heavy lineup with mainly indie artists. Five years later he’s staying true to his indie roots, while casually peppering in icons such as Iggy Pop, John Cale, and Thurston Moore. With the festival growing exponentially from year to year (last year was only three days long), and ticket prices rising, I asked Pirrone if he has any plans to grow the fest even bigger or retire from their current location in Joshua Tree, at the Institute of Mentalphysics.

“We want to be careful with that, we want to keep doing what we’re doing. We don’t want to change it too much. We feel like we’ve hit a rhythm, and we’ve struck some kind of balance between what we’re trying to do and what actually happens. We felt like last year it really clicked. And I think that the festival can grow a little more and still fit into its wardrobe or whatever, but there’s a limit to that. For us, Desert Daze is never gonna be this 40,000 person thing. That’s not what we want it to be, that’s not what it’s intended to be.”

Pirrone has a laundry list of dream acts that he’s confident he’ll be able to work with in the future, but is still overwhelmed by the artists he’s managed to book already. “From The Oh Sees to The Black Angels to Iggy Pop and Spiritualized, it’s kind of surreal that we’ve had a chance to work with those artists. But there are so many more we’re excited about that we’re bound to work with over the next few years.”

Wand, Desert Daze 2016

And despite his already busy repertoire, he still manages to keep his band JJUUJJUU alive and thriving. It helps that Mason Rothschild, the art director for the festival, is also in the band. JJUUJJUU will be playing Desert Daze as well, but Pirrone seems very confidant – and more importantly – prepared, for the inevitable chaos. “Putting on a festival is damage control. You can’t expect anything to go right. Everything goes wrong and you just kind of figure out how to solve the problem. And sometimes you solve it and it goes wrong again. It’s a marathon of a process.”

Desert Daze commences this Thursday night at the Institute of Mentalphysics, and tickets are still available here.

For more info and the complete lineup:

Desert Daze