Written by Behnam Vadi & Jordanna Dworkin
There is a certain mystique that illuminates this time of year in dazzling ways. Affectionately known as “ROCKtober,” it’s a glorious seasonal shift, the celebrated Indian Summer, and a time when bountiful and beautiful festivities weave a rich tapestry of community, soundscape and nature. As San Franciscans, we catch the last of the warm late afternoon rays and caravan down south to the Joshua Tree Music Festival, which took place over four days from October 4th through the 8th in the heart of the high desert, Joshua Tree, California and attracted 5000 like-minded music and camping lovers and those just looking for good vibe getaway.
As proud parents of a toddler on the move, we are constantly on the lookout for weekend festivals where children can dance and prance and parents can indulge in musical line-ups that readily serve as the dopest of date night alternatives. There is one crew who knows just how to deliver, hands down, every time. Once again, Barnett English and his collective musical, mystical entourage conjure a magical experience for all members of the family, a shamanic odyssey artfully landscaped within the Mojave Desert.
Beyond its NorCal sister festie, Guitarfish Festival, the talented crew transforms the Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground into an extended weekend carnival of bohemian artistry. From over-the-top creative culinary to god-like figures performing their hearts out and a movement arts bonanza to rock your body and stir your spirit, we can easily caption this one as embodying total NIRVANA.
Upon entering the road into the venue from Highway 62, one can relish in the magic that the dust, cacti, and red rock horizon offer, as you transition into a greeting by a joyous cavalry of hosts, behind an artistic shack, intoxicating guests with pure love. Costumes, sparkles, and smiles is what you can expect getting checked in and navigated to your campsite —the excitement in the eyes of your children will start to flourish.
Whether or not you’re into yoga, there’s even an opening Thursday set of back-to-back classes to set the tone for your first day in desert festival mode. Fast forward to some of the great opening acts like Mustafa Akbar & Raul del Moral as well as party instigators Afrolicious, to help take you through the best post-savasana natural high and into the night. How can combining rhythms from Africa and Latin America with electronic breaks and deep club beats not pierce through your physical body and touch your soul. The perfect blend of music to close out the kick-off day and set the mood for the weekend.
Waking up under the desert sky and then attending local favorite Walter Winfield’s daily Qi Gong classes followed by Pierrette’s dreamy Gong Sound Healing Circle sets the tone for a perfect full day of epic wonder. Ahhhmazing. Beat the heat and boost energy with a refreshing B12 shot in the thick of the day, and, indulge in a fabulous massage when it’s time to chill courtesy of multiple health and body healers on hand in the healing Oasis. Check out the evolving live art for creative inspiration along the path. There’s a healing buzz just about everywhere you land. Let the kids boogie down to Mojave Desert natives, The Desert Rhythm Project, with their liberal reggae / funk melodies, or sing-a-long with the ever-animated Jewels in Kidsville, an area set up to inspire the creative juices of the little ones. They will love it, and so will you.
Once Friday morning arrives, eclectic musicians rock the line-up, from 10am until the wee hours of the night. Early groups like Sunny War as well as highlight sets by Trevor Green, and the ever so talented Gabriella Evaro (we couldn’t get enough of her) provide a ssupercharged breakfast of emotional rifts and wit. BIG SMILES! Up and coming superstars, Evanoff, helped ignite Friday evening on the Indian Cove Stage, blending analog and digital sounds they call “Dream Rock” with a very talented guitarist that could trade riffs with the best of the best, followed by Oak-Town’s Balkan Bump and J-Tree local, Jesika Von Rabbit. Talk about a medley of world music, pop parody, and desert gypsy funk — Friday night satiates any musical appetite.
One of the more interesting time slots was from 12:30pm-2pm Fri-Sun, which was deemed for Songwriter Sessions. Each day, four songwriters took turns singing a song, and sharing their stories, for an intimate lunchtime set on the Boogaloo Stage. Oakland’s own Whiskerman, with frontman Graham Patzner, delivered unflinching profound lyrics, to take you on the path of a soulful, mythical, and raw soundscape journey with emotional vocals to match. Global Superstar, Women’s Rights Activist, and African Angel, Fatoumata Diawara injected a shot of pure AHHH to the audience. Saturday evening was another line up to send you swirling in the sky like a Sufi paying tribute to his GOD. For a steamy retro funk and soul vibe, Matador! Soul Sounds took the Indian Cove Stage, while the wicked delicious and positively uplifting Beats & Rhymes battled it out with LA’s, Everyman.
Mid-day / early evening, Sunday, gave folks a healthy dose of western influences and traditional African rhythms, with Congo favs, Jupiter & Okwess, Caribbean blues rockers Delgres and LA’s, Kolars. Highlights belonged to Delgre’s who sounded like a Caribbean Zeppelin and was the only act to receive a double encore from fans that clearly couldn’t get enough of their delta blues sounds. Also, the duet of Rob Kolar and Lauren Brown (The Kolars) brought the house down, as they created a sonic world that straddles self-described genres such as Desert Disco, R&BEyond, Space Blues, and Glam-a-billy. Your mind will be blown, when Lauren starts tap dancing rhythms with her feet atop a bass drum while simultaneously playing a stand-up kit. She uses this dance to transform beats into natural extensions of her movement – WOW!
Sunday night was sure to captivate your soul, pulling it out of your physical body, and
hand washing it with favorite closers House of Hamsa. A three-hour continuous set created an aura around the Boogaloo Stage, putting heads in a trance and bodies in
motion, as if you were journeying through the ethers. If there is a group of musicians who can communicate with other universes, these four tribesman can lead the pack – and they did. From impressive throat vocals to captivating beats, its clear why the Joshua Tree crew picked them to close-out a weekend that was already jam-packed with great music.
As if the weekend’s festivities couldn’t offer enough pizazz, an Unidentified Flying Object burst through the starlit scene during a deep closing set at the Boogaloo Stage. Crowds had gathered to observe the spectacle and cut through the tricks their eyes were playing on them. It was none other than the tech rebel Elon Musk’s rocket trailblazing the night sky. It could not have been better timed: eye candy and musical sorcery at its finest. We want MORE.
MORE ON JOSHUA TREE MUSIC FESTIVAL:
Founded in 2003, the bi-annual (May & Oct) Joshua Tree Music Festival is held at the gateway to the world-renowned National Park. JTMF is a resource-generating powerhouse of passionate creativity, community empowerment, and arts education for all ages. A family inclusive global music experience in the magical Mojave. Committed to radical inclusion, these three days (and four night) funky desert-style festivals create experiences where passion, purpose, family, and friends come together, and the boundary between performer and patron is blurred. The music is diverse and eclectic, from dance-world-electro-funk’n groove to soulful global-ethnic melodies. JTMF promotes personal growth through a variety of multidisciplinary workshops, such as yoga and movement, visual arts, music, and myth. A robust schedule of Kidsville activities makes JTMF one of the top family-friendly festivals in the country. Magnificent art installations and a world market further inspire intrigue and invite festivalgoers. Their mission is to foster social interaction on a deep level, creating positive life-changing moments.
Joshua Tree Festival was everything we anticipated and more, delivering so many amazing moments that unless you were actually part of the experience its hard to put everything into words. To sum it up, it was truly a weekend that we will cherish, where memories that are now forged and new friendships made. Congratulations to Barnett English and the entire Joshua Tree Festival team for another amazing event. Those of you who don’t want to wait until next October are in luck, Joshua Tree Festival also happens in May from May 16 through 19th, 2019 and is two times as big, with even more great music and artful community attractions to experience. Also, dates have been announced for the 2019 October edition which lands on October 10 through 13th. So plan ahead, bring all your friends and family, and gear up to head to the Mojave for 2019 – the Joshua Tree Music Festivals seems like they are only going to get bigger and better.
For more info on both Joshua Tree Music Festivals & tickets visit: www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com