There are dreamers then there are the dreamers that are actually doers and bring their dreams to life. Meet Barnett English a creative passionate spirit who has been a lover of music festival’s for multiple decades. His mobile organic espresso café, “JavaGogo”, which caters up tasty coffee mixed drinks and smoothies at events, has taken him to more then 600+ music and camp out festivals. While attending and serving up brews at a Didgeridoo festival in Joshua Tree National Park in 2002 he fell in love with the area and its scenery. The mystical and magical morning and sunset views and landscape captivated him so much that he envisioned it being the perfect place for a new campout music festival.
6 months later Barnett relocated to the eclectic artsy Joshua Tree and began plans to launch the 1st Inaugural Joshua Tree Music Festival. The festival took place in April of 2003 to such overwhelming demand that in 2006 he decided to add a second edition in the fall and once again it was met with success. Both festivals have since continued to run consistently over the course of four days in May and October and have grown in size and popularity while still maintaining the quality and vibe that Barnett initially desired. His choices of talent and artists that have played throughout the years have been eclectic and diverse spanning genres and drawing influences from all corners of the Globe. Its been the perfect gathering for families and those kindred spirits just wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Beyond the music Barnett and his creative team have also featured a variety of workshops that include yoga and Qigong classes as well as meditational healing circles, massage areas and even vitamin boosting booths offering up shots of B-12. There are tons of arts and crafts on hand and even a Kidsville area for the youngsters to jam out, learn and become part of a community. Being the Renaissance man that he is and of course starting out with his own JavaGogo café, Barnett also understood that good food and drink are essential for a four-day campout to ensure fans get properly nourished. Thus each year Joshua Tree Music Festival continues to expand on great food vendors that offer up an array of healthy and tasty options.
Clearly wanting to continue on the heals of his creative success, in 2016 Barnett decided to partner with Guitarfish Festival an intimate camping and music experience that takes place in a magic setting over a mile high, in the woods, on the South Fork of the Yuba river at the Cisco Grove campground each year in July. GF has been going strong with its fusion of great music, art, swimming and family style camp-out and 2019 will make its 9th consecutive year. Its no doubt that Barnett English was set out to do more then just serve up tasty coffee mixes and by his track record now of success with both Joshua Tree Music Festival and Guitarfish Music Festival, his passion and future for curating festivals seems like his clear path.
In a day and age where music festivals are everywhere and the market is oversaturated by more and more promoters looking to build massive National and International rock, Hip Hop and alternative festivals similar to Coachella, Outsidelands, Lollapalooza and others, Barnett has carved out his own niche and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Avant-garde festival producer and curator Barnett English and chat about life and what inspires him most about his festivals…
Sason Bishope Parry: How is life treating you?
Barnett English: Truly grand. One slightly alarming thing though, the rapid rate at which the days fly by is, well – shocking!!!
SBP: Tell us a little about yourself and where you grew up?
BE: I grew up in vanilla suburbia USA, in Louisville, KY. I’ve always remembered my past by what music was playing at the time. At age 5 driving with my mom in a brown Dodge Dart listening to “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne on the am radio. At age 8 sitting in our den w/ my dad while he played Floyd Cramer, Peter Duchin, Sinatra & Dean Martin albums over and over. By age 10 I was collecting albums, splitting the $5 cost w/ my older brother, Sam. By age 15, I was in deep, and music saved me as I navigated my teen years. I always knew I wanted to live somewhere else, so the day after I finished school at Indiana University, I moved to California. Now 33 years later, it’s safe to say it suits me out west!
SBP: What is JavaGogo and how did that open the door to music festivals for you?
BE: I was about to turn 30 years old and I felt it was time for a change. So in one month I quit my job, rode my bicycle to Cabo San Lucas, moved in with a new girlfriend and started building a coffee cart. The espresso craze was just cranking up. A friend suggested I contact a music festival (the High Sierra Music Festival in Bear Valley, CA – now in Quincy, CA) to sell coffee there. So I did and I was hooked. Four days and nights of dancing to great music, making friends and money, I knew then that I’d have to keep doing this. So I did and i am! To date I’ve been to over 700 music festivals vending w/ JavaGogo (every Coachella, 25 high sierra music festivals and more etc).
SBP: Did you always know that you wanted to be a festival producer?
BE: No idea. But by going to all those music festivals, I was convinced of the powerful positive benefits of gathering in groups, in the great outdoors and enjoying music. On a whim, I went to a small Didgeridoo festival in Joshua Tree, CA. I arrived in the dark, so I had no idea of my surroundings until the sun came up. WOW!!! Magical night skies gave way to sweeping views of the national park. That weekend I mentioned to the campground owners that they should have a REAL music festival here. Finally they said, “Well if it’s such a great idea, why don’t you do it? So I moved to Joshua Tree and produced the inaugural Joshua Tree Music Festival w/in 6 months!
SBP: How did the idea for Joshua Tree come about and how hard was it doing the first one in the desert?
BE: Ignorance is bliss. I figured we could plan for a long time to make it happen, but then you never really learn unless you do it. Hence the short run up to the first one. Trial by fire! I’ve learned more from each festival, and am still learning, and improving upon each fest (upcoming fest is #30).
SBP: So much goes into your festivals. Do you have a core team and how many people work with you to bring them to life?
BE: YES! For years I would have lots of help around the time of the festival, then work year ’round solo. But now, we’ve got a team of full time super heroes making it all happen. I feel like we are just getting started!
SBP: Where do you draw your inspiration?
BE: I personally have had so many life changing positive experiences with friends at festivals. Real quality time! Now, at our festivals, I have an endless stream of conversations with folks who come up to say “This festival changed my life – thank you!” Usually in tears of joy. THAT is rewarding!
SBP: What is your favorite type of music and who curates the music at the festivals?
BE: I live for finding my new favorite band or song or album. I obsessively listen to new music, scour festival lineups around the world, peruse scores of music blogs, and have dozens of friends who recommend artists they see. So to answer your question, I curate the music. I strive to have a line up that is diverse, and the music over the course of the weekend will take you on a journey. The artists set times are sequenced – like a live mixed tape.
SBP: What artist or band that has played moved you the most?
BE: I met Gene Evaro Jr. here in Joshua Tree back in 2008 or 2009. He might have been 18 or 19 then? I was meeting someone at a cafe, and their were two guys on stage playing – Gene on guitar and Ben on drums. I grew up listening to the Allman Brothers, a band with 8 musicians strong and Gene and Ben were grooving like the Allman Brothers. Since then Gene has played nearly every festival (twice a year).
SBP: Are both the Sumner and Fall Joshua Tree Music Festivals similar?
BE: Yes, similar music vibe – a family friendly global music experience. We were just too excited to wait a whole year! So after our third spring festival, we started the FALL festival in 2006.
SBP: Tell us what people can expect for the 2019 Joshua Tree Music Festivals?
BE: Many people ask “what are the big changes for this year.” We strive to make thousands of small incremental changes in each and every area. We go thru all 42 departments, and make improvements in all. Be them large or small. And together all the little improvements add up to one BIG change!
SBP: Do you have other festival projects in the works?
BE: YES! In addition to producing the two Joshua Tree Music Festivals and Guitarfish Music Festival, we roll JavaGogo to over 20 festivals a year selling coffee. We also have a fleet of Cozy Camper Trailers (33 of them) that we rent to other festivals and events in the region. We are also hosting two major yoga festivals at our Joshua Tree venue – Shakti & Bhakti Festivals – so our production team will help them make those fests happen. We also have been hired to produce aspects (sound, light, staging, art, etc) for Sierra Stake Out and Babes Ride Out (two motorcycle events).
SBP: Besides JavaGogo and your festivals do you have time for anything else?
BE: My favorite job is being a papa to Lola, age 13. Spending time with Lola and my beloved Lynne is what I do in my spare time!
SBP: Tell us about Guitarfish Music Festival and how it’s different from Joshua Tree Music Festival?
BE: Guitarfish is in a MAGICAL setting – a mile high in the Sierras, on the Yuba River, near Lake Tahoe. That is the main difference. Otherwise our audiences and musical styles are similar!
SBP: What can people expend from the 2019 Guitarfish Music Festival?
BE: A phenomenal line up! The Cisco Grove campground, under new ownership, is making some super positive upgrades to their infrastructure as well.
SBP: All your festivals have a family friendly appeal, was that part of your vision?
BE: Not so much at the very beginning in 2003 but ever since the birth of my daughter in 2005, YES! It’s what makes our fests unique and special. We truly cater to families and the positive vibrations are truly higher because of it.
SBP: Do you have other dreams and goals that you would like to pursue?
BE: I see future careers in writing and in creating up-cycled junk art, and developing our own festival site!
SBP: What is one secret about you that no one knows?
BE: I love the Bee Gees.
SBP: What’s next for Barnett English?
BE: Besides a shower lol, I wake up each day, driven by the desire to create an even greater festival experience for people and to witness more of those positive life changing moments!
For more info on Joshua Tree Music Festival visit: www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com
For more info on GuitarFish Festival visit: guitarfishfestival.com