Last weekend, great music came to the high desert during the 14th annual spring Joshua Tree Music Festival.
Locals refer to this event as “our festival”—for good reason. Most of the festival staffers are friends and family members who volunteer their time to make the festival happen. The icing on this gluten-free cake is the talent of the promoter Barnett English, who brings in great musical acts from all over America and the world.
Gene Evaro Jr., who recently toured with Elle King (Grammy nominee and JTMF alum), kicked things off on the Boogaloo Stage on Thursday. Gene is a homegrown star who gets better and better every time he performs. This is to say: When I saw him opening for King last year at the Observatory in Orange County he was amazing. Now you get that feeling that he could really become a star. Dam-Funk and the Light closed the event on Thursday night with plenty of funk jams after pausing during the first song to correct issues with a monitor.
Considering there are so many music festivals out there, groups need courage to bring music that does not get played at every other fest. Dakhabrakha offered the perfect example of great world music by way of the Ukraine. This folk band was my highlight for Friday. The Main Squeeze from Chi-Town pumped up some old-school soul with some smooth vocals by Corey Frye that had me wanting to put on a velvet jacket.
The standout on Saturday was the Desert Rhythm Project, headed by Mikey Reyes on guitar and Bryanna Evaro on bass—who happened to strap a knife onto her calf. The Desert Rhythm Project shared a great funky, reggae, desert mishmash sound.
I got to see a wonderful performance on Sunday by local favorite 3rd Ear Experience, with stunning vocals by Amritakripa Watts-Robb on “I Am,” off of the 2015 release Kiss the Bliss. 3rd Ear Experience offered the best of local world music at this year JTMF. I’m someone who loves to listen to short-fast jams, and 3rd Ear Experience created a convert in me; I dug their desert psychedelic space tracks. Not to be outdone by Bryanna Evaro, 3rd Ear Experience a brought sword-wielding belly-dancer. As the sun began to set, people held hands, watching the sun before everyone migrated to the Boogaloo Stage.
Gene Evaro Jr. came back on Sunday to that Boogaloo Stage, creating a party atmosphere that included a giant bouncing beach ball. Evaro Jr. shared a fantastic new tune, “California Is Burning,” just released in March. Kudos to Amanda Davis, a backup singer in the band who had been resting her voice. She is now making a splash by singing again.
I am fortunate enough to cover many of the major music festivals in California, but the Joshua Tree Music Festival is special to me, because it is powered by the love of music and love we have for our friends and neighbors. It is truly an organic gathering of progressive people that can’t be mass produced.