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26 Mar 2019

New Home, New Season: The Desert Stars Music Festival Celebrates New Beginnings in Joshua Tree

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Luna will headline at this year's Desert Stars Music Festival. Luna will headline at this year's Desert Stars Music Festival.

For a decade or so, the Desert Stars Music Festival brought beloved bands like Dinosaur Jr., The Raveonettes, The Lemonheads and others to a yearly celebration at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

However, the festival in the fall of 2017 brought the Pappy and Harriet’s chapter to a close. This coming weekend, a new chapter for Desert Stars fest will begin, at a new location—in the east arts district in Joshua Tree, where the lineup over two days will include headliner Luna, as well as Dean Wareham performing Galaxie 500 and Chaos Chaos.

During a recent phone interview, festival founder Tommy Dietrick discussed the festival’s history.

“When you think back to 2006, there weren’t a lot of outlets for indie bands to do a festival scenario,” Dietrick said. “If you wanted to play Coachella, you had to be a lot bigger. You had to have a lot of contacts who were superstar managers, agents and so on. I produce and engineer music for a living and work with a lot of independent artists. I know a lot of different artists in the scene, from the Dandy Warhols to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the bands that fall under the psychedelic and indie ethos. I had been coming up to the high desert and Pappy and Harriet’s. Somewhere around 2004 and 2005, some of my friends had been doing these shows on the backlot of Pappy and Harriet’s. Around 2006, we had become friends with Robyn (Celia) and Linda (Krantz) who own it and said, ‘Hey, we want to do this three-day festival with all these indie bands and charge $50 for the entire weekend.’

“The Entrance Band headlined the first year, and everyone showed up and donated their time playing for free. We had a skeleton crew putting the whole thing together, and we had so much fun that we decided we should do it again the following year. It started there, and by the third year, I reached out to some of my friends who were in bigger indie bands—and it was sold out. We still continue to keep it small and did it there from 2007 to 2017. Really, the whole thing was based on the independent spirit.”

Dietrick said the festival’s growth led to its new home—although he emphasized that Desert Stars would remain smaller and independent.

“We talked about how we wanted to have an autonomous venue where we could have our own place and set it up doing our own thing. That’s what happened now,” he said. “We’re on commercial acreage in the downtown arts district of Joshua Tree. We moved it to the spring instead of in the fall, as we did for 10 years, which is awesome, because it has a rebirth feeling.

“We built this new venue site from the ground up: 400 feet of fencing; two new stages; and we have our own bar and food now. It’s really exciting to see the evolution. The new venue is technically about two times the size of our old venue, but we’re keeping it smaller, especially as we test the infrastructure. We’re going to keep the whole event this year at around 400 … just to make sure we’re doing it as correctly as we can. A lot of people in this field of micro-festivals, as they grow, they make the mistake of growing too fast. We have intentionally limited our growth and won’t ever be a big 5,000 to 10,000-plus-people festival. There’s too much headache and stress at that level.”

Still, Dietrick said he’ll miss Pappy and Harriet’s.

“I feel like I grew up on that back lot,” he said. “When we did that first one in 2007, I was 29 years old and didn’t know what I was doing. I have so many memories from there. I did an interview in OC Weekly, and it had 10 moments that defined our event. One of them was playing onstage with Robby Krieger from The Doors. These are ‘pinch yourself’ moments that you can’t believe sometimes. We’ll miss it, but after a decade, it feels really good to be independent.”

Dietrick said he’s quite excited about the new location.

“It has a little of an Austin, Texas, meets Joshua Tree, California, vibe to it, because we have this really amazing steel and wood fencing all around,” he said. “There are these nice entry gates that are made out of wood. As long as people have a wristband, they are allowed to go in and out and wander through the shops and restaurants around us. We’re right in downtown Joshua Tree.

“This location site doesn’t have a fucking Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box or Dollar General. That’s the best thing to come out of this.”

Desert Stars has always invited local bands to take part in the festival. This year, The Flusters, Gabriella Evaro and Jesika von Rabbit are on the bill.

“Living here full-time now as of three years ago, I’ve known a lot of the local musicians up here,” Dietrick said. “Jesika von Rabbit has been a big supporter, and she’s kind of a legend up here. You get to know everyone quickly living in a small town, and I adore everyone who I come into contact with. There’s a lot of interesting talent that’s out here. I try to do my very best to benefit the community I’m a part of.

The Desert Stars Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, March 29 and 30; park at 6551 Park Blvd., behind Coyote Corner, in Joshua Tree. Weekend passes are $75; one-day passes are $48.50. For tickets or more information, visit www.desertstarsfestival.com.

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