CVIndependent

Mon12102018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The 13th annual fall Joshua Tree Music Festival had a fine four-day run.

Located at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground, the festival features some local regulars, like Gene Evaro Jr. and the Desert Rhythm Project. New this year was a solo appearance by Jesika Von Rabbit, who previously appeared with Gram Rabbit, which is on hiatus.

Beyond the locals: Festival-goers are treated to bands from all over the world—and every year, I wonder if I am in a musical bubble, since most of the bands are completely new to me. Perhaps Barnett English, the founder of the festival, is just better at keeping up with the best new music in the world. I suspect the latter is true, and I’m grateful for the musical education Mr. English provides me twice a year.

I was able to catch most of Gene Evaro Jr.’s show on Thursday; he had fans swooning … or was it Piper Robinson, the bass player, who had fans mesmerized? Evaro always delivers an incredible performance, and it is only a matter of time before he receives wider acclaim. He played a favorite, “Hold Onto Nothing,” a song he wrote after quitting his old day job.

Raul Del Moral was up next on the Boogaloo Stage, bringing his soulful tunes to a receptive audience. The night was a mish-mash, with Afrolicious joining Mustafa Akbar, and then Raul Del Moral returned later, creating a medley of slamming soul funk. Songs about rising up and living in the moment were the theme of the night … possibly a deliberation on our times.

Friday brought Evanoff to the Indian Cove Stage, pounding the best of electronic dance music supported by real musicians. This band would fit well at a pool party in Palm Springs, with groovy joy and melodic beats.

Monophonics was jubilant. Lead singer Kelly Finnigan asked, “Joshua Tree, are you feeling great? Are you feeling magnificent?” The response: a cheer from fans.

Matador! Soul Sounds vocalist Adryon De Leon announced, “We are the real fucking deal,” making sure the attendees knew she was not part of a cover band. No, she’s part of a badass band with a badass sound.

Jesika Von Rabbit came to Joshua Tree Festival for the first time with her new band. She greeted familiar faces: “Hi JT Fest!” A recorded backing track blurted, “Today we see our phones every two minutes. Did the world change?” As I notice many millies staring at their phones as Jesika Von Rabbit started her set with the acoustic “Devil’s Playground,” a Gram Rabbit song—tipping her rabbit ears to her first appearance at this festival many years ago. The audience went crazy and danced away during her impeccable 75-minute set.

At one point, Jesika said, “I love the rabbit ears, the Royal Order of Rabbits.” It was evocative nod to the happy cult that has followed Von Rabbit through the years in various reincarnations. I spied Travis Cline, a member of the original Gram Rabbit band, working in production at the festival and watching his old band mate. “Olde October Moon,” another song from her old band, was perfect for the season. Another old band mate, Brandon Henderson handled the lighting and projection duties that conveyed a psychedelic vibe.

Beyond the music, at the Joshua Tree Music Festival, you are surrounded by art everywhere you walk. Lali Whisper is an incredible artist who works with mirrors; she previously contributed a piece in May. As a backdrop to the natural mirror of the small pond at the campground, she assembled mirrors that were unmarked and pristine. She left felt markers so festival-goers could write their feelings and thoughts.

Sunday’s stand out was the Kolars. I have seen the Kolars several times, since the duo performs in the desert on a regular basis, but it was a treat to see a 90-minute set, which pushed Lauren Brown to her limits as she tap-danced on a kick drum while providing half of the sound. Rob Kolar is the other half of this big-sound band that would be home at a rockabilly festival or a desert generator party.

As the show ended, Brown limped over to the merch table in front of the Copper Mountain stage to greet fans. What a trooper.

With another festival in the can, you really must come to the next festival in May. You’ll experience the best music in the world you have never heard of. This is a rare festival which has 60- to 90-minute sets, allowing the listener to appreciate deeper cuts.

Published in Reviews

After the Empire Polo Club is cleaned up following Coachella and Stagecoach, it’s time for music-lovers to turn toward the high desert—and the Joshua Tree Music Festival, with the first of its two annual iterations taking place May 17-20.

The spring festival will feature performances by record producer and DJ Adam Freeland; Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles; Con Brio; and many others. Local artists participating include Gene Evaro Jr., The Desert Rhythm Project, and Myshkin.

The festival has grown increasingly popular in its 15 years of existence, but it has kept its smaller scale, as well as its focus on creativity, community and arts education for attendees of all ages.

During a recent interview with founder Barnett English, he told me how he came up with the idea to do a festival at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground.

“For 25 years, I’ve been traveling to music festivals, and every season, I go to as many as 25 to 30 festivals with my coffee business,” English said. “I’ve been doing that since the summer of 1993, mainly on the West Coast and every Coachella. I happened to come up to this campground here in Joshua Tree in 2002, and drove in at night not seeing anything. When I woke up and saw it, I said, ‘Wow, this would be a great place for a music festival.’ Literally, within six months, I moved here, and we had our first festival. Luckily, I was naive and went ahead and did it.”

The Joshua Tree Music Festival includes world-music acts in each lineup; English said it’s important to be diverse.

“I’ve always been a huge music fan, fiendishly collecting music and hoping to hear the next favorite song ever since I was 10,” he said. “A good 45 years of that, and after going to all these festivals, you realize that a lot of them sound the same, or it’s just one certain type of music performed by white men. I think diversity is important, along with keeping it interesting and unique.”

Since its inception, the festival has utilized members of the community to take part and help with logistics.

“Community is our main focus, and that includes people working on the festival, too,” English said. “I might be responsible for taking out the garbage, but there are hundreds of people who help build the place and paint it, and all the vendors; that really makes the whole thing better. We really are all connected.”

All music festivals face the challenges of finances and getting the word out—but the Joshua Tree Music Festival does things differently.

“From the very beginning, and even to this day, it comes down to the fact that I don’t have money,” English said. “It’s always challenging to produce it every time. I’ve never had investors or corporate sponsors; that was a real challenge at the beginning—and (it is) even now, because we pour back into it and make it better each time. The good thing about that is it forced us to be creative and not overdo it. The result is the festival grew organically over the years. It grew because people showed up with their friends and thought, ‘Five of our friends will love this, so let’s bring them next time.’ It really grew that way versus having a $500,000 advertising budget and bringing in thousands of people who didn’t know each other.

“The constant challenge of being better-organized is always a fun game, and you can always improve at it. I’m constantly learning still.”

English talked about a couple of notable recent performances.

“Every festival, there are some performances that strike a note for some reason,” he said. “… This one we had last year from South Korea called Jambinai almost scared people at the beginning, because they’re atonal, and then go into heavy metal and play these classical music instruments. It was so bizarre, but the whole place was in tears, because they loved it so much. Last month, they were on worldwide TV closing out the Winter Olympics, nine months later.

“We also had DakhaBrakha from Ukraine. They were playing classical instruments, too, but all electrified, and it made for a one-of-a-kind sound. I still have people e-mailing me every asking, ‘Are they coming back?’”

English said he thinks the backdrop of the festival makes it better.

“It has something to do with the wide-open space and the wide-open sky,” Barrett said. “It’s like … your mind is free of the clutter that you might have in the city, where you have the electrical eyes in the buildings and the cars. I think people just exhale when they come up here and are physically more relaxed and open. I also see that in the performers when they’re up onstage. When they come out here, the performances are 10,000 times better than when I saw them a few months prior at another festival. It comes through in the performance, which is awesome.”

The different atmosphere at the Joshua Tree Music Festival also draws a wider variety of attendees.

“We actually have a lot of people who attend that don’t really go to festivals,” English said. “They don’t like crowds. They aren’t up for paying a fortune to wait in line, be hot and bothered, and be squeezed into a campground. I get it. I’ve reached a certain age where I’m not into that, either. When you come here, it’s a totally relaxed vibe and atmosphere. There’s plenty of room to camp, and everything is within walking distance. I think that is a great appeal, with the music being as high-grade as any festival, but in an intimate setting.”

The Joshua Tree Music Festival takes place Thursday, May 17, through Sunday, May 20, at the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground, 2601 Sunfair Road, in Joshua Tree. A four-day pass is $180; discounts and single-day passes are available. For tickets or more information, visit www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com.

Published in Previews

April is considered the big month for desert-area music festivals, thanks to the many tens of thousands of people who head to Coachella and Stagecoach.

Well, October is now giving April a run for its money, as the month is bringing three large music festivals to the area: Desert Daze, the second yearly installment of the Joshua Tree Music Festival, and the two-weekend Desert Trip fest.

When Goldenvoice announced Desert Trip for Oct. 7-9 and 14-16 back in May, locals in the know wondered whether Goldenvoice had forgotten that the first Coachella festival, in 1999, was actually held in October—when 100-plus-degree temps greeted cranky festival-goers. However, the stunning lineup of Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Who and Roger Waters was enough to make people quickly forget about weather concerns, and open their wallets to get passes that start at $399. The crowd for Desert Trip is expected to skew a bit older, much like the performers, leading to the festival’s unofficial moniker of “Oldchella.”

The excellence of Desert Trip goes beyond the artists appearing onstage; foodies who are willing to pay big bucks can dine on meals prepared by Roberta’s from New York City, Cassell’s Hamburgers, The NoMad and other big names.

That’s all well and good—but what about the other festivals?

The fall installment of the Joshua Tree Music Festival overlaps the first weekend of Desert Trip, taking place at the Joshua Tree Lake Compound Oct. 6-9. The event, which started in 2003, is a family-friendly affair that’s attracted talent like Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, the Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, The Avett Brothers, Chicano Batman, Trombone Shorty and many others in the alternative and world-music scenes. All-weekend passes cost $180, with child and family discounts available, along with one-day passes.

Joshua Tree Music Festival founder Barnett English, who responded to the Independent via e-mail, said he’s not at all concerned about Desert Trip.

“Our fall festival has been on the same weekend in October for 10 years,” Barnett said. “I knew over a year ago that Goldenvoice had received permits from the city of Indio to have two festivals in October. So I knew there was a good chance they’d host an event on the same weekend as our fall festival.

“To be honest, with Desert Trip on the same weekend, it only magnifies how different our events truly are: a four day, three night, family-friendly experience where most all attendees camp onsite for a reasonable price, versus a multi-day concert with a massive crowd and pricey fee. Both are music festivals, but definitely not apples to apples. Our music features artists who are young and hungry and on the rise. That is one of our core missions, musically speaking—to have artists before they break big, so that you can enjoy their magic in an intimate setting. Some artists who performed here in the past are now enjoying wildly successful musical careers.

“Don’t get me wrong—the artists at Desert Trip represent a portion of the soundtrack of my life, and I love them all, but I saw them all live back in the late ’70s and early ’80s.”

English said his festival offers “a very intimate, community-centric family vibe, with world-class music in a magical setting.” He also said criticism in some circles that the Joshua Tree Music Festival lacks local acts is off-base.

“Seven of the 33 artists performing at the festival reside in Joshua Tree: Gene Evaro, Desert Rhythm Project, Myshkin, Sequoia Smith, Annachristie Sadler, Regal Pooch and Adam Freeland, along with Tim Easton, who lived here for several years,” he said. “At our spring festival, eight of the 33 bands were local. … I’d say we provide a real deep mix of local artists, alongside artists from around the world.”

A week later, also in Joshua Tree, Desert Daze will overlap with Desert Trip’s second weekend, taking place Oct. 14-16. A three-day pass costs $165, with single-day passes also on sale.

The inaugural Desert Daze took place at the Dillon Roadhouse in April 2012 over 11 days and featured bands such as Dengue Fever, earthlings?, Spindrift, Allah-Las and many, many others. In 2013, Desert Daze was resurrected as an April event in Mecca at Sunset Ranch Oasis. After a successful 2014 edition, the 2015 festival was held in May at Sunset Ranch Oasis and included Warpaint, a reunited Failure, RJD2 and others.

Desert Daze was founded by Phil Pirrone (or JJUUJJUU, as he’s known musically) and his wife, Deap Vally drummer Julie Edwards-Pirrone, in collaboration with Moon Block Party. Pirrone knows how tough it can be to put on a big festival. He was at the Levitation Festival in Austin, Texas, in April—when it essentially had to be cancelled due to flooding. Fortunately, organizers managed to secure local venues in Austin for some of the acts who were due to play the festival.

“I was onsite when the news came in. It was heartbreaking. I felt for the organizers, who are our friends and colleagues,” Pirrone said. “But everyone pulled together, and that festival happened, even if it wasn’t as originally planned.”

This year, Desert Daze is being held at the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree.

“I've never seen a festival site like it. It’s completely unique and totally beautiful,” he said. “My wife and I fell in love in the high desert, so we have some other reasons we’re magnetically drawn to it.”

Pirrone said he was not completely surprised when Goldenvoice announced Desert Trip.

“If I remember correctly, we had heard about it at some point, but Goldenvoice hadn’t announced that it would be two weekends just yet. That was a surprise!” he said.

This year’s lineup includes a lot of big names. Primus, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Godspeed You! Black Emperor!, Deerhunter, Television and the Black Angels are among the acts scheduled to play at Desert Daze.

“It really came together,” he said. “To a certain extent, the lineup you end up with is sort of out of your hands. You can come up with bands all day long, but they could be recording or in Europe when you need them. So, in a way, the stars literally aligned to make this happen. After some of them saying ‘no’ for four years, our persistence seems to have paid off. We feel honored to host such an incredible group of bands and artists.”

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.

Find more from Guillermo Prieto at www.facebook.com/irockkphotos and irockphotos.net.

Published in Reviews