Desert Daze had it’s eighth birthday last weekend and KCPR was there to celebrate.
With dozens upon dozens of psychedelia focused musicians and bands present, it was a no-brainer that I would be in attendance along with other KCPR DJs and friends.
After a positive experience attending last year with my girlfriend, I had little trouble convincing my friends to make the drive to Lake Perris, CA for Desert Daze 2019. All of my recounts are true, accurate and factual to a tee and I’m only discussing bands that I saw. So let us get into it… here’s what went down.
Thursday 6:00 P.M.
As soon as being dismissed from lab in Baker, I bolted down Hathway Ave to jump in the 1989 Volkswagen High Top Vanagon and headed south for the four and a half hour drive to Lake Perris, CA. We had pre-packed the night before and were stocked with gear, meals, water and other necessities for a three night camping extravaganza. Playing poker and black jack in the back of the van while losing serious amounts of money (only half kidding) passed most of the time. We had a goal of to arrive prior to 11:00 P.M. as security would not allow campers to check in past this time. We were gonna make it. About an hour before arrival, MC Quade and Edgy Veggie, two fellow DJ’s at KCPR, pulled up behind us and caravanned with our VW van as we meandered through the maze that is SoCal’s freeway system.
A few wrong turns and some minimal speeding and we had arrived at 10:45 P.M., baby. Brisk, dark and only the headlights to guide us to our future campsite. Right on time. Passed through a friendly security team and waved on to our plot of land that would be ours for the weekend. We hustled. The seven of us set up two tents, sleeping arrangements a shade structure and had what some might call a meal all before 11:30 P.M.. Time to explore.
Desert Daze offers a “Mystic Bazaar” within the grounds of the campsite exclusive to campers only.
“The Mystic Bazaar is an enclave of mystics, wanderers, teachers and bright souls that gather deep in the heart of the campgrounds at Desert Daze and will pick you up and transport you to another dimension, allow you to traverse the astral plane, rest, recover, rejuvenate and grow.”
Art installments involving LED lights and mirrors, vendors selling jewelry and a General Store full of, admittedly, over priced necessities in case you forgot a sleeping bag or some chapstick. After meeting new friends and seeing other familiar faces such as former DJ, Spenser J, it was time to get to sleep for the night and lay my head down to rest.
Friday 8:42 A.M.
The sun in the Moreno Valley will consistently wake you up at 8:45 A.M. to a parched, sweaty and agitated state of being. Not ideal, but simply the sun just being itself. Just getting out of the tent instantly makes you feel better and opens up to a moderate sized basin, extraterrestrial mountains and boulders topped off by a reservoir that provides the oasis that is the Desert Daze festival grounds — our first time observing Lake Perris in the daylight. After groggily woofing down some pancakes and socializing with other campers, it was time to embark on the true reason why all seven of us were here, the musical experience.
Frankie & The Witch Fingers kicked off the fest and it fucking blew my socks off. The mosh was tight, rowdy and well received by the band. They played on, arguably, the best stage of the fest, The Block: a more personal, lower elevation stage with white triangular sails above your head.
Highlight Track: Pleasure. Performance: 8/10
DIIV followed suit with a mediocre set that resulted in the most disappointing act of the festival for me personally. Given it was 3:00 P.M., the sun was shining, and Zachary Cole Smith hit the crowd with “we are only fucking playing our new stuff”… it wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t ideal. They sounded together and played Skin Game and Blankenship, it just wasn’t what all of the crowd wanted or was really feeling. I’ll cut them some slack as it was the start of their tour and it has been less than a month since their new album Deceiver has come out.
Highlight Track: Skin Game. Performance: 3/10
Friday 4:12 P.M.
Back to camp for a quick bite to eat. Love me some canned chilli and bread after DIIV let me down.
Crumb lifted my mood with a one hour and ten minute show. They had just recently cancelled the Sunday prior in San Luis Obispo due to Lila Ramani losing her sugary vocals. Well, the nectar was back folks. Played a mix of the new album Jinx with a garnish of older hits such as Locket. It was my first (and not my last) time seeing them and the vocals were better than anticipated.
Highlight Track: Locket. Performance: 7/10
Then it was straight to Stereolab performing on tour in the United States for the first time in over a decade. Although I was familiar with the group, I had never dug deep into their musical library. Man, oh man, were these guys and gals mathematicians behind instruments, curating a dense sonic texture that coated the entirety of the crowd. Good stuff. We all agreed that these were the professionals.
Highlight Track: Miss Modular. Performance: 8/10
Friday 8:16 P.M.
QUICK! $5 frozen lemonade. Sugary goodness and something to keep me awake for the remainder of the night.
Which WITCH did I view next? The staff at Desert Daze thought it would be hilarious to book two artists with the same name and have them on the same stage back to back. It was a running joke among festival goers to say, “which WITCH / W.I.T.C.H. did you see?!” So, I caught a little bit of the first WITCH, a stoner metal band composed of King Tuff and Dinosaur Jr guitarist J Mascis on drums… strange, I know, but a good heavy set that I observed from the outskirts of the crowd. I didn’t stay long enough to have a formal opinion of their performance.
Yikes! It’s Animal Collective and they’re attempting to perform live. But — no seriously — this was one of those times where you think, “to yourself what is happening” and “why was that much autotune necessary.” Admittedly, I am not the biggest Animal Collective fan, but I wanted to see a live hour and a half performance by them. Yes, I understand that their music isn’t the most structured thing, and yes, I know they are labeled experimental, but this performance wasn’t cohesive — my buddies who are far greater Animal Collective fans than myself agreed. They did play deep cuts I think no one expected to hear live, including “For Reverend Green” (First time since 2006). Seeing Stereolab on the stage just two hours earlier possibly had an influence on my opinion.
Highlight Track: On a Highway. Performance: 5/10
We back with the other W.I.T.C.H. (We Intend To Cause Havoc). I was pretty unfamiliar with this Zamrock band originating in Zambia in the 70’s and resuscitated by Jacco Gardner and Nic Mauskovic (Altin Gun) to bring frontman Jagari Chanda out of retirement. With their first US performance ever the show lived up to the hype. Plus the band was wearing what looked to be traditional hats. They were big, nonetheless.
Highlight Track: Introduction. Performance: 7/10
Now we had a full on production of a show put on by The Flaming Lips. I’m talking balloons, inflatables, a life sized hamster ball for lead singer Wayne Coyne and a man on a surfboard equipped with a slingshot and hundreds of jello shots his name is Jello Man (younger brother of Kurt Vile. Go figure. More on this guy later). The Flaming Lips were The Flaming Lips. They played the Soft Bulletin in full for its 20th anniversary and wrapped things off with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 which sounded great. Special way to cap off an excellent first day in the desert.
Highlight Tracks: Race For The Prize, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 Performance: 9/10
Saturday 1:20 A.M.
Desert Daze is a festival that starts later in the day (1-2 P.M.) and ends late into the night (1-2 P.M.). This is where the lineup places sleeper acts after the headliners and crowds, which are already very small, dwindle out. Mdou Moctar was one of those sleeper acts I was not going to miss. After missing them at SLO Brew Rock on October 7th, I was glad I saw them live Friday night. Similar to Tiewrian with their Saharan sound and shredding guitars, I was pleased. Me and two of my buddies who decided to stay up late with em danced to our hearts delight. Before long, a majority of the crowd was swirling and jamming out too. I highly recommend seeing this band next time they pass though wherever you may be.
Highlight Track: Kamane Tarhanin. Performance: 7/10
Saturday 2:40 A.M.
Brisk walk back to Vanagon. Ignore the extreme cold temperature of the desert. Straight to bed. Friday in the books. High fives all around.
Saturday 8:40 A.M.
Suns out guns out. Sweltering inside the tent this morning. Underslept and overall exhausted… Day two is upon us. Undercooked pancakes. Water. Water. Water. Cliff Builders Bar. Our adjacent camping neighbors were nice enough to provide us with Michelada. Thanks Jasmine.
First on the agenda was to see one of the groups that I came down to Desert Daze for, Altin Gun. Turkish psych folk? Think King Gizz meets Kikagaku Moyo with a dash of snake charmer melodies. Very good stuff here folks. Dancing and jamming out to start the day.
Highlight Track: Ervah-ı Ezelde. Performance: 8/10
Saturday 4:10 A.M.
Straight from Altin Gun to a quick dip in Lake Perris. Refreshing but not the nicest experience. Mucky water and a silty lake bed that has you questioning what lies below. Other festival goers enjoyed the rays with us and chilled on the beach.
Now we have KCPR’s album of the year winner, Parquet Courts. I was expecting a good performance by the group but when lead singer Andrew Savage stepped out wearing a DEVO flower pot hat, things were going to get spicy. This set was a party and extremely dusty. The Moon stage was on the beach of Lake Perris and any shuffling of feet resulted in extreme dust. Fitting as they played “Dust” off their 2016 album, Human Performance. This show was the best of the fest hands down and it was partially because of the return of Jello Man. Back on his surfboard literally surfing the crowd and flinging his miniature jello shots to dozens of audience members. I was able to grab three and bring the loot back to two of my buddies. Parquet Courts was into it as well, giving him a shoutout over the mic. I highly recommend seeing Parquet Courts the nearest opportunity you have.
Highlight Track: Freebird II. Performance: 10/10
To follow up Parquet Courts we had the legendary throwback headliner DEVO. Advertised as their “Farewell Tour,” we had all anticipated a special set full of their classics. We were not let down. We stood in the back of the crowd and listened for about thirty minutes, but once “Uncontrollable Urge” started up, me and my buddies had interlocked arms and were squirming to the front of the crowd and soon after, into the mosh. DEVO put on a great show that was definitely memorable. Stay tuned for our interview with Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale. We’ll see if it is, in fact, their “Farewell Tour”…
Highlight Track: That’s Good. Performance: 9/10
After a bit of moseying around and catching bits and pieces of the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, whose thick Aussie accents put on a good show, some of us went back to camp for a quick meal. I personally recalled the sweet juice of the frozen lemonade, it was time for another. Again, I’m talking $5 frozen lemonade. Another tactic to stay awake for Saturday night.
Saturday 8:31 P.M.
The crowd for Ween was already packed. I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan of Ween, but it wasn’t a band I was dying to see this evening (Sorry Hairy Palms). I at least wanted to check out the beginning of their set and see how they sounded, as their fanbase was prevalent today with one in every five concert goers wearing a Chocolate & Cheese shirt. That was the album they were about to play in full. After about 20 minutes, I found myself a considerable distance from the stage and walked away to see what other secret pockets of music Desert Daze had to offer.
We cruised over to Nick Hakim playing on the smaller, intimate canvas tent stage titled The Theater. I had never heard of Nick Hakim but have found myself listening to him since the fest. We stayed for a mellow set with a relaxing crowd that appreciated the song he was performing.
Highlight Track: Roller Skates. Performance: 7/10
After the end of Nick Hakim’s set we ventured over to British rock band Temples. Temples is no stranger to the KCPR airwaves. You can hear them quite often. Their performance at Desert Daze was the loudest with volume levels that seemed to be nearly double than anything else I had heard the precious day and today. They played their older classic “Shelter Song” and some new tracks of their latest album Hot Motion. Some of my friends got closer to the stage and enjoyed the music by dancing while the rest of us slouched in the grass and recouped energy for the rest of the night. Like all music festivals, Desert Daze is no stranger to long hot days with you standing on your feet for 12+ hours. Conservation of energy is important at specific times. This was one of those times. Temples, however, was rocking on stage. They were outfitted in leather and plaid and sounded unmistakably like themselves on the record. I was pleasantly surprised.
Highlight Track: I Wanna Be Your Mirror. Performance: 8/10
Viagra Boys. Viagra Boys. Viagra Boys. Couldn’t get enough of this band. Back at The Theater stage with lead singer Sebastian Murphy, outfitted in child size lime green sunglasses, a case of PBR light (yes, that exists) tattoos from chin to belly button with the exception of a dime size “LOS” on the top of his forehead and a beer belly that protruded like a bowl full of jelly, this was going to be a good show. Hard fuzzy guitars, a saxophonist that would accompany the vocals by sustaining long drawn out wails and a drummer that never missed a beat. Listen to “Research Chemicals” to get an idea of what I’m talking about. I later learned Viagra Boys originated from Sweden and lead singer is a tattoo artist by day. Moshing was intense, crowd was extremely enthusiastic and guitars and saxophone made a great combo.
Highlight Track: Sports. Performance: 9.5/10
To top off the night we stopped by The Cube for the last act of the night, Connan Mockasin and Friends. Admittedly, we were exhausted and didn’t stay for more than three songs. As much as I wanted to stay I had to hit the hay. He did perform “I’m the Man, That Will Find You” which was a delight to hear. Didn’t see enough of the performance to give it an honest rating.
Sunday 1:23 A.M.
Back to camp for a long restful sleep. But wait… one of our camping neighbors is having a bonfire with 6 other campers? Okay okay, we’ll say up a little longer.
Sunday 8:50 A.M.
As usual, the old 9 A.M. wake up call that the sun had in store for us arrived right on the dot. The moment you awaken in the greenhouse that is our tent, there is no trying to go back to sleep. We all had to accept it. Hit the showers. Eat the remainder of our food. Drink the remainder of our beer. Pack up the tents for a quick departure this evening. Sunday funday and the last day of Desert Daze. Let’s begin.
Entering the festival grounds just after 2:30 P.M., you could sense a feeling of unity among the crowds. Most everyone who attends Desert Daze goes for the full three days, so those around you have been living in the music festival experience for two full days or more now. Complete strangers are conversing with you, telling stories of artists they saw last night or years ago as well as sharing food and water as needed. Easygoing, friendly and minimalistic concert goers make Desert Daze a true psychedelic-rock fans utopia. People here are truly here for the music rather than other fests that some can find in the deserts of SoCal where it feels to be more of a fashion show than anything…
Catching the end of Brazillian artist Winter gave me enough to mark her down here, but not enough to give an opinion of her overall performance. If you are familiar with Triptides, who also performed on Friday of Desert Daze, they did a joint album back in 2018.
Froth, a band two of my friends were excited to see, was playing over on The Moon stage. We made our way over their to catch the sounds of a garage soaked, shoegaze surf twang sound coming from four dude mostly wearing Dodgers gear. Although few in the crowd were dancing, everyone was focused on the musicians and they noticed that. Overall a solid show. They are opening for DIIV a the SLO Guild Hall on December 6th. Would see this band again.
Highlight Track: Patterns. Performance: 8/10
Former Cherry Glazerr synth player, SASAMI was up next on The Block stage. With all band members dressed head to toe in red jumpsuits their stage presence was more exciting than their performance. Either everyone in the audience was sleepy and SASAMI followed along or something else. The music was good. Most of us watched from a distance.
Highlight Track: I Was A Window. Performance: 6/10
Sunday 4:30 P.M.
Ya, I’ll buy that warm salted pretzel I’ve been looking at all weekend. $4? Worth it.
Now we had a Sunday special, ALVVAYS. Fantastic performance on the main Moon stage. Molly Rankin, lead singer, can absolutely crush a crowd and start a rowdy dance party out of nothing. I was oozing with happiness the whole hour they were on stage. Performing the classics off Antisocialites and even a new song titled “EOYO,” Alvvays killed it. With no future tour dates in store for them, I’d expect a new album right around the corner. Stay tuned on kcpr.org.
Highlight Tracks: Lollipop (Ode to Jim), Not My Baby. Performance: 8/10
Still gleaming with excitement White Fence was right next store on The Block stage. With a prominent acoustic fingerpicking and a low lying sun in frontman Tim Presley’s eyes it felt like a lazy Sunday. Not many highs for me personally on this performance, coming from a White Fence fan mind you, just a solid overall set.
Highlight Track: I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk. Performance: 6.5/10
The sun was gone as Jerry Paper took the stage on the south end of the festival grounds. He was the last artist we got to see. Our boy Jerry was wearing an oversized navy blue cotton shirt that doubled as a dress for him. He looked suave with his sophisticated glasses. His backing band was sharp and provided a surprising amount of sound to his already powerful vocals. I only decided to stay for a few songs so I could make the drive back to San Luis Obispo in a reasonable time. All in all, it was a good show.
Highlight Track: Nirvana Mañana. Performance: 7/10
Finally, we had the main man I wanted to see this weekend, Shintaro Sakamoto, performing for the first time in the United States. Unfortunately, this was one of the greatest bummers of the weekend for me. Category 5 Typhoon Hagibis prevented Sakamoto from making the trip out to California and for good reason. Just an unforeseen circumstance that no one would have anticipated. Bummer, though.
Sunday 8:06 P.M.
A quick jaunt to the van… which was professionally pre-packed. A wet burrito about an hour outside of the festival grounds, somewhere in SoCal and very foreign to me. That was the conclusion of my Desert Daze 2019 adventure. No, I didn’t stay for Khruangbin or Wu-Tang Clan… sue me.
Desert Daze allows us psych rock lovers to have an eventful weekend with friends regardless if you came with a group or solo. With warm friendly crowds, a festival footprint that is easily navigable and talented artists on all stages until 2 A.M., you really can’t ask for much more. Regardless of headliners or venue, you will without a doubt find me and my buddies at Desert Daze 2020.
Evan Reed is a Environment Earth and Soil Science senior and a KCPR DJ, taking the airwaves as DJ Nomad. He wrote the article and provided supplemental photos. Featured image courtesy of Travis Taut / Desert Daze 2019.