The 15th annual Joshua Tree Music Festival descended upon the Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground May 18 – 21, 2017. Just as years past, the lineup was chock full of artists from all over the globe, representing the local desert area, up and down the western seaboard, UK, Peru, South Korea, and Netherlands among other places. The family friendly music experience is busting with global music, art, bodywork modalities, healing arts, and activities for all ages, adults and children alike. The festival has been on the same grounds since its inception and has continued to grow and develop with each passing year. The crowd is the embodiment of peace, love, and music; kids can be seen playing in the Kidsville during the day, while strangers share picnic tables under the shade while enjoying samosas, tacos, and pizza and conversing about all the important things in life. Daytime desert-attire gives way to Burning Man style costumes and LED toys and decorations as the sun goes down, all while the music reflects the mood as the day progresses to night. There are two mainstages in the Music Bowl that align side-by-side with each other and music is never playing on both stages at the same time, so you never miss any of the main stage acts you want to see. Java Gogo, the legendary mobile festival coffee shop, has a smaller stage alongside it that hosts music in the morning and late at night, while the Boogaloo Stage is home to more late-night festivities. One of the more remarkable aspects of the festival is that you never have more than a 10-minute walk to anywhere within the festival grounds, including throughout the campground.
The music kicked off on Thursday night; Sasha Rose got the festivities started for early arrivers with her unique brand of singing, songwriting, instrumentation, and producing and then returned for 2 more sets. Local multi-instrumentalist Chris Unck, and world-beat masters Todo Mundo from Columbia rounded out the performers. Friday was the first full day of music, featuring local talent Gene Evaro Jr. and his Prince meets Stevie Wonder brand of high desert groove. European Electro-Disco legends Kraak & Smaak also took the stage on Friday as the sun was making its way to bed for the night and setting the stage for what promised to be a rousing evening of music. Liberation Movement had the final set on the main stages with their tribal hip-hop and other-worldly rhythms. Led by Resurrector and Kevens as MCs with the band providing the interplanetary grooves, this offshoot of Heavyweight Dub Champions wasted little time capturing the magic and mystique of the desert during their set. Amy Secada joined the band donned a mythical eagle-like costume and danced on stage to compliment the spellbinding musical performance. The crowd then dispersed to the various late-night stages, the Astronomy Theater, or back to the campground depending on what their tastes preferred. Bay Area rockers Whiskerman treated the audience of the Café Stage to their own brand of groovy guitar rock, while LA Dub legend Marques Wyatt kept the beats rolling at the hippie-disco known as the Boogaloo Stage for those that hadn’t had quite enough dancing.
Saturday awoke with the desert sun, and the festival wasted little time getting things off on the right foot. Yoga classes start with the sunrise, and the Healing Oasis offered attendees an opportunity to recharge with the bodyworks of their choosing. Trevor Green kicked off the activities at the Vibration Station with a digeridoo workshop, while the artists participating in the Art Auction on Sunday resumed their works on the 3’ x 3’ canvases that were strategically placed throughout the festival grounds. High-Desert locals Desert Rhythm Project kicked off the music on the Copper Mountain Stage, with band leaders Mikey Reyes and Bryanna Evaro, aforementioned Gene Evaro Jr.’s sister, Desert Rhythm Project brought their usual high energy reggae rock to the stage and certainly gathered a few new fans along the way. Wally Ingram, Tom Freund & Friends took to the Indian Cove Stage to keep the crowd moving in the midday son, traveling through a variety of originals and covers that included Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. Sandwiched between worldly Baraka Moon and the California Honeydrops was South Korea’s own Jambinai. With the full band seated in chairs, they produced a sonic soundscape unlike anything heard before. The band comprises standard rock components with a drum kit, bass, and guitar, but the sound is augmented by traditional Korean instruments Haegeum (Korean fiddle played more like a Cello), Piri (Korean Bamboo Flute), and Geomungo (Korean Zither). The transformative music was very fitting as the stage lights began to take hold and light transitioned into dark. The final set at the Music Bowl was LA funkmasters Orgone, set to bring their high-energy, in-your-face, funk explosion. Orgone had played the festival twice before, including the very first one in 2003, but this was the first time they performed in the Joshua Tree desert with lead singer Adryon de Leon. Typical of an Orgone show, the crowd was raucous as the band ripped through their set full of originals with some special covers sprinkled in, including Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot”. The late-night entertainment on Saturday included the frivolous, bluesy, roadhouse revue the Cactus Wine Experience and their Wild-West burlesque cabaret on the Café Stage. Over on the Boogaloo stage, House of Hamsa brought their unique combination of ancient instrumentation, live mixing, samples and electronics to keep the beats flowing into the early hours of the morning.
Sunday is often a day of mixed emotions for attendees, as is typical with most festivals the last day always comes with a bit of sadness as the encroaching reality of life after the festival begins to set in. However, there is also this sense of satisfaction when you make it all the way through festivals that are physically demanding, whether it is due difficult terrain or long walking distances, or in this case making it through a weekend in the hot desert sand and sun. The Healing Oasis appeared to be in full swing right from the start as attendees were looking to get one last session with their new favorite healer, and artists throughout the grounds were working feverishly to get their works completed in time for the Art Auction that would begin at noon. Not to be lost in the series of departures and related activities, one-woman band Edith Crash, 6-time J-Tree veteran multi-instrumentalist Trevor Green, Electro-funk DJ Ian Winters, and Americana-disco all-stars Dirtwire were among the artists to help close out the festival in a stirring fashion. As always, a very special thanks must go out to the Joshua Tree Music Festival founder and godfather Barnett English and his team of talented, creative, hardworking, and dedicated volunteers that help make the Joshua Tree Music Festival experience once-in-a-lifetime, every time.