The Joshua Tree Music Festival (JTMF) returned to Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground on May 17 – May 20, the 16th edition of the spring festival. The family festival by day, Burning Man by night event brought with it the usual camaraderie and community the festival is legendary for, in addition to the multitude of visual and interactive art installations, Kidsville, eclectic vendors, and world-class, globally-influenced music lineup. The festival consists for four primary performance stages, a Vibration Station complete with workshops, sound baths, and dance-offs, a Healing Oasis with skilled bodywork practitioners of a variety of modalities, and an array of performing artists.
The music kicked off on Thursday afternoon, May 17, 2018, on the Boogaloo Stage with local legend and soon-to-be household name Gene Evaro, Jr. as well as Jazz/Hip-Hop fusion act The Lique out of Las Vegas. Their sets were sandwiched by regular JTMF attendee Subko and his grooving house disco beats to keep the people moving. JTMF is a unique festival for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that, aside from the late-night acts on Friday and Saturday, the sets of music never overlap each other, so festivarians don’t have to make a any painful decisions as a result of conflicting schedules. Thursday night offers early arrivers the opportunity to get their feet wet for the weekend, while joining the countless volunteers that have been working day and night in the weeks and months leading up to the festival who get to enjoy some of the fruits of their much-appreciated labors.
By 11:30 am on Friday, the sun was reaching to the top of the sky as the needle on the thermometer was moving in step, and Joshua Tree local Myshkin and her 5-piece took the stage to provide their deep, expressive brand of folky songwriting. A quick detour to the Boogaloo Stage before the next set yielded a songwriting/acoustic session with the aforementioned Gene Evaro, Jr. as well as Steve Poltz, who would be performing the following day on the Copper Mountain stage, and JTMF denizens Tim and Faith Chinnock of The Adobe Collective.
Heather Christie and Vir McCoy (Hamsa Lila, Dogon Lights, House of Hamsa) brought their brand of electro-groove with a side a funky pop to the Copper Mountain Stage before Dani Bell, and the Tarantist took the Indian Cove stage. Tarantism is a form of hysteric behavior, typically believed to be caused by the bite of a Wolf Spider or Tarantula resulting in compulsive dancing, and Al Howard, Dani Bell, and their cabalistic crew certainly infected more than a few in the midday sun. Coachella Valley locals Ocho Ojos threw down their unique Mexican Cumbia meets house sound as the sun was starting to set into the night.
Late addition Lauren Ruth Ward and her supporting trio’s sundown set injected some more energy into the crowd worn by the full day of sun, and offered her marque sexy, power blues-rock to any willing to take it. She ran through an entertaining set of originals and covers, including her hit single Blue Collar Sex Kitten, Whole Lotta Love, and channeled Grace Slick on Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit as the fire-orange of the setting sun shone down. The transition from day to night brought out one of the biggest hits of the festival in Desert Rhythm Project, another band local to the High Desert / Coachella Valley area. They have taken the stage at JTMF many times in the past, though this was their first in a nighttime set and their hard work has certainly yielded fantastic results. Mikey Reyes (Guitar), Bryanna Evaro (Bass) and company showered the crowd with their reggae-tinged funk-soul fusion full of passion and energy.
The main stage acts closed out with Brooklyn-based Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles. Cory Henry, well known for his work with Grammy-winning Snarky Puppy, tickled the ivories center stage as his supporting band tendered a tight rhythm section, soaring guitar leads and soulful backing vocals. The late-night options included Portland jamtronica act Yak Attack at the hippie disco known as The Boogaloo Stage; meanwhile, Mikey Reyes was hosting a free style, hip-hop Beats & Rhymes set supported by his very own Desert Rhythm Project at the porch-style Café Stage. The proximity of the stages enables festival goers to easily spend time at each set, an effort greatly rewarded by seeing both performances. Beats & Rhymes was the brainchild of Barnett English, Founder and Organizer of JTMF, and Mikey Reyes. The tight pockets provided by Desert Rhythm Project provided a perfect soundscape for MCs to paint their lyrical masterpieces.
Saturday was a new day and provided new musical experiences for the attendees. Handmade Moments and their witty, whimsical, old-timey jazz, blues, folk experience from the Ozarks got the day started, and the prior referenced Steve Poltz entertained with his playing, songwriting, and storytelling. The Garifuna Collective featuring Umalalli came all the way from Belize to make their JTMF debut, and their music was like moths to the flame in the midday sun. Afternoon sets in the heat of the day can present their challenges for the artists and the attendees alike, but The Garifuna Collective’s blend of modern grooves and traditional Garifuna-dance music had the people really boogying by the end of their set. Dogon Lights followed with their amalgamation of percussion, hip-hop, world beats, and rock in an outfit comprised of members and/or collaborators of Bassnectar, Hamsa Lila, Beats Antique, Dirtwire, Rising Appalachia, Liberation Movement, and Mickey Hart Band.
Mike Love and his band closed out the daytime sets with their island-roots blend in the vain of Trevor Hall or John Butler. Yossi Fine made it back to JTMF for the first time since 2009 and entertained the crowd with his band’s unique blend of ancient hypnotic rhythms and electrified guitar grooves layered on top. Saturday’s headliner was the Bay Area funk/soul rockers Con Brio. Lead singer Ziek McCarter, a 20-something with the soul of a 40-something, is like a shot of James Brown, a dash of Sam Cooke, a touch of Freddie Mercury, all with a splash of Otis Redding when on stage. His showmanship in a live setting is matched only by the band’s musicianship, much to the delight of those in attendance. Con Brio delighted the crowd with originals and covers, including tracks from their first LP Kiss the Sun, their most recent LP Paradise, and their recently released interpretation of Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box. (See more on Con Brio with our interview HERE) Late night, per usual, offered two amazing acts for attendees to choose from. Festival favorite Dirtwire, following up on their infectious set last year, kept the party going into the early morning on the Boogaloo Stage with their distinctive blend of bluegrass/roots, world music, and EDM. Gabba Evaro, sister to Gene and Bryanna, took to the Café Stage with her band Earth Moon Earth on the heels of their first release Earth Moon Earth, and filled the desert air with their psychedelic electro-synth-pop.
The festival came to a close on Sunday with the charity art auction on many of the pieces painted throughout the festival, as well as the closing sets of music. Intuit, the reggae, roots, poly-rhythmic funk fusion band from Colorado and Delvon Lamarr Trio’s heavy-organ, power-soul trio kicked things off for the day. Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar from Nigeria, Portland's folk-fusion band the Shook Twins, and the Cumbia-funk band Bicletas por la Paz from the Bay Area moved the festival through the day, while Grammy-nominated Adam Freeland kept the beats going into the night with a monster set to close out the festival. Make sure to catch the upcoming festivals for Barnett and company, including the collaboration with Brent Dana on the 8th Annual Guitarfish in Cisco Grove, CA July 26-29, and the 12th Annual Joshua Tree Fall Music Festival on October 4-7.