Photography by Daniel Leist
Last Thursday night, we congregated in hushed tones – packing, plotting, scheming over what the weekend would bring. Not to say that my friends and I are novices to music festivals – quite the opposite in fact – but it’d been a good minute since we’d all had a ‘first’ in the music scene. Friday morning we woke up to delicious threats of coffee and impending adventure just around the corner. After loading up our cars to the brim with the bare necessities, we were off down the rabbit hole on an adventure for the books; reverse skydiving into a whimsical, wonderful world where the unexpected was probable and the possible was unlike anything you’d ever experienced. Scrolling through the lineup for Desert Hearts, we collectively knew about a third of the musical acts…between the seven of us. This was our inaugural Desert Hearts experience and we all knew we’d be in for a special treat. What started two and a half years ago as an intimate renegade gathering in the Mojave Desert has transformed into band of brothers and sisters over 2000 strong. For the 6th installment of Desert Hearts, we traversed inland to ten acres of sacred space belonging to the Los Coyotes Band of Indians; it’s the largest reservation in San Diego County, boasting a healing, vibrant landscape.
By all standards, this isn’t your normal 3 Day Music Festival – featuring not just one love and one vibe, but one stage for a wild romp through nuanced variations of House, Disco and Techno all weekend long. Hosted by an equally eclectic, talented and mindful group, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they’ve spurred a community based artistic platform appropriately called Desert Arts while simply giving away all their music – singles, albums and sets – for free on Soundcloud just for the sake of sharing their passions with the world. They’re a philanthropic, warm heart-ed, collaborative, conscious and creative entourage and it’s reflected within the community that they’ve cultivated.
After two hours in the car, laughing, musing, and daydreaming about our first Desert Hearts experience we valiantly arrived at the check-in point, blaring the last heavy bass drop we thought we’d hear for the next three days. Greeted by the Green Team, we were welcomed with warm smiles and a set of trash bags so we could keep the grounds as wonderful as we’d found them, Within minutes, we’d conquered the campground and picked the perfect camping spot – surrounded by equal sun showers and shade during the day, and ample starlight melded mystery at night. Gallivanting towards the stage, we noticed ‘Desert Hearts’ necklaces glistening in the sunlight and immediately mused that we all wanted one; within seconds of stepping foot onto the dance floor, a beautiful soul named Purps pranced our way with a sparkle in her eye and giving in her heart. ‘Welcome to Desert Hearts!’ she smiled, ‘This is for you!’ What a wonderful, gesture – as if we’d manifested this ourselves. Immediately, we found our groove and held it for a transformative, magical, inventive, musical 72 hours while playing, prancing, hugging, dancing, giggling and shining in the Spring air.
Sultry sets, plush with body bumping, soul thumping Tech House from Jamie Schwabl and Tara Brooks of LA’s own Wülfpack kicked the night off right while hoopers, poi perfectionists, fire dancers and creative artists of all types scattered throughout the forest. Up next was hands down, one of the most phenomenal back to back sets I’ve borne witness to. Philipp Jung of M.A.N.D.Y. and Audiofly expertly crafted a phenomenal Tech House set as the rare and highly acclaimed supergroup ‘M.A.N.F.L.Y.’ You could watch them put their minds together, determining the collective fate of the dance floor with excitement and glee. Evening manifested into morning, and a beautiful Blond:ish sunrise set. Though the temperatures got down to as low as 40 a night – we found that if you stayed on the dance floor and shook your groove thing, you could stay warm all night by heating up the dance floor with your stellar moves.
Waking up Saturday morning surrounded by a lush landscape, the cacophony of nature purring over a four to the floor bassline, completely disconnected from all forms of technology was the epitome of bliss. Looking around, I was proud to be a member of this new tribe – a warm welcoming group of idiosyncratic individuals, donning duds from eons past into the further future; cummerbunds, galactic glitter shorts, top hats, bunny suits, glowing cat tails, bubble guns, flow toys and more shimmed around me – and that’s just from our campsite. All it took was a day, and our ethos felt preserved, like a time capsule or a pressed flower. Adjusting to our beautiful new reality, we bounded down the trails in search of friends and mimosas, melody and merrymaking and found ourselves in the art tent, enraptured by the work of Jef Logan.
As we collapsed over each other while giggling in time with the music, Marbs casually strolled through the room with a hop in his step, a glimmer in his eye and his parents by his side. Sauntering to a sitting position, we gleefully exclaimed to his mother how amazing the festival was and that the beauty, art, creativity and kinship they were witnessing were possible because of their influence before resuming our cuddle puddle, once again lost in the shadow play and sunlight. Starting our walk back to the campsite to prepare for the evenings festivities, Danny and I were stopped in my tracks by someone asking for a favor; we weren’t sure what we could offer, but decided to play along anyways. After handing over a copy of Shel Silverstein’s ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends‘ we were immediately whisked ten feet away to a stage where we were the main attraction for dozens of eager beavers, ready to lap up our linguistic talents. “We’ve picked a poem for you! Would you mind reading? We’re ready!” Before my brain had a second to flirt with declining, I’d started in, with Danny chiming in on the next line. Back and forth, we wove through the stanza in an impromptu slam poetry performance that reinvigorated my soul and humored my funny bone.
Reassembling back at the campsite, we kicked off Saturday evening with a hike into a gorgeous, open field. For a few moments, we forgot there was even a festival in the background – less the dull roar of music in the distance. Quietly, we marinated in the beauty of the moment, our minds wandering outward to the cotton candy sunset cascading through the sky and inward, firmly grasping the concepts of community, friendship and love on a new, unified wavelength. Shaking our way back to the stage, freak flags flew vivaciously from each and every direction as the freedom of individual self expression sprang to new heights, where inner children, superheroes, gods and goddesses emanated from each and every one of us. With one stage, one vibe and one rhythm – we’d metamorphosed into one giant, living, breathing, heartfelt, creative, magical, giving, dancing organism with the stage as our collective heartbeat.
The tunes Saturday night were a Desert Heart’s family affair, eloquently flowing between Deep Jesus, Marbs, Porkchop, Mikey Lion and Lee Reynolds from 6 at night til 4 in the morning. One of the many beautiful things about Desert Hearts is there’s no distinction made between performers, artists, musicians, production, staff, crew, festies and fanatics – there aren’t VIP passes or VIP booths, because w’re all DHP – Desert Hearts People. What that meant, was anyone and everyone was allowed to roam as they pleased across, around and through the campground; leading the most cavalier of folk to snag their five minutes of fame behind the DJ booth with their crew. Lost in a groove to a gorgeous rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, we danced the way we felt while bubbles and glitter cascaded around us. I didn’t make it to Atish, but my friends that did let me know how much I missed out.
By Sunday, we’d perfected the Desert Heart Bob – or the DHB for short – while salaciously serendipitous meetings of friends and strangers alike pulled on our heartstrings. Hilarious, funny and pun riddled totems floated throughout the festival with as much character as the individuals porting them. There were festival go-ers from all walks of life, with one foot firmly planted in the convoluted reality of a 9 to 5 working job, while the other tapped in time to it’s unique, effervescent rhythm. Desert Hearts is proof that if you build it, they will come; and if you play it, they’ll dance. The music on Sunday was on point, and heavier on the bass. The night before, we discovered a full banana costume next to us on the floor – it wasn’t til Sunday’s shenanigans with Monkey Safari and the crowd going completely bananas that it all made sense. Going into the evening, I’d reiterated over and over that we couldn’t miss Wobs; and did he ever hold up his end of that bargain. From the giant zebra flying through the crowd, to hilarious cardboard cameras with his name on them – his stage presence spoke volumes and the crowd celebrated in kind.
As we packed up our campsite Monday morning, we couldn’t help but reminisce on a beautiful weekend past and a bold new future to take the reigns on. With the mentality of radical self reliance, we collectively decided that since we hadn’t exactly paid attention to which was the trash and which was the recycling – we’d lend some hands to the Green Team to sort through them; after all, it wasn’t on them that we didn’t remember, but I guarantee we all will next time! To reward ourselves, we took one last stroll onto the dance floor and closed out the festival the only way one should – with the Desert Hearts DJs taking the reigns as a family, in an epic back to back set that I’m thrilled I got to witness. Hands down, one of the most beautiful Monday afternoons I’ve ever had.
Rousing ourselves away from the dance floor, we became lost once again in the moment – a 72 hour moment that seemed to linger like a perfume, tangled in the wind. For 3 days, 72 hours, 4320 minutes, 359,200 seconds – glitter was a color, hugs were currency, laughter was lyrical, smiles became medicine and we truly were one. We came to Desert Hearts with beautiful intentions and without expectation and we left with our heads in the clouds and our feet still on the dance floor. We laughed, danced and cried tears of joy; we were shaken to our core by how awe inspiring this world is and shown time and time again that it’s up to us to not only leave it better, but leave it beautiful.
We are all Desert Hearts, and there’s a message in our music.
A HUGE thank you to the Green Team for promoting sustainability and ensuring we left the venue better than we found it; the Los Coyotes Tribe and Tribal Police for allowing us to gather and celebrate on their land; the Dance Safe Team for promoting intelligent partying; Symbiotic Creations and Alternative Lighting Solutions for a stunning stage presentation; Shangri-Lawless and Pile Palace for the great conversation and overflowing cuddle puddles; Harmonic Light for the unreal, unedited, mind blowing long exposure pictures; the Fire Performers and Dancers for a stunning display of grace and beauty; the Desert Arts Foundation for the enchanting and talented artists and art scattered throughout the festival; The DJ List for entrusting us to tell the world about our astounding experiences and Daniel Leist for being the best photographer, best friend, partner in crime and love a girl could ask for; the beautiful community that gathered together for four days and three nights under the stars with one heartbeat under one sound and last but certainly not least: Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, Marbs, Porkchop, Deep Jesus and the rest of the wonderful Desert Hearts family for an astounding event that inspires creativity and consciousness, individual evolution and communal revolution.
Make sure you stay in touch with Desert Hearts for the dirt on their next festival:
“I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.”