Desert Daze 2018: Adventures in a New Frontier

Words by Mat. Photos by Sergio & Crystal.

Now that some time has passed, we have had ample time to reflect on the wet ‘n’ wild times of Desert Daze 2018. Growing pains are inevitable with a festival of this scale, so what really matters is how the organizers respond to often unpredictable issues. Overall, we had a crazy good time – a seriously epic adventure that physically pushed us, but left us with incredible lasting memories. That said, join us in looking back upon the good times of DD 2018…

The Long Road In.

It’s important to remember that not everyone has the same experience as you… and that was certainly true even among our own group. I was racing to Perris after leaving work – I just wanted to catch up with the other homies and not miss out on anything. While the others casually left our Perris home base (aka a residential grow house we were planning to crash at) with a car packed full of gear and people and what was thought to be ample time to stake out a campsite for chillin, naps, etc., I was about an hour+ behind the others and planned to Lyft in. After dropping off my car and rolling some doobs, I set out with just a chair and ice chest full of Modelo and La Croix in a Lyft… 9 minutes later, I was standing at the entry to the festival itself, wondering where my homies were and how to get my wristbands. Service sucked, and all the DD staff seemed completely mind blown that I was able to make it to the entrance without getting a wristband cuz that shit was a couple miles away at some main entrance that was apparently the scene of a complete clusterfuck. The simple gesture of offering an ice cold La Croix to the DD staff went a long way – a few minutes later I was aboard a golf cart with a personal chauffeur who took me romping over to the gate to get my wristband and then dropped me off at a prime campsite. I took in the beautiful surroundings – rigid desert mountains that seemed all too close with very low hanging clouds and a slight chill from the lake over yonder – and then paused for a quick snooze under a tree after dropping a pin to the others. I was pretty content with my personal journey.

Over an hour later, the rest of the homies arrived on foot after waiting hours in the car and then having to make an epic hike from the parking lot with all the gear. They looked… defeated.

But to be real, entering the festival ground during Hinds’ set made for the ultimate reprise. The spirited Spaniards are long-time faves, and with smiles as big as the lake beside them, I’d like to think they made everyone’s problems wash away.

They Brought the Thunder.

We explored the grounds: two massive stages with alternating schedules on one side, and a tented stage on the other with the lake acting as a boarder opposite the entrance. We saw the return of Mr. Ian Svenonius as the master of ceremonies, which somehow turned into a 15 minute hand holding session with the legend as he laced his fingers into mine and used me as a crutch to stand tall above the crowd. I’m a big fan of Ian’s, but it was a lot of hot breath with nowhere to go.

The thick clouds of doom overhead were impossible to miss once you stepped away from any of the stages, but I think everyone was just hoping the loud music would shoo them all away.

Thankfully, the rain clouds stood idly by as our three fave bands of the night took the stage. With slight overlaps in sets, we knew it would be a hustle to see them all, but the payoff would be so great. We would later call the series of three the Holy Trinity, cuz it was just that damn enlightening.

Warpaint. Glassy lake to one side, epic mountain ridges outlined behind, and situated in the middle of a sandy beach – the LA quartet took the stage and brewed up something wicked. Like powerful sirens perched along the water’s edge, Warpaint drew the masses with their dreamy harmonies and psychedelic grooves. It was impossible to look away, but alas we knew we had to keep moving.

IDLES. Over in the tent, a wicked Molotov was just about to blow. The Bristol punks brought a level of energy that went largely unmatched throughout the weekend – exploding onto the scene with tracks from the fantastic new album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. I think what makes the band so accessible is their ability to funnel the extreme pain and anguish you see in hardcore punk into an optimism towards the common feelings we grapple with on the day to day. Live, the band presents a violent affront, while singing anthems of pain, grief, love, toxic masculinity, and self-worth. The fire raged big that night.

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. Good ol’ Uncle Acid brought the HEAVY with a set that pulled all the best jams from across the band’s five albums. The setting was perfect for their stoner doom and was so loud it literally brought the thunder throughout the set! Mad Alchemy mixed up a liquid light show like none I have ever seen before as the band seemed to have purposefully played in utter darkness. Projected onto the outer edges of the stage and blasted overhead on the sails hung above the crowd, the lightshow alone could fry your face, but backed by Uncle Acid, it was a real noodle melt. Getting blasted by “Pusher Man” while smoking a fatty was the ultimate.

When all was said and done, I believe it was this Holy Trinity that ultimately brought the storms. We were just about to get into some DakhaBrakha when we got word to evacuate. It took a few to realize the seriousness of the order, and we were initially pretty slow moving to leave thinking “this ain’t that bad,” but goddamn did it turn into a freak storm! Six of us took shelter in our 4-person tent, where we had hoped to wait it out, but soon enough the tent was flooding and we had to bail!

Not long after we got word from Desert Daze official to evacuate the campgrounds. It was wild!

Serenity Awakens.

We all woke up Saturday wondering whether Desert Daze could recover from some major blows on Friday, but after receiving some assurances from the festival organizers that parking issues would be resolved, most cancelled sets would be rescheduled, and that anyone who had a single-day Friday ticket would be allowed in on Saturday, it seemed like things were back on the right track. 

We were allowed to drive up to our campsite and found much of it had been blown around and ALL of it was drenched.  The grounds had a very somber energy, but there was a sense of tranquility that would grow throughout the day.  A kind man named Travis greeted us as we hung all our stuff to dry and offered us his dank green “cactus juice” from a gallon-size Crystal Geyser jug.  I thought it best to abstain and stick to what I know, but homie Mike said it tasted like straight dirty water.

After sharing survival stories with our neighbors, we headed in to catch Cat Scan impress the masses with their well-informed freakout of a performance.  It was during Kevin Morby’s folk-powered set on the beach that the sun finally cracked over the grounds – highlighting Mr. Morby and Co. with a most glorious glow – that a newfound serenity washed over the crowd as if to assure everyone that everything is going to be quite alright, man. 

Chelsea Wolfe’s set would continue to energize the Desert Daze crowd – summoning a beautifully dark energy from the depths below.  The whole place finally felt really alive and ready to party to Ms. Wolfe’s monstrous riffs and haunting sermons. 

After JJUUJJUU warmed up The Block stage, which had sat empty and unused earlier in the day, with a triumphant set of fuzz, Japan’s Kikagaku Moyo took us out into another orbit.  Stretching psychedelic grooves across time and space, the band left us feeling drenched in bliss.  After stunningly chill sets from Slowdive and Wooden Shjips, the night culminated in a 90-minute frenzy from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.  It’s still crazy to me that just a year or two prior we caught the Aussie 7-piece play a couple times at The Echo, but here we are in 2018 and King G is a headlining powerhouse ready to pummel the masses!

Desert Daze Strides On.

As we rounded out the weekend with a grip of fantastic, talented acts, it became clear that Desert Daze would persist as a festival experience unlike any other in SoCal and beyond.  While some who heard our wild stories of survival from the weekend seemed a little off put, we reasurre them all that it was a most memorable, unique experience and we will for sure be returning.

Mad props to the festival organizers who, all things considered, really weathered the storm. And frankly, we all felt taken aback by all the crying about the Tame Impala set… like, are they really that great to be blasting the whole festival over? Kinda seemed like their hardcore fan base maybe better belongs at Coachella.

As Desert Daze 2019 starts to take shape with the early announcement of Stereolab (!!!), we hoped to offer some thoughts for next year.

  • Moreno Beach is awesome! Fingers crossed for better weather in 2019.
  • It should go without saying at this point, but arrival to the festival grounds was way whack and could use some re-configuration.
  • Great scheduling – very few conflicts and great use of alternating stages. The all-night programming was a little rough though and meant missing some faves between the ungodly hours of 3am and 5am.
  • Rideshare. It was impossible to leave the grounds at the end of the night either due to lack of service or straight up lack of available drivers – maybe have a Lyft/Uber que of cars ready to rock?
  • Downtown Riverside shuttle. Considering the lack of AirBnB options in the immediate area and the crap-shoot of finding a ride out of the area, perhaps a regular shuttle between Downtown Riverside or UC Riverside could help alleviate parking issues and open up more convenient, non-camping places to stay?