Creating a Different Festival Vibe

By Tracy Dietlin

The 16th Annual Spring version of the Joshua Tree Music Festival (JTMF) will be held May 17-30 at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground at 2601 Sunfair Road in Joshua Tree, California.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone that would say a negative word about Joshua Tree Music Fest’s Founder & Promoter, Barnett English. One of the things that has made this festival so successful and continue to grow is the man behind the festival itself. Those that have performed at JTMF in the past will testify that it is the feeling of family and love that is present at these festivals separating them from others.

Born and raised in Louisville, KY, Barnett earned his degree in business from Indiana University, then moved straight to CA after his last final exam.  Since 2002, he has been living in Joshua Tree and loving life with his sweetheart, Lynne, and daughter Lola.

During a recent interview I asked Barnett what made him decide to start JTMF?

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“I have a mobile espresso cafe business, JavaGogo – been serving fresh beverages at Music Festivals for 25 years (next month).  I’ve worked at over 750 music festivals. In October of 2002, I came to Joshua Tree to sell coffee at a Didgeridoo festival, immediately loved the place, and told the campground owners that they should have a music festival here. They dared me to do it, and with a great deal of naiveté and enthusiasm, I said I would; within 6 months I’d moved here, and had our first Joshua Tree Music Festival (April 11-13, 2003).  In 2006, we started a second festival at the same locale (Joshua Tree RV Lake Campground) – so this weekend will be the 28th Joshua Tree Music Festival overall, and the 16th annual spring JTMF.”

I was curious if he had another career aside from doing the festivals.

“I have a few. Proud papa is the best job I have, producing the two JTMFs, producing Guitarfish Music Festival (in July, near Truckee, CA), JavaGogo (coffee bizz), and a Cozy Camper Trailer rental operation (we’ve converted 32 old trailers into cozy camper trailers, and rent them at our festivals, as well as to other events). And people wonder what we do out here in the high desert with all our time,” Barnett shared with a smile.

 When asked what he feels sets JTMF apart from the other local festivals his response was: “We create an intimate, family friendly environment with phenomenal performers from around the globe, which is VERY rare in the festival world.”

Barnett said that he chooses the bands himself. “That’s me, myself and I.  It’s one of the main reasons I started the festivals. I’ve been a severe music enthusiast since my early teens, having collected thousands of LPs, created 800+ mixed tapes, and I’m always listening and seeking out the next great song or group or artist.  So the festival is really just a LIVE mixed tape.”

I asked him which artists he’s really wanted to get to play there but hasn’t been able to.

“There are hundreds that I’d love to have here, but never will, because their performance fee far surpasses our total festival budget (U2, Massive Attack, Radiohead, etc). But I keep a master list of faves (the short list is 400+ artists), and I just keep trying, sending offers year after year.  This October, at our 13th annual fall festival, we will have an artist who I’ve been trying to book for years – Fatoumata Diawara – she’s a global superstar from Mali – I can’t wait!”  

 His favorite performers over the years have been: “The ones that really blow people’s minds (in a good way).  They are so far outside the box, dripping with charisma, and blazing new paths – Dakhabrakha, Jambinai, Moon Hooch, Wunmi, Trombone Shorty, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Kraak & Smaak and the Last Internationale all come to mind,” shared Barnett.  

 He has said that he doesn’t have big sponsors financing his events. “Ticket sales, a handful of product sponsors, and some vendor fees is how I do it. If I come up short, I gladly pay out of pocket to keep the show rolling.” 

 I asked him what is the most rewarding part of doing these festivals.

Photo By Jacob Avanzato Photography

“It’s the very real and powerfully strong friendships and connections that are made with other attendees.  When you camp together for 4 nights, out under the stars, with inspired music, surrounded by family, you have far more meaningful conversations.   More in one weekend than you might in months back at home, doing your daily routine that is life,” shared Barnett. 

He said the most challenging part of the festivals is, “Lots of details.” But he continues to make them bigger and better every year. “We are constantly upgrading thousands of micro-things………and they all add up to a more festive experience for all.”

 And finally I asked him what could people who have never attended one of these festivals expect this year?

“We have LOTS of regular attendees who simply don’t go to other music festivals, but they find that ours is just the right size, exudes warmth and friendliness, and is a replenishing (not depleting) experience.  We hope to see you on the desert (dance) floor this weekend!”

Joshua Tree Music Festival won the CV Music Award in 2017 for Best Live Music Event and is nominated again this year. Barnett English is also nominated for Best Event Promoter.

On-line sales are over for JTMF but you can still purchase tickets at the box office.

BOX OFFICE HOURS – WED: Noon – 10pm (early entry)

THU / FRI / SAT: 8am – Midnight     SUN: 8am – 8pm.

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