The 17th annual spring Joshua Tree Music Festival is set for Thursday May 16th through Sunday, May 19th at the Joshua Tree RV and Campground.
By Haddon Libby
An easy drive from cultural hubs like LA, San Diego and Phoenix, the festival draws music lovers looking for a more intimate experience. Attendees will relish in the eclectic lineup featuring artists and inspiration from around the globe. Expect to be taken on a musical journey over the course of this 4 day family friendly festival in the Mojave Desert.
The Joshua Tree Music Festival is known for hosting a variety of musical artists that do not adhere to any specific genre. What they do have in common, is that they deliver goose bump-inducing powerful, potent, compelling performances which leaves an impression on attendees.
“We aim to deliver a truly diverse, well-rounded line-up; one you won’t see at other festivals. A lot of these artists are on the rise. They’re hungry, hustling and honing their craft; creating unique, progressive sounds,” says festival founder Barnett English.
Musical highlights include: The swaggering rock of Vintage Trouble, the roots driven trance dance of My Baby, dancefloor masters Dynohunter, renowned Berlin-based DJ Oliver Koletzki, Japanese avant-garde rock band Dachambo and many more.
The music starts at 7pm on Thursday May 16th along with Joshua Tree Music Festival’s routine kick-off party featuring free rice & bean dinner for guests plus free beer from Lagunitas (while supplies last!). Locals may argue that this is the most fun night of the festival with the relaxed feel and anticipation of the amazing weekend ahead. Starting Friday morning it’s full steam ahead with music, workshops, yoga, kids activities and plenty of other entertainment all day long.
Lower priced pre-sale tickets are available at: www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com until Monday May 13. Tickets will also be available at the gate.
What makes the Joshua Tree Music Festival (JTMF) different from other festivals like our world-renowned Coachella or Stagecoach festivals is that it relishes in its counter-culture, happy/hippy vibe. The ethos of this festival can be found on parking passes affixed to attendee car windows that remind you to ‘live/love like there is no tomorrow.’ Where the larger festivals team with tens of thousands of people, JTFM seems content with the few thousand kindred spirits ranging in age from seven to eighty-seven. These happy-hippies come together for a few days in Joshua Tree to relax and rejuvenate.
The line-up of acts includes twenty-three performers from around the world yet the festival is far more than just a music festival.
As Founder Barnett English is quick to point out, “This is a very kid friendly event.” As the father of school-aged child himself, English understands the plight of many families who want to attend other festivals but cannot because of their family commitments. Many publications including Fatherly Magazine and Trip Savvy list JTMF as one of the top music festivals in the United States for kids.
All children under 10 attend for free while those up to sixteen years of age are admitted at half price. Kidsville is opened from 10am to 6pm each day. Activities are varied and numerous including trash can or parasol painting. Kids get to put on their own circus shows at the SchoolBus Stage. Musicians from the festival often come over for musical enrichment. One activity includes a cactus planting where the children get to bring home their very own cacti. Chime assembly, yoga, storytelling and more go on throughout the day. Just as important as the diversity of experiences, most activities are in heavily shaded areas with access to lots of water.
From 7am through 6pm each day, one can find a yoga class. In addition to more traditional yoga classes, Phillip Stamp holds Acro Play classes at 4:15pm on Friday and Saturday. Acro Play is a cross between acrobatics and gymnastics in the form of Acroyoga.
Positive Vibration Station
This element of the festival holds classes like interactive dance, sonic dance, chakra balancing, playing a didgeridoo and Qi Qong, a self-healing technique that is meant to align the body, breath and mind for health while incorporating the martial arts for physical fitness. Qi Qong is taught at 8am each day, by Walter Winfield. Following him at 9:15am is Pierette Baker who will lead a practice of meditation while using gongs, singing bowls and chimes as she leads early risers in a collective meditation meant to elevate each person’s positive energy for the new day.
For children and adults alike, the festival has a robust offering of stimulating talks about the environment. As an example, JC Jaress holds a session titled, “From Sustainability to Regeneration and Restoration” on Saturday and Sunday while Jillian Sandell teaches you how to design, write and make a Zine – that is a little DIY booklet. Other classes teach children about the Joshua Tree National Park Junior Ranger program, Festival Trash Etiquette, protecting the desert tortoise and more.
Everywhere you turn, you will see the work of dozens of artists in creating the beauty and magic that is the Joshua Tree Music Festival experience. Visit the Sound Cave, a musical sculpture which houses thousands of strings. Lead artist Tyson Ayers will be there throughout the festival to help you understand how the placement of the strings was made so that anyone can sound like a maestro.
After visiting the Cave, look for Stephen Cohen who uses recycled materials in making musical sculptures.
Is poetry your thing? Find the Typewriter Troubadour, Jeremy Brownlowe, who might write one-of-a-kind poetry for you on his old typewriter. Just ask him nicely.
At some point, visit The Complimentary Bar. The bartenders here serve only compliments and jokes, not alcohol.
What is sure to be the hit of the Festival is Frick Frack Blackjack. What makes this game of blackjack different from that played in Las Vegas is that no money is allowed. So how does one ante up? What can you barter? What will the dealer or the person next to you take? What are you willing to receive? Fun is sure to be had by all.
Dozens of artisan vendors reside to the right of the main stage. Whether you are looking for hippie chic, jewelry, drums, a gong or a bong, unique offerings abound at reasonable prices in comparison with most festivals.
Those arriving on Thursday typically partake in the annual rice, beans and beer dinner offered to all at no additional charge at the back of the Boogaloo Stage. The funked-up beatscapes of Subko aka Jacob Pare begin at 5:30pm and continue well into the night.
Other food options available by the main stage include pizza, fish tacos, Indian, vegan, juices, coffee bars and more.
This is a large part of why everyone is here. As has been the case in past, festivalgoers get to see tomorrow’s top acts near the start of their careers.
Thursday, 7:15pm: Diggin’ Dirt – “Funkacillus Groovidophius” which was released last month is the latest offering of this groovalicious seven-piece ensemble that hails from Humboldt Country. The current iteration of the band has been together since 2016 when vocalist Zach Alder joined. Like many of their NoCal predecessors, Diggin’ Dirt sports a powerful horn section that compliments Alder’s soulful vocals reminiscent of classics like the Funkadelics, Orgone and Tower of Power. The reggae-influenced “Peace of Mind” from their debut “Full Season” 2016 album or the just released “Superstar” are good examples of this band at its best.
Thursday, 9:30pm – Gene Evaro, Jr.: One of the desert’s best is featured on the stage opening night. Evaro, a Joshua Tree native, whose songs evoke comparisons to Prince and Bruno Mars. “Have You Heard?” and “Like It’s 1965” are two songs that show how us that Evaro seems destined for bigger things. Like a proverbial mayor, Evaro greets all to Joshua Tree with his energetic, joyful show.
The Next Morning
Early risers can join in meditation or yoga as early as 7am each day while musical performances begin at 10am. This year, we have a trio of talented women starting off each day for us: Megan Hutch on Friday, Gabrielle Evaro on Saturday and Myshkin Warbler on Sunday.
MUST SEE: Myshkin Warbler, 10am Sunday. The Village Voice called Warbler “sad, smart and weird” while The Washington Post described her as “…both lyrical and politically pointed. A rich blend topped with her broad-ranging, keening voice.” Now a Joshua Tree resident, Warbler’s career spans more than 25 years with origins on the acoustic and alternative scenes of New Orleans. Her music has been described as electronic post-rock, gypsy-swing or desert-blues depending on the track.
At 11:30am each day, festivalgoers are treated to a rich blend of world music.
On Friday, Sahba Motallebi, the virtuoso of the tar and sitar performs. For those unfamiliar with either instrument, think of them as Persian sitars. From Iran but currently residing in Los Angeles, Motallebi was recognized as the best tar player at the Iranian Music Festival from 1995 through 1998. If Motallebi’s talent is not enough of a reason to hear her, it has long been believed that listening to the tar or sitar helps in relieving headaches and other nervous disorders. If you stay up too late Thursday night, be sure to get a dose of Motallebi Friday.
On Saturday at 11:30am, Grammy-nominated Youssoupha Sidibe of Senegal, West Africa plays the kora. For those unfamiliar with the kora, think of it as a harp that looks like a primitive banjo. Sidibe likes to describe his music as a fusion of the traditional sounds of the kora with chanting from the Sufi community (note to self, brush up on Sufi issues). Sidibe has collaborated with the likes of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, India.Arie, Michael Kang of The String Cheese Incident and many others. Like Motallebi, Sidibe’s music is thought to have restorative powers as well. Listening to the kora is considered to be ideal accompaniment to contemplation and meditation.
As if following those two acts would be easy, the Paris-raised, Austin-based LouLou Ghelichkhani (vocals for Thievery Corporation) performs on Sunday at 11:30am as part of the “cinematic dream-pop prism” called Night Glitter. Ghelichklani typically sings in French as is the case with their March release, “Transparency”.
From 12:30pm to 2pm each day, various songwriters attending the festival will take their turn on the Boogaloo Stage, an area where many festival goers often gather to enjoy lunch at a table or on one of the rugs covering the desert sand.
At 3pm each day, we get some of our most diverse music of the festival. On Friday, we get The Amritakripa Band which combines sacred dance and the tribal rhythms known to Joshua Tree. Saturday delivers The Cole Williams Band. Originally from Brooklyn but now at home in New Orleans, Williams is a funky jambalaya of music goodness.
MUST SEE: Be sure to stay for Baraka Moon at 3pm on Sunday. This San Francisco-based didgeridoo-oriented quartet blends the Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo as played by Stephen Kent with the soulful Pakistani vocals and harmonium of Sukhawat Ali Khan, guitars of Anastasi Mavrides and drums of Peter Warren to create what should be one of the richest musical sets of the festival. It is worth remembering that festival founder Barnett English fell in love with the area after serving coffee at a Didgeridoo festival on the same site nearly twenty years ago. Musically, Baraka Moon blends modern and ancestral sounds creating a hypnotic rhythm that helps festivalgoers in feeling some of the spiritual underpinnings of the festival. No matter your cultural background, this unique sound strikes a chord deep in your music subconscious as few popular artists can. The title track to the 2017 recording, “Wind Horse” captures Baraka Moon at their best.
The 6 o’clock hour is certain to be a party in the main stage area. Friday starts us off with the City of Trees Brass Band from New Orleans.
Must See: Dachambo, 6pm Saturday – This is probably your only chance to see this band in the United States this year. From Japan, Dachambo uses a digeridoo like Baraka Moon but they take things in a decidedly different direction. Best described as a rock band, Dachambo seem as comfortable playing southern folk as they are incorporating electronica or rocking down the house.
Closing night plays host to what is sure to be the most fun performance of the festival. Their name says it all – Thumpasaurus. You know you are in for a funky fun time with a name like that. This Los Angeles based band derives name from a George Clinton song, “Night of the Thumpasaurus” off “Mothership Connection.” The best way to explain this band is to imagine a music orgy between the Eagles of Death Metal, Frank Zappa and Devo. Thumpasaurus is essentially the musical offspring of that oddly compatible jambalaya of quirky catchiness. “You Are So Pretty” and “I’m Too Funky” from The Book of Thump capture their unique blend of musical gifts. If you get a chance, watch their video, “Mental Karate” – this song should be part of every child’s karate class given its pure silliness and its message that one can use mental karate to chop up bad thoughts. I’m not sure but I have to think that lead singer Lucas Tamaren…or at least his alter-ego, Sensei Boland had ADHD as a kid. For some fun, see stay Sunday to watch these guys.
Friday, 8:15pm: After Funk. This Toronto-based collective have performed with Stephan Marley, Lauryn Hill and The String Cheese Incident. With roots that date back to 2009, the band describes their sound as “post fusion” or “Canadian funk”. Expect a heavy dose of their 2019 release, Santa Barbara, as they get the festival dancing.
Friday, 10pm: Dynohunter – Hailing from Boulder, Colorado, Dynohunter’s recently released “Third Rock From the Sun” single is an exotically hypnotic electro dance track. When performed live, pulsating energy will invade the carpeted floor of the festival as this livetronica act sets the rhythm for an amazing evening. Initially formed by college classmates, Clark Smith and Justin Elmer while at the University of Denver Lamont School of Music. Freddy Reisen (bass) joined the band after graduation when they moved to Boulder. This trio calls their blend of electronica ‘rainforest tech’ most likely due to the active sampling of environmental sounds. This dyno-rific act they will have the desert dance floor energized and yabba dabba dancing the night away (awful, I’m sorry but I had to…it is like I challenged Gene Shalit for a second).
Friday, 11:30pm Trouble in the Streets – This Austin-based trio dub their style as “Electro Tribe”. Recognized as the best new band at the 2017 Austin Music Awards, Trouble in the Streets have opened for George Clinton as well as Grammy winners like Grupo Fantasma and the Rebirth Brass Band.
Friday, 11:30pm: Oliver Koletzki – From German, this internationally acclaimed DJ/producer of electronic music has 700,000 monthly listeners, 135,000 followers and more than 15 million plays of track, “Hypnotized”. Koletzki found almost immediate success after starting his own label in 2005 and releasing “Der Muckenschwarm”, a track that German music magazine readers chose as their ‘track of the year’. Listen to “The Arc of Tension” and “A Tribe Called Kotori” to get a feel for what you will be hearing Friday night.
Saturday 8:15pm: MY BABY – See feature article/interview in this issue.
Saturday, 10pm: Vintage Trouble – A little closer to home, Los Angeles-based Vintage Trouble is a rock act that works classic blues, soul and rock into their contemporary offerings. Produced by the legendary Don Was, 1 Hopeful Rd. was the first rock record ever released on the Blue Note Records. “Blues Hand Me Down” from their 2011 debut release, The Bomb Shelter Sessions has an impressive 3.7 million plays on Spotify while the band itself has 550,000 monthly listeners.
Saturday, 11:30pm: Smoked Out Soul – From San Francisco, this band looks to blend the DJ culture with a live act to create an infinitely listenable and danceable soundtrack for festivalgoers to party the night away.
Sunday, 7:45pm: Desert Rhythm Project – Locals Mikey Reyes and Bryanna Evaro fuse a folk-rock, funk and reggae in a style that is reminiscent of Mike Love. Having released their first album Mojave Roots last year, expect the Desert Rhythm Project to have the main stage area in full celebration mode as the festival nears its close.
Sunday, 9:30pm: Moontricks – This British Columbia-based duo closes out the festival. Nog Osiris plays the harmonica, computers and keyboards while Sean Roadman provides vocals, guitar and banjo. Moontricks music fits in perfectly with the festival as it is a fusion of roots Americana sounds with modern production techniques. That unique mix brings traditional sounds together with contemporary electronica to create a sound that is new, inviting and haunting all at one. Using loops, sampling and synthesizers, Moontricks sound is far more developed and complex than one would expect. We are certain to be treated to a heavy dose of their latest release Backwoods Bass which features an instant classic with “Wood For the Trees”. This duo appears to be positioned for great things.
Moontricks are the perfect ending to an invigorating and soul filling weekend with kindred spirits in the magical shadow of Joshua Tree.
The 17th Annual Fall Joshua Tree Music Festival takes place May 16-19, 2019 at the Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground, 2601 Sunfair Rd, Joshua Tree, CA.