Iggy Pop and a special vibe conjure magic at Desert Daze

Iggy Pop and a special vibe conjure magic at Desert Daze
Iggy Pop at Desert Daze. (David Evanko)

Iggy Pop was not to be missed.

That was evident in the crowds that gathered to hear him, filling every inch of the slope down to the main stage — or rather, the Moon Stage, as it was labeled at the Desert Daze festival. Pop headlined Saturday night, lithe and shirtless, hurtling across the stage before launching into "I Wanna Be Your Dog."


It's been 48 years since he and the Stooges released that song, but it proved hearty and resilient. He blazed most on "The Passenger" and coursed through his hits "Real Wild Child," "Lust for Life" and "Search and Destroy." The 70-year-old Pop seems to exist outside of time.

The 6-year-old Desert Daze Festival took place at the Institute of Mentalphysics, also known as the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright. Wide paths between recognizably Wright-style buildings allow for visitors to interact with the desert, which spreads out to encompass two rock stages, a music tent and camping.

"We've found our home," organizer Phil Pirrone said. "This is our home." The peripatetic festival started in 2012 as an outsider alternative to Coachella — trippier, grittier — and has previously been held in Desert Hot Springs and the town of Mecca near the Salton Sea.

Talking after sundown Saturday, Pirrone, whose long, wavy hair would make 1970 Robert Plant jealous, seemed remarkably relaxed. "All day, radios are going," he explained. "But at night, things calm down."

As if on cue, a cloud of marijuana smoke drifted by. There was beer and liquor for sale, although by late Saturday some counters were running low. And there were food trucks, heavy on the vegan and vegetarian options.

Fest-goers walked the wishbone-shaped paths that made up the festival's main artery, lined by vendors. Some offered henna hand painting and massages; others, punk rock posters and T-shirts. One forking path led to a scattering of interactive art installations; another to a book nook; another to a place for prayer. Their diverse offerings spoke to the cultural intersection of the festival.

Presented by Pirrone's Moon Block Group with help from Spaceland Presents and Knitting Factory Presents, the musical offerings are intersectional, intergenerational and international.

The festival's other big acts included Australian psychedelians King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, singer-songwriters Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, local desert heroes Eagles of Death Metal, avant-garde rocker John Cale, indie rock romeos the Make-up, octogenarian minimalist Terry Riley and his son Gyan Riley, space rockers Spiritualized and the multitalented millennial rocker Ty Segall.

Three days and a total of five performance areas (one available only to campers) is a lot of concert; although Saturday was only midway through, Pirrone admitted that his shoes "weren't comfortable enough."

If walking through sand for days is tough, breathing it is also a problem. One of the most popular accessories on Saturday was the bandana — worn around the neck and pulled up over the nose and mouth, to keep out the occasional cloud of dust.

It showed that people weren't quite as dedicated to being Instagrammed as at Coachella, say, or Burning Man. That's not to say that people didn't display desert finery — it was easy to find hippie chic, wild style and cowboy hats — but the emphasis seemed to be on experience, rather than display.

Last year there were some complaints about traffic and noise, which organizers tried to address this year by repositioning stages and ending the music before 2 a.m. Pirrone acknowledges "growing pains" — traffic getting in and out of the venue was still an issue.

Traffic was the downside for attendees who opted to stay in the many local Airbnb offerings rather than camp. You couldn't really hope for a better desert time of year for an outdoor event, but with day temperatures near 100 degrees and cool nights in the 50s, tent camping would be a challenge for some (like yours truly).

Moon Block declined to share attendance numbers, but 2016's festival attracted 2,000 attendees and this year's permit allowed for 5,000.


If being in a small town like Joshua Treemeans there will always be some complaints from locals, for others it's a boon. The owner of the classic Joshua Tree diner the Country Kitchen, Sarah Taylor, said they'd been going gangbusters all weekend.

After her long day working in the restaurant, she stood in the VIP area of Desert Daze, which provided a distant but clear view of Iggy Pop's masterful performance. As Pop caromed across the stage, singing, posing and flinging his hair, Taylor said, "I can't believe he's five years younger than my dad."