In an ever-growing world of generic, commercial and mass-produced music festivals, Desert Daze has made a name for itself as more of the eclectic, small-batch and well-curated variety.
Using an extremely hands-on approach and never-ending refinement process, founder Phil Pirrone has worked to successfully pair his love for psychedelic rock with the vagabond spirit of events such as desert raves and Burning Man.
And it’s been a long, strange trip getting there.
Born from Pirrone’s first excursions into concert curation under the name Moon Block Party, Desert Daze started as an alternative locale to the performances he organized in the streets of Pomona.
The wildly ambitious 2012 debut of the festival took place over an 11-day stretch at Dillon’s Roadhouse in Desert Hot Springs. In addition to on-site visual artists, workshops and specialty vendors, more than 120 acts performed at the burger and beer joint for more than a week and a half.
Taking a far more manageable approach from 2013-15, the event trimmed down to a single day and moved to the unincorporated community of Mecca in the eastern Coachella Valley.
For the last two years, the expansive and scenic property of the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree has played host to a three-day version of the handcrafted fest.
But Desert Daze is on the move once again.
This year’s seventh annual gathering takes place Oct. 12-14 at Moreno Beach in Lake Perris. And while the new location makes it far easier for Angelenos and San Diegans to attend, assistant festival director Laura “Lou” Oates claims the latest change of address has far more to do with atmosphere than economics.
“We’re semi-nomadic,” she said. “So the vision and feeling of this can move anywhere. But when you’re at the new venue, you don’t feel or see anything else. It’s magical. I used to watch the old ’70s “Star Trek” and it feels like that — like you just buzzed in from a spaceship.
“And ultimately,” she added, “that’s the feeling of Desert Daze — a home away from home, but one that’s completely out of the ordinary. And one that’s been created and only exists for a certain pocket of time.”
Adherence to the philosophy that the overall experience and artist roster be weighted equally has paid major dividends for Pirrone, Oates and the rest of the Desert Daze team.
Not only have they seen attendance grow each year, the team’s ability to book acts from a personal wish list has grown along with it.
Primus, Iggy Pop, Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, Tinariwen, Blonde Redhead, Temples and John Cale have all played Desert Daze in the past.
And this year, Tame Impala, My Bloody Valentine, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Warpaint and Jarvis Cocker are anchoring the event’s Riverside County debut.
But more than anything, it’s the palpable sense of community that organizers have fought so hard to preserve, that keeps everyone involved returning year after year.
“The first time we played,” said Go Kurosawa of festival veterans and 2018 performers Kikagaku Moyo, “it was a pretty harsh experience. We got a tent, but it was broken and some of us had to sleep outside in the desert. But we had a good time and are super excited to be able to play again! I think the people running the festival know what musicians and the audience really want.”
With attendees and performers coming from every corner of the globe, that sentiment seems to be true. And for fans in the psych-rock community, the pilgrimage to Desert Daze is one that more and more are looking to make each year.
Although Pirrone, Oates and the team are frantically putting the final touches on this year’s fest, they’ve also begun work on a “bigger and better” event for next year. They feel they’ve finally found a place where the project they’ve lived and breathed for years can settle in — at least for a while.
And with issues of logistics temporarily placated, they can put all of that heart, soul and hard work into their constant refinement of the Desert Daze experience.
“There’s no other festival like it,” said Oates. “And I’ve worked many. That feeling of family, as well as the passion and drive behind it, is second to none. Desert Daze makes you feel like you’re going to a very special place and a very special event — one that we hold in high reverence. It’s magical. And now we hope we’ve found a real home for it.”
When: Oct. 12-14
Where: Moreno Beach, 17801 Lake Perris Drive, Lake Perris, Calif.
Cost: $20-$1,999 (camping passes also available)
This article originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune.