You're heard all about the weather (and, truth be told, you'll hear a little more), but there was plenty of amazing music worth talking about this past weekend.---
As the road to Jenk Star Ranch unfolded before us, a dust devil, about 20 feet in diameter, whirled threateningly close to a parking lot that was beginning to fill up with cars and RVs. The bellowing sandstorm behemoth would soon test the resolve of festival-goers, exposing the true extent of their love of live music and exploration of consciousness.
Setting up camp was nearly effortless, and before long we were cracking cans of cheap beer and strumming guitars as we waited for the first performers. When I made my way to the main stage, the revivalist folk five-piece Elephant Revival dropped my jaw in the last hours before it would be filled by finely grated, airborne sentiment. Their traditional folk charm has an electric jolt of indie appeal with an uncommon percussive sensibility and diverse influence.
The imminent weather made its entrance shortly after the group finished their set. Our people returned to camp to re-supply, don our bandana masks, grill hot dogs and fill flasks. In the dwindling hours of the night, we scuttled around the rustic SolLune (pronounced saloon) and the adjacent Cosmic Stage, which hurled thumping drum and bass to the various post-apocalyptic structures/installations of the Consciousness Village.
The next morning, in the briefly calm atmospheric conditions, I chose to forgo an opportunity to join my fellow campers in an excursion to the beach on the banks of the Green River. With my guitar on my back, I set off for the workshop stage to attend an intimate songwriting seminar with the members of Elephant Revival. In what might have been the highlight of the festival, the musicians lent their expertise to the captivated audience. Between fielding questions, and with delicate softness, they coaxed beautiful appetizers from their forthcoming album out of their stringed instruments. I returned to camp buzzing with inspiration and met some familiar faces stationed 20 yards from the RV.
The howling wind reared up in the afternoon and would turn out to be a thorny barrage for the next two days. Local Salt Lake City sons The Tony Holiday Experience displayed blues-driven power that seemed to be accelerated by the wind whipping at their backs (and their wailing behind-the-head guitar solos). Brother Ali followed shortly thereafter on the main stage with a set of pure swagger and soulful beats. The stellar musical offerings continued further into the night with Beats Antique and their riveting display of electro-jam dance music and modern dancers.
Practically situated in the audience of the Lunar Stage, our circle of tents awoke at sunrise on Saturday (shortly after most campers had drifted off) to obnoxiously loud dubstep. For fans of the noise, the morning greeting might have been welcome. For the majority, however, sentiment was aptly expressed by angry pleas to shut the hell up.
By the time my fellow travelers and I had recovered from the soundblasting, the sandblasting was about to begin so we headed for the beach. On the bank of the Green River, the shade was ample, opportunities to nap were heaven-sent and the water was cold. Despite the setting ,though, grains of sand traveling at 20 miles per hour filled the crevasses of my face as I dozed.
The weather during remainder of the day followed suit, without the blissful pause of blistering winds at night. I took a break from hunkering in the RV to catch sets from Chali2una and Lucient Dossier Experience. LDE’s elaborate, acrobatic circus/rock show successfully paired with hip-hop veteran Chali2una and his full funk band. Afterward, I hightailed back to our festive RV shelter to narrowly catch my tent from flipping over the windshield. I spent the remainder of the night staking it to the ground with my body weight until morning.
For the final day of festivities, the weather system calmed. The schedule was packed with acts whose sets were canceled on account of the weather. No one took better advantage of this misfortune than glitch-step DJ Polish Ambassador. As we rubbed sand and sleep from our eyes and bacon sizzled, the DJ rolled through the campsites on the mobile, solar-powered Solar Saucer announcing his make-up show. As charming as their display of resiliency was, the beckoning call of the gorgeous beach on a clear day won out.
The climatic hardships of Saturday were undeniable when we returned to see the parking lots emptied by a degree of about half. Nevertheless, the ensuing performances were spectacular. The Cosmic Stage hosted DJs who played to a jubilant and revitalized crowd. Later, The Wailers spread their message of irresistible positivity to start off the final night on a memorable note. I covered a vast amount of space after that show, darting from venue to venue, campsite to campsite, taking in all of the uplifting energy that a festival celebrating consciousness and positive music could provide. I thought I was tired enough to close out the festival when my tent boomed with the uncommonly experimental set from Max Pain & the Groovies. The late-night set was an apt send-off to an extraordinary final day.
When the dust had cleared and the stages and structures were torn down, all attendees could agree: Desert Rocks 2012 presented challenges to a purely enjoyable festival experience. It would be easy to recon, though, that most of the faithful who stayed to see Sunday’s ideal weather and stellar performances found the reward to be worth the trials. We all slept heavily on the couches of the RV, with sand and dust circulating through the air and clogging our ears and nostrils. The bulk of the grime has soaked off of my clothes and body by now, but the memory I hold of Desert Rocks will always be a blast swirling with dust.
All photos by Dom Darling
Further Desert Rocks 2012 coverage at: