Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

L.A. Rowell

Look … up in the sky! It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s a hot-air balloon—and you could be in it!

The Sixth Annual Cathedral City Hot Air Balloon and Food Truck Festival will take place Friday through Sunday, Nov. 22-24—and each year, event producer Fantasy Balloon Flights offers balloon rides for people who want to fly high in the sky. The festival offers plenty of food and family-friendly entertainment for those who want to stay on terra firma, too.

Cindy and Steve Wilkinson have owned and operated Fantasy Balloon Flights since 1981.

“We moved out to the desert about 40 years ago from L.A.,” Cindy Wilkinson said. “Steve had a good job with a delivery company out here, so we felt safe in the move—but what we didn’t know is they lay off a large percentage of employees after every Christmas. He was one of the ones who was let go.

“A few months later, we were in a coffee shop when a man came in and asked for help. We had nothing better to do; in fact, we were looking through help-wanted ads, so we went and helped him. Turns out he ran a local hot air balloon company. Steve ended up working for this Texas man, and we learned a lot about balloons. The only problem was getting a pilot’s license in order to fly them. We ended up buying our own hot air balloon, so it would be easier and more convenient for Steve to get his license, which he did. We’ve been flying ever since.”

The business is truly a family affair: Their son, Justin, has followed in his dad footsteps and is now a licensed commercial balloon pilot. His wife, Courteney, runs the company’s marketing department.

“There are different tests to take for different crafts you fly,” Courteney said. “The training is all the same in regards to what you learn and the hours, but in the end, there are different licenses for commercial or private flying.”

Justin said he believes he has the best job in the world.

“I have been around hot air balloons my whole life, and they have taken me all over the world,” he said. “I received my private license at age 17 and my commercial rating by 18. I have been flying professionally for the last 15 years, giving tour rides in the Coachella Valley. The best part of the job is seeing the smiles on the faces of kids young and old when they see the 10-story balloon ride off the ground.”

This family ethic carries over to everything the Wilkinsons work on, including the Cathedral City Hot Air Balloon Festival. This year’s event will include morning and evening “balloon glows,” live music and children’s activities in the festival area in downtown Cathedral City. They’ve also added the Healthy Life Fest, which will include lots of vegan and healthy vendors, as well as speakers. On Sunday, Big League Dreams in Cathedral City will host a pancake breakfast—and there will be special-shaped balloons, including a bumble bee and love birds.

“You don’t realize how big they are,” Cindy said about the special balloons. “I saw my first odd shaped balloon 15 years ago. It was the Energizer Bunny, and it seemed bigger than the Empire State Building. Standing right next to it was amazing!”

For those of you who want to get into a balloon, Cindy said that’s not a problem: “We have tethered rides, and there will also be a competition for 20 of the pilots in the air, and some of those are open to the public.”

All the fun also benefits a good cause: A portion of the proceeds will be donated to SEAthletes, which “engages the next generation to nurture the Salton Sea by connecting them to the water through paddle sports.”

The Sixth Annual Cathedral City Hot Air Balloon Festival and Food Truck Fiesta takes place Friday through Sunday, Nov. 22-24, at various venues. Admission to the festival, in downtown Cathedral City, is free. For more information, including a complete schedule and links to purchase tickets to events, visit

Faith Prince is the very definition of a Broadway legend.

She’s won a Tony Award—for Best Actress in a Musical, in 1992, for her role as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls—and has been nominated for three others. She also has four Drama Desk Award nominations, and earned the New York Nightlife Award in 2012 for Outstanding Musical Comedy Performer with Jason Graae in The Prince and the Showboy. In other words, she has nothing left to prove—yet she says she’s still learning and tackling new challenges.

Prince will perform at the Purple Room at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1. During a recent phone interview, she talked about making the move from New York to the West Coast.

“I’m very beholden to New York and will always honor it,” she said. “It helped me discover who I was as a human, but there is a time to let go and explore other things. It’s about balance. I never thought I’d be a West Coast person, but I like it. I love the weather, and as I’m getting older, I’m learning to honor where I’m at.”

She added with a laugh: “When I do go back to the city, I go, ‘Oh, I know you.’”

Prince still frequently performs both on the theater stage and TV, including recent roles on Chicago Justice and Modern Family—but she spends a lot of her time teaching these days.

“There is no one way in—which is how I view spirituality. You take and listen to what speaks to you,” she said. “I’m a life coach for artists, and I have students all around the world. I listen and mirror and get them to trust themselves. Some lack the base, so I literally sit in the sandbox with them. I ask, ‘How does that feel?’ It’s about getting a plan and listening—listen, don’t teach. That’s where the magic is. They have the answers.”

Prince was born in Georgia and raised in Virginia.

“My grandmother supported me a lot. She made me know I was really seen and heard—and since I was seen and heard, I trusted my instincts,” Prince said. “I was trepidatious as a child. … I ran into an old acting teacher of mine many years ago, and she said, ‘I cannot believe how you preserved all these years.’ My teacher was surprised, because I was so green when I started. But I was a steel magnolia: I had tenacity, and I had perseverance, mixed with instincts. … The thing I’m proudest of is I never stop growing, and I wake up with a lot of energy every day, because I enjoy what I do and who I am. This is something that needs to be taught how to do. It’s a process.”

Prince’s Tony Award came for her work with Nathan Lane in the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls. She said there was a lot of laughter during the show.

“I love getting broken up (laughing). I’m the fucking worst!” Prince said. “What I love even more is breaking other people up. I used to make Nathan giggle all the time. He was so tuned into the audience, and I would tell him to relax and tune into me. I would say, ‘We aren't curing cancer; let’s have fun!’ So I loved finding ways to break him up. There is nothing more fun than breaking up another comedian or actor live.”

While Prince has returned to New York and Broadway here and there in recent years, she has focused most of her energy on working on the West Coast. After a Tony and three nominations, why did she leave Broadway behind?

“When I moved to L.A. and started acting on TV, it was weird to have the weekend off, but that’s what gave me the time to explore my one-woman show and start my master teaching classes,” Prince said. “I never felt such joy. I slept better due to being connected to myself. Now I have 100 Skype and Facetime students of all ages, and I’ve taught a master class at Duke. I’m going to write a book that will be practical based on things I’ve learned.”

I asked Prince if there was anything left on her career bucket list.

“I want to play Laurette Taylor. She was the first Amanda in Glass Menagerie,” Prince said, referring to the stage and silent-film great who lived from 1883 to 1946. “She was quiet and unique. I want to do a one-woman show on her!

“Oh, and I want to do Hello Dolly because I am co-dependent—and so was Dolly!”

Prince said her fans can expect a unique show at the Purple Room.

“The one thing I want everyone to know is I just so appreciate my fans. I am so appreciative of all the support throughout the years,” she said. “… You can always expect storytelling, jazz, Broadway tunes—and the occasional merengue!”

Faith Prince will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1, at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $40 to $50, with dinner reservations (minimum $25) at 6 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-4422, or visit

Now that the scorching summer temperatures are (mostly) behind us for the year, it’s appropriate to think about doing things outside. Like, for example, gardening.

That means it’s a perfect time for the 14th Annual Desert Garden Community Day, taking place at the University of California, Riverside’s Palm Desert campus on Saturday, Oct. 26.

The annual event is a production of the Desert Horticultural Society of Coachella Valley, which got its start in 2005 at The Living Desert, thanks to a small group of locals who shared a love for the environment and its native plants. When the society was founded, there were only 30 members, but today, the nonprofit counts almost 500 members—and the free-to-all Annual Desert Garden Community Day is its biggest event, put on with help from UCR Palm Desert and the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardner program.

“The focus this year will be on growing native plants and exactly how to have a successful experience,” said Tracy Merrigan, president of the Desert Horticultural Society. “There will be free classes, hands-on projects for kids and adults, and booths with environmental organizations including this year’s sponsor, the Desert Water Agency.”

Plant-health advisers will be on hand to answer questions and offer tips on how to plant vegetables and other vegetation that can thrive in the valley’s hot weather.

“You can have a lush, beautiful garden that is also irrigation-friendly to our dry environment,” Merrigan said. “The reason we are so heavily focused on desert plants this year is because last year, we received an abundance of inquiries asking how to plant flowering succulents and wildflowers. So we just bounced off that idea.”

While deserts in general are often viewed as barren, Merrigan said that is not necessarily the case.

“The one thing that has entranced me by the desert is how lush (it can be),” Merrigan said. “There are so many birds and lizards. You can interact with wildlife out here unlike any other place. You can get up close and see how magical it all is.”

The event will cover more than just plants and how to grow them; it’ll also include lessons on how to design gardens and landscapes themselves. Merrigan said it’s even possible to plant grass in the desert—and keep your conscience clear.

“Many of the desert plants have been hybridized from other species that have been planted,” Merrigan said. “They change; they are very adaptable. This class will show you that you don't have to go completely native. You can still be water-friendly and environmentally friendly and have grass in the desert.”

To support ongoing education and help the future of horticulture, the Desert Horticultural Society for the last five years has awarded local scholarships to students attending the College of the Desert who are majoring in horticulture, landscaping or golf-course management. This year, two scholarships will be awarded during the Annual Desert Garden Community Day.

Attendees can also enjoy food vendors, kids’ activities and a plant sale by UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners.

“It’s just a happy day,” Merrigan said. “Everyone has a smile on their faces. This year’s speakers and clinics will be fun and amazing.”

The 14th Annual Desert Garden Community Day will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 26, at UCR Palm Desert, 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive, in Palm Desert. Admission is free. For more information, visit

Louis Fonsi is best known for his smash hit “Despacito,” which as of now has been viewed 6.4 billion times on YouTube.

Yes, that’s correct: 6.4 billion, with a “b.” It’s sure to be one of the songs he performs during his show at Fantasy Springs this Friday, Sept. 20.

Despite this amazing success, during a recent phone interview, Fonsi came off as humble and grateful, crediting his collaborator on the song, Daddy Yankee, as well as Justin Bieber, who is featured on a popular remix of the song. As of this writing, that version “only” has 648 million-plus YouTube views.

Of course, the Puerto Rico native is known for much more than “Despacito.” In fact, he said some of his fans aren’t quite sure what to make of the song and the direction of his new album, Vida.

“Oh, they miss the more romantic songs on my past albums, which were more focused around love ballads,” Fonsi said. “I still do that! I am a balladeer at heart, but I also wanted to do more of an upbeat album. … This has some ballads as well, but it also has dance and more of today’s … Latin sound.”

Why did Fonsi—with six platinum albums to his credit before Vida—make the change?

“There is just so much new blood, with kids making amazing beats these days, and I love all that,” Fonsi said. “Fifteen years ago, it was so hard to make your own music, and it was too expensive. Now you can do it with software. It lets you just simply upload your music to the internet for the world to hear, so it’s easier to make great tracks and new sounds.”

Fonsi said he’s especially enjoyed the collaborative nature of some of his newer music.

“If I get a week off, I go home to family but also hit the studio where I write my songs,” he said. “I also love to collaborate and work with new people, so I go on search tours to Nashville, New York, London—anywhere to find people to co-write with.”

Fonsi was born in San Juan but moved to Orlando, Fla., when he was 11. Some of his first jobs were—no surprise—at theme parks.

“I was always a performer,” he said. “It was in my blood even as a child. Working in all the different theme parks was an amazing training ground for me. I then went to the Florida State University School of Music with a full scholarship.”

Fonsi at one point was part a boy band called Big Guys, which included future *NSYNC member Joey Fatone. While that band never made it big, he credited the experience for helping him understand the importance of hard work.

In 2013, Fonsi had a brief stint in Forever Tango on Broadway.

“I love acting. I love Broadway, and I want to go back eventually,” Fonsi said. “But I also love TV. I am a judge on Telemundo’s The Voice. We are starting on the second season. My team won Season 1, so I have a lot to live up to. … I am a positive judge. If I like people, you will know, but if I’m not connecting, they will also know.”

Fonsi said he gains inspiration from R&B greats like Stevie Wonder and Brian McKnight.

“My hero was singer and salsa musician Juan Luis Guerra,” Fonsi said. “He is my all-time-favorite from the Dominican Republic. He is a genius songwriter and one of the nicest human beings on Earth. I am so lucky to now call him a friend and collaborator. I also enjoy Richard Marx, who brings a lot to the table when we collaborate.”

What does Fonsi say to people who may be concerned about going to a show where much of the music will be sung in Spanish?

“I sing in Spanish. I am a Latino artist. I am bilingual, yes, but it’s in my DNA,” Fonsi said. “It’s exciting to go to different countries and sing in my native tongue and see flags in the audience from all over. They might not understand all my lyrics, but dance unites us all.”

Luis Fonsi will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Drive, in Indio. Tickets are $49 to $99. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit

Niki Haris’ career is like looking through a kaleidoscope: It’s full of changes, turns and beautiful colors.

She is best known as one of Madonna’s choreographers and backup singers, a job she had from 1987 to 2001. If you've ever seen Madonna’s 1991 groundbreaking documentary Truth or Dare, you’ve seen Niki Haris. She has also lent her talents to Kylie Minogue, Prince, Whitney Houston and Ray Charles, performing in some of largest venues and arenas in the world, including Wimbledon, the Staples Center, Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center.

But after years of such a fast-paced lifestyle, Haris is ready to be more intimate with her audiences. She is enjoying smaller venues during her solo tour, which will bring her to the Purple Room—reopening Tuesday, Aug. 27, following its summer hiatus—on Saturday, Sept. 28.

During a recent interview, Haris said being a single mother of a teenage daughter has changed her perspective on touring.

“Being a mother takes you out of the ‘all about me’—the ‘bigness’ of everything,” Haris said. “It helps you see that there is more of a collective good for the world, and it's a wake-up call.”

Haris is the daughter of Grammy Award-nominated jazz pianist Gene Harris; she credits her father for teaching her about the importance of faith—and sharing with her a love of gospel music. This helps explain why her newest album, Lift Thine Eyes, released last year, features songs about healing, loss and God. The album’s title comes from her favorite scripture, Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth.”

Haris said she prefers to sing lyrics that touch her deeply—and she hopes they touch the audience as well.

"It seems we are all attached to pain. … It seems we get stuck in the muck in the mire,” Haris said. “It helps to remember that music does inspire, and one small act can move mountains. One song can change somebody's day.”

One of Haris’ favorite songs on Lift Thine Eyes is “Optimistic.”

“The songwriter wrote at their deepest despair. They took that despair and turned it into beauty,” she said. “My grandmother used to say that the worst thing about being unhappy is that you feel that you'll never be happy again. But you have to be brave enough to just keep taking one more breath.”

One of her favorite songs in her set is Bob Dylan's “Lord, Protect My Child.” She said she was drawn to the lyrics, because they are as relevant today as they were when the song was released in 1991.

“So many members of my daughter’s generation have lost the optimism that is needed to survive. They have a ‘fuck it’ attitude,” Haris said. “They are overly concerned with frivolous things. They are all stuck in this Twitter world—and their generation is facing a lack of water and clean air. They need to wake up.”

Haris is trying to do her part to make the world a better place. “I don't know how stop fossil fuels from fucking up our Earth, but I do know how to sing a good song that will bring us together,” she said.

Haris said she loves to connect with her audience, and she described her show as being full of love and connection.

“You will get insight from my career and boisterous banter about life, love and motherhood,” she said. “But most importantly, people will leave with a bigger heart. They will get that heart muscle exercised.”

Niki Haris will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 28, at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $35 to $40, with dinner reservations (minimum $25) at 6 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-4422, or visit

The town of Idyllwild on one September weekend will be taken over by a film festival that emphasizes diversity.

The inaugural Women Under the Influence Goes Idyllwild film festival, according to founder Tabitha Denholm, will be a lot like a music festival … just with movies.

“Think Coachella on a smaller scale, but without the feathers and bikinis,” said Tabitha Denholm with a laugh. “I am obsessed with the idea of diversity. This year, we have legendary documentary director Barbara Kopple, who perhaps will be next to a first-time director, who is next to someone who rocks a mean air bass guitar. Everyone is included and welcomed.”

Women Under the Influence is a community founded by Denholm in 2015 with this goal: “By sharing the stories of cinema directed by women, through events and media, WUTI pushes back against the industry’s bias.” The festival is the brainchild of Denholm, creative director Laura Rule, and Meredith Rogers, the vice president of cultural programming at NeueHouse, a collaborative workspace in New York and Los Angeles.

“We all have our roles and know our parts. We mix well together,” Denholm said. The idea began at NeueHouse in Los Angeles. “In other large cities, there are communities around films, and we just didn't feel that here in L.A., of all places. So we started one.”

How did they pick Idyllwild as the location?

“I had heard about Idyllwild and thought it was going to have like a wine-country sort of feeling, so I drove up there in my old convertible with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt on,” Denholm said. “I got there, and it was snowing! In fact, we had to stay the night there, because we got stuck in a blizzard! … Where else can you find a town so close to L.A. with art schools, cinema and a wonderful energy?”

Energy is a key ingredient in WUTI.

“We are inclusive. We have a broad focus on what should be in our festival,” Denholm said. “We screen films that we like. There is no submission process. We just make a list and then bug people until they come.”

When asked what festival films are her favorites, Denholm responded that she had no “favorites.” “But I love Grind Reset Shine by Margarita Jimeno. It’s about the demise of the male ego. Crystal Swan by Darya Zhuk is also a good one to catch.

A portion of the festival has been set aside for preteens and teens. “On Saturday, Sept. 21, we devote a large part of it to Gen Z,” Denholm said. “There will be talks for teens by teen directors.”

Denholm said she hopes Women Under the Influence Goes Idyllwild becomes an annual event.

“Our ambition is to grow incrementally with what we can handle. Our dream is that it will be a destination for people meeting up and making new friends,” she said. “This is not just for women; anyone can come, but we felt it was important to give women a platform. There is sexism in directing; that is getting better, but it still is an issue. The way women have been portrayed in films has had a huge impact on how the audience thinks of women on a subconscious level. It affects us all; if a man is the one writing or directing he doesn't always see things from her point of view.”

Other highlights of this year’s festival schedule include singer Karen O, the front woman of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, discussing the music she’s created in films; director Kimberly Peirce, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Boys Don’t Cry; and director Penelope Spheeris, who will join actress Tia Carrere to screen and discuss the legendary Wayne’s World.

Women Under the Influence Goes Idyllwild will take place from Friday through Sunday, Sept. 20-22, at various venues in Idyllwild. All-festival admission costs $225, with discounts for teens and Idyllwild residents (use the code IDYPASS online); children 12 and younger are admitted for free. For tickets or more information, visit