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Fri12062019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The 11th edition of the annual Desert Stars Festival made its debut at its new location in downtown Joshua Tree over the weekend—and it was a rousing success.

The new location of the festival—which was also moved from fall to spring this year—is near the Joshua Tree Saloon in the arts district of downtown Joshua Tree. The first thing I thought when I walked onto the site was that it has a similar vibe to the back patio of Pappy and Harriet’s, where the festival took place for 10 years.

I was only able to attend on Saturday afternoon, while festival-goers were trickling in.

Local band The Flusters took the main stage at 2:35 p.m. and debuted two new songs which offer a glimpse into the evolved songwriting for the band’s upcoming new album, which guitarist Danny White told me will be out “next year, hopefully.” Given the temperatures and the dust kicking up throughout the day, The Flusters left their suits and ties at home and went for a more dressed-down look.

All of the bands that performed on Saturday afternoon offered a psychedelic rock sound, but none of them sounded the same. I told Flusters frontman Dougie Van Sant: “How can people say that rock ’n’ roll is dead when we’re seeing stuff like this right now?” while we watched a band called The No. 44.

Another of the bands that caught my attention was Los Angeles group Iress. When Iress first started playing, I noticed a similarity to Warpaint—and then the guitars of Michelle Malley and Alex Moreno suddenly turned sludgey and doomy as Malley’s vocals paired with the riffs in a beautiful and haunting way.

I was disappointed that I had to leave due to plans later in the evening: It was obvious that Desert Stars had a lot to celebrate with its successful first run in downtown Joshua Tree.

Scroll down to see some photos from Saturday afternoon at the Desert Stars Festival.

Published in Reviews

For a decade or so, the Desert Stars Music Festival brought beloved bands like Dinosaur Jr., The Raveonettes, The Lemonheads and others to a yearly celebration at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

However, the festival in the fall of 2017 brought the Pappy and Harriet’s chapter to a close. This coming weekend, a new chapter for Desert Stars fest will begin, at a new location—in the east arts district in Joshua Tree, where the lineup over two days will include headliner Luna, as well as Dean Wareham performing Galaxie 500 and Chaos Chaos.

During a recent phone interview, festival founder Tommy Dietrick discussed the festival’s history.

“When you think back to 2006, there weren’t a lot of outlets for indie bands to do a festival scenario,” Dietrick said. “If you wanted to play Coachella, you had to be a lot bigger. You had to have a lot of contacts who were superstar managers, agents and so on. I produce and engineer music for a living and work with a lot of independent artists. I know a lot of different artists in the scene, from the Dandy Warhols to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the bands that fall under the psychedelic and indie ethos. I had been coming up to the high desert and Pappy and Harriet’s. Somewhere around 2004 and 2005, some of my friends had been doing these shows on the backlot of Pappy and Harriet’s. Around 2006, we had become friends with Robyn (Celia) and Linda (Krantz) who own it and said, ‘Hey, we want to do this three-day festival with all these indie bands and charge $50 for the entire weekend.’

“The Entrance Band headlined the first year, and everyone showed up and donated their time playing for free. We had a skeleton crew putting the whole thing together, and we had so much fun that we decided we should do it again the following year. It started there, and by the third year, I reached out to some of my friends who were in bigger indie bands—and it was sold out. We still continue to keep it small and did it there from 2007 to 2017. Really, the whole thing was based on the independent spirit.”

Dietrick said the festival’s growth led to its new home—although he emphasized that Desert Stars would remain smaller and independent.

“We talked about how we wanted to have an autonomous venue where we could have our own place and set it up doing our own thing. That’s what happened now,” he said. “We’re on commercial acreage in the downtown arts district of Joshua Tree. We moved it to the spring instead of in the fall, as we did for 10 years, which is awesome, because it has a rebirth feeling.

“We built this new venue site from the ground up: 400 feet of fencing; two new stages; and we have our own bar and food now. It’s really exciting to see the evolution. The new venue is technically about two times the size of our old venue, but we’re keeping it smaller, especially as we test the infrastructure. We’re going to keep the whole event this year at around 400 … just to make sure we’re doing it as correctly as we can. A lot of people in this field of micro-festivals, as they grow, they make the mistake of growing too fast. We have intentionally limited our growth and won’t ever be a big 5,000 to 10,000-plus-people festival. There’s too much headache and stress at that level.”

Still, Dietrick said he’ll miss Pappy and Harriet’s.

“I feel like I grew up on that back lot,” he said. “When we did that first one in 2007, I was 29 years old and didn’t know what I was doing. I have so many memories from there. I did an interview in OC Weekly, and it had 10 moments that defined our event. One of them was playing onstage with Robby Krieger from The Doors. These are ‘pinch yourself’ moments that you can’t believe sometimes. We’ll miss it, but after a decade, it feels really good to be independent.”

Dietrick said he’s quite excited about the new location.

“It has a little of an Austin, Texas, meets Joshua Tree, California, vibe to it, because we have this really amazing steel and wood fencing all around,” he said. “There are these nice entry gates that are made out of wood. As long as people have a wristband, they are allowed to go in and out and wander through the shops and restaurants around us. We’re right in downtown Joshua Tree.

“This location site doesn’t have a fucking Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box or Dollar General. That’s the best thing to come out of this.”

Desert Stars has always invited local bands to take part in the festival. This year, The Flusters, Gabriella Evaro and Jesika von Rabbit are on the bill.

“Living here full-time now as of three years ago, I’ve known a lot of the local musicians up here,” Dietrick said. “Jesika von Rabbit has been a big supporter, and she’s kind of a legend up here. You get to know everyone quickly living in a small town, and I adore everyone who I come into contact with. There’s a lot of interesting talent that’s out here. I try to do my very best to benefit the community I’m a part of.

The Desert Stars Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, March 29 and 30; park at 6551 Park Blvd., behind Coyote Corner, in Joshua Tree. Weekend passes are $75; one-day passes are $48.50. For tickets or more information, visit www.desertstarsfestival.com.

Published in Previews

The Eighth Annual Desert Stars Festival brought more than 30 bands to two outdoor stages and one indoor stage at Pappy and Harriet’s on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 and 26.

In other words, attendees really had some tough decisions to make regarding which bands to see.

The Desert Stars Festival is a traditional celebration of all things desert. Promoter Tommy Dietrick started the event as the Clean Air Clear Stars Festival in 2007, and changed the name in 2013. Via the festival, Dietrick did a excellent job of promoting the galactic efforts by the Mojave Desert Land Trust. MDLT had a petition table to urge POTUS to create several new land monuments. Dietrick reminded everyone to sign the petition and thanked MDLT for preserving 60,000 acres in the desert.

To my surprise, I ran into some music fans I met at a metal show in Orange County, and a couple I saw at the mega FYF Fest earlier this summer. I also saw a handful of West L.A. faux-hippies who apparently get their fashion cues from H&M, creating a look that would cause Ken Kesey to roll over in his grave.

Thankfully, music took center stage over fashion.

On Friday, Dead Meadow was a highlight. Dead Meadow perfects the new psychedelic genre with an original interpretation of bass, guitar and drums that allows you to just relax and listen as you groove under the Mojave sky.

Spindrift was on early on Friday; the band is always a crowd favorite with spaghetti-Western instrumental surf-rock. New song “Kama Sutra Tiger Attack” would be outstanding in a remake of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Alex Maas of the Black Angels is a regular at this festival—and to Pappy and Harriet’s. Maas had the honors of playing on the handmade Tee Pee stage, constructed by Tommy Dietrick himself. Alex Maas used minimal equipment and kicked ass.

I was relaxing in the billiard room waiting for the Lemonheads when I spied Cain Motter, Venice artist and owner of Domeland, walking outside Pappy’s with a hula hoop. Since flash is always a no-no in music photography, Caine showed off fire-breathing to illuminate himself. Just a normal happening in these parts of the desert.

I was really excited to see the Lemonheads headline. The band kicked things off with “Hospital” and delighted fans through a 12-plus-song set—but there was no cover of “Mrs. Robinson.” Sky Parade with Tommy Dietrick on vocals was great in the indoor stage.

On Saturday, the Cosmonauts spread gloomy acid rock to the main stage—and I loved it. The jam-filled set let one appreciate the difference that psych rock bands bring to this festival.

The Entrance Band is another regular at Pappy and Harriet’s. Guy Blakeslee and Paz Lenchantin form the core of the band, which is well-known in the L.A. music scene. Paz has been the touring bassist for the Pixies for a few years, too. Together, they stood out at Desert Stars, especially with “Back in the City” from the EP Dans La Tempete.

U.K. band Swervedriver headlined the last night of the festival. This group indeed has some dedicated followers; one fan tried to call dibs on the set list while it was being taped to the stage. Swervedriver is touring to promote a new album, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, and the band included “Autodidact,” “Lone Star” and “Setting Sun” from the new release. The new material was well-received by the hardcore fans.

If you want to experience a buffet of psych rock, Desert Stars is the place for you—and the majestic views that only the Mojave Desert can bring are more than a bonus.

Published in Reviews