“It is a place of worship, a capturing of a new spirit.
It is Love in pure form.
It is the new way, the new light.”
Eduardo Barbudo on The Joshua Tree Music Festival
Thursdays drive up to the high desert is filled with anticipation and speed along the I-10.
The first climb to the Morongo is met with little resistance from my old bus. On the trails second and final climb to the high desert, a truck ,heavy laden with cement, slows our climb and prepares us for the desert.
You move slower in the desert. You conserve your energies because you know who is in control and you want to survive. After reaching the second crest, the challenge to reach the High Desert is nearly complete.
I arrive, carefully position my home with respect for the Masters I will respect for the next four days: The Masters of the Wind, the Heat and the Sun. The encampment is assembled quickly and simple decorations of whimsy set out to adorn the shade structure we have built.
Time is slow here. In time, in a molasses slow time, we meet Becky, then X-Ray David, both new escape transplants to the High Desert from the lower cities round L.A. They smile broadly and wander the campground waiting.
As evening cool approaches, we explore and find the Astronomers, an unlikely crew of Star gazers, primed with beer, butchered vans and a trailer of equipment and telescopes that looked serious, seriously more than the price of my Saab.
They have been working to bring the universe in full color glory to an outdoor widescreen. Promises of “you are going to see the Crab Nebula like never before.” I never seen the Crab Nebula and maybe have never seen any Nebula. If something or someone was coming, they want to know.
They make me nervous because I am not sure they will warn me if they see blood thirsty aliens heading to the Earth off ramp, looking for a snack and bio break on the way to the Crab Nebula.
I wander to leave.
Outside the fence that sequesters the merry band of desert skygazers from the festival goers, the sand path wanders past little gypsy galleries. Artists moved through their spaces silently, trying to catch some last whisper from their Muse on the right choice of color or flourish swirl or sparkle that somehow captures their soul spirit on every form of canvas laid out that evening in the desert.
Gaia sits tranquil by the banks of the tiny reed lake, awaiting just like everyone, for the arrival of the spirits, still sitting in LA traffic or behind desks in offices scattered throughout the lower lands. In silence, silvered fish glide just under a mirrored surface.
There is no L.A. in their world, just gliding and silence.
We wander through the gates where the music magic will happen. The Hydration Station is primed and ready to relieve parched dancers. As it has at a hundred festivals before, the Java A Go Go is ready to deliver a boxers upper cut caffeine punch just as a festival fan wilts under the demands to wiggle or to clear a head fogged by unknown pharmaceuticals.
The Bowl stirs with antlike activity, long-haired carpenters nervously swinging hammers, laying cables, focusing flashing lights and lasers that will soon astound a thousand bouncing heads, a thousand bouncing fists raised high over the desert floor. A bassy thrill of Boom Wow blasts as they tweak the sound system. We leave ants to their finish work and soon discover that all the gates in and out of the festival have been given gate names : Floodgate, Watergate, Tailgate, Instigate and Tollgate. Ah organized festival humor. Past the gate, we head to an area loosely cordoned off with orange plastic roll fence. A man approaches, waving us back as we have found the only grounds where the festival goers will be forbidden to tread.
As the young but gray haired man approaches he tells us that people, people actually live here in this conglomeration of tumbled buildings, left over brainstorms from fairs past.
As it was said, this is a place where things are brought whose sole purpose is to deteriorate under the desert sun and to be enjoyed as they do so, slowly but unforgiving under the desert sun. We visit exchange pleasantries, learn something of the past of Matt and move on. Later he is told, when comes to our camp, that it is likely he is being featured on America’s Most Wanted as it this a a corner of the planet they would never look. He laughed and moved on.
Friday morning begins as lavender mountains melt to gold. The last of the darks cool breezes return to hiding and the first tiny beadlets of sweat begin to appear. Coffee done, press washed, we wait in the narrowing shade for the tribe to show. All day, passerbys rumor of 3000 then 3500 people on setting their sights on this desert village. It will be beyond tight.
And then Charly walks by with pretty rocks and acid and I am struck with the simplicity of her youth and skin and Bowersox dreads. She pulls out a small black box and like a travelling nomad, carefully describes each colored stone, patient with an old man who has no intention to buy her other wares. Although I blush with feigned embarrassment in the heat of the mid morning sun, Diana tells her of her beauty and she accepts it as a child innocent. Her tiny breasts are round and unhampered and she acknowledge in graceful youth the approval of the elder women from a different age. She nods approvingly never intended to strap her body with bonds and corded girds. In a flash, she is gone, filled with free market, refreshed by a quick moment to cool with us in the shade.
Two butterflies flit dance unaware of the coming flame of the Sun. Tents stir and campers stand to escape the heat only to see the sun overhead already in control of the day.
Pop of a drum in the distance and rainbow flag flap in a narrow breeze.
As the day and heat expands, the tribe grows. Greetings are brief and all scramble to erect their homes, hoarding was shade the desert offers. In this distance, the music begins and the tribe and the other tribes begin to walk slowly towards the bowl. It is a special time when all who pass greet and share and and exchange gifts of smoke and advise of what is to come.
And with the slow parade to the bowl, the festival begins, dust rises, fragrant scents fill the desert area. The scene is primal, if you can see past the RV’s and electronic. The wind as it did in ancient times, moves the flags and carries the sounds of of the festival.
The Festival of Joshua Tree has begun and we all wait to dance in magic dust.
Sometime the next morning, the sun and the wind and the desert reminds us of where we are and who holds court. The tribe slowly gathers, eyes bleary to the smell of bacon and cold beer. They are ready to repeat what they have prepared for, they prepare for the night and the cool and the Boom Wow of the desert Festival