Desert Daze celebrated its 10th birthday this year on the waterfront of Lake Perris, in Riverside County. After a reduced-capacity, COVID-conscious production with only one stage in 2021, the Southern California psychedelic music and art festival returned bigger than ever this year, with four stages and more than 90 musical acts.
Situated next to a white sandy beach with scattered art installations, the landscape evoked a small-scale version of Burning Man’s playa — with a bonus: the lake. Festivalgoers could swim and cool down in the desert heat while listening to music from nearby stages, surrounded by barren mountains of granite.
The three-day festival was a spectacle of art, fashion, and live music, with standout performances from Kikagaku Moyo, Tame Impala, Chicano Batman, Mildlife, Frankie and the Witch Fingers, The Marías, Levitation Room, L’Eclair, and Cymande, to name just a few. The first evening on the main lakeside stage, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard frontman Stu MacKenzie stalled the set to go swimming — by diving into the audience and directing the audience to bring him to the lake for a dip.
Outside of the festival grounds, campers could go to a late-night stage with live music, deejays, and dancing as late as 3 a.m., though groups who did not wish to thrive until the wee hours had ample space and silence to set up at campsites far away from the noise, many of which were directly on the lake.
Babe Rainbow kicked off their U.S. tour on the first night of Desert Daze with a spectacular performance, carrying the audience on a psychedelic blues, club, and disco dance party journey. Their hometown, Byron Bay, Australia, boasts a surf, music, and agricultural culture akin to Santa Barbara. We sat down with them to learn more about their Santa Barbara connection, their gardens at home, and what’s coming next for the group.
Guitarist Jack Crowther actually spent a portion of his academic (and surf) career in Isla Vista, attending UCSB. “It was an adventure…. I came back [to Australia] and didn’t even finish my degree, just … started playing in a band with Elliot and Angus, which later came to be the Babe Rainbow.”
The Babe Rainbow drops a new album on October 14, called The Organic Band. It’s a title essentially coined by bassist Elliot O’Reilly, which describes the band’s general vibe: Spontaneous, fluid, energetic, yet grounded, surrounded, and inspired by nature.
Emboldened by the environment, festivalgoers dressed freely in the most extreme iterations of the latest trends: Y2K, cybercore, gorpcore, corsets, western, statement prints, ’60s prints, belt bags, crochet and monochromatic linen fits, and timeless Grateful Dead tie-dye shirts weaved through the crowds.
With its proximity to L.A., the world’s epicenter of music, Desert Daze was also a huge magnet for industry pros, music critics, record labels, and veteran artists alike. It’s where the industry comes to express, predict, and reflect upon music in culture and art. John Martin, CEO of Creem (the iconic rock ’n’ roll magazine that’s resurrected after 33 years) reflected, “Desert Daze was what a festival should be — not too big and overwhelmingly corporate, not too small, ramshackle, and without the sense of magic either.”
“Rock ’n’ roll never died or went away; it just didn’t have an advocate. Festivals like Desert Daze prove it: There are artists creating amazing music and a hungry audience willing to support it,” continued Martin.
Though many were likely frustrated with the lack of cell service on the festival grounds, the detachment from social media added to the authenticity of the entire experience, allowing everyone to be more present in the music, community, and genuine cultural incubation happening on that magical lakeshore.
For more information and to sign up for updates on next year’s festival, visit desertdaze.org.