Desert Tripping With My Parents, Classic Rock And A Harvest Moon REVIEW: Desert Trip ft. Roger Waters, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young & Bob Dylan October 14-16, 2016
It has been almost two weeks since the final notes of Desert Trip were played and the traditional dusty Sunday night desert winds ushered us out of the polo fields, but my parents are still thanking me for inviting them to the festival. People have returned to work, the grounds have begun to heal, but the feeling that we were all a part of something truly special lingers.
I wish I could take credit for the idea of inviting my parents to the show, but that goes to my cousin Steph. Her dad is as big of a Beatles fan as they come, so to her, inviting him seemed like a no brainer. And when he jumped at the opportunity, I figured I too should reach out to the fam. Though I couldn’t imagine my parents setting foot in any other festival like Bonaroo or Coachella, this was the music of their generation. And as my father continued to wean himself off of full time work and into retirement, this seemed like the perfect excuse for a west coast vacation. I would be lying if I said I didn’t expect at least a little resistance to the idea, but there was none. They were on board immediately.
My parents lifelong Pittsburghers. I’ve lived in LA long enough for them to have spent significant time in southern California, but there is a big difference between the occasional concert at the Hollywood bowl, or observing a drum circle in Venice while you walk the beach and actually attending one of the largest festivals ever held in the state.
As for me, I spent my high school days in the 90s going to any and every music festival that traveled through western PA. H.O.R.D.E, Warped, Lollapalooza, even Lilith Fair, if it came to the Burgh, I got a ticket. Then when I moved out to LA in 2000, I arrived just in time to experience Coachella in its infancy. I watched as it morphed and grew into the behemoth it is today, and enjoyed the other festivals that were born out of the festival movement around California. My parents on the other hand, had never set foot on festival grounds. They had thought about going to Woodstock, but a family trip to Europe made that an impossibility. And after Woodstock, no festival seemed interesting enough for them to attend.
Enter Desert Trip.
Of the six acts playing, they had seen half (if you count the Rolling Stones halftime show at Super Bowl XL. Go Steelers), but these were all bucket lists acts for them. And with the average age of performers resting at 72 years old, there was even more of a now or never feeling about attending this festival.
It shouldn’t have been such a surprise that they were so keen to come. In the past few years, ever since I opted to buy my mom tickets to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings instead of flowers for mother’s day, my parents have requested concert tickets over objects as gifts. Not any concert, but ones like Sharon Jones where a pair of baby boomers would fit in, while still feeling like they were in the know in the current music scene. So on top of daily updates on concerts and events in LA, my inbox is now full of emails from the Burgh as well. I scour the concert listings and give them a heads up of any must sees passing through town.
While their annual concert attendance has been on the rise these past few years, Desert Trip was a big step and I was definitely nervous. Festivals can exhaust the most experienced of attendees, so how would the newbies fair in the hot desert sun. Fortunately the sheer historic magnitude of the line up is not the only thing that set Desert Trip apart from its predecessors. The 6pm music start time allowed for us to miss most of the heat of the day, and the extra money brought in from the grand stand, pit, and floor seats, meant that everything, from the food stands to the porta-potties, were more high end. Plus, because the average age of the audience was 50 years old, there was no need for the annoying pens they call beer gardens at Coachella.
We thought for a moment about trying to get grandstand or floor seats, but we opted to splurge on the culinary package add-on instead and stick with general admission. The culinary experience: yet another part of the next level festival experience that was Desert Trip. I didn’t do the math to see if the food and alcohol we imbibed each days’ value equaled that of the ticket price, but that didn’t matter. Having an all you can eat and drink food court set inside the shaded rose garden was an amazing way to start each day. Starting at 2pm and running until show time, you could move from stand to stand, sampling food from some of southern California (and Brooklyn’s) finest restaurateurs. The Rose Café fried chicken sandwich with Mexican corn salad, and Roberto’s wood fired Bee Sting pizza were two fan favorites with our group. The Old Cuban from Woodley Proper was the drink of choice for my dad, while I enjoyed sampling the sparkling Rose.
With our bellies sufficiently stuffed by 6pm, we grabbed one last refill on our beverages, before heading off to grab seats for the reason why we were all there. We posted up towards the back of the fields, in line with one of the big screens where we had plenty of room to spread out our blankets, set up our chairs and still find space for a little dancing. That corner would become our spot for the weekend, and anyone who wanted to find us, knew where we would be.
It would be impossible for me to give a full review of all of the music we saw throughout the weekend. Beyond the fact that it would take page upon page to go into the detail each act deserves, this weekend was not about the specific details, or nitpicking about set lists, it was about the overall experience. It was about the moments that each act gave us that, as the years go by, and certain memories fade, will stand out as the ones that meant the most.
The weekend’s music could not have started in a more momentous way. With Bob Dylan taking the stage only a day after winning the literary world’s highest honor, we all wondered if he would address what it felt like to be a Nobel Laureate. The crowd was on pins and needles waiting for a statement, and the excitement for his win was palpable. Though a speech never came, and he barely even revealed his face to the crowd, there was an unmistakable lightness to his performance, coupled with a cockiness that made us all realize that he knew what a big deal it was.
In the end, Dylan didn’t need to address the award, the other artists would do it for him. Both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards took time out of the Rolling Stones set to pay homage to Rock n Roll’s “very own Walt Whitman,” and Paul McCartney too gave his congratulations on night two. After all, this wasn’t just a win for Bob Dylan. His winning a Nobel Prize elevated all of their art. Now lyrics were officially recognized as literature. They were all poets in their own right.
What Bob Dylan lacked in crowd interaction, The Rolling Stones more than made up for. Despite dubbing this weekend, “The Catch them before they Croak” festival, Mick Jagger and crew showed no signs of slowing down anytime soon. As my mother said as Mick strutted on the catwalk, he does not move like a man in his 70’s. Hell I know 30somethings that will kill for that kind of energy. And though the three hour set was not long enough for us to hear every classic Stones hit we wanted to hear, (I would have killed for some Wild Horses) my friend Lyndsey said it best as the band played the final notes of Satisfaction, “I don’t know Mick, I’m feeling pretty satisfied.” And we were…at least for the night. After all, we still had two days to go.
Never stop, never stop, never stop
Posted by Desert Trip Indio on Saturday, October 8, 2016
Going into the festival, both of my parents said Saturday’s line up was the one they were most excited about. They had seen Neil Young years ago at the now bulldozed Civic Arena in Pittsburgh and said it was one of the best shows they’d ever seen. As for Paul McCartney, they’d never seen him, or any of the Beatles for that matter, so that was the main event for them for sure. And the anticipation only mounted for Saturday when we realized we would be listening to both acts under a full Moon.
The serendipity of the moon did not go unnoticed to Neil Young, who waited until it was high enough in the sky to elevate their performance of ‘Harvest Moon’ to the next level. Flanked by his latest backing band Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Young put together a set that was a perfect blend of old and new. At one point he held up a huge piece of paper that listed every song in his prolific catalogue, wondering outloud what song he should pay next. Though, like the other artists, he was enjoying every minute of his time on the stage, he couldn’t help but use a few minutes of his time to speak out about the continuing battles for farming rights in California. Tossing seeds at the crowd while performing Seed Justice, he called attention to the cause that is near to his heart, while reminding the crowd that he is just as much a political activist now as he was in the 60’s.
There’s a full moon risin’
Let’s go dancin’ in the light
Posted by Desert Trip Indio on Saturday, October 15, 2016
Posted by Desert Trip Indio on Saturday, October 15, 2016
Despite deftly moving between old and new material and hitting highlights from as many of his albums as possible, like the Stones, he left the crowd wanting more. So as all 80,000 fans took their feet to belt out ‘Keep on Rockin in the Free World,’ it felt like a plea for him to keep the night’s performance going.
Paul McCartney could not have asked for a better opener than Neil Young, and he knew it. He took the momentum created by Young and turned it up a notch. For someone who was a member of arguably the biggest rock band in history, it was truly unbelievable how humble and personable he was on stage. Watching my parents experience their first live McCartney performance was more than I could have ever asked for. After all, the Beatles will always be the Beatles, and seeing Paul live was even more than they could have imagined. From the deconstructed arrangement of Blackbird to the fireworks and flames backing Live and Let Die, McCartney balanced the spectacle of the big moments with equally powerful quiet ones.
“Hey Jude” and “Let it Be” were definitely highlights. Arms wrapped around each other, the entire crowd belted out every word of both. And the most surprising moment of the weekend came when Rhianna joined him for ‘Four, Five Seconds,’ The fact that an artist as massive as Rhianna would show up for one song, shows that when Sir Paul calls, you answer. Neil Young also joined him on stage for a three song set , including “Give Peace a Chance”. As the clock inched towards 12:30am and McCartney played ‘The End,’ it was clear that no one in the desert was ready for the night to really end. It felt as they could have played another hour if it wasn’t for the rules of the festival.
You know we feel alright
Posted by Desert Trip Indio on Sunday, October 16, 2016
By Sunday morning, my parents had started to feel the full effect of festival fatigue. I can’t remember the last time either of them slept past 9am, but after two long nights in the desert, day three almost always feels like an impossibility. Fortunately after an afternoon of watching football and napping, we were all ready to rally.
Sunday started with The Who, the only act that I had seen with my parents before this weekend. They were playing the Hollywood Bowl during my parents’ first visit to LA in 2001, a concert that almost didn’t happen due to the sudden passing of John Entwhistle in Las Vegas a few days prior. Still reeling from his death, a death that Townsend referenced this weekend as a death by Rock n Roll, that Hollywood bowl show was devoid of any banter or bass solos. And because of that, it was good to see them with my parents again. Especially since even known curmudgeon Pete Townsend was in such good spirits, cracking jokes with former enemy Roger Daltry and soaking in all of the desert love.
Just as its hard to believe Mick Jagger is in his seventies when he struts across the stage, its amazing that Townsend can windmill his arm without dislocating his shoulder. As if they knew that the crowd may be suffering from fatigue, they brought the high octane rock from the beginning, leading with ‘I cant explain,’ ‘the Seeker,’ and ‘Who Are you.’ After that opening, everyone was on their feet and any exhaustion was a distant memory.
Ain’t this a smile
Posted by Desert Trip Indio on Sunday, October 16, 2016
While the Who was one of the bands my parents were most excited to see, of all the acts, Roger Waters was the one they knew the least. As my mom put it, she wasn’t sure she was ever “far out” enough to really get Pink Floyd. They may have not been as familiar with the music, but they could not deny the amazing showmanship that Waters puts into his show. The sound design, the visuals, the lights, it was definitely a cut above the other performers. And Waters almost has to owe a bit of thanks to Trump for really elevating Pig to the next level as his candidacy plays so neatly into Waters message. His attack of Trump was so harsh, it made me wonder if there were any Trump supporters making early exits on that Sunday night.
Like so many other festival weekends at the polo fields, the temperature dropped and the winds picked up on Sunday night, which only added to his performance. While the winds meant the Pig had to remain tied down, unable to fly free in the desert, they also pushed the fog across the crowd revealing a giant rainbow prism that spanned the entire field during the Wall.
Though Waters has a reputation of taking things too political, especially when it comes to Isreali, Palestinian relations, he kept all non Trump related politics to a minimum, allowing the weekend to end on the same positive vibe that it began. As the final notes of ‘Comfortably Numb’ played, as exhausted as we all were, we weren’t quite ready for the weekend to end.
Leave them kids alone
Posted by Desert Trip Indio on Monday, October 10, 2016
Reflecting back on the entire weekend, I realized that part of what made it truly special was that it wasn’t just the audience who was excited to be there. The artists too realized they had come together to form something bigger than any of them. On stage, their energies shifted between humbled to be there, to giddy, to downright stoked throughout their sets and they all, even Dylan, seemed to be having fun. Gone was the angst required to be a legitimate Rock n Roll star. They had all built bodies of work that spoke for themselves. There was nothing to prove. They had earned their spots at the table and now they could enjoy the fruits of 50plus years of labor.
In a year full of so much negativity, a three day Desert Trip was just what the doctor ordered. Although the politics of 2016 may seem far removed from the 1960’s that saw the emergence of all of the acts on the stage, we have not come as far as we would like to believe. These artists were all part of a revolution that challenged the world around them, and pushed their fans to make the world a better place. If this weekend showed anything, it’s that their words are as relevant today as they ever were. And whether it was Neil Young throwing seeds into the crowd to raise awareness for agriculture issues or Roger Waters using Trump as the poster boy for his song Pig, everyone there still has something to say, and we should continue to listen.
I’m not sure my parents fully knew what they were committing to when they signed up for this adventure six months ago, but I am sure that whatever expectations they did have, Desert Trip far exceeded them. For three days, they were able to catch a glimpse of why festivals have become such a huge part of my life, and I got to share with them a concert colored by the soundtrack of their youth. By the end of night one, people were already hypothesizing of who would be on the bill next year, but I’m not ready to look that far ahead. In fact, I wouldn’t even be upset if there was no next year because, as my wise friend Lyndz said on night one, “I don’t know Mick, I’m feeling pretty satisfied.”