Joshua Tree Music Festival 2010
By Jane E. Herrold
HIPFISH, June 2010
Finally it’s June and I’m as giddy as a bride! April (then May) showers bring hefty cabin fever to our rainy Northwest, while June, thankfully, heralds summer festival season. Festivals celebrating anything from garlic to Steampunk, run the gambit of imaginable to unimaginable. Craving some dry heat and creative input, I chose the mid-May Joshua Tree Music Festival, an intriguing California mystical hip desert oasis, to warm up my toes and expand my horizons. Part art gallery, part international music fiesta, part desert camping experience, part sun and dance therapy workshop; this gathering was inspired and inspiring. I’m excited to share a few “Picks of Show” and encourage you to get out amongst ‘em and stretch your own boundaries at this summer’s festivals.
As the 8th Annual Joshua Tree Music Festival set in motion, resembling a miniature village going up around itself, festival-goers gathered, unraveled and assembled innovative temporary environments. A desert New Moon promised to provide an unfettered celestial backdrop for various art instillations, impressive laser beam shows, and two music stages complete with rugged dance floors. The organizers mixed up and introduced fresh new acts throughout the three-day “Happening,” an evolving showcase for bicycle rim walls, bottle cap mosaic shrines, live painters, and day-glow spray-painted Dead Sea fish-on-sticks.
As day morphed into night, indie Americana music transformed into exciting electronic experimentation that kept the festival grounds palpitating in a collective trance. I was wondering how I was going to possibly take it all in. “You need to employ the disco nap,” advised a heavily tattooed man wearing a cut-up Tickle-Me-Elmo doll as jock strap. The costume show apparently also began at dusk, and me without a tutu.
The music launched with Amy LaVere, a personable petite brunette with a big stand-up bass. This songbird’s style of bluesy, jazzy ballads, her cool stage presence, and entertaining stories don’t fit into a tidy category, as is the case with most acts at Joshua Tree. I bought her engaging CD, “Anchors & Anvils,” to accompany my northward drive through the spring California scenery. The Heavy Guilt, young guys from San Diego, caught my attention. A current trend of mixing older acoustic with newer electronics presents itself in surprising teamwork; complex, pleasant and intriguing. Organs, computers, vintage sound boards galore, along with an acoustic stand-up bass were orchestrated with voice and electric guitar. I was loving California all over again.
The band, D Numbers from New Mexico, was billed as “Psychedelic live improvisational dancetronic rock.” That explains it! The cat behind the massive drum set-up kept waving his hand over what I think was a theremin. The electric guitar player, again with various soundboards and electronic doodads, constantly altered and adjusted. I think spotted an iBook or two on-stage. Orgone, old school funk with their hot female singer and LA delivery, had everyone dancing all afternoon and into an endless “after hours” party. After hours. Ya, right... no such thing at Joshua Tree Music Festival! Giant gyration from the Mexican Institute of Sound from Mexico City, urged the audience, “Come on! Come on!” Italian born Gaudi, electro-dance favorite, pounded the crack of dawn. I definitely required that disco nap, along with a couple of Advil, to keep up, even as an observer.
Green-haired Bulgarian born rocker, Geri-X, commanded the stage with an unusual black guitar with flayed-out strings. “I never want to see you again!” the petite pixie belted with a sweet, haunting intensity. In contrast, a gentler “A Kiss on Both Eyelids” charmed the listeners into submission. Wally Ingram, David Lindley’s percussionist extraordinaire, teamed with songwriter Jerry Joseph (Jackmormons) for the Joshua Tree performance.
Long, lanky dancin’ powerhouse, Wunmi, sported a braided Mohawk hairdo, metal bra, and red cargo jeans, hails from London via Nigerian parents. This amazing singer and mesmerizing performer had the crowd throbbing toward the stage, as she contorted deep-knee bends for which I would have required a rope-tow for recovery. Floating the international vein, Midnight, reggae band from St. Croix, filled the hot desert afternoon with delicious island harmonies. San Francisco based, LoCura, a Flamenco influenced urban rockin’ ensemble rounded out the international mix with another impressive female lead vocalist.
Bonerama celebrate the New Orleans style with their own twist, and as the program promised, were “Kickin’ brass and takin’ names.” Three trombones, clear vocals, and funky groove carried the festival away, along with family band Evaro, songwriter Eric McFadden, and the intriguing Delhi 2 Dublin. The Staxx Brothers, whose lead guy reminded me of Jack Black wearing a super hero cape, surprised the crowd with a fun theatrical presentation of rock and soul. A duo of stunning plus-sized gogo girls, along with an intermittent, prancing rap artist, provided full-on harmonies and entertaining back-up.
Check out what’s outside the box, friends. ‘Tis the season. Might I recommend our own fairly local Pickathon, held at Pendarvas Farm the first weekend of August? You never know what you might experience. Don’t forget your tutu and that disco nap.
Listen to Cafe Vaquera on Tuesday nights from 9-11PM on www.coastradio.org.