Someday when we look back on the era that birthed the endless explosion of festivals, we doubt many of them will stand the test of time in our carefully calculated culture of cool. These days, we hardly bat an eye at fests that carry dozens of the same acts, a format that vies for the same audience repeating the same cookie-cutter version of what used to be a sacred rite of passage. Things were much different for Tommy Dietrick back in 2007 when he threw the first Desert Stars began with the mission of becoming the first boutique DIY Festival catering to psychedelic rock and shoegaze. A decade later, he’s proud to say not too much has changed.
“When we started there were very few niche micro events happening and we built it organically and it’s still that way,” he says days before the fest’s 10th anniversary outing at Pappy and Harriet’s featuring performances by The Ravonettes, Psychic TV and dozens more. “It still feels like a family event, that community and intimacy that either goes away as you get bigger or gets lost if you’re not careful with it.”
Part of that intimacy has always revolved around the level of care and curation that goes into the lineup of every Desert Stars, the a group of acts that normally play for much bigger audiences that somehow find themselves cozied up under the Desert sky with about 700 of their closest friends and diehard fans.
“There’s no light pollution or sound pollution you’re immersed in this alternate world. I don’t know anywhere else you can have that experience... When you’re outside and your feet are in the desert sand and you’re looking up at the brightest stars you’ve ever seen it puts you in a different place and Pappy and Harriets’ creates that magic.”
In honor of the festival’s 10th year, Dietrick racked his memory to jot down some of the live music moments that have helped Desert Stars continue to shine over the years.
10. Sebadoh (2016)
Tommy Dietrick: The band flew in to Meet Lou Barlow who was already slated to perform with Dinosaur Jr the same night at our event. Lou was having tuning issues with his guitar and for a moment had even seemed to have forgotten his own songs! The fans all waited patiently and you could feel everyone really wanting the band to pull through a shaky start. Just as it seemed they were about to sink into chaos everything clicked into place and the set shifted into a soaring performance with the sun setting.. It was one of many magic moments that have come from our event. Later that night I had beers with the band and was reminded how many times I had grown up listening to so many of the bands that I later booked at Desert Stars. It's an incredible feeling.
9. Ringo Deathstarr (2014)
I may be a little biased because I actually worked on 2 albums with this incredible 3 piece band from Austin, Texas. As one of the very few bands to truly carry forward the spirit of My Bloody Valentine's signature wall of sound I am always amazed by their live shows. 2014 was such a great year all around and this performance was pure magic. Elliot prancing about the stage throwing the guitar through his legs while Alex, the band's stunning female bassist, lays down her melodic bass lines to Daniels powerhouse drumming. Combine that with a huge guitar wall of sound and etherial vocals echoing throughout the desert landscape...
8. Strawberry Alarm Clock (2016)
Their top 10 single from 1967 "Incense and Peppermints" may be what most people remember from this iconic american psych band but make no mistake - every paisley influenced band from Echo Park to San Francisco could learn a thing or two from this band's live show today in 2017! I've never seen so many jaws drop from a performance at our festival. Though all the members may be in their 70s, their entire set was focussed, polished and delivered the way only bands from this era could ever do. Their harmonies were pitch perfect. In hindsight, these guys could have probably headlined last year's Friday night because the outside stage area was jam packed during this very special set. It's rare to see a band that has existed for 50 years put on a show this good! Wow. Really it was mind blowing.
7. The Entrance Band (2007)
The energy and talent that effortlessly pours from Guy Blakeslee and Paz Lenchantin (now bassist for The Pixies!) is palpable. I've seen each member solo and been completely blown away. Entrance was our headliner on year 1 back in 2007. Explosive and energetic they really know how to perform. They know how to excite an audience and carry the crowd. I remember that 1st year vividly and I think it's fitting that they are returning again on our 10th anniversary this year! Don't miss them on our Friday night opening night on September 22nd!
6. David J of Bauhaus/ Love & Rockets (2013)
As a big fan of David's musical projects, I was ecstatic when I rang him up to see if he'd consider coming out to play the festival in 2013 and that he said yes. David is a true artist who continues to evolve. He writes books, plays, seeks out new ways to express his songwriting and he put on an epic set at our event in 2013. That year almost did not happen when a flash flood soaked our stages barely an hour before doors opened. Luckily for us the rain stopped and the desert soaked up the water in a few short hours. I'll never forget that one!
5. Mark Gardener of Ride (2011)
Long before the reform of iconic shoegaze band RIDE, Mark Gardener came out to perform a very special set for us. We surprised folks when in the middle of his set he asked my band Sky Parade to join him on stage and play some classic Ride songs like "Leave Them All Behind", "Twisterella" and of course the anthemic shoegazer anthem "Vapour Trail". We even had Joel Gion the famous tambourine man of Brian Jonestown Massacre on stage to join in! The performance went over so well that Mark asked us to tour the 20 year anniversary of Ride's classic "Going Blank Again" in 2012 as his backing band.
4. The Dandy Warhols (2014)
Truly there may never have been a lasting Desert Stars Festival without the support of our longtime friends The Dandy's. As a smaller scale event, the bands basically have to want to play. On their 2nd performance for us in 2014, I was reminded again just why this band has thrived for more than 2 decades. There is something about their sound in particular out in the desert that works so incredibly well. I felt the same when I saw Beach House at Pappy's last year. The band is always hypnotic and this set was particularly mesmerizing. Their sound is so complimentary to the desert atmosphere outside at Pappy & Harriet's.
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3. Alex Maas of The Black Angels - solo (2014)
Alex has been a longtime friend and supporter of Desert Stars. I've seen The Black Angels countless times but there is something really special about his solo performances. He has performed with us both with his full band as well as two separate solo performances. My favorite solo set of his was at our event in 2014 on the intimate indoor stage at Pappy's. He came on at midnight to a packed house with folks gathering at all the doors and windows to hear his unique voice. You could hear a pin drop. I actually heard tears from the crowd... He told me once that show was one the best he'd ever performed.
2. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (2008)
During my brief tenure as bassist for The BJM, I had the chance to share the road with BRMC playing throughout the U.K. on one of the band's biggest headlining tours. I was quickly grabbed by the intensity of Rob and Pete and Rob's father Michael Been. On a whim I reached out to them and asked them if they'd come perform at the festival. I knew our little festival could never afford them but I thought well it couldn't hurt to ask right? They said yes and opted to forgo a big production with lights and smoke and instead performed a stellar stripped down acoustic show for us just before the Black Angels performed on the same stage that year. Anyone who recalls that year knows just how special their set was. It was another of these times that I just couldn't believe it actually happened.
1. Robbie Krieger of The Doors (2009)
My father was a huge fan of The Doors and I grew up listening to them and drinking coffee way to young while we blasted their songs from a little 1980s Toyota Tercel on the streets of San Jose. I still pinch myself that for a brief moment in time the universe opened up and I found myself playing on stage with this iconic figure. We had met working on a recording project together in Los Angeles and much to my welcome surprise he asked me to join the band. We called the band TREEHOUSE because Robby has a giant geodesic dome at his house. That night at the festival we performed both classic Doors songs and a handful of songs that we had all worked on together. I reached out to Robby a few days ago and he told me it was a magical show and a night that he still recalls fondly. I continue to be astonished by how down to Earth and gracious he is. There have been recent talks of performing again... Who knows? Maybe we'll do it again!
Desert Stars featuring The Raveonettes, Psychic TV, Tess Parker, Mild High Club and many more happens at Pappy and Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown. (760) 365-5956, www.desertstarsfestvial.com, Sep. 22, 23, and 24. $22.75-$99. All ages.