From the Empire Polo Fields in Indio to the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, the desert dripped with music last weekend. Desert Daze, thrown by Phil Pirrone and the Moon Block crew, took over the sacred grounds of the Institute of Mentalphysics for three days of rock n’ roll in the desert dust. The moon illuminated the night sky while a galaxy of stars accented her beauty, providing light above six thousand music lovers. Whether grooving to the psychedelic power of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, playing duck hunt in the Cave of Far Gone Dreams or kicking your feet up in a mystical nook around the fest, Desert Daze made it easy to let go of reality and give in to the extraterrestrial spirit of the atmosphere.
To give a brief history of the venue, Edwin John Dingle founded the Institute of Mentalphysics back in 1941 after mastering advanced spiritual practices from a Tibetan mystic. He connected to otherworldly wisdom through extensive travelling, and began teaching people about the ways of spirituality. Mentalphysics, according to Dingle, is a method of self-realization that teaches the oneness of life embodied in every substance, energy and thought, ultimately helping connect to the ancient wisdom of the universe. The institute is positioned over three underground rivers to bring revitalizing energy to the venue and those who practice spirituality there.
That said, spending 72 hours in Joshua Tree can make you feel like you're on mars. Perhaps it’s the desert dust that embeds itself within your respiratory system. Or maybe it’s wandering among the prehistoric, contorted Joshuas that trigger the Martian mentality. What ever it is, spending three days at the Institute of Mentalphysics listening to psychedelic rock seemed to bring out the freak in festivalgoers. By the time Primus played on Saturday night, fans were walking around shirtless with matching tighty-whities around their heads. Less than 10 minutes later I watched another group of friends pass around a dropper full of liquid. After they started flailing around like noodles and falling to their knees in raging fits of laughter while screaming “LUCY, I’M HOME!” did it become clear what was in the dropper. By mid-set, however, their group grew to at least 10 people—all of whom were on the same level of flail.
Another element that played into the magic of Desert Daze was the musical shock factor. The weekend was doused with bands that delivered surprisingly great sets. But the award for best-unanticipated show goes to Thee Oh Sees. The energetic San Francisco rock outfit poured their souls out. The turn out at the beginning of the show was small, but it grew substantially as their set went on. At least five different times I heard some variation of “Holy shit, these guys fucking rock” and “I wasn’t expecting this.”
Yonatan Gat was another performance that came rocking out of left field. It was weird, and at times hard to listen to, but as an entire package, his strange, raw sound made it fascinating. Gat’s fluctuating speeds on guitar takes listeners on a ride through moments of psychedelia to heavy head-banging riffs. He jammed (hard) on his guitar in front of a green stage light, which projected a gigantic shadow at least 12 times the size of him on the side of the tent. Whether this was intentional or not, watching Gat’s massive shadow move with his guitar was by far the coolest stage visual of the whole weekend. His drummer’s aggressive, borderline double-bass-pedal-style gave the set intense energy, making it impossible not to move.
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On Sunday Television and Brian Jonestown Massacre took the cake for the best shows of the night. But perhaps the most moving part of the evening happened at midnight in the depths of the campground. In what felt like the middle of nowhere, a group of 30 people gathered in a large tent known as the Mystic Bazaar for a cacao ceremony. Tea-lights illuminated the room and decorative carpets covered the ground. A medicine man named Rodrigo sat at the top of the circle with a crock pot of cacao in the center of the circle. After blessing everyone with sage upon their arrival, he poured the cacao in cups and passed it around to everyone in the room.
Cacao ceremonies were practiced by the Mayans to heal the heart, Rodrigo explained. The medicinal properties of the cacao plant helps open the heart chakra to shed feelings of pain and unease, and replace them with self-love and acceptance. After everyone in the room received their cacao we were instructed to drink it and lay on our backs with our heads facing the middle of the circle. Rodrigo then led everyone through a sound healing meditation. The low sound of his quartz singing bowl filled the tent and felt as if it was vibrating from the Earth. He led us through a breathing exercise that made the tent feel as if it was operating under one set of lungs.
Time and space were eliminated, as I stared face to face with my soul—and I wasn’t even on drugs. The Institute of Mentalphysics is loaded with ethereal energy. So meditating with a medicine man under the super moon was almost painfully intense. But it was the perfect finish to a weekend of music, dust and extraterrestrial vibes.