“We’re coming from a similar place as a grandma who makes you pasta sauce and wants you to eat it and really enjoy it,” laughs Phil Pirrone, the founder of Desert Daze music festival. “We’re like the festival equivalent to an Italian or Jewish grandmother… The music festival is the meal and we just want you be full and feel good.”
Held at the Institute of Mental Physics in Joshua Tree, Desert Daze has been rocking various parts of the high desert for almost five years—October 14th-16th will solidify it’s half-decade status. But within that small window of time, the tiny, DIY vibe festival has experienced substantial growth—and we’re not talking about size. Desert Daze has become the festival sweetheart of music lovers and critics alike because it provides an “anti-mega fest” refuge. “It’s the festival for people who really love music,” says Pirrone. “You know, the people who’ve made live music their philosophy—Desert Daze is for those kinds of people.”
Although Pirrone and the Desert Daze posse—who’re better known as Moon Block—have always maintained that ethos, their first events weren’t exactly polished. It started in Chino, back in 2008, at a shopping center where Pirrone noticed a seemingly untouched stage in the middle of a vacant courtyard. Ideas began soaring through Pirrone’s head as to how he and his band, and his friends’ bands could take advantage of this open space. He hunted down the management company of the shopping center to inquire about the stage and discovered that its purpose was to periodically host jazz guitarists. Taking what felt like a shot in the dark, Pirrone asked the management company if they’d ever allow bands to play all day on the courtyard stage. Without apprehension, he recalls, the shopping center manager said he thought it’d be great.
Pirrone’s voice is still riddled in disbelief as he explains how easy it was to get the management to agree to a mini-music-festival in the shopping center. “That was something that, like, never happens. People don’t just agree to have bands and a bunch of kids around. But that mini-festival led us to Desert Daze,” says Pirrone.
But it wasn’t until 2011 that Pirrone started his company, Moon Block, and started hosting the infamous Moon Block Party, in which Pirrone recognizes as the first incarnation of Desert Daze. Although these first embodiments of the festival weren’t more than a bunch of bands playing out side, as Pirrone recalls, they created a specific vibe that’s become the foundation of Desert Daze. Everyone from Pirrone’s wife Julie—who drums for rock duo, Deap Valley—to the site manager, to the head of food and beverage are family or friends that he’s had for most of his life. Building a music festival with the people who mean the most, Pirrone explains, gives festivalgoers the ability to have the best experience possible because they can feel the love and passion that's poured into the event.
“It’s like a family restaurant almost,” says Pirrone, referring to the Moon Block crew who throws Desert Daze. “I mean, the dynamic is a little bit different than your normal work zone, but in the sense that we’ve been doing things completely by our bootstraps and totally slapped together however we can make things happen, it really forges a bond between people. It’s 'go time' right now and we’re moving at a very high pace, but we’re excited to make it all happen.”
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Boasting a line up with rock n’ roll heavy hitters Primus and ‘70s rock outfit Television—one of the most influential bands to emerge from New York City’s CBGB scene—OC is also represented on the bill. Kiev, based out of Orange, are one of Orange County’s most underrated bands, and according to Pirrone, it’s only a matter of time before people pickup what they’ve been throwing down. “They’re a band that’s already the size of the universe. They have no boundaries, man. They don’t really make bands like that anymore.”
This year’s Desert Daze has the potential to be the music festival of the year. I mean, nothing beats enjoying stellar jams in the desert under a night sky spangled with stars. “The Institute of Mental Physics is beautiful and totally otherworldly,” says Pirrone. “We are very lucky to have our event there. I can’t wait to share its beauty with everyone who comes out.”
Desert Daze will be held at The Institute of Mental Physics, 59700 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, (760) 365-3880, www.desertdaze.org, Fri-Sun, Oct. 14-16, $25-$199 (single day tickets), $75-$340 (three-day tickets). All ages.