Interview With Desert Daze Founder Phil Pirrone

Interview With Desert Daze Founder Phil Pirrone

One of the most promising events of this year’s festival season, the left-field Desert Daze in Joshua Tree, California, boasts an eclectic lineup ranging from experimental drone metal to fuzzy psychedelia to distorted spaz rock and more. The venue is also something different in terms of camping festivals, a land removed from the real world by time and space. Festival founder Phil Pirrone took some time to answer a few of my questions about Desert Daze, and clued me in with what to expect.

To set the stage, Desert Daze is a relatively young festival, with this year being its sixth iteration. That being said, it is no slouch when you get down to brass tacks; artists who have graced the stage include Primus, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Television, and more. Pirrone delved into the history of its founding, explaining, “I started Desert Daze with my best friends and my wife. It’s like the family restaurant of music festivals. We all really care about each other and live music and we put a lot of love into producing the event. We curate the lineup like a mixtape. Each artist has to blend with the others. It’s limited in capacity to provide a different, more personal kind of experience. It’s less a festival and more of an experience.”

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Pirrone’s roots go back further than Desert Daze though, as he elaborates: “I’ve been a touring musician for nearly 20 years, and started putting on outdoor events in 2008 because I love live music and really loved outdoor festivals (as long as they weren’t in a parking lot). I had a great group of friends who helped us produce the events and a lot of talented friends who play in bands. Each event went a little better than the last and now we’ve been doing Desert Daze for six years and this will be our second year in Joshua Tree.” That kind of experience and networking is crucial to maintaining any kind of live music event, especially in this day and age where festivals can come and go in the blink of an eye.

Speaking of Joshua Tree, as mentioned above it’s supposed to be a wild location. Pirrone explained the choice to host Desert Daze there, and he certainly sells it: “The Institute of Mentalphysics is unlike any other festival venue on the planet, and I’ve been to a lot. Most are in fields or parking lots anyway…but this is different. It’s like a weird ritualistic facility lost in time with outdoor areas and indoor halls designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is son, Lloyd Wright. It’s funky and has some serious energy going on.” When you put it like that, how can I refuse?!

He went on to describe what I found to be the most interesting aspect of the venue: “The beautifully maintained grounds of garden paths, fountains, labyrinths and captivating architecture rest atop a rare confluence of three underground aquifers and a measurable magnetic field which causes a palpable energetic effect on those who visit.” In terms of singular music festival experiences, this certainly sounds top notch, and I for one can’t wait to hear some sizzling psychedelia in the magnetic desert.

Having put together five previous Desert Daze events (starting in 2012), Phil Pirrone and crew have definitely learned some lessons and adapted, shaping the event to meet the needs of a demanding music scene while maintaining the vision of its beginnings. Pirrone described it as an ever-evolving process, saying, “A lot has changed since then. A lot more than six people work on it now, ha! We used to be a very small crew, and it’s a little bigger now. A lot has stayed the same as well. We still put a lot of love into the event, there are just a lot more lovely people that work on it now. And it’s at a dream location. I’ve learned that not a whole lot goes according to plan. You have to accept that and get really good at problem solving and damage control.”

The differences between large and small festivals are many, of course. As Desert Daze is somewhere around 7,000 – 10,000, it’s not exactly huge, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. Pirrone highlighted the differences between major events and smaller, more curated and focused events: “Big festivals are hard to execute properly. They are gigantic undertakings for both the producer and the fan. Coachella nails it, but not a lot of others do. A lot of big festivals end up feeling more like a refugee camp and there’s only so many times you’re going to put yourself through that to see bands you can see inside your favorite club near your home. In order to have people come back, you need to provide more than just bands in a field or parking lot. It has to be a profound experience.”

Desert Daze is certainly primed to be a profound experience this year. The music spans the spectrum from raw, gritty electric punk, to crushing, droning sludge metal, delicate, airy chilltronics, minimalist jazz-fusion, and beyond. Put that kind of energy in a location like The Institute of Mentalphysics and there should be some real electricity in the air. For the cherry on top, the Mystic Bazaar offers food, beverages, artisan wares, and more, and throughout the weekend there will be late night film screenings, daily yoga sessions, workshops, seminars, and more. For a complete list of artists, activities, etc., check the website here:

If you’re looking for something just a little different from your typical festival experience this year, head out on to Joshua Tree, California for Desert Daze and see if it can’t blow your mind. Hopefully I’ll see you out there!


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