On January 1, a wizard-bearded Norman Feller emerged from his Canadian bunker for the first time since he’d locked himself away from the impending anticlimax of Y2K. Actually, he didn’t. The CBC Radio broadcast turned out to be part of their satirical This Is That series. But that didn’t stop many a reputable news source from reblogging the piece, which centered on the baffling notion that, to Feller, the most impressive development in the past 14 years was the KFC Double Down “sandwich” — a maelstrom of fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and mystery goops.
Say what you will about KFC’s avant-garde slant on suppertime (and Canadian radio), but the takeaway message is that there is a multitude of larger reasons to be stoked on the Year of the Majestic and Unbridled Equine, 2014. Among them is the vast number of summertime festivals within a day’s drive of San Diego. Play your cards right, and you could spend every weekend rocking out anywhere from a megafest such as Coachella, Outside Lands, or Burning Man to the more esoteric gatherings of a few hundred campers huddled around a Funktion-One soundsystem at a clandestine, unadvertised location.
It’s somewhere between these extremes that Desert Daze has found its niche. The third annual installment of the festival, thrown by Pomona-based collective Moon Block Party, landed just 20-some miles southeast of (and a week after) Coachella, but the two festivals were galaxies apart. Located in a minuscule, outlying ag-town sardonically dubbed Mecca, Desert Daze played host to a few thousand folks who pitched camp in the craggy lakebeds of Sunset Ranch Oasis and then milled about the venue’s three stages to catch elusive headliners such as Blonde Redhead, Liars, and Vincent Gallo.
Truth be told, I have no idea how many people ended up making the lunar pilgrimage because: (1) Franzia (Pro tip: when you slap the bag, the bag slaps back), and (2) the organizers declined to comment on their figures in a post-fest email inquiry. One can only guess at their motives, but — judging by the hour-plus parking wait — it’d be hard to believe that they were underwhelmed by their congregation.
Whatever the case, a sea of fisherman hats, ponchos, and high-waisted mom shorts filled the grounds by late afternoon. Come sunset, the Tatooine heat compelled me to recline and recharge with my girlfriend in a buddy’s tent on Crag Lake. The psych-garage riffs of Disappears rolled across the neighboring lake, filtered through the reeds, and then lurched over the nano-canyons of the campsites, announcing themselves in celestial torrents. It was blissful, and for one charmed moment, I was convinced my drink(s) had been spiked.
We returned to the main stage just in time to find Blonde Redhead getting into their classic “In Particular.” The sound cut out halfway through the tune, and, even though singer Kazu Makino apologized profusely, the flub felt purposeful — a statement, perhaps, against holding on to the past. A declaration of the new. Be here now, Feller.
Just afterward, the impression was bolstered by Vincent Gallo’s strict no photo/video policy. His terminally sentimental improvisations, played with his back to the crowd, felt at home in the desert — a place that will both embrace and emaciate you on a whim.
Around 10 a.m., when the sun had broken our few hours of sleep, my friends and I saw that we were among the last to leave the wide lakebed. It was as if we had emerged from a bunker all our own — just us, the dust, and the accusation of sunlight — hungry already for our next bite of goopish festival sandwich.
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