THE GROWING ROOTS OF JOSHUA TREE

Words & Images by Andrew Wyatt

Joshua Tree Music Festival :: 05.19 - 05.21 :: Joshua Tree, CA


Joshua Tree
When Rajiv Parikh of New Monsoon rode into the Joshua Tree Music Festival grounds, a Saturn-like ring haloed the sun behind the gauze of a wind-whipped sand storm. A flurry of festival-goers in brightly colored costumes and one man perched on four stilts in a dark dragon costume crawled like a giant spider across the desert floor. To him, it felt like he had just landed on another planet.

Parikh's otherworldly experience was the norm during last weekend's Joshua Tree Music Festival. He described the fourth annual festival of world beat, jamband, and electronica music as a post-apocalyptic landscape that was part Mad Max and part gypsy. Others compared the event to Nevada's Burning Man festival and the closer-to-home Coachella Music Festival.


Joshua Tree Music Festival - 2006
Still, festival brainchild and organizer Barnett English found another apt comparison when dubbing Joshua Tree the "Dr. Seuss" of music festivals. The trademark gnarled, porcupined trees combined with the few thousand costumed and body-painted creatures, stilt people, fire dancers, and percussive musical sounds, to him, seemed ripped from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book.

The wild appearance and 100+ degree desert environment engendered more than artistic and visual expression; it built a diverse, strong sense of community. Though the event continues to grow and to gain recognition, the stage crew and support staff remain entirely volunteer operations. When English first arrived at Joshua Tree four years ago and formed the idea for the festival, he was pleasantly surprised by the support he, a newcomer to the area, had received. An army of 50 people turned out to help with stage and campsite construction.


Mighty Dave of The Axis Brothers
Joshua Tree Music Festival 2006
I arrived at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground two days early and assisted both days in stage construction projects. Parikh also commented that musicians and artists who perform at the festival feel a greater sense of community at Joshua Tree and feel more free to mingle with the crowd.

That community feel was boosted by the presence of a Kidsville tent area that offered several music/arts workshops and activities for children. Featured workshops for kids included Anna Lacazio's and John Gosen's "Falling Up Puppet and Story Garden" performance and Billy and Ellen Makuta's "Frantic Cabaret of Really Shoo," when children could learn to play several music instruments and wear colorful costumes. "It [the festival] definitely has more of a relaxed, family feel," Parikh said.


John Whooley :: Joshua Tree Music Festival - 2006
Adults had a buffet of workshops to choose from as well, including yoga, fire spinning in the "Art of Poi," as well as belly dancing, and lessons in hula-hooping and looping music. Local Joshua Tree resident Arjuna (one name only) led a unique workshop in teaching the art of Tuvan and Tibetan harmonic throat singing. He felt that the workshop helped music observers at the festival become participants. Arjuna felt that his workshop could help festival-goers contribute to the "overall body of sound" in the festival.

The other unique characteristic that English has instilled in the festival is the international flavor of the music scene. When he first spawned the idea of the festival, he wanted to instill it with a larger sense of cultural diversity. This year, joining performers like New Monsoon were the likes of Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble, Kaki King, and Thomas Mapfumo and Blacks Unlimited. "It's a big world," said English, "and we should hear more of it."


Robby Krieger with Particle
Joshua Tree Music Festival 2006
This year's festival featured 28 bands on two stages, and unlike most other music festivals, none of the music performances overlapped. The entire crowd migrated back and forth between stages during set breaks.

One of the biggest musical surprises of the weekend was the unannounced appearance of former Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, who took the stage with the tripped-out, abstract jam sounds of Particle for an extended late night set. The percussive rhythms and driving guitar licks kept the crowd bumping, swinging, and twirling non-stop through the weekend. "We want diversity to be the beginning point for the music," English said.


Joshua Tree Music Festival - 2006
The festival continues to build a loyal following, but it didn't always seem to English that the event would reach its fourth year and beyond. "It was stressful at the beginning," he said. "All I had was this vision of what could happen, and we maxed out a bunch of credit cards to make it happen." In traveling to music festivals with his coffee/food booth called Java-Go-Go, he wanted to bring to the small desert community a musical event that would draw many of the good people and musicians that he experienced in other regions.

Ideally he sees the festival maintaining modest sized crowds, seeing 5,000 as a limit he may need to place on ticket sales a few years from now. "I don't want it to get out of control with size," he said.

Right now, English is busy putting together a more acoustic driven Americana/blues/bluegrass festival that he wants to offer the weekend before Las Vegas' second annual Vegoose festival in October.

Continue reading for more Joshua Tree 2006 Images...

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