Desert Trip fes­ti­val, in the Cal­i­for­nia desert: some of the heavy­weights from my teens in one palm-tree-fringed, sun-soaked par­adise. Nor­mal­ly I steer clear of any­thing of this ilk but nev­er­the­less this sound­ed some­what appeal­ing. I remind­ed myself that I’d far rather hang out at my sort of UK fes­ti­vals, hear­ing plen­ty of emerg­ing artists in a friend­ly atmos­phere, all the while imbib­ing cider and sleep­ing in a damp tent. There’s the small mat­ter of the tick­et price and air fare to LA, too.

Nev­er­the­less I was a bit thrown when a dear rel­a­tive told me he was for­sak­ing the cold of Man­ches­ter and fly­ing out to Cal­i­for­nia to attend the sec­ond Desert Trip fes­ti­val, or ‘Old­chel­la’ as it’s been called.

So what was the all Amer­i­can fes­ti­val expe­ri­ence like? Here’s his report…

Desert Trip (according to Jagger “catch em before they croak”)

When the film comes out, it’ll be like Wood­stock, to say “I was there”. The line up of the bands needs no com­ment. The fact that these guys have sur­vived and can per­form at this lev­el is a tes­ti­mo­ny to mod­ern med­i­cine (yoga, veg­an diets, AA programmes…).

Here a test for you. Next time you are at a con­cert, tape one minute. On play­back you will hear a fair repro­duc­tion of what was played, not what you heard. That’s why play­backs are always so dis­ap­point­ing. I am so fed up of going to the MEN / O2 are­nas where the bands blast out the music and it res­onates around the are­na, your ear and brain com­bine to just about enjoy the sound. You need the pared-back acoustic sets to real­ly enjoy qual­i­ty. At Desert Trip, the sound is absolute­ly right. The play­back on an iPhone is almost stu­dio qual­i­ty. That’s an impor­tant start.

Com­par­isons with the UK for an Eng­lish writer are inevitable. The organ­i­sa­tion is clas­sic US approach, in oth­er words, the cus­tomer is king. The search clear­ance staff joke but take their jobs seri­ous­ly –  they are tough with you if you step out of line (zero tol­er­ance ) but charm­ing and welcoming.

Sad­ly the food and drink fail. At $11 for a can of beer and up to $28 for a glass of poor wine, there is no con­cern that there’ll be any drunk and dis­or­der­ly behav­iour here. The food is one up from fast food, but sad­ly the artisan/ farmer’s mar­ket approach of the bet­ter UK fes­ti­vals has not been import­ed. I guess this may be down to the US obses­sion with health & safe­ty and lit­i­ga­tion. But that would be a poor excuse.

Desert Trip pizza

The crowd is, unsur­pris­ing­ly, made up of around 50% by the rock and roll gen­er­a­tion and 50% their chil­dren, where they under­stand the spir­it of the blues or where we have man­aged to broad­en their music taste to embrace the mag­i­cal times we expe­ri­enced in our youth.

Queue desert trip

And so to the music. Our noble poet lau­re­ate (who, Jag­ger and Richards indi­vid­u­al­ly acknowl­edged and con­grat­u­lat­ed ) per­formed the songs the audi­ence want­ed to hear. Rainy Day Women, Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right, and High­way 61 was as good a selec­tion to start as you could have wished for. The huge screens behind the stage showed the band on either side and, in the mid­dle, icon­ic clas­sic stylised his­tor­i­cal pho­tog­ra­phy of 20th Cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca, all black and white. Yes, Dylan croaks a lot but his voice is always true.

When Dylan sings Make You Feel my Love, in dread­ful mod­ern speak, he 100% nails it. For an encore it’s the inevitable Like a Rolling Stone – shame they did­n’t join him on stage for this and one from the Amer­i­can song­book so poignant after the Nobel Prize. As usu­al, Dylan does not talk to the audi­ence. That’s ok, his music is enough of a com­mu­ni­ca­tion for every one. My fes­ti­val com­pan­ion, not a big Dylan fan, was knocked out.

Even the announc­er appears over-excit­ed to intro­duce The Stones. Jump­ing Jack trans­fers his ener­gy to the crowd and we are off. Keef plays with the chords in an enchant­i­ng man­ner to pro­vide vari­a­tion and matu­ri­ty to the clas­sics, such as Get Off Of my Cloud. A pleas­ant sur­prise is Ang­ie which has been side­lined in recent shows. Jag­ger leaves the stage, allow­ing Kei­th and Ron­nie to demon­strate their gui­tar har­mo­ny in You got the Sil­ver. When Jag­ger returns, it’s the oblig­a­tory Mid­night Ram­bler (let’s have a 30-minute ver­sion next time please, Mick). Sym­pa­thy for the Dev­il has the crowd “woo-woo­ing” from the first note. The girlie cho­rus by Sasha Allen com­ple­ments Jag­ger to perfection.

Note: this report is biased. I am 20 rows from the front. I have spo­ken to some­one who is 200 metres away. They are too far away and will not be both­er­ing turn­ing up again.

The choice for encore is the stan­dard, icon­ic You can’t always get what you Want fol­lowed by Sat­is­fac­tion.

Seats at Desert Trip

Neil Young nev­er looked par­tic­u­lar­ly healthy, and now he’s a bit old­er, even less so. But his voice is still the beau­ti­ful Amer­i­can Dream. Start­ing, as all the artists have been made to do, on time, half the audi­ence are not yet in their seats to see his acoustic ver­sions of the trio, After the Gold Rush, Old Man, and Heart of Gold. That’s was your mon­ey’s worth, the rest is a bonus.

The band join onstage as the num­bers become more rock and roll. The cam­era too has the chance to cap­ture the full moon for Har­vest Moon. Like a Hur­ri­cane and Rockin in the Free World receive the stand­ing ova­tions they mer­it, the band enjoy­ing them­selves every bit as much as their audi­ence. Cow­girl in the Sand sat­is­fies all the lead gui­tarists’ fantasies.

A plane flies over­head adver­tis­ing the next event. Gold­en Voice are the clever­est pro­mot­ers in the world. My com­pan­ion’s main atten­tion was focused on the gor­geous guy on gui­tar and organ. She told me she enjoyed the show. High praise indeed.

Noth­ing beats a Bea­t­le” was the Man­ches­ter Evening News head­line some 10 years ago when I first saw McCart­ney. Close your eyes and it is, at times, The Bea­t­les. Yes, I know Lennon fans will cas­ti­gate me for such a com­ment, but this is as close as possible.

Hard Day’s Night and Day Trip­per are per­fect starters. All the main McCart­ney lead vocal num­bers from The Bea­t­les are cov­ered. A nice touch is a song writ­ten for his lat­est wife and then Paul makes ref­er­ence to Lin­da and their beau­ti­ful chil­dren who are in the audience.

Acoustic ver­sions of And I Love Her and Blue­bird are, for me, the best. Inter­spersed are Wings num­bers, with Band on the Run show­ing the won­der­ful footage around the 10 peo­ple on the album pho­to – how many can you name ?

My com­pan­ion’s high­light is Rihan­na join­ing McCart­ney on stage for Four­FiveSec­onds. It was spe­cial, as was Neil Young join­ing for A Day in the Life. My com­pan­ion spent too much time on her iPhone and told me how much bet­ter The Stones were. She is dif­fi­cult to please, next time I’ll bring some­one else.

Desert Trip fes­ti­val, Indio, Cal­i­for­nia Octo­ber 2016

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