When musician and concert promoter Phil Pirrone founded Desert Daze, he set out with a mission to create an intimate experience that could rival the more impersonal festivals in the area.
Back in 2012, the first incarnation of Desert Daze took place in the Coachella Valley ran for 11 days during the same weekends as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio. Desert Daze had an anti-festival attitude from its inception that aimed to preserve its authenticity by keeping it less predictable and more unique than its peers. Its reputation grew organically each year as it secured more high-profile acts. With that came an increase in attendance, prompting the festival to relocated first to Mecca, then to Joshua Tree, before finally landing a new home at the Lake Perris State Recreation Area in 2018.
The three-day festival returns to Lake Perris Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Numerous acts including Tame Impala, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Iggy Pop, and more will perform across three main stages. Festival attendees can also expect to see familiar immersive art installations and a few new ones as well.
“In a way, we’re celebrating that we made it this far, but also the future,” Pirrone said on a recent Zoom call. “It’s finishing what we started, but also kind of setting the tone for the next 10 years.”
Though there have been location changes and upgrades with the art installations, the mission to deliver an intimate and unique experience is a priority to the organizers even a decade later.
“Desert Daze is its own organism with a community of people, and it is a profound experience to them and is something that makes them feel good and rejuvenated,” Pirrone said. “So 10 years in, we are, in a way, still public servants to that community.”
One of the challenges for Pirrone and his team was finding a way to stay true to the festival’s core mission while balancing the finances with sponsorships. In 2016, Pirrone and the Desert Daze team partnered with Morgan Margolis, the CEO of Knitting Factory Entertainment, whose operations include venue ownership and management, festivals and events, touring, artist management, and recorded music production and distribution. Pirrone said that the partnership works because Margolis and his team understand how to keep the festival from becoming overly branded.
“We like to have an immersive sponsorship, but not placing it everywhere, so it’s not overkill, which is hard at festivals because you need the revenue, but you also have to be tasteful about it,” Margolis said on the Zoom call.
Margolis and Pirrone said that in the next 10 years, their teams would like to compare how festival goers felt in 2012 and whether or not they are still delivering the same type of lineup and experience that was exciting from the start.
“Our goal remains on how do we make it stay magical, with discovery, without changing too much of it,” Pirrone said.
Heading into the 10th anniversary of the festival this year, Pirrone and Margolis reflected on some of the top moments they’ve experienced.
“There are funny and incredible moments like getting your doors open and getting people in, “Margolis said. “Then there are negative moments too.”
According to the pair, here are their top 10 memories of Desert Daze.
11 days of music (2012)
The first Desert Daze happened over the course of nearly two weeks and took over a little road house in the Coachella Valley. Pirrone said that he coordinated the hotels for guests and bands.
“The lineup consisted of over 120 bands,” he said. “It was a wild way to start, and we somehow survived and kept going.”
The first “real” Desert Daze (2013)
Pirrone said that 2013 felt like the first true Desert Daze festival. It was the first time he and the festival organizers had to rent out an official venue and build the festival up from scratch. They landed at the Sunset Ranch Oasis in Mecca, where the fest stayed until moving to Joshua Tree in 2016. He also remembers it as the first year they brought in a major headliner, Tinariwen, a collective of Tuareg musicians from Africa that, much to his disbelief, actually showed up.
“When they arrived, it blew my mind that we had somehow put that together,” Pirrone said. “That moment always stands out to me.”
A trio of memorable acts (2014)
Alongside big name headliners such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Pirrone said he remembers being excited to have Blond Redhead, Liars, and Audiolux join the festival.
Dancing in the desert (2015)
Electro-pop musician and composer Dan Deacon, who was part of the 2015 lineup, is known for getting his audience to participate in dance battles. Pirrone recalls the Desert Daze crowd did just that, making it one of the most memorable experiences of that year.
A new partnership (2016)
Margolis said that 2016 was the Knitting Factory’s first time coordinating with Pirrone and his Desert Daze team, and by the end, he said he was blissful about how it turned out.
“It was such an incredible and moving experience, and it’s what got us more entrenched with Phil,” Margolis said.
Pirrone said he also enjoyed how smoothly things ran between the two partners and added that having Primus and Television perform that year was terrific.
The Godfather of punk (2017)
Iggy Pop is one of the biggest headliners to date to top the Desert Daze lineups. He first played the festival in 2017 in Joshua Tree, and he’ll be returning this year. Pirrone and Margolis agreed that if they had to name the most memorable moment in the history of Desert Daze, Iggy Pop would top that list.
“I think Phil and I had a cathartic Iggy Pop experience in Joshua Tree,” Margolis said. “To get Iggy back (this year) was incredible.”
The storm (2018)
In 2018, the festival experienced a storm that cut Tame Impala’s set short, but by the next day, the festival was good to go. The Aussie-psychedelic rock band will also be returning this year and celebrating the 10th anniversary of their first album, “Lonerism,” by playing it in its entirety.
Death Grips leaves a mark (2018)
One thing that Margolis and Pirrone said they did enjoy in 2018, despite Tame Impala getting stormed out, was the performance by Death Grips.
“That was probably one of my favorite shows,” Margolis said. “It was such an intense show.”
Another iconic moment for Pirrone was when the Austin, Texas-based psychedelic trio, Khruangbin, collaborated with rap legends Wu-Tang as they closed out the festival.
One stage, one experience (2021)
After the 2020 coronavirus pandemic shut down the majority of music festivals, Desert Daze made a comeback the following year with a scaled-down version of the event.
Pirrone said that although he had some nervous energy, he was also feeling overjoyed and felt an overwhelming sense of happiness.
“Being able to come back after a year off just felt surreal,” he added.
It was the only year the festival maintained a single stage throughout the weekend. Though the fest usually boasts multiple stages, this lineup was smaller, allowing them to share one stage and not have overlapping set times, making it that much more intimate. Pirrone said that fans individual Desert Daze experiences typically depend on which stages they spend their time at.
“That wasn’t the case in 2021, and something about that was really special,” he said.
When: Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
Where: Lake Perris State Recreation Area, 17801 Lake Perris Drive
Tickets: Single-day admission is $139-$666; Weekend admission is $399-$1,999; Camping passes are $99-$379; RV and tent rentals are available; Single-day parking passes are $45-$100; Weekend parking passes are $125-$250. All passes are available at desertdaze.org.