“If you plan on dragging me through this sandstorm and then back in here, I’d better be wasted,” one grumpy festival-goer asserted, hands on hips with a bandana pulled up almost above her eyes. This, in a nutshell, is what became of the aspirational “Celebration of Consciousness” that was alleged to be the new-and-improved Desert Rocks of 2012. Thanks to its incredibly harsh new locale and some destructive weather, most Desert Rocks patrons found themselves struggling to survive, with most turning to—ahem—alternative ways to celebrate because being “conscious” of the choking sand, whipping wind and scorching desert heat was something to be avoided at all costs.
The abundance of consciousness-altering substances isn’t what makes Desert Rocks unique, however. Most festivals bring in a bevy of booms, myriad MDMA, and of course, loads of LSD. Rather, it was the overwhelmingly obvious presence of these substances that stunned me. Nobody was worried about hiding their goods except from the “security” at the entrance who, about half the time, looked lazily for a wristband and then waved you on in. When I rolled into the festival, some hippie immediately waved me down. Not sure whether to lock the doors or roll down the window, I was surprised to find out that this long-haired, fedora-topped gentleman was working for the fest, directing traffic. As weed smoke from the smoking circle behind him wafted into our car, he clasped his hands, bowed and wished us, genuinely, a “beautiful, beautiful weekend.” Oh God, here we go. As one disgruntled local told his son in a Green River restaurant (after a disdainful look at my feather earrings): “The hippies have arrived.”
Thanks to SLUG, when I arrived on Thursday I got hooked up by the cute dudes at the box office mini-bus. They were excited to have their “first VIP,” but obviously had no idea of what I was entitled to as a result. They asked me, “So, what do you get?” To which I replied, of course, “All of it.” I was excited thinking my blue wrist band meant we could camp in the coolest spot: Artist Camping. Ooh. What I didn’t count on was, c’mon, this is Desert Rocks—remember the pot-smoking traffic hippie? Literally anybody could camp in Artist Camping. This turned out to be a pretty awesome spot, anyway, because I soon realized that Desert Rocks is really 50/50. It’s half hippies and half your friends from Salt Lake City who came down to party. Okay, maybe 60/40. I did spend a lot of the weekend dodging hula hoops and edging past fire weavers.
Notable Thursday evening acts included the melodic Elephant Revival, and Idaho’s Equaleyes. Elephant Revival serenely smiled through their set, obviously enjoying the dusty, dancing crowd who turned up. The petite Bonnie Paine stole hearts while rocking the washboard and displaying her various down-home instrumental talents. After introducing myself to the nice boys and delicious eats of McDevitt Taco Supply, I settled down onto a nice chunk of dust for Equaleyes. This bar band heated up the crowd for the evening with their funk-tinged guitar riffs and rock-influenced jams. Both tacos and band were among the few pleasant surprises in a weekend filled with not-so-pleasant ones.
Full disclosure: I do not enjoy jambands. Sorry Desert Rocks diehards, it just ain’t my thing. I’ll take roots rock over funk any day. That being said, SLC’s Pour Horse was a good time, if only to hoot and holler at the boys glugging some onstage Ancient Age. You have bigger balls than I, fellas: I stuck with my boys Jack and Jim all weekend.
Late night Thursday left a bit to be desired—the highlight of the Bedrockk show was getting my first glimpse of the Cosmic Stage which was at the deadend of a faux Main Street (complete with saloon). This is where the Burners had really let loose. Giant wind chimes, solar-powered DJ booth, and sculptural mobiles made from recycled materials were a few of the treats to be found by late-nighters in the Cosmic Village.
My Thursday night wrapped up with Salt Lake’s Wasnatch with a new friend. We were energized by the horn section, and delighted in skanking up loads of dust on all the hippies during their raucous cover of the classic “A Message to You, Rudy.”