Fiddling in the Wind: Tales From Desert Rocks 2012

Posted June 15, 2012 in
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The infamous Sol Lun. Photo: Jeremy Riley

“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.”


Friday morning’s cruel surprise: waking up in the desert is absolute hell. Miraculously, I managed to escape my hangover each morning (the leading theory is that the desert sun heated my sleeping bag until I slowly sweated all the whiskey out of my body), but we were all still miserable. Looking around for the first real time, we realized that, despite the nearest town being dubbed Green River, the camping area and venue featured absolutely no greenery at all, anywhere, ever. Not one tree could be found to provide some refuge from the blistering sun. Since the wind had blown our shade tent into a dozen pieces on day one, each morning we scrambled for the only “shade” left in the campsite: the measly slice of cool on the west side of the car. Next year we’ll have take a van, so as to maximize this luxury.

For me, the biggest and best surprise of the weekend was Andy Frasco & the UN’s early evening show. I think every girl wishes she had a man who worshipped her enough to growl Frasco’s “Baby, Take the Day Off [Let’s Just Fuck All Afternoon]” at her. With lyrics like “I wanna use your body like a canvas/my lips will be the brush,” Frasco had me blushing, but also ferociously jealous of the sweet blond whose tent he stepped out of Saturday morning. The band was rocking furiously at a disproportionately small crowd and finished their set with a rousing game of “Freeze” complete with shit-talking to the crowd: “Okay, okay, I’ll blame that on the molly,” and tricks: “Go ahead and give yourselves a round of applause—HA! I said Freeze, motherfuckers!” Frasco reminded the crowd he’ll be in SLC on July 14 at the State Room. You’ll see me there.

Friday’s headliners were Brother Ali and Beats Antique. Brother Ali put on a solid show featuring a lot of his old gems and a few new songs. He repped Utah a bit, even dropped a Kilby Court mention, but lost much of the crowd towards the end when he hopped up high on his soap box. Beats Antique was an incredibly hyped show for the weekend, but then was disastrously postponed and postponed. Friday night is when the Desert Rocks “schedule” began to break down. Luckily, word travels fast through that crowd (did you guys hear about the zombie? and the car fire?), but nobody ever knew whose word to believe. Beats Antique’s set was not necessarily the set that their crowd had anticipated. That didn’t stop the crowd from drooling over Zoe Jakes’s moves or from shaking their hips to the trio’s unique fusion music. If you haven’t been to a fest like Desert Rocks, it might be hard for you to imagine the kind of dancing that accompanies a band with tribal, dubstep, brass, string, and interpretive dance influences. Did I mention the amount of drugs flying around? I think most people managed to have a pretty good time.

Friday night I turned in early (i.e. before sunrise) after gettin’ down at the Lunar Stage for Spell Talk. Spell Talk were poppin bottles of champagne onstage. Somehow they decided to play most of their show without any lights, opting instead to play beneath the moon glinting off the “Lunar” tent. Trying to catch glimpses of the band members was difficult, but nobody in the crowd seemed to find any trouble shaking their asses or screaming along to the ever-popular hit “Dirty Girls.”


By Saturday, the desert misery had really sunk in. A few hours after I awoke, and was feverishly applying sunscreen in the car-shade, I heard one of our neighbor’s scream: “What Time is it?” to the campground at large. No answer. By Saturday, not only was the entire Desert Rocks schedule completely topsy turvy, but everyone’s cell phones had died. Who wears a watch nowadays? Oh, no one. We found that out, collectively. We also found out that some of us (like me) are really shitty at telling the time by the position of the sun. I guessed it was “about noon” for at least an hour and a half that day. For us, though, it was beach time. Luckily a beach on the Green River, complete with—gasp—shade, is just a short few miles’ hitchike from the venue. The smart hippies packed in their coolers and stayed on the beach til sundown. Little did we know then, that the really smart hippies beat it out of Green River before the storm hit.

During the day, Saturday’s wind blew many a campsite to smithereens. By midnight, the campground looked halved and the portapotties had blown over. Through some miracle, I ended up in the Sol Lun (get it? Saloon, har har) in the Cosmic Village while the rest of Desert Rocks was blown to bits. RKTboy was a hit-or-miss DJ experience, especially since the sound was coming in and out. Yet when he was on, he was a huge hit to the closely huddled crew enjoying the old-timey vibes and upcycled, junk-shop, hippie chic that permeated the Sol Lun’s decor. Posting up behind the “bar” of the Sol Lun, I was one popular lady doling out “shots” of whatever the hell I found behind that counter: 40-year-old poker chips, 10-year-old glow sticks, a naked Ken doll wrapped in wire … When we left to go back to the camp for some real shots, however, we found out that the rest of the fest had been completely shut down. No RJD2, nothing. We retreated into the car during gale force winds, threw back the remainder of a bottle of Jim Beam and when we returned, we found Dirt Monkey slaying it in a jam-packed private party at the Sol Lun. Only the hardiest remained, as security stopped admitting people back in due to wind, and we Sol Lun-ers all procedeed to get down.


Those of us who managed to survive until Sunday were graciously rewarded. No schedule remained, but lots of bands to reschedule made for lots of small crowds, back-to-back sets and happy, grateful fans. The wind had died down, and we were spoiled with lower temperatures all day.

I managed a smile and even some dance moves for local jamband favorites Marinade and Stonefed—the energetic crowd of SLC stoners moving from stage to stage was just too fun not to join.

The Lucent Dossier Experience, rescheduled from the previous day was a mind-blowing cirque-de-soleil-esque encounter. The costumes and dance moves were over-the-top, but the performers’ talent, acrobatics and stamina were awe-inspiring.

Hot Buttered Rum took us through a long, gratifying set of thumpin’, dance-able bluegrass. Flasks and bags o’ wine were passed aplenty to friends and strangers alike, as we raised a hell of a lot of dust to their tunes. Bryan Horne was slappin’ some serious bass with the biggest, most genuine grin of pearly whites, while Erin Redner fiddled furiously into the wind. The most amazing cover of the weekend goes to HBR for covering “Billie Jean.” That’s right: bluegrass Michael Jackson.

The Wailers played a short, but bumpin’ set of all oldies. A bunch of white kids pretended to be Rastafarians with all their hearts, and we all had tears in our eyes singing “Is this Love” to our festy besties. Every single soul was groovin’ and the weedsmoke filled the mainstage as we shared in our “One Love” for reggae, Bob, and the last night of the festival.

On our late night way back to camp, we stopped for an awesome Afro Omega set that kept my droopy eyelids up and my sleepy booty groovin’. Finally, I turned in to my dusty tent and dropped off to the most peaceful sleep of the entire trip as I sang along to Max Pain and the Groovies smokin’ the Lunar stage for one last show at 4 a.m.

In all honesty, I can’t claim that I consciously remember all or even most of the weekend. Right now, I’m not sure I would willingly brave the desert cruelty again with even half the meager amount of sobriety I managed. But if I know music festivals and I know myself, this time next year, all that will remain of Desert Rocks 2012 are fond memories, crazy stories and a strange desire to experience that unique hippie hell once again.

Check out more photos here.

The infamous Sol Lun. Photo: Jeremy Riley Brother Ali. Photo: Jeremy Riley Fire dancers. Photo: Jeremy Riley Spell Talk. Photo: Jeremy Riley