Coachella may have had the big names and two weekends this year, but just 30 miles north of Empire Polo Field, another music festival filled the 400-person capacity of Dillon Roadhouse for 11 days straight (from the eve of April 12th to the morning of the 23rd): the aptly named Desert Daze.
This Moon Block Party event followed the first one in Downtown Pomona’s Arts Colony last June. With food trucks, live art and buzzing bands (including Dengue Fever, Spindrift and many more), some of which had even played Coachella in the past, Desert Daze was a worthy counterpart to that other music festival that rhymes with Brokechella.
Whether a bridge between Coachella weekends or a cheaper alternative to the large, corporate event, hopefully Desert Daze is here to stay.
Despite its laid-back atmosphere, there was plenty to stimulate the auditory and visual senses at Desert Daze, with the constant soundtrack of live or DJed music every day from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. The Moon Block Party also took over a top secret spa hotel “located on an energy vortex,” where the festivities continued before and after-hours with music, food trucks and mineral pools.
Located just past Indian Ave. and Power Line Rd., Dillon Roadhouse sits inconspicuously next to the Traders of the Lost Surplus store. Surrounded by a wooden fence and old building, the festival was a safely nestled secret until attendees braved the narrow gravel road into a back parking lot.
Entering the concert grounds through the back entrance marked by a lone hammock and old BBQ grills, it wasn’t hard to believe that this was the birthplace of rock and roll in Coachella Valley, back when the roadhouse opened its doors in 1946.
From the daylight of the parking lot, people walked into the twilight of the bar, which was in full swing: multi-colored fabric hung from the ceiling and walls where the makeshift stage held up hundreds of bands.
The liquid kaleidoscopic projections playing across the sheets were a suitable backdrop to Summer Twins’ psych-garage rock on the first Friday night. Wearing a paradoxical white dress-shirt tucked into a short skirt and leather jacket, singer/guitarist Chelsea Brown sang smooth vocals and played feverish guitar in sync with her twin drummer Justine Brown and the band.
After the crowds dispersed for brief smoke breaks and drink intermissions, they came back for The Lovely Bad Things’ wall of sound built from Fender distortion, long-haired screams and a bass with a “Cool Guy Party” sticker on it.
In a duality fitting of its name, the band’s sound moved from edgy-sweet female vocals to a burly screaming release, from dirty and clean guitar and even from instrument to instrument, as the bassist and drummer traded places multiple times.
Pangea sound checked with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and kicked off its set with the same intensity. Big muff guitar solos and shout-out vocals got audiences in leather, plaid and jean jackets to twist and head bang on the zebra carpet, taken by the carelessly cool pop-punk sound.
All kinds of raw energy, spilled beer and tangled hair was released in a mosh pit that only grew as punk rock zombies Death Hymn Number 9 became a part of the red, white and black face-painted madness.
Outside of the bar, people smoked, drank and star gazed in their own parking lot parties, car radios blasting through the open doors.
After arriving at the top-secret Moon Block Pary motel and being greeted by a cat named Simba, guests socialized despite the intense wind and growing cold – some maybe all night, as there were still people and various substances hanging out in the morning by the pool area, resembling a mini-Riot House in the 1970s.
Bands like RT N’ THE 44s brought older musical influences to the outside stage on Saturday, as the musicians covered Hank William’s “Hey Good Lookin'” and played a dark country twang all their own.
With a beer can microphone, gas can drum set, hybrid banjo bass and washboard with built-in beer-holder, the folk-noir band was the perfect soundtrack to the sunny desert afternoon.
Despite their usual urban showcases, LA favorites like Gangi and Vanaprasta’s big sounds filled in the valley quite nicely. Gangi’s dream-like electric breeze played as a kite hovered 300 feet in the air before nightfall, when Vanaprasta commanded the desert winds with its ethereal yet hard-hitting rock.
Even after the sun went down, there was no need for heat lamps as the bodies of dancing hipsters kept one another warm during Dante Vs Zombies, whose creeping bass lines and anxious vocals assured the audience “Yes, I’m Stalking You.”
Lead singer Dante White-Aliano was properly dressed for stalking in his large sunglasses and safari hat. He transferred his spastic energy to the adoring crowd, who asked the singer if he was ok after what looked like blood was smeared across his face (when in actuality it was red lip stick). The singer returned the concern: “Are YOU ok?”
LA dance-punk band Moving Units came back to the desert after a Coachella performance last year and persevered despite the stage’s sound problems. As singer Blake Miller hovered over his guitar on the stage, orchestrating the feedback with his body, everyone went wild – from the guy with the rave gloves and the bros yelling “Coachella!” to the girl gulping beer straight from the pitcher.
Everything looked different in the Sunday light, including the painted mural-fence that security guards and artists kept painting – even the walls of the festival were creative and alive.
As moms supervised their kids and their drinks by the gravel bar and make-shift VIP section of the DIY festival, girls walked by dressed up for each other in typical vintage-festival-chic clothing – as one girl mentioned, “everyone looks like everyone.”
Almost on cue, The Abigails came out in matching Pabst Blue Ribbon trucker hats (prompting a man in the audience to ask “What do you drink, PBR?” when the singer asked for a beer). Despite Warren Thomas’ self-proclaimed rough vocals and out-of-tune guitar, there was something rustically real about the whisky-laden country rock.
Despite the sound problems, pot holes and only one ladies’ restroom, mostly fond memories will remain long after the Desert Daze dust has settled.