This year’s Desert Daze festival was still out there, but the trip was a gentler one

For the Desert Daze festival, the ability to evolve in its ninth year doesn’t necessarily mean growing bigger, it means burning brighter.

Given the issues facing the concert industry, including COVID-19 (Desert Daze, like most everything else, was canceled in 2020) and the recent tragedy at Astroworld, the fact that the festival, held Friday through Sunday in Lake Perris, Calif., reduced its capacity this year from 5,000 fans per day to roughly 2,000 felt like a welcome relief. Hosting more than two dozen acts on one main stage meant cramming the fest’s psychedelic smorgasbord into one space, meaning fans could stay put in their beach chairs and on their blankets.

Following Friday’s salvo of roaring rock acts, led by Ty Segall and headliners the War on Drugs, Saturday night’s eclectic lineup offered a significant change of pace.

Crowd surfing at Desert Daze.

(Travis Trautt / Desert Daze)

Sounds from the stage jumped from the frenetic, Strokes-y explosion of New York youngsters Geese to the hypnotic dub of Pachyman to the high-powered horns of the Budos Band. As night fell, the hip-swaying alt-R&B of Sudan Archives gave way to the baroque pop of Andy Schauf and the freak-folk lullabies of Davendra Banhardt, who contemplated the possibility of aliens making an appearance. “What if they show up tonight? Obviously they’ve always been here, it’s just a matter of scale — either we [fit] on one of their pinky fingers or we can’t see ‘em, right? So here’s a little love song to bring forth the UFO within and without,” the singer-songwriter said before launching into the sultry ‘70s funk of “Love Song.”

The evening wrapped up with L.A.’s dashiki-loving sax wizard Kamasi Washington backed by his explosive seven-piece ensemble. Midway through the set, Washington introduced one of his latest singles, the smooth “Sun Kissed Child,” a song inspired by his newly born daughter. Other tracks like “Truth,” off of 2017’s “Harmony of Difference,” and set closer “Fists of Fury” featured virtuoso solos from Washington’s bandmates, who would send the songs spiraling out into the cosmos before bringing them back to their foundational melodies.

By the end of the night, it felt like Desert Daze had succeeded at a similar tactic — riffing on its tried and true to fit the moment, while staying grounded in the ethos that continues to make this fest a success.

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