Desert Hearts Spring Festival 2016: A Journey of Discovery

Posted by on April 25, 2016


Before moving out to California three months ago, I didn’t know much about Desert Hearts. I would see the festival’s name pop up time after time in blogs and Facebook posts, and I became intrigued by the colorful photos and people that caught my attention. I remember sitting at home in the middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania, scrolling through photos of the festival, and fantasizing about what it would be like to be in this vibrant scene all dressed in silly clothes with happy-looking humans. Not long after my move to California, an opportunity arose for me to attend the festival; I couldn’t refuse it. The time had finally come for me to find out what Desert Hearts was all about.

Last week’s Desert Hearts made its biannual effort to bring 72 hours of ceaseless house and techno grooves to the California high desert. The festival found its origins in November 2012 with a renegade affair of only 300 people, and since then has grown to be a transformative dance music emblem of art, music, and acceptance, all powered by the heart and soul of San Diego burner crew Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, Deep Jesus, Porkchop, and Marbs. Each year the festival attracts individuals from all walks of life, inspiring people through artistic evolution, sound healing, and community immersion.

My inaugural Desert Hearts journey started a day before the festival began. I caught a ride early Thursday morning and headed out of Los Angeles to the sacred landscape of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation where the festival would take place. The ride was a mere three hours, but seemed like a lifetime of anticipation. After a long, dusty trip up to the festival grounds, we were greeted by a man decked out in rainbow garb, smiling ear to ear, who seemed just as excited for us to be there as we were. Soon enough, as my phone’s service finally cut out, we secured our ‘VIP-for-all’ wristbands and were on our way.

Getting to the festival site a day early turned out to be a better decision than I had expected. The campground was charmingly tucked away between the looming mountains of the high desert, as trees sheltered the campground to shield us from the hot sun during the day, but were spaced out enough to see the deeply star-speckled sky at night. I took my time to walk around the grounds, taking in the scene as it was built right before my eyes. I watched as the single stage of the festival was given its final touches complete with its signature floating disco ball heart, not even comprehending the love and energy that would soon radiate around the structure for a nonstop 72-hour parade of techno and house music madness.


Friday was a blur of new sensations and new friends. I took in every bit of what the festival had to offer, from the diverse offerings of the fashion, wellness, and food vendors to the thumping beats of the four on the floor grooves that emanated from the stage’s Funktion 1 sound system. People wore their best thrift store finds paired with gaudy jewelry, face paint, top hats, animal onesies, and whatever other unique treasures they could express themselves in. Hoopers, poi performers, and stilt-walkers decorated the dance floor as a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube man looked over us all. People took turns dancing on the elevated surfaces on either side of the stage. Painters of every medium took to their canvasses and created surreal pieces right there in the madness of all. Love, creativity, and community radiated everywhere. As the sun slowly crept behind the mountains, I was completely swept up with the ethereal ambience that felt both familiar and foreign. Here I was, surrounded by new faces in a place I’ve never been, but I never felt more in my element.


Once the temperature began to drop in the evening and people dawned their fur coats, and the infectious funk of Latmun’s set descended upon the crowd, sending us off into the night. The hypnotic grooves of Muniz, Hearthrob, and Dance Spirit would carry us into the early morning as people either surrendered to the music or cuddled amongst strangers, pillows, and blankets in the Burning Man theme camps of Pile Palace and Shangri-Lawless.


I was fortunate enough to be camping in the renowned Savage Hearts campsite, a rowdy yet lovable camping group that can get down and dirty on the dance floor by night, and still be able to dress up as pirates by dawn to serve their infamous Wench Toast breakfast to the hungry early morning crowd. I still have no idea if anyone from this crew ever slept, but they sure know how to have damn-good time. People who survived a night of non-stop dancing came to the Savage Hearts campsite to indulge themselves in free bread, eggs, and mimosas.


After a lengthy mid-day nap on Saturday, the day eventually found its rhythm once again as I made my way back to stage and was greeted with the heavy tech house tunes of Desert Hearts head honcho Mikey Lion as well as a brilliant wine and cheese party taking place right on the dance floor. They say anything can happen at Desert Hearts, and it’s easy to believe. Deep Jesus, Lee Reynolds, Marbs, and Porkchop continued to woo over the crowd for the rest of the evening, bringing forth an unmatchable energy that I’ll be reminiscing over for a lifetime. The full magic of Desert Hearts came to be as the team took over and we all celebrated the festival’s sacred mantra of “House, Techno, and Love.”


I’ve discovered the best way to come into Desert Hearts is to leave behind any expectations you might have about the festival. The festival is a journey, one that everyone experiences differently, yet we somehow all connect through the same energy and vibes that makes Desert Hearts so different and special to every person that attends. While the music, art, workshops, and artistic décor made the festival unique, it was really the people of Desert Hearts that have not left my mind since I left. Everyone helped one another, kindness overflowed, hugs were currency, and laughter was medicine. For at least the weekend, I could step away from “the real world” and be a little more lawless and carefree, allowing me to bring out the best parts of myself that I have to offer. In simpler terms, my first Desert Hearts was a resounding success, and I cannot wait to return.


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