A Postcard from Desert Trip

I sit and mentally savor the list one more time: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and The Who. Not long ago, this line-up would have sounded too good to be true. Yet, here I am at the end of Day Three of what has been referred to by many as ‘the greatest concert that was ever staged.’  It has also been dubbed ‘Seniors’ Woodstock.’

Like Woodstock (1969), Desert Trip celebrated the soul-grabbing power of rock culture. Its repertoire brimmed with weighty songs that have become the anthem for many.

Unlike Woodstock, admission to Desert Trip was not cheap. (Free to $18 for a three-day pass to Woodstock vs. $399 to $1599 for a similar pass to Desert Trip.) Most believed that the Desert Trip audience would be boomer-heavy. Participants were actually quite mixed age, with a strong smattering of ‘millennial hippies’ throughout. Although there was on-site camping, Desert Trip was not a muddy, free-love experience. It was extensively planned, precisely executed and inarguably bore more than a touch of commercialism at its core.

I stood (or rather swayed) in awe as some of the most iconic rock stars of the last fifty years took the stage. Never previously have the stars of this lineup all appeared together on the same bill. My entire being pulsed in the understanding that I was witnessing something not quite seen before…and likely never to be seen again.

I was only eleven years old when Woodstock took place. Yet I grew up believing in the ‘free spirit’ and ‘everybody is my brother’ community that Woodstock was touted to embody. Before arriving at Desert Trip, I feared having this idealized notion shattered by cliche. To the contrary, performance after performance Desert Trip rose high above platitude.

Bob Dylan opened the three-night event the day after he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. That touch alone significantly upped the ante of an already highly revered line-up.  Dylan gave a memorable performance, despite never speaking to his audience directly, and not allowing his close-up to appear on the screens. Then The Stones took the stage. Jaguar began with a playful nod to the average age of the performers (72), coining it the “Catch ‘Em Before They Croak” tour (getting ahead on the joke of this being the  “Rockers with Walkers” Festival). He then continued on to strut, ensnare and encapture until his audience was totally hooked. The Stones stunningly belted out old songs, new songs, and new takes on much-loved classics in a way that was simply heart-stopping.  Just when you thought that nothing else could possibly match this, it was Day Two.

imagesimg_9601Legendary Bob Dylan opened the three-evening music fest.

 

 

 

Regardless of your view, the ‘colourfulness’ of the Rolling Stones was impossible to miss.

 

 

As we attended the second weekend of Desert Trip, I assumed that we would receive the exact same sets that the artists had delivered during their previous performances. Not necessarily, especially with Neil Young. He actually stopped a song that his band had begun because they had played it the weekend earlier. Young made sure that he had a bit of fun with the audience as he did this. And true to character, he had political points to make (with much of his wrath directed at the California Seed Law).

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Neil Young performed ‘Harvest Moon’ just as a full Hunters’ moon was rising on the horizon behind him. The timing was  magical!

 

Young was then followed by Sir Paul McCartney. McCartney was so genuinely intimate with the crowd that I almost felt like I was in his studio as opposed to standing in a field with over 75,000 other concert goers. He invited Young back onto the stage for a few songs, while surprise guest Rihanna also joined him for a duet.

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McCartney and Young performed “Why Don’t We do it in the Road?”

 

When the concert-goers became fully seasoned and hungry for more, Day Three shifted its tone and, to some extent its stakes, while continuing to deliver at the same extraordinary level. The Who set the bar for the evening. After witnessing Roger Daltrey’s vocal runs and Peter Townshend’s power chords/guitar windmills, you knew exactly why they have achieved legendary status.   Adding to the sheer intensity of their music was Zak Starsky (son of Ringo Starr) on drums. In a word, his performance was exhilarating. Before leaving, Townshend warned the audience that they would need to get their “brains in gear” for Roger Waters’ upcoming set. He was absolutely right.

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Roger Daltrey

 

 

 

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Peter Townshend

 

 

 

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Zak Starsky

 

After Weekend One, Waters had sparked much controversy for his ‘stick it to the man, flying pig’.  It would be a mistake to let this controversy overshadow the sheer mastery and brillance of Waters’ surround-sound rock opera that unfolded.  Despite your own thoughts on this, Waters was consistent in his message and his beliefs, as were the other performers of Desert Trip. The artists of all six bands proved that they still have much to say, and have not lost their passion or their creativity for expressing their point of view.

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Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd) and his Flying Pig made his thoughts about ‘the man and his wall’ very clear.

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If you can’t make out the words in the pic, your best guess is likely correct!

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And yes, the crowd definitely added to the experience. On Day One we sat behind a group who took the words ‘Desert Trip’ seriously as they passed around a pipe and smelled of strong cigarettes.  On Day Two, the pair in front of us did what they could to express free love. On Day Three, it seemed that all of the women surrounding us had received a prior memo stating that pants were optional.

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So was it actually ‘the greatest concert ever staged’? This can only be determined by the mind of the beholder. Regardless, on countless levels, Desert Trip would be very, very hard to beat.

I have madly scrambled to get this all down just hours after the final performance ended.  Still reveling in the sensations of the weekend, Desert Trip has stirred my very being. If these artists can do all this at 70+, including writing and producing new material, what can I do when I reach that age?  It was a bucket-list weekend come true and one that I will never forget.

For more information on this iconic rock festival, check out Desert Trip’s home site or Desert Trip by the numbers. And, please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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img_9584 So glad to be able to say, “We were there!”

14 Replies to “A Postcard from Desert Trip”

    1. Hi, Joanne – Large masses of people can usually do me in as well, but the crowds at this event did not seem so bad. We were in the ‘bring your own seating’ section, which gave us lots of room to roam and choose our own space. Ironically, my understanding is that the higher priced bleacher areas were much more crowded. The planning teams were masterful at getting everyone in and out without having concert goers feeling mobbed. Thanks for commenting!

  1. Wow…. that’s amazing. I would have loved to have been there to see all those performances, especially The Stones. I am so very jealous! A great pic of then two of you also!

    1. Hi, Marty – Thanks for reading and commenting. It certainly was a bucket-list weekend. There are already rumors about a Desert Trip sequel. Some of the hoped for performers mentioned have mixed fantasy with possible reality, including Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and the Doors.(Source: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-desert-trip-sequel-fans-lineup-20161015-snap-story.html) Depending on the line-up, I definitely would return!

  2. Donna,

    It is like a dream for many people to see these legendary stars perform. You and Richard look great!
    How can you manage to live such a bold and colorful retirement life? Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Hi, Suyi – It’s great to hear from you. I think that my retirement may only look “bold and colorful” because of what I post on this blog. My retirement is also filled with down days and just regular household stuff — but I don’t tend to post about that (because absolutely no one would read it). Thanks so much for following along. I hope that all is well for you. Please keep in touch. Donna

  3. Wow, what an event! Several bloggers I follow have written about attending and they all loved it. I think I would have felt a bit overwhelmed with the crowd, but the line-up would be worth it (maybe…). It’s funny that you said that Dylan didn’t speak to the audience directly, I just read this morning that the Nobel Prize commission hasn’t heard from him (about winning the prize) yet. They hope that he will attend the ceremony, but they don’t know if he will.

    Thanks for sharing your pictures and impressions!

    1. Hi, Janis – I was looking for other blogs on desert trip but couldn’t find them. My research skills must be slipping!
      Even though it was reported that 75,000 people attended each of the weekends, it never seemed too crowded, and lines moved smoothly. Thanks for commenting!
      Donna

  4. What an incredible lineup! Rob and I would have loved to attend this concert. I hadn’t even heard about Desert Trip until you posted about it — I guess I’m living under a rock or something. I laughed at your description of the shenanigans that audience members seated around you got up to. Memo: Pants are optional. Hahaha!

    Jude

    1. Thanks, Jude. There are many rumours about “Desert Trip–The Sequel” taking place next year. Different artists but strong line-up. Stay tuned!

    1. On December 2, the Rolling Stones will be releasing their first studio album in over a decade. The album is called ‘Blue & Lonesome’ and contains twelve cover songs (two sung with Eric Clapton). They gave a preview at Desert Trip, and told the audience that the album was a nod to their former years, when they were covering blues songs in London. If you are a blues fan, definitely check it out.

    1. Welcome, Anabel! Thanks for stopping by. This Saturday I’ll be posting about Janis’ and my visit. I usually post once every six days (to avoid readers’ fatigue, and to shake up what days my posts go out). I’m on my way to visit your blog now.
      Donna

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