Global Cooling Music Festival Takes Over the Desert

Leaving Hwy. 62 and the Town of Yucca Valley, Calif., I headed northwest on a meandering river of tar and gravel surrounded by barren hills, jutting sedimentary rocks, and Joshua trees. My destination? Pioneertown and the Third Annual Global Cooling Music Festival hosted by the environmental organization Clean Air Clear Stars. The event was held at the legendary Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, a restaurant and bar that features dancing and a long history of live music.

Soon this dusty and parched locale would erupt into nothing less than a neo-psychedelic revival, a traveling salvation show offering its parishioners deliverance from their earthly ailments. And, it will be Southern California's best kept secret.

It was Saturday afternoon, September 19. The festival started the day before and would finish on Sunday. The day's line-up featured such psychedelic dynamos as Quarter After, The Upside Down, Tree House with former Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, Spindrift, and the Dandy Warhols who were headlining the event.

The wood, brick, and mortar of Pappy and Harriet's western-style compound held secure the friendly and communal atmosphere of the festival. The small crowd was intimate with a fluid line of identity, one where band members circulated the crowd of their audiences and the audiences circulated the crowd of band members.

Later, during the show, when I overheard someone near me say, "This is desert rock," I began to ponder the meaning of that statement. Does psychedelic rock belong in places like Pioneertown? The dust, cacti, the smell of creosote in the air, the open vistas, as well as the thirst and hunger of the desert seems to demand an intimate marriage with psyche rock. But is this true? Would the purveyors of psyche rock agree with this assertion?

Standing in Pappy and Harriet's vestibule, Dandy Warhol's lead singer, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, explained the connection of his music with the desert. He admits he loves the desert and its influences, but more importantly, the Dandy's are a "VW band," a road band. It is this essential part of their music that makes their songs hum while driving in 120 degree heat down a lonely stretch of melting asphalt.

There is, of course, a touch of the country too. As he explained, all psychedelic rock bands have a country song in their repertoire.

Rob Campanella, guitarist for Quarter After and keyboardist for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, forwarded the country connection. Just prior to our conversation, while on stage with Quarter After, he sundered the still, desert air with a shimmering mirage of slide guitar solos and undulating guitar effects that put the audience into a shamanistic trance.

Campanella considered the "tradition of the [Rolling] Stones and Gram Parsons" while meditating on the relationship of psyche rock and dehydrated, scorched terra. Parsons was a huge influence on Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, and many in the 90s alternative rock movement. In 1973, Parsons overdosed on morphine and tequila in nearby Joshua Tree.

Campanella felt that the "spirituality of the desert" had a role to play in the music. For him, inherent in the genetic make-up of psyche rock is a "connection between the desert and profound, psychedelic experiences."

One band in the show's lineup certainly understands psychedelic rock's compatibility with western themes. The band, Spindrift, has blended the music of Spaghetti Westerns with psyche rock. Their music sounds like a shootout at high noon, but on a different planet. It demands that you muster courage, load your gun, right a wrong, and meet your maker face to face – albeit in a another space/time continuum.

And let's not forget the blues. As former guitarist for The Doors, Robby Krieger, stepped on stage with his band Tree House, the mood changed from one of frivolity to the serious anticipation of a spiritual purge. "This is going to be something special," mumbled an awed audience member as we watched one of psyche rock's legends approach the altar.

Addressing the crowd via his Gibson SG and Fender DeVille amp, Krieger's guitar solos spoke with a clear melodic syntax. Krieger did not fight his guitar; he graced it. The grammar was flawless, the inspiration pure. His delay-ridden blues scales flowed in a multi-colored river that satiated the parched sands we danced on.

As Tree House launched into The Doors classic, "The End," it suddenly felt instinctual and appropriate to begin dancing like a Native American, with arms splayed outward, pounding the earth with one's feet, and forming a sacred circle. Behind Krieger was a sunset of orange and purple as though he alone was calming the violent colors of the desert sun god. This was not music, this was religion.

Later I asked Krieger about psyche rock's connection with the desert. "Psychedelic rock belongs in the desert," he agreed. "Many psychedelic plants come from the desert and the music just goes along with that."

Perhaps that was why the Festival's energy felt as though it was rooted in a 1960's-style hippie commune. Or, like Taylor-Taylor said on stage, "I feel like the Grateful Dead out here." By this time in the evening, with the hand-eye coordination of the crowd diminishing under the power of mind altering substances, the event had become an Aquarian-age, spiritual revival. Pisces was dead.

The Dandy Warhols finished off the night. Peter Holmstrom, the Dandy's guitarist, filled the open night sky with a thick wave of sound growling from his Vox amplifiers. "I have a feeling this will be a night we'll remember," shouted the band's keyboardist, Zia McCabe. Later, as if to further Zia's statement, the Dandy's were joined by David J, former member of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, for an impromptu performance of the Love and Rockets' song, "No New Tale to Tell."

After the night's crescendo, we were gently lulled back from the ether to reality with a series of soft, acoustic performances that went well into the night. Our psychedelic sermon was over.

A few days later I spoke to Rick Weiche, a festival attendee and psychedelic aficionado who called the festival "a mini-Woodstock for Silver Lakers." Weiche, 49, has been following the Brian Jonestown Massacre and all its musical offshoots since the late 1990's. Several band and audience members at the festival were in some way connected to BJM. The band is known for its long revolving list of who's who in this neo-psychedelic sub-culture.

Sitting at a table in Weiche's downtown Los Angeles cafe, Cafe Corsa, he pondered psyche rock's connection to the desert. "I haven't been to enough forest shows to know, but is there an equivalent rock?" he wondered out loud, "Is there a forest rock?...a dialectical twin?"

"I think we were so in-tuned with our environment," Weiche said while getting up to attend to a customer, "we could have had any kind of rock.