October 6-9, 2016
Food, water, shelter, and community. That's all we need to survive with each other on this planet. They are components that become the ultimate necessities, and possibly the greatest treasures when you spend your days in the desert. This place, situated just a few miles north of Joshua Tree National Park, and surrounding one of the few remaining lakes is where I discovered the best combination of new and old hippie culture. With kids under twelve able to attend free of charge, a unique family atmosphere was created. Community is crucial, and that's what I found at Joshua Tree Music Festival.
Sometimes it becomes less about working or taking pictures, and more about living and loving. About experiencing new people and hearing their stories. More about being free and calm than nervous and stressed. I spent much of the final day of the festival in deep conversations about life with those camping near me, and for the first time since college, I found myself in a profound conversation about photography. At one point delving into the instinctual feeling that bubbles during the quick moments prior to pulling the trigger to make a photograph. Having these conversations is important as it helps me stay in tune with why I do what I do, and why it makes me so happy.
It was a seemingly endless stream of happy. From the faces of the constantly swirling tornado of children running around to the grown up grins as selfless gifts are both given and received. Very rarely in our day-to-day lives are we presented with real, genuine compliments. Guy friends don't usually talk to each other about why they are close or what they admire and love about each other, but I saw that here. These festivals seem to bring out those feelings, and the result is overwhelmingly positive. I think if each of us tries to give one genuine compliment a day, even to a complete stranger, the world would be a better place.
While sitting under the crystal clear meteor-filled sky, I gave my hand to a deep-voiced Australian man for a hand massage...let me explain. When I arrived at camp one of the first things I heard was the exuberant banter of two Australians. One of which, Glen, happened to be a portrait photographer based in LA. We clicked right away, and spent time having our own intellectual discussions about the arts. The other, Andy, was new to the hand massage practice, but you'd never know it. He certainly didn't lack passion. Give him your hand, and right away you feel the oil start to mend your stress. You catch a hint of lavender that calms your senses as you sit back and try not to think about the weird thing happening to your hand. He intermittently talks to you about life, music, and the festival, but stops mid-sentence to lightly hit your shoulder and say, "Ease up, mate," knowing exactly where you were tense even before you did. I had never considered massaging my "shooting hand" as part of a de-stressing routine, but photographers take note, it's delightful!
I'd like to recognize one woman who appeared in two of my photos above. Chris Fox, the grandma hippie who was always seen smiling; her eyes twinkling with love. I didn't get the chance to talk with her past introducing myself, but I watched as she drifted around the festival waving her fairy wings, and bringing joy to those around her. I hope to meet her again at the next Joshua Tree Festival in May.
Oh, and there was music too! Great music. Interesting and unique music. The kind of music that makes your brain itch with curiosity, and gives your body a whole new reason to dance. Mid-day folk bands fiddled relentlessly under the sun, and Katdelic, a psychedelic funk band wearing fancy white outfits turned the sunset into a rainbow. Then, Sunday afternoon as the sun was setting yet again, House of Hamsa performed their new-age shamanic music filled with improvised looping mixed with traditional instruments, synthesizers, and live beats. I'll admit it was really fun trying to mimic the Tuvan throat singing style as I walked around.
I have one more festival, Soultruistic, this upcoming weekend to close out my first full year of photographing these gatherings. This has definitely become a serious summer project of mine, and I can't wait to see where it's headed!