After transitting the southern edge, variously ranging from complete isolation to almost complete isolation to Sand Diego; things got a lot closer at Desert Trip. On the Empire Polo Grounds in Coachella, CA, Desert Trip is a three day festival featuring the Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who and Roger Waters. Leah flew out to LAX and shuttled over and we are camping on the grounds. With a LOT of other people. Attendance estimates are 75,000+ each day. I don’t know how many are camping – I can’t see the end of the camping area.
Each camping space in our area is 15 feet wide and 30 feet deep. Our edges are defined by white lines and good temperament. You can do whatever you want in your space — like a sovereign Indian Nation — as long as you have one car in it. Some people have obviously done this before and have elaborate, well designed structures that shade the area, offer common space and even privacy. Others have a sleeping bag on the ground behind their car trunk. We have my basic rooftop camping set-up with the exception of the shade awning, which I had to remove, disassemble, and re-asssemble off the back of the truck since the width of the spaces doesn’t allow for anything off the side of your vehicle.
The interesting thing about the edges here at Desert Trip, is that border disputes are non-existent. There is trade across borders, even some illicit trade; but everyone — so far — is universally nice and compatible. There are some language differences, in which case Americans help translate and smile alot and generally figure out the issue and solve it. There are cultural differences too. As an example, as a southerners, we have a general sense of modesty that comes from strict, repressed, old South senses of decorum that, it turns out, aren’t shared across all geographies. Getting dressed 6 feet away from someone is a source of stress for us; not so for most others who gleefully shed clothes, talk about their bodies and even engage in carnal activity RIGHT NEXT TO US. Then they see you in the morning, smile and ask if you’d like some coffee. This takes some getting used to. I am not, for instance, generally interested in the subject of whether the sun is going to create tan lines on one’s “side rolls,” but in the sovereign nation next door, this is a subject of debate and resolution via copious amounts of jointly applied sun screen.
I can’t imagine organizing an event like this. It’s basically a medium sized city that moves in, hangs out, and expects both to be served and, when appropriate, left alone to do as they please. The people putting on the show do a remarkable job of walking this line, in my opinion. We haven’t seen any disturbances or major falling outs. There are some gaps in the knowledge base of the volunteers, but it’s almost never a big deal, you just find another one and it all works out. There is plenty of food, water, showers, trash control, etc. The edges are respected, they hold when necessary and dissolve on request. Here, we are a band of co-existing states with a shared interest in music and living in our little spaces. There are Trump supporters, anarchists, libertarians, global conspiracists, people with no discernible world view, and probably a thousand other perspectives I haven’t overheard yet. But the edges hold.
As for the music, the first night was remarkable. With our tickets, we have access to a large open area next to the stage with nice couches, 15 or 20 food stalls from Wolfgang Puck to gourmet hot dogs, and lots of bars. In the hours before the show, after the gates open, we can hang out in the sun, meet people, drink and eat, and generally avoid the masses. We are like a gated community in the middle of a huge city — but no one judges, or resents our presence or tries to argue the zoning laws. Night one was Bob Dylan, followed by the Rolling Stones. Dylan was much stronger in voice and performance than previous shows I’ve seen, but it was a Dylan-esque performance. The huge video walls didn’t show the band, they showed a produced series of images that, I guess, were meant to augment the songs. This ranged from distracting to kind of mesmerizing and, in the end, left us with a sort of “well that’s Dylan” kind of feeling. He did not say a single word during his performance. He just performed the music, backed by a stellar band, and then left. Some people were mildly upset that he didn’t interact with the audience, while others were amused than anyone expected him to do anything else. It was an hour and a half or so of all the classic Dylan, and it was great. Periodically, you forget that you are amidst 75,000+ people in the middle of the desert with the sun setting over the mountains behind you, and you are simply absorbed in the music. That’s a testament to the production and to the ability of the musicians.
After 45 minutes or so of intermission, the world changed entirely. The Rolling Stones took the stage with a fervor I couldn’t imagine from musicians a third their age. From the opening “Start Me Up” to the second encore “Satisfaction” every member of the band went full tilt for a little over 2 hours. Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger (along with supporting band mates) held complete control over an otherwise un managable mass of humanity. I used to wonder why people made such a big deal about seeing the Stones. Not anymore. From teenagers to over 90 year old people, everyone had a blast. Everyone got their money’s worth. Everyone wanted more. The Stones mused about how they’ve been making music for over 50 years and yet a group this large will still pay this much money to see them do their thing. They have a new album coming out, so they are still creative. They are physically still in command of the stage during the show. Musically, they miss a few beats, but they do it with such confidence, that you hardly notice. They are The Rolling Stones.
We leave the show in the dark, a little after midnight, in a reasonable amount of order, find our little spot, and turn in for the night. Tomorrow, we do it all over again with Neil Young and Paul McCartney. It will be hot during the day, and we will haunt the various edges and find things to do before we head back to the venue and see if another couple of old guys can lead our grand city in the desert again to a musical world where there are no edges.