I Left My Heart at Joshua Tree Music Festival

By Esther Sanchez

Having been blessed with the task of covering the 18th annual, fall manifestation of the heavenly, biannual gathering of hearts and souls that is Joshua Tree Music Festival (JTMF), I am exhilarated to revisit what I personally think is the coolest little festival on earth. JTMF is the fruition of a dream. The brainchild of beloved event founder, Barnette English, this, “Little festival that could,” truly was and is his labor of love. His efforts were honored at the 2023 Joshuas Honors Gala with the “Voice of Joshua Tree” honor.

It’s often said by veteran attendees that JTMF is one of those things that you can’t really explain to people. Simply put, you don’t really get it until you experience it yourself. Having been someone who has worked for several of the major, world-famous music festivals over the years, JTMF is pretty much the antithesis of what the now 30-billion-dollar industry of mega festivals has become. Free from the corporate sponsorships and profit hungry interests that drive world famous events that have grown and evolved exponentially over the past two decades, JTMF has stuck to the intention behind its roots – to celebrate a vast array of music and art whilst building community and fostering an environment that cultivates love and acceptance for all.

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To say that JTMF is a “family friendly” event would be an understatement. The first time I attended some years back, I was going with a friend who had been towing her offspring to the fest with her for years. She encouraged me to bring my daughter along who, at the time, was around 9 years old. I was definitely hesitant towards the idea of dragging my child along with me to a 4-day concert in the middle of the desert without the assurance of knowing that it would be a safe and appropriate environment for her, but alas, I was convinced. A decision I will never regret.

Once we arrived and got acclimated to the vibe, her little soul soared. She put on a pair of fairy wings, got her face painted, then sang and danced beyond her heart’s contentment. We participated in children’s yoga classes, created art projects in the kid’s craft area, and discovered new and exciting music stylings which we would never have encountered anywhere else. I will never forget her telling me that she wished that we could just live there all the time. It truly was utopian.

This year I interacted with families who have literally been bringing their little ones to JTMF as often as possible since birth. One young lady in particular was helping out in the section set aside for the daily kids’ dance party, complete with live DJs donned in plushy, animal masks. She guided, encouraged, and hyped up the munchkins in a way that made them feel free to express themselves in the most whimsical ways their hearts desired. I was later informed by a festival organizer that this was the 12th time said young lady had attended, and seeing she is currently around 12 or 13 years old, JTMF is clearly a second home to her.

(To read English’s story and the history of JTMF, check out this article in the Oct edition of JT Voice.)

Don’t get me wrong by assuming that this is an entirely family focused event and that if you don’t have kids or aren’t particularly a “kid person” you might not enjoy yourself. There is a separate camping area for families where things stay relatively quiet, and once the kiddos are tucked in tight, the festivities continue and it stays lit! The headliners always pump out sets that compel the people to dance and rejoice the night away while the DJs keep the party going into the wee hours. And don’t worry if you look at the lineup and think, “I haven’t heard any of these acts.” Pretty much everyone shows up that way and then leaves with a slew of new favorites that they never knew existed and now love. Elle King was once one of those “unknown” artists.

Photo by Esther Sanchez

Photo by Sandra Goodin

One of the greatest benefits to coming out to JTMF has a lot to do with the people that you meet. The vibe is palatably positive whichever direction you turn. Beyond the musical acts, there are a plethora of mixed-media artists spread throughout the property who are invited to set up and create their masterpieces live and in real time. It truly is a unique experience to be able to, over the course of hours or days, witness these fine folks create something beautiful from a blank object, step by step, as you casually meander around. These talented individuals are more often than not, super interesting, insightful, and fun and are more than happy to interact with friendly and courteous attendees. That said, don’t be too shy to strike up a conversation if you’re in the mood.

San Francisco born, current resident of Scottsdale, Az, Banding Hendrix is a full time, “Visual artist to the Hendrix music legacy,” and founder of Hendrix New Life Motion.

Hendrix: “JTMF gives me an awesome platform to express myself and sell my art. I guess my comparison (to other festivals) is that J-tree is more of a transformational festival because they offer so many great healing workshops.” Hendrixartist.com

Painter and performer, Suki Berry is, “An artist who loves the desert.”

Suki: “I love festivals that feel like a neighborhood. The vibes were so positive, and everyone really looked out for each other. JTMF is not the biggest music festival out there, which is what made it so effortlessly enjoyable. I really liked being the ‘home base’ for people to come to and relax by my mural while I painted. I put down a furry rug for them to lay on and offered up stickers and tequila. Painters love music festivals and vice versa! Supporting the arts is what we’re here to do. Especially the art that shines best outside of a gallery setting.”

High Desert resident, Jeremy Burr, has been attending since 2008, volunteering for many of those years.

Burr: “We come with our baggage and trash from the year, and almost instantly we toss it all into a portal and we show up as our best selves, to celebrate life, and the love we have for each other. Through any struggle, we rise together on the dancefloor, and we party!”

If you missed out on the fun this time around, your next chance will come in May 2024! Joshuatreemusicfestival.com

Photos by Sandra Goodin

Esther Sanchez is a freelance journalist, photographer, head music writer for Coachella Valley Weekly, and lead vocalist for the desert punk band,The After Lashes. She is a Coachella Valley Native and descendant of the Muskogee Creek and Seminole Nations.

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