Joshua Tree – A Gathering of…
By Lisa Lynn Morgan and Mario Lalli
By Lisa Lynn Morgan and Mario Lalli
March will bring more than a super bloom to the musically historied desertscape of Joshua Tree. You might call it a “Super Boom”, as more than 20 bands release their amps and heavy psych sounds on two stages over two days at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center in Joshua Tree. This is no Coachella, my friends. This is a gathering of troubadours who have fallen on the sword of anti-pop, a road less traveled, weightier, louder, less thankful, for the sake of their own musical integrity and deeply reverberating souls. Many of these musicians, whose names will be timelessly historied in rock and roll vaults, are less lauded here in the states than around the world because of their commitment to this authenticity. This is exactly why any self-respecting, self-proclaimed music devotee should be present for this thunderous event. It is a tribute to a genre that sprung from a bunch of our desert kids who, with no easy access to culture or community, created their own, in open deserts, with a lantern, a voltage regulated generator, friends, and an insatiable hunger for sound.
Mario Lalli, (Fatso Jetson, Yawning Man, and more) is one of those historied musicians who will be known forever as one of the forefathers of the Desert Rock genre. As a kid musician in the 80s, he produced many a rock-fueled generator party up on Edom Hill. These generator parties were known as “Dust Festivals.” This Godfather of Stoner Rock, a title he quickly disclaims citing many others as more influential, explains, “The desert had all the space you needed. You could play live in front of more than 500 people and do whatever you wanted. In the 70s, this was done a lot by rock bands, but we weren’t there then, so we had to reinvent it.”
Lalli is the producer of the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest, this time with state-of-the-art sound, lights, and more traditional power sources, so who better to ask…
JTV: What is Heavy Psych exactly?
Lalli: I’ll start by explaining a bit about the root of “Heavy Psych Sounds.” This is actually the name of an Italian record label out of Rome that has released albums by many of the bands on the bill. The label has really become a home for many of the southern California Mojave Desert’s veteran rock bands.
Artists like Brant Bjork (Palm Desert), Yawning Man (Yucca Valley), Nebula (Joshua Tree), Fatso Jetson (Desert Hot Springs), Nick Oliveri (Joshua Tree) have released multiple full-length records on the Heavy Psych Sounds Label.
I’m producing the event in partnership with the label. The founder, Gabriele Fiori, has been a friend for many years and helped my band Fatso Jetson with some of our first tours in Europe going back 15 years.
The genre or term “Heavy Psych” refers to a convergence of heavy rock and psychedelia. If you take a listen to the some of the artists I mentioned, you’ll hear elements of heavy rock and roll that are influenced by classic hard rock, but there’s also a strong influence of jamming and rock improvisation. Bands like The Stooges, Jimi Hendrix Experience, early Pink Floyd, Cream, Black Sabbath, Grateful Dead, Gram Parsons, Iron Butterfly, 13th Floor Elevators, Hawkwind, and of course Kyuss (Palm Desert) all could be listed as influential to most of the artists featured here. I guess I also think of “psych rock” as referring to the wave of garage bands in the 60s that were experimenting with these more expansive, newer, freer song structures; it was less about the catchy hit song and more about the vibe of expressing some kind of transcendent experience.
The experimental drug culture of the 60s played a huge part in everything shifting and becoming more expressive and freer. It really affected rock, pop, jazz, country, folk, and even musical theatre in the late 60s and through the early 70s.
The current hi-desert music and art scene to me is a reflection of this spirit of experimentation and simple raw expression. It’s also directly inspired by the desert environment. I guess what I’m saying is, the desert inspires the music and the art in a unique way…heavy psych fits in the desert.
JTV: How did this festival come to be – the origin story?
Lalli: The record label has been around since 2007. I’ve been playing Heavy Psych Fests for over 10 years. The early shows were a stacked bill of rock bands all playing the same night at a little club in Rome or possibly a countryside party at an agro-tourismo in the hills of Italy. We did the first one here in the desert at Pappy and Harriet’s some years ago, and then a night in San Francisco at the Bottom of the Hill Club. But this year, I am really excited. It’s very rare to have all these local influential musicians and radical touring bands in one groovy spot. I did a rock event at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center a year or so ago and it was wonderful; the sound was awesome. The Blak Box Theatre made for a great venue. So, when this year’s fest came up, I immediately called Anne at the Cultural Center, and we started to work on the idea.
JTV: Can you tell us about the bands on the bill?
Lalli: The bands at this festival represent an underground music scene that has its own roots and history, and a cult following of passionate fans that love the sound, art, and vibe these musicians create. Some of the bands, as I mentioned, are recording artists for the Heavy Psych Sounds Label, and others are from underground rock communities from all over the country. But all the bands and artists share an intimate connection with this unique rock music movement. Local bands were chosen to represent the hi and low desert. Yawning Man, Nebula, 3rd Ear Experience, Fever Dog, are all hi-desert bands from the area. Brant Bjork and Fatso Jetson are from the low desert. Rubber Snake Charmers features Sean Wheeler whose family has lived in the Morongo basin and the Palm Springs area for five generations.
JTV: Can you describe what attendees will experience?
The festival features two stages at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center- one inside their Blak Box Theatre, the other on an outdoor stage set against the larger theater’s back wall. The stages are timed, so no bands will be playing over each other, and the music will be flowing all afternoon and evening until 9:00pm.
We have some of the hi-desert’s unique vendors selling art, vintage, clothing, decor, accessories – all rock ‘n roll super groovy stuff, and all crafted with local love. Local rock art poster artist, Dirty Donny, will be setting up a “Black Light Poster Show” in the Blak Box Theatre lobby, so check that out for sure! All the collectable posters will be available for purchase. Rolling Heavy Magazine will be bringing down some radical custom vans to help make the scene.
Parking at the event will be in the west lot to the right of the theatre. We will also have additional parking at the Joshua Tree Retreat center parking lot with a convenient shuttle running folks to and from the concert every 30 min.
Please feel free to bring folding chairs and blankets. NO BEVERAGES ALLOWED. We will have food trucks and a full bar with custom cocktails by The Joshua Tree Distillery. Our buddies at Transplants Brewing Co are making a special Heavy Psych Fest IPA brew on draft just for the event …so rad!!
I’d like to give special thanks to our amazing sponsors that helped us make this shindig happen. The wonderful CACTUS MART MORONGO VALLEY, ORANGE AMPLIFIERS, JOSHUA TREE DISTILLERY, THE HI DESERT CULTURAL CENTER, CENTRAL STATION MORONGO AND you beautiful humans at the JOSHUA TREE VOICE!!
JTV: Ah shucks. We will see and hear you there, Boomer!
March 25-26, 2023, 1-9 PM
61231 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Tickets can be purchased onsite or in advance at https://heavypsychsounds.ticketleap.com/heavy- psych-sounds-fest-joshua-tree-2023/ or scan the QR Code. The full schedule is on the ticket link.
WINDHAND – Courtesy of Heavy Psych Sounds Fest