By Ray Rodriguez

What a spectacular night of JT magic.
– Civic leader and bon vivant Glen Harris.

Can you curate the Devil in order to outwit/extricate him and his handiwork from your life and send him back into the flames? Ahh, but it has been done annually for centuries, with outdoor communal gatherings in Antigua, Guatemala, and it happened again, here, at the unique grounds of the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, on the night of December 3, 2022.

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Harris furthers his description of Quema, capturing the spirit of the evening as, “Celebrating with incredible friends, food, and fantastic music to burn away the devil’s traumas and challenges of the past year, to start anew with hopes for a joyous, comfortable, and healthy year.”

Indeed, but as is the case in most worth doing, let alone tricking the Trickster, such an endeavor necessitates creativity, commitment, and most of all, a community’s full puissance.

In order to sting Satan, one might first find an alluring locale, in this case prized and unique land, raw nature and its elements. Next, dress the part with attendees and performers disguised as devils and temptresses to make the Devil feel welcome. A bit of weather to endure tops it off, with what was somehow rightly described as “ball biting” cold. The seductively festooned, championed by Jessika Von Rabbit’s sizzling red body-con, proved worthy accoutrement to a rugged and special place, a modern day Stonehenge, exalting alternating universes of incendiary musical performances and a hungry, caged, fire pit threatening to both devour and erupt.

Finally, someone must go mano a mano with Mephisto and deliver Deuce back to his flaming dwelling. Circling, stalking the flaming pit was the purificator, part ring master, part high priest, but all artist, Rolo Castillo prowled the cage, dancing with the devil, getting just close enough to cast Old Nick and his foul works back into the inferno. Castillo began with small symbols of life’s vexes casually discarded into the flames to the crowd’s roaring approval. Eventually the ceremonial discarding of symbolic ailments gradually increases to larger than man sized manifestations, which must be wrestled into submission, or broken into pieces, until they succumb and are overcome by ravenous flame. More than once, Castillo wrestled with a flaming giant to keep it from escaping into the crowd, until it finally resigned, exhausted by the struggle, into the pit.

Threading acts of dispatching the Demon through a legendary music lineup provided attendees and performers with excitement at each moment. On a large, rugged open air stage, designed seemingly as a part of the environment, Pat Kearns kicked off an incredible music lineup and also served as MC for the evening. Inspired music and costumed performances punctuated the evening as FireBug, Elektric Lucie, John Curry with Los Poncho Tones, Yvonne Champagne, Dry Heat by Sean Wheeler, Flames of Durga, Flexx Bronco, Swords of Fatima and Jesika von Rabbit played late into the night, illuminated by stars, stage lighting, and a dancing fire. Each band seemingly bent on igniting and scorching the land with inspired and innovative sound and performance.

Ahh, and then in the heart of the evening, a celestial surprise. Though the Food for Thought Café provided delicious offerings throughout a chilly night for eager diners, their efforts were supported and punctuated with a wonderous treat, as if manna from above, when free pizza appeared next to the fire pit. In rolled Linus Xavior from Giant Rock Meeting Room in Flamingo Heights towing an oh so appropriate wood burning pizza oven. In an instant he created and distributed free pizza to all and once everyone had enjoyed the tasty treat, poof, he and the oven disappeared back to wherever glorious givers live.

Much later in the night, an hour past the last performance, with the final band loaded out and attendees headed home, a small crew remained, huddled around the fire pit, spent, exhausted by weeks of preparation and the day’s fantastic journey. Libations, smoke, and the kind of camaraderie enjoyed by attendees was the finale for a committed team of believers. Their common bond, a faith that doing, creating, encouraging, giving and most of all, supporting one another, matters.

And it was good.

Photos by Sandra Goodin

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