Better late than never, right? Perhaps that’s the most fitting way to begin describing the world that is Desert Hearts – and how I find myself, almost a month later, finally able to give this festival the reflection and space that it deserves. After a pandemic-forced year away, the SoCal-born & raised boutique event returned to its annual late-April endeavor to gather the motley crew of musicians, music-lovers, artists, creatives, free spirits, kind souls, and once-strangers-now-family that is our Desert Hearts community –and bring them back to the dancefloor that we had all missed so much. Many of us walked into this weekend wary of the new space, perhaps feeling unfamiliar with how to return to festival life, maybe too nostalgic for the magic that Los Coyotes had given us for so many years. But over the course of the Thursday-to-Monday marathon that we stood on that dancefloor, something changed. To put it simply: this weekend gave us life.
I came into this year’s event claiming that it would be my last. I admittedly had so many memories tied to the old venue and its intimacy, and I was not willing to let it go. I wanted to hold onto the past, and wasn’t interested in accepting this jump forward to a new home and a larger capacity. I was stuck in my own ways. But ultimately, I found myself proven so incredibly wrong – and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.
It goes without saying that COVID-19 halted so much of the livelihood that the music community thrives on. Events stopped. Festivals cancelled. Lockdown lasted longer than any of us could have ever wanted. The world was thrown for a loop, and it felt for a moment that the scene had just – died.
A pause, at least.
And as things began to re-open, events started to ramp back up, and we attempted to pick up the pieces of the world of music that we once knew, there was undoubtedly a layer of wariness upon re-entry. Remember the first time you stepped onto a club dancefloor, or went into a bar without a mask on? How awkward did you feel?
Returning to a festival that felt like such a distant part of your past – one that used to be your annual full-send-weekend-of-joy-and-friends – seemed like such a strange concept. It felt like a habit I had forgotten and let go of – a memory too far gone.
I was uncomfortable, nervous, and unsure of what to expect. I didn’t want to see this event that had been such a foundational part of my musical upbringing return with so many changes – at first.
But alas, by the time I left Lake Perris on Monday afternoon, I felt a combined sense of inspiration, gratitude, comfort, and excitement for what’s to come – I was reinvigorated in a way I hadn’t felt since pre-pandemic times.
Perhaps it wasn’t the weekend that longtime DH attendees expected or may have initially wanted. Change is never easy, and growing pains are always expected. Having two stages instead of one was an adjustment – but it worked, and it was done well. The DH team put their hearts and souls into curating a celebration for this music that we love so much, and they deserve all of the props for diving right back in. The experiences that this weekend provided completely changed my perspective on the future of the event, and allowed me to release my attachment to the pre-pandemic era – in more ways than one.
When it comes down to it: growth is necessary. We can’t hold onto the past forever, and those nights at Los Coyotes will be stories we’ll tell for years to come. But this year’s Desert Hearts was a massive step forward – a movement down a path of evolution, to grow and expand for the best. And it resonates with how so many of us have had to re-find ourselves – and, in turn, find our own paths to evolve after the pandemic.
As we get older, and as Desert Hearts continues to grow with us, there’s one thing that will always stay true. No matter where we may be, no matter how many people have joined us, and no matter how far you have to walk back to your damn campsite (my knees absolutely despised me after a full weekend of movement) – the feeling of being home on the DH dancefloor will remain steadfast. This year’s lineup brought out some of the most talented artists and absolute OGs in the house and techno scene, and I still feel that Sunday night’s performances were the hands-down best flow of musicians I’ve experienced in years. From Francesca Lombardo > Super Flu > Tara Brooks > Kenny Larkin > Carl Craig > Robag Wruhme > Danny Daze – I was watching a Masterclass on rave history, and I felt honored to participate. You can’t forget Porky’s Saturday morning sunrise set, or Marbs’ audience-interactive mushroom forest and white-suited set on Friday night either. I’d argue that it was the best lineup Desert Hearts has had yet – and that makes me beyond excited for the next few years, too.
As I reflect on the powerful emotions, ideas, connections, and reinvigoration that came from this weekend, I continue to be filled with deep gratitude for the community that Desert Hearts has fostered over the years. There is something so magical about the space, community, culture, and people that gather from all walks of life each year for this event. It’s a truly inexplicable feeling – it’s just something you need to experience for yourself.
Perhaps it wasn’t the weekend that longtime DH attendees expected or may have initially wanted. But being surrounded by so many smiling faces, standing in front of some of the best sound systems tuned to the tee (shoutout to Chino Sound for this year’s stacks at the main stage!), reviving that feeling of bliss that a driving baseline for nonstop dancing across four days gives you: it’s a feeling of home. It’s one of comfort, of connection, of being able to reconnect with your long-lost family. There’s nothing like it.
This was the weekend was truly the one we all needed.
Thank you, Desert Hearts.
Photos by Saylor Nedelman