Somewhere, while driving along the road to Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, while weaving in and up and around the majestic mountains of Warner Springs, California, I got lost. Not lost in the sense that I was used to, though. At a certain point, around 3100 feet above sea level, I vanished from what I know as everyday life in our society, and was transported into a realm of House, Techno, and Love.
I’ve been a fan of the Desert Hearts Crew for a hot minute. Through their music releases via their own record label, Desert Hearts Records, and their unforgivingly wild sets when they come through Denver, I certainly would consider myself a supporter. It wasn’t until I attended their flagship event, Desert Hearts Festival, however, did I really understand what their whole little movement was about.
For those unacquainted, the Desert Hearts Crew consists of four, quirky, lovable DJs that go by the name of Mikey Lion, Marbs, Lee Reynolds, and Porkchop. A number of years ago, after all attending Burning Man together, the crew got together to recreate those unshackled, free-spirited vibes at a remote location somewhere near their hometown of San Diego. They succeeded in throwing an epic renegade party, and decided to call their Burning Man spinoff Desert Hearts.
This 2018 edition of Desert Hearts would happen to be the 10th official round of festivities, and by now it’s clear that they’ve got partying down to science.
The most important aspect of a Desert Hearts party is simple: letting yourself go. It’s easier for some than it is for others. The key? Allowing yourself to become embraced by the warm group hug that is the Desert Hearts community. None of these beautiful souls care about what you look like, where you’re from, what you do - as soon as you walk through that portal and onto the dancefloor, you’re loved.
Other similar festivals may flaunt that they share this sentiment, but this is the first one where I actually felt it resonate through each and every attendee. The sense of love and freedom on Los Coyotes Indian Reservation was palpable.
One of the many unique elements of this charming boutique festival is the one-stage factor. Throughout the three and a half days, there’s one sole stage that runs 24/7. That’s right. Forget planning which artists you need to see, as there’s only one place to see them. The only thing that you need to plan is when you’re going to sleep, however that may actually even be more difficult, considering the caliber of artists they rounded up for 2018.
I’ll admit that I only knew a handful of these DJs that were scheduled to play this year, and I confidently cut out certain sections of time that I was sure I would use as crucial resting time. Ha.
By six in the morning during that unreal first night, when I witnessed mind blowing sets from artists off my radar like Atish, Matt Tolfrey, Justin Campbell and Andreas Henneberg, I knew that all bets were off. This was going to be a dance-til-you-drop type of experience.
As the sun began to creep above the horizon, I dragged my feet back to my campsite for a quick, dreamless nap. When I awoke just a couple hours later, I assumed there would be the standard routine of shooting the shit with my zombified neighbors, stuffing some food into our stomachs, and having a few drinks before heading back out.
Nope. Nobody was in their tents. What set was I missing out on now? I quickly got dressed and jogged out to the dancefloor to find more than a handful of familiar faces still sending it from last night. A few rough tequila shots later, and I was back in the groove. In fact, I made it back just in time to witness a massive cardboard school bus being carried around by six “passengers” with the words “CAN’T STOP” written on the stop sign, and “Desert Hearts United” along the side. It was ten o'clock in the morning.
It was around that time that I realized the science behind this ridiculous, all-out affair. At a certain point during this 80-hour marathon, you become so wrapped up in the party that you entirely relinquish the burdens of life that you may have brought with you. Desert Hearts invites a more literal definition of “leaving it all out on the dancefloor.” They nearly force you to.
There’s no time to think about your daily stressors. Forget any and all emotional baggage you came with. Effort expended on those worries is energy that you simply won’t get back, and you’ll need all the stamina that you can muster. The sights, the sounds, and your newfound friends deserve your undivided attention, and once you’re immersed in the love that’s being passed around, everything else just becomes white noise.
Despite the madness that ensued over those few days, everyone seemed to carry a balanced head on their shoulders. There may have been some people losing their minds the night before, but the following morning those same individuals would casually be walking around, sipping tea, calmly and intellectually conversing about their spiritual experience.
While waiting in line for some delicious thom kha (spicy coconut soup), I had overheard one of the working medics saying how easy this festival was compared to others. Most folks in attendance have been partying for a while, and know how to handle their shit.
During the remaining few hours of the festival, before Mikey Lion, Marbs, Lee Reynolds, and Porkchop took the stage to throw down their family b2b set, many of us had already started to reflect on the debauchery of the weekend. When attempting to talk about certain sets or shenanigans that took place at a specific time or place, it was nearly impossible to pinpoint those memories. Days had turned into nights, had to turned into days for what seemed like weeks. Getting caught up in the magic felt like we were stuck in a lucid dream that none of us wanted to wake up from.
Desert Hearts Festival is an 80-hour nonstop, limit pushing, house & techno dance party that transcends time and space in a way that only those who attend would fully comprehend. It’s insane, it’s over-the-top; it’s therapeutic, it’s necessary. But, all else being equal, it’s pure, unadulterated fun. And I can’t wait to go back.