With most major music festivals these days, you know what the crowd is going to look like. Coachella draws L.A. scenesters, Bonnaroo brings out the hippies, and Warped Tour attracts disenchanted teens from across America (this is reductive, but generally accurate).
But Desert Trip is more than just a new festival — it’s a new type of festival. Unlike Coachella or Lollapalooza, Desert Trip features just six acts — all of whom had their creative peaks decades ago (yes, yes — many of them are still doing excellent work, but the era of these guys creating culture-changing music has passed).
Considering the Desert Trip performers are all AARP eligible, does it follow that the fest — dubbed Oldchella by smirking pundits — primarily attracts people in their golden years? Generally speaking, yes — although the crowd wasn’t as overwhelmingly grey-haired as you might expect. (Incidentally, of the Boomers at Desert Trip, most were of the suburban variety — very few people looked like they’d been chasing the Easy Rider dream since the ’60s.) While there were certainly more people over 40 than under 40 at Desert Trip, there were plenty of attendees in their twenties and thirties at the festival, even in the spendy front-row pit section (three-day passes were $399 for general admission but a staggering $1599 for the pit, although it bears noting that the view was incredible).
And the wealthy Boomers came from all over: Brazil, Italy, Texas, Wyoming, Australia, Chile, Tennessee, and New York. Hell, some locals even attended. Most of the Desert Trippers came in pairs: There were a lot of married or romantic couples, and plenty of best buddy duos. Desert Trip attracted far fewer loners and groups of five-or-more than you’ll typically see at Coachella.
One thing that unified Desert Trip attendees was that when asked who they were most excited to see, people invariably offered one or two names before trailing off and then just naming all six performers — an acknowledgment that there wasn’t a weak link on the lineup.
The fest-goers were slightly more varied in their feelings on the ticket prices. Davin, 37, and Rachel, 29, said that attending the festival was an easy choice, but ponying up $1600 for the pit was a tough call. “But it’s so once in a lifetime,” Davin explained of their final decision to splurge. Mauricio and Vera, both 57, flew in from Brazil and didn’t think twice about spending the $1600 — “It was an immediate choice. This is too good,” he explained. Brenda, a 62-year-old from Dallas seated in the grandstand, put it rather bluntly: “A lot of these guys are going to drop dead in the next few years or stop touring. So you have to see them while you can.”
Dennis and Liza, a couple in their late fifties who live in Palm Desert, were slightly more divided. “It was an easy choice for her,” Dennis said laughing. “This is a bucket list kind of thing,” Liza explained. Dennis didn’t, however, seem to regret the decision to hit up Desert Trip: “Having three [adult] daughters, it’s nice to have a concert that’s a little more for us,” he said.
The chair area (Chairea™) at Desert Trip pic.twitter.com/v02K3nWT8o
— Joe Lynch (@branniganlynch) October 10, 2016
“Being almost 50, it’s nice being in a crowd that’s a similar age,” said Morrison, 48, who came from Wyoming. “And I hadn’t seen any of the old guys, so it’s a treat.”
A number of older fest-goers used the words “bucket list” when describing the lineup, and several noted it was relaxing to attend a festival with people in their age range. But the young attendees didn’t seem to feel out of place.
“This is the music we grew up on,” said Jeff, 26, of Memphis. His companion, Kelsey, 25, also of Memphis, added, “We go to lots of EDM shows, we do Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, but this seems like the festival of the century.”
While Kelsey acknowledged the pit ticket prices were “outrageous,” Jeff offered, “The bottom line is, for these six great artists at the same time, I wouldn’t expect any different of a price range.”
Of course, not all the ticket prices sail past $1k at Desert Trip. The $399 asking price to see six legends in one place is actually very reasonable – but then again, at that price, you’re watching most of the show on a massive video screen behind the performers. (For the $1600, you get a close, clear view of the icons at hand — but then again, for $1600, you damn well better.)
But for every ticket buyer, the atmosphere at Desert Trip was significantly more luxurious than at most festivals. Coachella means enduring cringe-worthy portable toilets, but the Desert Trip restroom experience was almost pleasant. And while Coachella’s grounds get pounded to dust after one day, the late Desert Trip start time — acts started between 6-7 p.m. PT — meant that the earth was significantly less dusty and trampled than at most fests. “It’s spotless,” Morrison said. “The parking is great, there’s grass — and sofas!”
And then there’s the comfort level. While you’re often standing in the mud at music fests watching Calvin Harris from the length of a football field away, at Desert Trip, you’re comfortably seated on a cushy row of chairs plopped right in front of the stage ($699 for three-day pass), or situated in the grandstand seating ($999 for three-day pass) erected to stage right and left.
A few complaints — mainly about the lines for food and the fact that some performers didn’t consistently use video footage, making it difficult for the back rows to watch the artists — notwithstanding, many of the Desert Trippers began talking about coming back for another year without prompt.
“We were kicking around names for the next lineup,” 61-year-old Mark from Dallas said (Note: GoldenVoice has not confirmed Desert Trip will return for another year). “Tom Petty, maybe Elton John. Billy Joel was one we mentioned. Maybe Springsteen.” The younger crowd, meanwhile, tossed out names like Bon Jovi and Aerosmith as possible contenders for Desert Trip: The Sequel. It seemed that the dream lineup for a potential year two would depend greatly on the age range of the target audience.
And what of that age difference — did the younger and older audiences gel? Mostly, yes. Since it’s 2016, even the Boomers were whipping out their phones to capture pinch-me moments on video. And I saw just as many people without hair passing reefers as people with hair.
The only noticeable difference with the older crowd at Desert Trip was that a few people were a bit more curmudgeonly. People under 50 tend not to bristle when bumped into at a fest, but the some of the older set guarded their standing space as if it were their government-assigned property; one guy refused to allow me to slip past him because he was standing with his legs spread over an assortment of five mixed drinks on the ground he didn’t want anyone knocking over. And speaking of grumping it up, one guy actually heckled Neil Young for getting briefly political; the absurdity of criticizing the man who wrote “Ohio” for briefly preaching was apparently lost on the man.
A few crotchety old timers aside, Desert Trip was certainly one of the most pleasant music festivals I’ve ever attended. Ultimately, the big takeaway from Desert Trip may be that when it comes to music festivals, you can sometimes get what you want — clean restrooms, less dust, comfortable chairs and a weekend of all-killer-no-filler artists — as long as you’re willing to lay down a heap of cash to get that satisfaction.