I had heard about the notorious desert party before, but never had the courage to experience it.
A three-night party in the desert east of San Diego, with non-stop house and techno music blasting from Friday afternoon to Monday evening? Sounds epic, considering my love for dance music, but definitely intimidating.
As I drove up the spiraling mountain road towards the campgrounds, my phone went out of service. I was officially off the grid.
It was about midnight when I finally got to a kiosk in the middle of the road, where a smiling greeter took my ticket. "Welcome to Desert Hearts!" he exclaimed as his eyes lit up. I felt like Alice about to enter the rabbit hole.
And down I went.
Ten more miles down the road and I started to see the lights.
Lights and trees, and more lights, and more trees, RVs, people, tents, structures - it appeared as if there was a hidden city of color in these mountains, a secret community of desert dwellers.
I rolled down my car window as I found a spot to camp, and that's when I heard the music.
The music was magnificently loud, the bass permeating through this hidden city like smoke, swarming and overwhelming your ears and your body and your soul.
The rest of the story is predictable but incredible; after setting up camp at an absolutely beautiful natural area on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, I frolicked off to the main stage (the only stage, actually) where I would dance the night away until the sun came up - no, until whenever I wanted, because this party don't stop til Monday afternoon, y'all.
So, what did I take away from my first experience at Desert Hearts festival? For starters, the "One Stage, One Vibe" philosophy behind the event creates a vibe that is truly unifying. By having one stage only, everyone in the crowd is present, as opposed to anxiously looking at set times and rushing to other potential stages. With one vibe, Desert Hearts brings the focus back to the music and the people, allowing everyone to freely enjoy themselves without the fear of missing out.
As mentioned before, the festival is a leave-no-trace, self-reliant event, meaning you pack in what you need and pack out what you don't. This sustainable model may have intimidated me before, but no more. The beauty of hosting a self-reliant gathering is extremely liberating; it feels like the festival was made by the people, for the people.
Furthermore, with that self-reliance comes creative participation. YOU make your own experience. YOU can be a dancer on stage. YOU can light up the night with your flow arts. YOU can contribute to the paintings around the festival. At Desert Hearts I did not see spectators, staring mindlessly at the stage. I saw artists, groovers, sleeping beauties, comedians, theatrical players, singers, philosophers. And it was all love.
Love. That's all it was. House, Techno, and Love.
Of course, the music was top notch, and if you go to a Desert Hearts party I encourage you to stay until the end, as the entire weekend leads up to the best gangster house and techno music currently out there. The vibes, the art, the music, the production - everything was on point.
In the end, I was wrong. There was nothing intimidating about the festival. I spent a lot of time on my own, yet it was the most welcoming, warm atmosphere that could exist.
Dancing under the moonlight to swaggy beats, resting in grassy nature upon sacred land, and smiling along the way, I found it within my young self to realize that I, too, have a desert heart.
And it's finally full.
Surprise! The party doesn't stop there.
This weekend, on Saturday, April 11th, the Desert Hearts crew is back with a 12 hour show at Spin Nightclub.
CITY HEARTS San Diego will take place from 9pm-9am and feature all your DH favorites including Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, Marbs and the like. It's going to be a special night for those decompressing after the Spring Festival or for those who weren't lucky enough to experience the desert event and want a taste in the city.
Tickets for the San Diego show are available at this link.
You can also check out this video below of past CITY HEARTS events:
The official Facebook event for CITY HEARTS San Diego can be found here.
That's all folks! Until next time. <3