Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 March 2019

Desert Trip: Baby boomers and millennials rock out at record-breaking music festival

What would be your dream concert line-up? The Desert Trip festival brought together six legendary rock acts earlier this month to perform over two weekends at the Empire Polo Club in Palm Springs. But was it worth the money? We were there to find out.
Desert Trip festival-goers ranged from baby boomers to millennials as music fans gathered at the Empire Polo Club, Palm Springs, to watch six legendary rock acts play. Mark Ralston / AFP.
Desert Trip festival-goers ranged from baby boomers to millennials as music fans gathered at the Empire Polo Club, Palm Springs, to watch six legendary rock acts play. Mark Ralston / AFP.

The dream rock festival line-up has always been the perennial source of good-natured debate. The banter derives from the impossibility of such an event actually taking place. So what happens when the dream becomes a reality? Is the fact that you are there to witness such a hallowed gathering enough, regardless of the performances? What about the artists: would they have any competitive spirit left since long conquering the rock summit?

The answers were a bit of both during my time at the inaugural Desert Trip festival. Promoters Goldenvoice, the team behind the uber-hipster Coachella festival, shocked the industry earlier in the year by corralling six legendary acts to perform two sets of weekend shows – from October 7 to 9 and October 14 to 16 – at the Empire Polo Club in the California desert city of Palm Springs.

The line-up was truly mind-boggling: Friday’s shows paired up The Rolling Stones with Bob Dylan. The following night Paul McCartney and Neil Young shared the stage. The event was capped by The Who and Roger Waters. It was an event that encompassed hundreds of years of music history through their careers.

Considering all six acts could headline a festival single-handedly, this so-called “game-changing” festival could also be dubbed wallet-busting. Three-day tickets ranged from US$400 dollars (Dh1,470) to a whopping $1,599 (Dh5,870). Add in the extra charges of parking, the shuttle bus service and food, and you are pretty much looking at a four-digit deficit.

“It just needed to be done,” says festival-goer Angela Masters, who flew in from Manchester, England. We are standing on green, manicured grass among a plethora of food trucks, waiting for Young to get started. The foods on offer are eclectic and instagrammable: from Cuban sandwiches and vegan tacos to Jamaican jerk chicken and New York-style pizzas. We both indulged in a decent sized lobster roll (Dh65) as fans streamed past.

A quick impression on the threads and you sense the clothing styles correlated with the demographics – a mix of baby boomers and millennials. Basically, those who were not born when any of these artists released their first albums dressed up in what they deemed as “vintage rock gear”. Plenty of leather jackets with tassels were spotted, plus faux stained headbands, a motorcycle mask and hair streamers. The older set looked as if they were going out for a round of golf or catching a tennis match – it was a fiesta of loafers and obscenely bright polo shirts.

“Don’t mention the ticket prices. I kind of blocked that out,” Masters says, with a nervous laugh. “Take into the fact that I flew in here and stayed in a hotel – I get sick thinking of how much money it all is. But I just felt that this is a historic moment that I can tell my kids that I was part of.”

Others offered a more stark assessment.“Well, a few could die any minute and that won’t be a total surprise, right?” says Trent Hale, a sprightly 32-year-old, who made the trek over from Memphis. “I feel like I am in a real life rock‘n’roll hall of fame museum and its pretty cool to celebrate them all together.”

The thrill of being there was not only limited to the general public. In the “Diamond Lounge”, a small hamlet of a VIP area at the side of the stage, complete with couches, a food stand selling vegan quiches and free trade espressos, a stream of A-lister stars arrived. On the opening night, Cindy Crawford and her 14-year-old daughter dug into snacks as they awaited the Stones. On Saturday, an all-black-clad Benicio del Toro was spotted huddled among a small group of friends, while Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones also mingled.

The festival also marked the opportunity for Mick Jagger’s daughter, Georgia May, to spend some family time with her dad. The 24-year-old model joined our group of journalists over a lunch sponsored by British Airways, for whom she is a brand ambassdor. She gave us some tips on how to dress snappily at the festival. “You need a mixture of utility and style,” she said, before adding that vitamin C was also helpful.

As for the music itself? No surprises there. The Rolling Stones were a class act as always. Neil Young rocked and jabbered on about the environment. Paul McCartney never gets tired of singing Beatles songs and The Who’s Pete Townshend reminded the crowd that his band were “the Rihanna of our time”.

In response to the all-male line-up, discussions have now started on an all-vintage female line-up for a future event. Let the next round of guessing games begin.

Saeed Saeed is editor of The National’s Arts and Life section.

Updated: October 12, 2016 04:00 AM