The camping-at-music-festival lessons we learned at Joshua Tree’s Desert Daze

Last weekend, we went to a festival in Joshua Tree, California, called Desert Daze.

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Photos: Taylor Boyd

Music festivals are about more than music. The sense of freedom elicited by music is catalyzed by time spent outdoors. This is especially true at Desert Daze – after all – “desert” is in the name.

While more commercialized festivals find many in attendance posted up poolside in a rented mansion, what was especially refreshing about this fest was the feeling of truly camping.

Though not exactly cheap, setting up tent seemed like the preferred means of accommodations, and sites weren’t gridded with allotted spots stacked on top of one another.

After pulling off Highway 62, you drive down a meandering dirt road until an appealing and open plot of land presents itself, then set up camp. We parked Friday afternoon, and didn’t use any method of transport aside from our feet until Monday morning.

After having an ideal weekend in Joshua Tree, we thought it would be worth it to share some recommendations based on methods both learned and validated during Desert Daze. Outside of the fact that it's possible to rock 'n' roll at age 70, proved by Iggy Pop on Saturday night, here's what we discovered in the desert.

Find a spot on the perimeter. Turn around, and there's nothing but desert.

Leave for the festival as early as you can

Everything takes longer than expected. The drive, the entrance line, procuring tickets from will call, setting up camp. The sooner you show up, the better chance you'll have of finding the ideal zone and seeing every artist you're there for.

It's always nice to get your camp set up, so you can forget about it. Desert Daze’s lineup came out the gates swinging, and had we got in a few hours prior we wouldn’t have missed a couple standouts.

Jetboil + insulated mug. Not on the list of restricted items. Glass, however, is a different story.

Check the list, and hide the contraband

Every festival has a list of things you can’t bring in, some for good reason — don’t bring that stuff in. Other things, well, what they don’t know doesn’t hurt ’em. I had to stash my pocketknife under a rock outside the festival to negate security taking it. Had I known, I would've stashed it prior to pulling up to the entrance line. Cutting food with a plastic utensil sucks. We also had to ditch a few bottles of wine and cold brew. Fortunately, Stumptown was serving free cans of it inside.

Below that tailgate once sat a shiny new Yeti cooler. Should've put it inside.

Don't leave anything unlocked and unattended

It's not those in attendance or the staff you need to worry about so much as random riffraff who view festivals as an easy target. We couldn't have been more excited about the Yeti cooler we got for the weekend, and then it went missing night one — with the majority of food I brought — while asleep in the bed of the truck it was tucked beneath.

Desert Daze seemed have no problem allowing beer into the festival from the campground, which was both welcome and unusual.

Bring more of everything than you think you need

Thanks to the preparedness of the others we were camping with, we didn't starve after the cooler went missing, but this is always a good rule with food, beer and supplies. If you don't use ’em, just take ’em home.

Remember, beers go down easier standing in front of a stage than you think when you’re standing in the refrigerated aisle.

An alternative use for water—the creative shower.

Bring water by the gallon

Drink it, take a makeshift shower, wash your dishes. Again, bring more of it than you think you need. It’s cheap, and beer alone will keep you going for hours, not days.

Know the schedule but don’t stress when you stray from it

Most festivals have an app that tells you who’s playing at what time. Download it or at least take a screen shot of the schedule on the website. You don’t want to miss the sets you came to see. However, the sleepers can sometimes be the best performances of the weekend.

Eclectic sculpture and visual art installations are spread around the Institute of Mentalphysics that serves as the festival grounds.

Embrace the other elements offered

Though centered around music, festivals provide opportunities to check out attractions between and in addition to the bands playing — visual art, films, comedy, informative speakers, vendors, etc. Take the time and explore your surroundings. The Institute of Mentalphysics, where Desert Daze takes place is full of worthy distractions.

Book a day off on the other end

Going straight from fantasy-land into the real world can be harsh. When the emails start piling up on Monday morning, it’s easier to deal with them from home.

Australia's The Babe Rainbow put on a Sunday afternoon dance party.

Leaving the desert after a weekend of reality exemption, a familiar anxiety crept in as two lanes became eight and shopping malls replaced cactus and roadside diners, but the knowledge that a festival not overshadowed by harsh clichés exists and is poised to thrive offered a degree of comfort.

We’ll be back in Joshua Tree next year to experience the music and the desert surrounded by others with the same priorities. But maybe next time we’ll hide the wine a little better.

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