Desert Daze set for ‘special,’ scaled-back weekend in Lake Perris

The Desert Daze venue in Perris, Calif.
(Desert Daze)

Phil Perrone knows the adversity that comes with curating a live music festival.

From his modest beginnings promoting shows in the streets of Pomona to the last decade spent at the helm of the hand-crafted, psych-themed Desert Daze festival, Perrone has encountered more than his fair share of setbacks.

Not only was the sprawling, 11-day(!) debut of Desert Daze in 2012 rife with nearly insurmountable hurdles, Perrone and his team have since moved the location of the 3-day event multiple times.

After turns in Desert Hot Springs, eastern Coachella Valley, and the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, Desert Daze settled comfortably at the Lake Perris State Recreation Area in 2018.

A hidden gem about an hour and a half away from San Diego and unrecognizable from the nearby 215 freeway, the idyllic setting of Lake Perris’ Moreno Beach provided a near-perfect backdrop to the music, art, installations and interactive experiences of Desert Daze for two years.

And then 2020 happened.

Like almost every other live music event in the world, Desert Daze was put on hiatus. Then, in May of this year, Perrone and the Desert Daze team decided to break their annual festival into a series of concerts at the iconic Pappy & Harriet’s venue in Pioneertown.

This summer, however, that decision was scrapped in lieu of a return to a more traditional fest — even if that meant scaling things back a bit.

“Doing it full throttle at the lake in 2021 just didn’t seem reasonable,” Perrone said from a recent break at the festival site. “So we started cracking into this other format. Somewhere along that ride, Lake Perris called and said ‘do you want to look at doing this differently?’ So we decided to pivot.”

Most of the Desert Daze hallmarks, from eclectic lineups and carefully curated art installations to exclusive campground programming and that unique beachfront view, are still in place. But there are plenty of changes as well.

Desert Daze 2018
(Debi del Grande)

This year’s festival features only one stage of music in the main area, venue capacity has been significantly lowered, indoor structures have been removed to make it completely outdoors, and attendees will need to provide proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination to enter. Desert Daze will also have free testing on site for anyone who needs it.

“This is a version of Desert Daze built specifically for this year,” said Perrone. “We wanted to create something that felt comfortable while being sensitive to everyone slowly coming back. We wanted to make it as safe and relaxed as possible.”

Fortunately, with jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, chillwave producer Toro Y Moi, and indie rockers The War on Drugs serving as headliners over the weekend’s three days, it’s apparent that the festival’s legacy of diverse programming is also safely intact.

Even with only eight acts on the bill each day, there is still enough room for a nicely varied assortment of supporting performers from experimental producer Yves Tumor and comedian/musician Tim Heidecker to violinist/singer Sudan Archives and lo-fi pop artist Japanese Breakfast.

Desert Daze veteran group The Budos Band is also on the bill, performing one of only three scheduled dates on its docket this year, and the lone date outside of its homebase of New York.

Brian Profilio, drummer for the instrumental Afro/funk/psych collective and designer the last three Budos Band album covers, is especially looking forward to the trip. Not only because it’ll be the band’s first time at the Lake Perris location, but as an artist and art teacher, Desert Daze is built upon two of his favorite artistic mediums.

“I love when art and music come together,” Profilio said during a recent quick break from the classroom. “And don’t get me wrong, I love playing sleazy little clubs as well. But festivals like Desert Daze always have that extra magic.”

And that’s exactly what Perrone and his team are shooting for each year — even when they’re scaling things back and instituting safety protocols.

With no festival last year, Perrone will have to wait until next year to celebrate Desert Daze’s 10th anniversary. Although plans are in the works to mark the occasion properly, for now, Perrone wants to keep the focus firmly on this weekend.

“The plan is to go full-scale in 2022,” he said. “But it’s really going to be a special version of Desert Daze this year. And I say this totally understanding that some people may not be ready. However, if you want to see live music but aren’t comfortable heading back indoors just yet, this is probably for you.

We feel like we’re working for the community. And that community becomes an entity, and for lack of a better word, a city, for an entire weekend. We’re the custodians and the stewards of that community. And we don’t take that lightly.”

Desert Daze

With: The War on Drugs, Kamasi Washington, Devendra Banhart, Toro Y Moi, Japanese Breakfast and more

When: Nov. 12-14

Where: Moreno Beach at the Lake Perris State Recreation Area, 17801 Lake Perris Drive, Perris

Tickets: $297 and up


McDonald is a freelance writer.