A large, wrinkled, slightly trembling hand, decorated with, like, 19 rings and black sparkly nails, crept from my periphery and into my direct line of vision holding a fat blunt about eight inches from my face. It’s owner, a gentleman at least three times my age, was wearing a Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt, faded jeans and a single hoop earring, passed it over and said “Hey…Snapchat this.”
The epitome of my weekend. Old. Fucking. Chella.
In a location known as Land of the White Teen, music that was the soundtrack of past generations, but also the playlist of my entire young life, came together in a moment suspended in some unfamiliar time period. Desert Trip, the inaugural music festival featuring Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who and Roger Waters, was, yes, a trip (sorry). I’m telling you—it was.
Everything that I could say about it you already know. To say I legitimately reached enlightenment would be one of the few statements in this piece without a trace of hyperbole.
You guys don’t want me to “review” them. What am I going to say? The Stones fucking ROCKED, dude? Dylan’s songs are timeless? Roger Daltry’s voice (and chest) is impeccable—that rare combination of power grunge and vulnerability—and Roger Waters should run for president?
What the hell am I going to do? Tell you to give “Gimme Shelter” a listen? Recommend that you try this neat-o new thing called LSD while listening to Pink Floyd? Pull out some Dylan lyrics and decide that they’re kind of…profound? Woah.
I mean—I wish Dylan played “Hurricane” and McCartney subbed every Wings or solo song out with a Beatles track and every Neil Young song performed was as long as his “Down By The River” jam, and Waters brought David Gilmour onstage. And I guess Pete Townshend could have, I don’t know, smashed a guitar, or Mick Jagger could have teasingly alluded to “taking off his trousers.” But I guess some of that is truly in the past.
Other reviews of Desert Trip’s Weekend 1 have conveyed appreciation for the music festival, but have been written in drab, resigned rhetoric—focusing on “saying goodbye,” to the age of rock and roll, comparing the acts to how they were at the climaxes of their respective careers, and making fun of the performer age and audience demographic (i.e. Oldchella and Geezerpalooza). Desert Trip has been redefined as a nostalgia trip, which is unrepresentative of the relevance and power of the performances and of the immortality of classic rock.
Google ‘Desert Trip’ to hear other critics bash Dylan’s raspy voice, kiss Sir Paul’s feet, and offer us the morbid reminder that since David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Prince left us earlier this year, some of these guys could have peaced out before Weekend 2.
But seeing as I’m not a middle-aged professional music critic, this weekend I was an audience member simply drinking it all in and taking field notes.
So, here’s a little taste of the scene.
In many ways, life in General Admission was the closest thing I’ve experienced to that manic 14-year-old girl seeing The Beatles vibe. People were losing their minds. There were tears, screaming, people following songs word for word and playing the air guitar. Mothers and sons, young couples, families, old friends danced together. It was beautiful…and wild.
And then at other points, I was embarrassed by my lame generation and pissed off at the “Get Off My Lawn” attitude of some of the Baby Boomers there.
Some shamefully memorable quotes from the youngsters: “I hate craft beer,” “Mumford and Sons are the Rolling Stones of our generation,” and “I’m going on the ferris wheel, text me if he plays ‘Let It Be.’”
And some real life quotes from the older crowd: “You’re singing too loud,” “Put your damn phone away,” and “Mick is too old to father another child!”
And in terms of the music…
People keep asking me what the “best” act was. In the way a mother cannot discriminate between her children, I cannot answer with that question. But here’s a brief analysis “tweet” length because yes, I’m a Millennial:
Dylan: Dylan was a great opener. By some small miracle, we could actually make out the words he was articulating. With a history of singing in a sometimes unintelligible mumble, we were thrilled to hear that man preach.
Stones: The Rolling Stones took the stage, basically saying “Hey. Here we are. We are the best in the world at what we do, watch us go, and tell us it doesn’t change your life. We dare you.”
Neil: His performances typically start with the slower, acoustic, solo pieces. And when the sun goes down and he gets into the Crazy Horse songs, he becomes Neil Young. Between epic political monologues, he blew our minds with 22-minute version of “Down By the River.” The people we were around were our age, but ten minutes into this song they brought their parents up from old folks lawn chair zone and we all watched Neil finish together, gaping the entire time.
Paul McCartney: Paul McCartney was God of the Stage. He seemed to truly appreciate the significance of this festival, this music and this time in history in general. Every song was a singalong. During “A Day in the Life,” which he performed with Neil Young, (which was the only collaboration at the festival), Neil at one point attempted to go on a classic freedom rant mid-song. I lost my mind when Paul played “Helter Skelter,” when he started imitating Mick noises, and when he responded to the Stones’ cover of “Come Together” by performing “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
The Who: Opening with a biting line from Daltry: “Well here the fuck we are!”, The Who was fucking there. The Who performs with the glam of their scene and the grit of their development, loudly delivering a musical authenticity unprecedented in my live music experience and, in my opinion, my generation.
Roger Waters: And when Roger Waters transitioned into his unsubtly hyper-liberal, anti-Trump campaign, I finally understood why he closed the festival. Simply put, his darkness was transcendent.
I had an almost-empty beer in my hand and Jimi Hendrix was playing over the loudspeaker as we pushed our way to the front of GA when I was hit with a bittersweet realization.
As one of the younger people at Oldchella, I couldn’t help be saddened by music’s apparent future. We were witnessing the best of the best; rock and roll has not seen anything reach this level since the movement’s conception, and by this generation’s current trends, it seems as if it may never get there again. This is next level. But is it possible that we’re also getting bored?
Why was I high fiving the guy in the FIDLAR shirt and sending my friends pictures of the food I couldn’t afford? Why were we freaking out over collaborations, covers and extended jamming, obsessing over uncharted musical notes performed by already-beloved musicians. Am I a poser—a Millennial enchanted by nostalgia of the past?
Those thoughts are disturbing, but must be put in perspective. This festival was not about me, just as it was not about any single person there. It’s about all of us together, the fact that we all showed up together, and were celebrating something that people thought would die a long time ago. Together, as a body, we can synergize into something greater than the sum of our parts, sing and dance as one and become a vehicle that will immortalize the original essence of rock and roll.
A group of about 10 people in their twenties walked the mile between the venue and our Airbnb thirty yards in front of us, wailing “Hey Jude” and “nanananaaaa” the entire duration of the walk home. The show had ended hours before, but the music wasn’t over.
So in terms of the ages, the demographic, the fact that we’re still listening to the same songs as yesterday, my final analysis is this: in Neil Young’s timeless words, “rock and roll will never die,” and together we will make sure of that. This epic weekend served a potent message to all rock and rollers young and old: Shine on, come together, and surrender to the trip.