Wednesday, August 22 , 2018, 1:01 am | Fair 64º


Paul Mann: Desert Trip Festival Wows the Crowds with Rolling Stones, Dylan

Mike Jagger takes center stage as The Rolling Stones rock the first weekend of the Desert Trip music festival. Click to view larger
Mike Jagger takes center stage as The Rolling Stones rock the first weekend of the Desert Trip music festival. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

The Desert Trip music festival concluded its first weekend, and what a long, strange trip it was.

By all accounts, the most sophisticated and expensive music festival undertaking in history proved to be a huge success. The three-day festival featured six of the biggest names in music still performing since the 1960s. The tickets were some of the most expensive, ranging from a little more than $400 for general admission far in the back to nearly $2,000 for prime seats. Goldenvoice was reported to gross $160 million in ticket sales alone, and bands were offered paydays upwards of $7 million each, at least for the headliners.

To the promoters' credit, no expense was spared for concertgoers, from the super VIP crowd to the masses of general admission participants. A single concert stage sported one of the largest video backdrops ever assembled, stretching more than 260 feet.

The festival sprawled across the entire grounds used by the annual Coachella concert, which features six stages and 100,000 attendees. There were 24 massive sound towers stretching to the very back of the festival offering up nearly perfect sound everywhere, with state-of-the-art delay balancing across the entire perimeter. Two more massive video screens in the general admission area kept the people in the back mesmerized with visuals. There were even two smaller video screens with their own audio system more than a mile from the stage in the back vending areas. Many fans taking a food or drink break gravitated to these screens far away from the crowds in front of the main stage.

Speaking of food and drink, vendors stretched across the entire venue in such large numbers that there was scarcely a wait for gourmet food and nearly any kind of alcoholic beverage, from local breed beer to top-shelf cocktails. Air-conditioned bathrooms stretched across the venue, as well as eliminating the nuisance lines so dreaded at most festivals.

The festival featured two bands each day with music starting around sunset. Most fans arrived early to lounge around the massive venue and suck up the unique atmosphere with the beautiful desert sun painting the mountains in the background.

The legendary Bob Dylan opened the festival, probably the first time he opens for a band in a very long time. The master songwriter played a short but brilliant set that may have been one of the best performances he has given in decades. Dylan dispensed with the new cover songs he has been playing on recent tours from his last two albums. Instead, he focused on songs from his classic catalog, some of which he hasn’t played in a long time.

Bob Dylan opened the festival with a set focused on his classics.
Bob Dylan opened the festival with a set focused on his classics. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

Unfortunately, for most of the massive crowd, Dylan stayed true to his formula of complete control over the production. Anyone who has seen a Dylan concert in the 21 century is familiar with his disdain for live video. There was the familiar faraway wide shot and over-the-head shot of the performer on the video for a few songs at the beginning of the show, but Dylan quickly nixed the broadcast. Most of the show featured an artistic video featuring old views of Dylan and people across America, reminiscent of a Woody Guthrie song. It was too bad that the performer was so camera shy, as he actually looked quite dapper in his feathered yellow hat and tailored suit.

The septuagenarian songwriter mostly played piano and played some material he hasn’t visited in a long time. For his encore, Dylan dusted off  “Masters of War” for the first time playing it live since 2010. He played “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” for the first time since 2012. He played two songs for the first time since 2013, including the classic “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Make You Feel My Love.” The show began with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” which was the first time he played that live since 2014. He also played a relatively new song, “Lonesome Day Blues,” also for the first time since 2014. In all, the 16-song set, including the classy “Tangled Up in Blues,” seemed to please most everyone in the crowd, but why the performer ended his set after about only 70 minutes is anybody’s guess.

The early end to Dylan’s set left a nearly two-hour gap in the concert before The Rolling Stones took the stage. Most concertgoers used the time to saunter about the festival. Some viewed a classic photography exhibit of old shots of the bands in a massive air-conditioned tent. A record operated by The Glass House from Pomona also was a popular pastime.

The Rolling Stones sauntered onto the stage about 9:45 p.m. looking eager to embrace the massive crowd. The band proceeded to play an 18-song set lasting a little less than two hours, for a pretty typical Stones show.

They began with the typical opening number “Start Me Up,” but the iconic group did mix it up with several blues tunes in a nod to their upcoming album, Blue & Lonesome, which is set to be released Dec. 2. The album, the first for the band in more than a decade, features covers of songs from classic American blues legends.

The band played one of these early on in the concert, “Ride ‘Em On Down,” a Jimmy Reed blues standard last played in 1962. The current band is well suited to play American blues. In addition to the four core English rockers — Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards and Ron Wood — the group features some amazingly talented touring musicians. Longtime collaborator Chuck Leavell plays keyboards. The astounding Darryl Jones, former bass player for Miles Davis, plays the rhythms. Saxophone master Karl Denson joined Tim Ries for a double sax explosion in the band. Backup singers Sasha Allen and Bernard Fowler also added jaw-dropping vocals to the mix.

The band also played their first-ever cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” to honor Paul McCartney, who was set to play day two of Desert Trip. Jagger seemed to live in the moment and bantered with the crowd often. The singer labeled the festival "The Palm Springs retirement home for genteel English musicians." He also gave a shoutout to Dylan for opening the show.

Richards took the vocal lead on the classic “Little T&A” for the first time since 2007. The set also included the band's concert staples, “Gimme Shelter,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Brown Sugar” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” They featured “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with an accompanying local choir of children and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” their first big hit song.

The first day of Desert Trio seemed to be a huge hit with fans. Perhaps the only complaint was the lost opportunity for an historic guest appearance of Dylan singing with the Stones. Maybe week two?

Tickets for the second weekend have inexplicably dropped to as much as 50 cents on the dollar across the venue on most ticket resale outlets. The high cost of accommodations may have spooked many original ticket buyers.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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