Roaming around the Empire Polo Club is no easy task. By the time you’re done with the ridiculously disorganized parking arrangement, you’d be lucky if you didn’t miss half of a set. Fortunately, I—accompanied by my wife and 2-year-old boy—managed to emerge from the swirling dust onto the main area before each night of Desert Trip’s opening weekend began, albeit with lungs only a coal miner would respect.
The first, and maybe last, Desert Trip Indio features the original monsters of rock, with a lineup that arguably tops Woodstock. (Of the bands performing, only the Who made up to Bethel, NY, in 1969.) Unlike that mud-filled New York summer—and for that matter, Coachella, whose promoters put on this event—this show began at dusk, and allowed us to enjoy the show without any feelings of Altamont in the air.
A mega-rock bill has been the subject of speculation since the genre’s giants started hitting middle age. With so many original icons like Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin gone too soon, the event became a way to celebrate those who did make it past 64 (Paul McCartney’s words, not mine). In fact, Married… With Children predicted something like this nearly 25 years ago.
As funny it was in 1992 to imagine something like this actually happening, it was another thing to watch it unfold among thousands of people spanning all ages. There were many Boomers, of course, and a fair number of older Millennial parents hoping to share this music with a generation that may be too young to see these bands again. Older parents and grandparents were holding on to those memories tightly, with many the living embodiment of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.” There weren’t Deadhead stickers on Cadillacs, but there were many women who traded their flower headgear for sparkling diamonds.
Even as Dylan sang about getting stoned, Jagger lamented geriatrics along with sex, drugs and mixed emotions, Neil Young—surprisingly the toddler set’s favorite—playing as loud as possible, there was little to take away from the music. This was, however, a weekend of adults behaving badly. Older men wandered shirtless, chomping on convenience-store cigars. Older women gulped down $29 mini-glasses of wine. Many plunked down thousands of dollars to relive their youth, but nostalgia didn’t exactly rule the day: commercialism did. Surprisingly, it was the boomers who got rowdy, while the millennials were more low-key—possibly because they didn’t spend a month’s worth of rent on tickets, opting for the cratering secondhand market to settle before snatching up $109 weekend passes.
As important as the British Invasion bands were to bringing rock to the masses, there were a few American bands that should have been on the lineup. Like, why weren’t the Beach Boys invited? They may be the Wonder Bread of the early ‘60s, but seeing Mike Love and Brian Wilson kinda sorta put their differences aside for a final hurrah would have been perfect in the California desert. Otherwise, maybe a Macca/Ringo on-stage reunion could have worked, had Starr put his rigorous schedule of playing community theaters aside for one weekend. Or what about actually reuniting Pink Floyd? Seeing Waters and David Gilmour do one last mega show in the desert could have topped Pompeii. Then again, few could miss the charge that shot through the crowd when a massive inflatable pig went floating above us, emblazoned with the words “Fuck Trump and His Wall.”
On a weekend full of memorable moments, Roger Waters’ anti-Trump attack was what people were buzzing about as they jumped in their Mercedes, BMWs and Range Rovers. To bash the Republican candidate on the night of the second debate with the pig and angry images projected on-screen, Waters showed that the unabashed spirit of rock’s early days was still alive, even if the setting confirmed his status as mainstream instead of a rowdy outsider. Even here, even now, it was possible to glimpse the rebel foundation of what these bands were fighting for and against in the first place—and to remember that the fight has only just begun.