Desert Daze
Desert Daze

There aren’t many reasons to travel to Lake Perris, California. It’s hot and dusty, and its landscape is barren, save for tumbleweeds and some palm trees. Oh, and a man-made lake. But it’s home to Desert Daze, one of the only three-day psychedelic rock music festivals in existence. And within that small window of time, Lake Perris’ Monarch Beach blooms into the land of milk and honey for people who love grungy-funky-punky-space rock, psychedelics, and having their mind cracked open by an array of artistic mediums.

The festival took place from Sept. 30-Oct. 1, and for the first time since March 2020, life felt chill —normal, even. Like we lived in a plagueless world beyond anxiety feeds and doom cycles. Perhaps it’s because WiFi and cell service were non-existent all weekend. We were thrust into the present moment with little chance for fingertip-riddled dissociation.

Desert Daze Beach Scene
Desert Daze Beach Scene

When immersion is the only option, you scuba dive. Within five minutes of raw dogging the present moment, it was clear that Desert Daze had changed since I last attended. It wasn’t simply an environment that catered to a psychedelic crowd through art and music anymore. Psychedelics had become a main character at Desert Daze. The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) had an info booth. Drug nerd icon Hamilton Morris hosted a screening of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia (season 2, episode 6, about a clandestine MDMA chemist) followed by a Q&A. There was a panel discussion on psychedelics and capitalism featuring the co-founder of DoubleBlind Magazine, Shelby Hartman, and signage around the festival alerting attendees about Fireside Chat, a hotline you call if you have a bad trip.

Desert Daze Obelisk
Desert Daze Obelisk

Except for Hamilton’s screening, these activations were curated by a campaign called the Partnership of Responsible Trippers Advocating for Legalization, or PORTAL. It was launched by a public benefit corporation known as Propeller, whose mission is to shift how people engage with social causes, including climate change, immigration, and racial and social justice, to name a few.

“Legalizing is part of our message with PORTAL, but what we really want to do is destigmatize the responsible use of psychedelics,” says Brandon Deroche, the founder of Propeller. “We work with a lot of artists and festivals that are not just psychedelic related to give people who aren’t in the scene a chance to learn more about what’s going on in the psychedelic movement and learn about the benefits of these substances and psychedelic therapy as it’s becoming more mainstream.”

Deroche mentions that part of PORTAL’s mission is to spark dialogue and educate people about how psychedelics can avoid some of the pitfalls the cannabis industry has made. (Hence, the panel on psychedelics and capitalism!) This past May, Portal also partnered with Lightning In a Bottle (LIB), the only other music festival that openly embraces psychedelics. That’s where the campaign launched. Deroche believes psychedelics will eventually be integrated at most music festivals in the future and hopes to bridge the gap between the psychedelics world and culturally significant music events.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Stage Diving with King Gizzard
Crowd Surfing with King Gizzard, photo by Travis Trautt

The day quickly became night on Friday. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s headlining set shook the earth with such primordial fervor it’s baffling the San Andreas Fault line didn’t slip. They are acid geniuses who have captured the audible experience of what it feels like to be on LSD. Their shows are basically audible hallucinations with a helping of strange visuals. Diehard Gizz fans refer to the band’s all-consuming performances as stepping foot into the “Gizzverse” because of how far you mentally and emotionally journey throughout their set.

“How many of you are on acid right now?” frontman Stu Mackenzie asked the crowd, shortly before swan diving into the sea of people and sprinting into Lake Perris mid-song. Alligator-shaped pool toys bounced above the crowd throughout the 90-minute set. I stood next to the biggest King Gizz fan on this side of the Atlantic Ocean (who ended up giving me a tab of LSD). He told me about Stu’s guitar named “the Flying Microtonal Banana.” He also told me King Gizz won an environmental music award this past June for their music on climate change and conservation. Their song “Planet B” earned them the accolade.

King Gizzard screaming at us to “open your eyes and see / there is no planet B” ushered in another theme prevalent throughout the weekend: Environmentalism. It wasn’t as thematically prevalent as psychedelics, per se. But activations like Global Inheritance’s Meat the Beetles infused earth conscious messaging into festival programming and gave people the chance to eat bugs at Desert Daze this year. And I did it.

Global Inheritance and Edible Insects

Joseph Yoon Edible Bugs
Edible Insect Chef Joseph Yoon

Renowned insect chef Joseph Yoon was the mastermind behind the edible creations, using worms, ants, crickets, grasshoppers, and more in beloved culinary dishes. He uses bugs from a USDA-certified organic facility, mentioning that eating bugs in the wild could be less safe than the ones he works with due to the prevalence of pesticides. These bugs, however, are raised for culinary purposes. The activation was powered by a non-profit called Global Inheritence, dedicated to creating social change in various areas, including water, power, recycling, and much more.

As I sat at a table ready to eat bugs, my minidose of mushrooms kicked in, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle the bug life. But I was in too deep to leave. The servers had already brought out preliminary bug snacks. One hor dourve was buttered popcorn with brown bugs mixed in. The other looked like a trail mix with bugs instead of raisins or cranberries. While Yoon was on the mic, I started sweating and ate a few almonds and kernels. “In 2013 the UN released a report called ‘Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security’ that said edible insects are among the solutions we can look to for sustainable nutrient-dense protein. How exciting is it that we are in a place where we can be a part of the ancient future and reclaim bugs? Our ancestors ate bugs. Native Americans ate bugs. Bugs only became stigmatized after colonization!”

Edible Insect Sample Plate
Edible Insect Sample Plate

Our following dishes came out. Black ants were sprinkled on a honey crisp apple slice slathered in greek honey yogurt topped with two yellow super worms. I picked up the apple slice and shoved the whole thing in my mouth before my anxious brain could devise an excuse to go to my tent. “It kind of tastes like cheese,” I said to Andrew, the person next to me at the table, who was adequately drunk. Before I could even finish my thought, Yoon came back on the mic. “The super worm, believe it or not, tastes cheesy. Like a Cheez-It.” Andrew laughed out loud.

The second sample was a cricket cheese pimento on a tostada chip. I took a bite and was disturbed thinking about feeling cricket legs in my mouth. Thankfully, the dish was made with cricket powder instead of whole crickets, which changed the pimento’s vibe (and texture) and was admittedly delicious. The third dish was a crostini with cricket ragu and roasted vegetables, eggplant, mushrooms, onion, and ricotta. It was also made with cricket powder, making it a much easier experience. The last dish was Grasshopper Japchae, a buggy spin on a beloved Korean dish.

Mary eats a bug
Mary eats a bug, photo by Spencer Strayer

The purpose of eating insects is to open people up to new sources of protein other than meat and animal products. Of course, I understand the subliminal vegan messaging, even on a half-gram of mushrooms. I’m not a vegan or vegetarian, and I can’t stand vegan proselytizers. But, regardless of how you feel about vegans, factory farming accounts for roughly 40% of methane gas emissions in the atmosphere. I’m not convinced eating bugs is the antidote to this issue, but I’m also not against it. Why wouldn’t we consider this option, especially knowing that humans ate insects from the beginning of time until colonization?

Tame Impala

Tame Impala at Desert Daze
Tame Impala at Desert Daze, photo by Travis Trautt

Tame Impala headlined the festival on Saturday night for a well-earned redemption set. In 2018, a freak rainstorm rolled over the mountains and above Lake Perris, forcing Tame Impala to stop three songs into their performance and cancel the show. It was pure chaos; everyone panicked. Lightning bolts lit up the sky, and thunder roared instantaneously. The sky wrung itself over Desert Daze. It’s funny now looking back on it, but it wasn’t then. My tent flooded, and day one of the festival in 2018 ended early. Everyone had just taken their drugs before Tame Impala, too. The timing couldn’t have been more cursed.

There was no rain in the forecast this year, though. And Tame Impala performed their sophomore album Lonerism from front to back. OG Tame Impala will always have a special place in my heart. They were once my favorite band. Their seminal album InnerSpeaker won my heart in 2010, so when Lonserism dropped in the fall of 2012, I was ready to put my life on hold and become a groupie. But the albums following Lonerism broke my heart. Tame Impala devolved into mainstream yacht rock, and I was devastated over it. At the time, I’d recently peeled myself out of a shitty relationship when their third album dropped, so losing a band I loved and a long-term partner cut deep. Everything I thought I knew was not as it seemed.

So the fact Tame Impala performed Lonerism at Desert Daze was the best-case scenario. No dad rock, just the psychedelic rock dreamscapes that made them famous. “Enders Toi” and “Elephant” teleported me to a time when pandemics were only the premise of movies, and the extent of my responsibilities was graduating college. Maybe it was the LSD, but hearing Lonerism live liberated me from feeling bitter about Tame Impala’s yacht rock and reminded me that I can still love them for how they used to make me feel, even if I don’t feel the same way now. That’s a lesson I can apply to multiple people I know, if we are being totally honest.

Iggy Pop was supposed to headline Sunday night, but he pulled out two weeks before the show because his French bandmate couldn’t get his visa in time. Beach House headlined instead, and everyone raved about their performance. I was asleep by the time they went on because I’m a 32-year-old grandma now.

But my one takeaway from being back in a space where 10,000 people scream and sing in unison, hug each other, dance, and radiate in sheer elation, reminded me that music festivals are my church and psychedelics are my sacraments. And both help me absorb the details of the present moment in ways I otherwise might not. Amen.


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