Joshua Tree Music Festival 2015: Where less is more

Joshua Tree Music Festival 2015By Tom Dellinger //

Joshua Tree Music Festival //
Joshua Tree Lake Campground – Joshua Tree, CA
October 8th-11th, 2015 //

It’s no secret that music festivals are big business, and in recent years, we’ve seen a phenomenal amount of growth in their numbers across the country. They range in size from the small to the huge megafest, and while Joshua Tree Music Festival is not new on the scene (2015 marked its 10th year), it may not exactly be a household name due to its size. Located only a couple of hours away from Los Angeles and San Diego while adjacent to one of our great national parks, this little festival offers a unique experience that rivals the best and largest music festivals in the U.S.

Running for a total of four days, JTMF is like walking into a village, an otherwise separate reality — one that thoroughly removes you from all your normal daily routines and trappings. Of course, there are plenty of vendors offering food, goods and services (especially those that relate to one’s health and well-being), and there are architectural creations unique to this fest that serve as entrances to different areas as well as artistic creations that define the environment as a happy, loving space.

Joshua Tree Music Festival 2015

The place has a vibe — an overwhelmingly positive one that you immediately feel from both staff and other fans as you experience JTMF. With the festival not offering tiered ticket prices or perks, it was refreshing to not be micro-managed by an army of security with a list of things you can’t do or can’t go. In fact, the word “yes” seemed to be the norm. JTMF is a delightfully chill and egalitarian experience.

Musically though, you’re not likely to encounter the mega, high-dollar artist performing at a small fest like this. Instead, you will encounter music and artists that range from the local to other fairly well-known artists, such as Xavier Rudd, Scott Pemberton Trio and Moon Hooch.

Gene Jr and the Family

Gene Jr and the Family

One of Joshua Tree’s favorite local bands, Gene Jr. and the Family (who toured as the opener for Elle King earlier this year), served as the bookend act of the weekend as they opened on Thursday night and were the final band to perform on Sunday. Joining Gene and his band on Thursday was San Francisco funk favorite, RonKat Spearman and Katdelic. With Thursday being somewhat of a soft opening for the festival, it was these two bands who kicked things off. And what a fine beginning it was as they both delivered tight, energetic and tasty performances that ran nearly two hours each.

The stage Gene Jr. and the Family played with and RonKat Spearman and Katdelic on, called the Boogaloo stage, was particularly nice. It was located in an area away from the festival’s main stages and was set up like a club with a bar, some well-thought-out seating and one of the most beautiful stages you’re likely to encounter, striking for its well-executed outdoor theme (think of a thicket of bare-branched trees), but also for its elevated viewing areas on the sides and above the stage, which was available to all festivalgoers. Again, major props go out to the festival organizers for the egalitarian quality of JTMF.

Bang Data

Bang Data

Over the next three days, two stages would host the majority of performances while one smaller one (the Café Stage) would host a few, including the Cactus Wine Experience, a bawdy, funny and racy burlesque show that was met with great approval. With sets that ran 90 minutes each, fans were treated to deep performances from all the artists.

Along with Bay Area band Katdelic, Oakland’s Bang Data were also on hand with an engaging set of hip-hop. Coming from Portland, Yak Attack and the Scott Pemberton Trio livened up the place. Joined by dancers Jessi Trauth and Casey Lomax, Yak Attack had a solid set of electronica while Pemberton, who seems to be performing at many festivals this year, also made his presence felt at JTMF. Known for his unusual guitar technique, he and his trio worked the crowd to a fever as I heard many raving about the set in its aftermath.



Brooklyn, meanwhile, was well-represented at JTMF by funk band Turkuaz and musical oddity Moon Hooch. Both bands delivered over-the-top, blowout performances that made huge impressions. Turkuaz were not only incredibly tight, but the level of musicianship from all the members was also stunning. There was no doubt that they are a very complete package featuring great songs and compositions with crisp vocals and arrangements that kill. It was refreshing to experience them as they rolled through their set with brilliance and precision.

Of course, then there’s Moon Hooch. Defying all musical genres, they connect with their audience in a similar way to Turkuaz. I guess you could call them a “sax” band with only a drummer and two saxophonists, though once in a while, a synthesizer is used. Playing an assortment of saxophones, the trio goes non-stop from one piece to the next as they work up the crowd and bring it back down repeatedly — with the whole show serving as a tension-and-release process of some sorts. As one of the most unusual bands out there, Moon Hooch left nothing on the table and in return, the crowd loved them.

Xavier Rudd

Xavier Rudd

There was also a bit of reggae at JTMF thanks to local favorites the Desert Rhythm Project and headliner Xavier Rudd. With Gene Evaro from Gene Jr and the Family on keyboards and Piper Robison on bass, it was nice to see a third Evaro perform as Amanda Davis joined in on vocals. And as the festival wrapped up on Sunday, Xavier Rudd closed out the main stage with his message of positivity.

After a beautiful weekend in the California desert and specifically at JTMF, you can’t help but feel like you’ve done something therapeutic for yourself. Having covered a few large-scale music festivals this year, JTMF serves as a reminder that sometimes less is indeed more. The JTMF experience is worth any effort you may make to get there. In one of the most sublime spots on the planet, this is a festival that will take you in as a family member and send you home with more than what you came with.


  1. Hey hey! Your pictures are beautiful! Is there any way to download them? There is one I would really love to share 🙂

    • Hi Amber. You should be able to right click and hit “save image as” and place it where you want it in your computer. From there, you simply post to your FB timeline or whatever social you’re posting to. Please be sure to furnish a link to the article at Showbams as well. Glad you like the photos. It was a fun gig!

  2. Hi there! Just some corrections re Gene Jr and the family – that’s bada** Piper Robison on bass and Amanda Davis on glorious backup vocals. Gene’s siblings have joined him in earlier bands but these ladies should get cred now. Thanks!

    • Thanks for sharing Megan and you’re absolutely right. I’m a fan of the band and of each and every member. I’ll be giving more shout outs to them soon via FB. I’ve known Piper and Gene for a while and this was the first time I had seen them. I loved them instantly. Rock solid….throughout.

  3. Keep music live!

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