Desert Daze Founder Phil Pirrone Builds Communities for L.A.'s Psych-Rock Scene
Phil Pirrone is a family guy. He is the father of Desert Daze music festival, the father of the Moon Block parties, the father of independent booker Space Agency and the father of the 1-year-old daughter often seen attached to his hip. It's all rewarding, but it's also draining. Every time you encounter Pirrone, he sounds both exhausted and beaming with life.
Recently, he's returned from Desert Daze Caravan, a monthlong tour featuring Temples, Night Beats, Froth, Deap Vally (which includes Pirrone's wife, Julie Edwards, on drums) and his band JJUUJJUU. "Oh man, it was so good," Pirrone says. "Considering there were five fucking bands, it could've been a disaster. I'll never forget it."
Pirrone grew up in Chino Hills, the son of an insurance salesman father and a librarian mother. "My mom was the quintessential soccer mom. She'd drive all the kids to practice and throw pizza parties." Pirrone grew up angling toward college via a soccer scholarship. "But then music got in the way," he jokes.
His friends were in a ska band. He crowd-surfed at his first gig. "They dropped me on the ground, and as my ass hit that concrete I just knew: This is what I'm gonna do."
From the age of 15, Pirrone toured for eight years. A car accident put him in a coma after breaking his back and ribs and puncturing his lungs. He quit his band, started a label and put on outdoor gigs.
Moving back to Pomona in 2011, he lived in a loft near the Glass House. Discovering it cost $40 to get a street permit, he threw a block party — 55 bands, free entry, 100 percent DIY. "It was the best thing I ever did," he says.
Out of that first event, Pirrone founded Moon Block, the party organization for which he continues to serve as creative director. Moon Block would soon lead to Desert Daze, at a time when the current L.A. psych scene was beginning to take shape.
Palm Desert venue Dillon's Roadhouse invited Pirrone to throw a party. They sold it out. When Coachella announced that it would do two consecutive weekends in 2012, Dillon's invited Pirrone back to throw parties both weekends. Pirrone thought it a better idea to do an 11-day festival across both Coachellas. That mad undertaking, featuring 122 bands, put Desert Daze on the map.
Pirrone now puts together the Desert Daze festival annually at the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree.
"It was like psychedelic boot camp," he laughs. "I can't believe we lived through it."
Desert Daze spent its next three years at Sunset Ranch Oasis in Mecca, then found its true home last year at the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, where it seeks to remain. "I love music festivals," Pirrone says. "But I hate them in parking lots and baseball fields. That shit's dumb."
The staunchly independent festival, which last year featured headliners Television, Primus and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, has built a home for fans of counterculture and become the glue for the extended family that is Pirrone's team. The site manager is married to his oldest friend; the artist manager used to sneak into his window during high school.
"We are the family restaurant of music festivals," he says. "It's like we're in this platoon overcoming adversity."
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