Most people in California are currently prepping for the “beginning” of festival season next week at what most consider the mecca of Californian festival culture, Coachella. However, for those of us who have become part of the intimate Desert Hearts community we know festival season is already well underway. Last weekend this blossoming community of desert dancers and fashionistas came together to celebrate living through music, art, and fashion. Unlike massive festivals like Coachella, Desert Hearts feels more like a family reunion. The venue is surrounded by trees and in the shady corners friends come together under a bright pink stage dusted in glitter and adorned with a disco ball— what could be more Desert Hearts?

Upon arriving late Friday night I was immediately struck by the one stage vibe. The festival was so small I actually felt I was back at Pile Palace, the Burner camp which Desert Heart has blossomed out of. Directly next to the stage the Burner camp was actually set up for festival goers to have cuddle puddles on couches during the coldest parts of the night or lounge drinking champagne mid day. Even though the campgrounds stretched and grew around the event the fact that we all came together at one stage rooted and unified us: no matter where you were you could hear the pulse of the music which creates the heartbeat of this unique boutique Californian festival community.

See also: Label Showcase 20: Desert Hearts Records

What struck me most about this community was not the music, which was of course amazing and eccentric and fun— but, in fact, the fashion. Festivals and fashion have begun to go hand in hand more and more with the rise of social media, Instagram in particular. At some festivals, like Coachella for instance, this becomes borderline annoying. In many cases it’s more about who is wearing what and how they can capitalize on that through social media. Desert Hearts was simply different. Unlike festivals where one is annoyed at all the fashion bloggers and Instagram models fashion at Desert Hearts felt more like children playing dress up. It wasn’t about famous people wearing other famous people’s clothing — it was about radical self expression through what each individual had decided to wear. There were many vendors and artists combined and mixed throughout the main area just past the stage. This added to the feeling of make believe. The fashion and art placed together allowed us to see that what we wear can be just as self expressive as a painting to an artist.

On Saturday afternoon in the very middle of the festival, when everyone was at their freest with no thoughts of reality or tomorrow, Mikey Lion took the stage. Like many of the Desert Hearts fans he too has a particular sense of desert fashion and was mixing adorned in a mystical top-hat and matching coat. His attire perfectly complimented the funky and melodic set he played; the same way his hat echoed the old and sang to the future simultaneously. In the middle of his set a fashion show, complete with a runway, popped up in the middle of the dance floor. This is a Desert Hearts tradition thrown by the Glitter Spies, one of the Desert Hearts themed camps. However, the fashion show was not necessarily pushing anyone to buy anything or sell anything. It was all in the spirit of pure fun, just like dress up was when we were children. First, vendors had models dance along the runway to celebrate the clothing they had curated for the event. Then it quickly became a beautiful free for all where anyone could jump up and show off the style they had curated just for this desert party. The most popular items were: fur coats, everything rainbow, crazy stockings, parasols, whacky hats, so many sequins, cloaks, sleek sunglasses, and (the most critical to any Desert Heart’s wardrobe) a bottle of champagne.

Throughout the amazing sets that evening like the Super Bash Bros and Lee Reynolds, I couldn’t help but notice how free everyone was in their bodies and how their choice of clothing mirrored that. I realized that as adults we do not get to play dress up anymore. There is something unique to dressing up the way one does at a festival like Desert Hearts that is more authentic than festivals like Coachella. It is not about being seen wearing something: it is about being seen in one’s most authentic form and using one’s clothing to help your soul shine inside out. The mystical and meditative house music that flowed through the festival mirrored that sense of authenticity through play the rest of the weekend. Marquees Wyatt and Monolink (live) Sunday afternoon perfectly pulsed with this playful and simultaneously spiritual quality.

Desert Hearts is unlike any other festival I have ever experienced. It honestly felt like every single person I met I knew already, even if I didn’t. The cohesive nature of the one stage where anyone could go anywhere without the boundaries of VIP or artist only brought about an aspect of a festival I have only experienced at Burning Man. Yet, the intimacy was much stronger due to the shared heartbeat from the one and only stage we all knew we were there for the same reasons. For anyone thinking of trying out something entirely unique certainly look into becoming a part of this blossoming Desert Heart’s community whether by coming out to California for the next festival or attending the next city heart’s party in some random and beautiful city in the world. Play dress up. Make your reality one that is more authentic than you could have even imagined.

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Photo Credit: Jason Avonzato