Let's get one thing out of the way and agree that the line-up for any subsequent Desert Trip festivals cannot in any way match what just happened in Indio during the first two weekends of October. And for now, let's take Robert Plant at his word and stop fantasizing about a possible reunion of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. Let's also acknowledge that apart from Zeppelin, the only performers around whom a festival could be built that could generate an equal level of excitement (meaning people willing to shell out very large amounts of money and draw an audience from around the globe) are dead -- David Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Lou Reed fronting a reconstituted Velvet Underground -- and many of other names mentioned may be too ill to perform: Brian May of Queen, Eric Clapton, and the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson. Glen Frey's death knocks out the Eagles. The key to Desert Trip's success was the promise of seeing a line-up the audience was never going to get another chance to experience over the course of a single weekend.
That leaves the folks at Goldenvoice, the company behind Desert Trip, in a bit of dilemma: how can they not follow up on such an unequivocal success (both financially and artistically), all the while knowing the success was derived from creating what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime line-up? How can they come up with another six other bands, all with roots from the same era, that people would spend thousands of dollars to come see? The short answer is they can't. But they also can't walk away from such a lucrative event.
So who should perform at Desert Trip II?
It has to be another once-in-a-lifetime experience, which means they're going to have to move past a line-up with roots in the 60s. Even if they could get the Davies brothers together for a Kinks reunion, plus the original line-up of Cream, plus CSN&Y, along with John Fogerty doing a set based on Creedence tunes, that line-up would still fall far short of generating the same level of excitement compared to seeing the Stones, McCartney, the Who, and Dylan all on one stage. And who else would join them? Santana, Bob Weir, and Steve Winwood? That's a great line-up, but not one I would fly across the country to witness and I doubt I'm the only one who would feel that way. Without Bowie and Zeppelin, anchoring the line up of Desert Trip II in some part of the 70s becomes a dicey endeavor but it's also the only successful way forward.
A lot of attention was paid to the longevity of Oldchella's acts, a group of survivors who've all been performing for at least 50 years. Over the weekend dozens of classic rock's most enduring songs were played on the stage. But while it was certainly present on an emotional level, and visually obvious everywhere one turned (especially in the photo exhibition), surprisingly little was said or written about the vast cultural influence of Desert Trip's performers, at least until Dylan won his Nobel Prize in-between the weekends. And 50 years on, the cultural legacy of acts like Dylan, the Stones, McCartney, Pink Floyd, and the Who resonates almost as loudly as their music, and in some ways it's more important: their fingerprints are all over pop culture's music, fashion, and film over the past 50 years, and these are the people who turned rock culture into mainstream culture. Future Desert Trip line-ups should feature bands that furthered that influence, or ones who continued to define tastes and shift the landscapes created by Dylan, the Stones and the Beatles.
It gets a little tricky moving into the 70s because so much of what was popular during the decade is either too intimate, too corporate, or hasn't aged well. It's hard to imagine people in Europe (or anyone east of Bakersfield, for that matter), getting so excited about the prospect of seeing Journey, Styx, and Heart that they'd travel thousands of miles to see them. On the other hand, the music of Carol King, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell won't play all that well to an outdoor crowd of 75,000 people. Working influential black musicians into the mix like Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers, Al Green, George Clinton & P-Funk, and Aretha would be marvelous, but apart from Wonder, I think it's an unlikely path because then the audience demographics change considerably -- not surprisingly, age range was the only sign of diversity to be seen among the overwhelmingly white audience of Oldchella. The line-up also needs to be several notches above the big concerts of the 70s and 80s like the Day on the Greens, Cal Jams and the US Festival (been there, done that), and stick to the full sets by two acts a night format that differentiates it from the all-day, something for nearly everyone line-ups that define contemporary festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Glastonbury.
However, there are enough bands that could make it worthwhile to repeat the Desert Trip experience at least once, and perhaps more than that. When I started thinking about what kind of line-up would make it worth the time and money to travel across the country again, this is what I came up with for Desert Trip 2017:
Night 1: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Night 2: Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner
Night 3: Kate Bush + David Gilmour, Genesis featuring Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins
[Update 3/4/17: with the announcement of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles Classic West and East festival concerts in July, obviously Fleetwood Mac is off the list for Desert Trip in October. I wonder if Goldenvoice was trying to negotiate with both bands and they decided they could do better on their own. Based on comments (still leaving Zeppelin out of consideration), most folks want to see Steely Dan, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, but I'm just not sure any of those groups are enough of a draw. I know they wouldn't tempt me to travel from the east coast, and I don't really have an alternative that fits with the era... except for one group, and this would make Desert Trip a massive, worldwide event: an ABBA reunion. Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but I'm completely serious.]
Why these bands? They represent where rock went after the Beatles, Dylan, and the Stones.
Springsteen and Petty are two of the best examples of how American bands responded to the British invasion. After four decades of making music their catalogs rival those of the bands on the first Desert Trip line-up for the depth and popularity. They're genuine heirs, and seeing them perform together on the same night would be unforgettable.
The absence of female artists on the first Desert Trip was noticeable, if understandable. But that doesn't have to be, and shouldn't be, the case going forward. Fleetwood Mac was one of the biggest acts of the 70s and their music remains a cultural touchstone of the era. Rumor has it they'll be on the road in 2017, and they're an obvious choice. Tina's retired, but if she can be talked into coming out one more time, this would be the time and place. Her presence would help make Desert Trip II an event on par with the first for drawing an audience from around the globe.
Kate Bush may not have the same name recognition as the others, but she's one of rock music's most influential women. When she finally returned to the stage last year nearly 80,000 people came to see her shows in London. Pairing her Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, a longtime friend and collaborator, will continue Desert Trip's "once-in-a-lifetime" appeal, and like Tina, draw people to the show from far and wide. The same goes for a reunion of Genesis with both Gabriel and Collins, which would nicely complement Bush and Gilmour.
I'd fly 3000 miles for this line-up. What say you?
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