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POWER TRIP PONDERINGS by Bruce Fessier

POWER TRIP PONDERINGS by Bruce Fessier

Less than three hours after the fade to black of Metallica’s last brilliant images and the final beats and topical lyrics of its climatic “Master of Puppets,” pundits began comparing last weekend’s Power Trip to the 2016 Desert Trip on the same Empire Polo fields of Indio.

Photo: Angus Young of AC/DC by C. Wilson, Power Trip

But you never heard that from the Goldenvoice producers. In fact, President, and CEO Paul Tollett once said the two-weekend Desert Trip could be a one-off — although he was committed to mounting another Indio fall festival after receiving a permit to do just that.

 

(L-R) Robert Trujillo, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and James Hetfield of Metallica, Power Trip, Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

If Power Trip must be compared to another Indio festival, it should be the one-day Big 4 held between Coachella and Stagecoach in 2011 — a year before Coachella became a two-weekend event featuring a legendary hip-hop contingent including a hologram of the late Tupac Shakur.

The Big 4 featured what was called “the four biggest acts in the history of thrash metal” – – Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, and Metallica — performing for seven hours. It was so successful, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich told Rolling Stone, “Obviously, this thing should play more places in America.”

But the Big 4 paled in comparison to Power Trip. Its advanced technology allowed Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Tool and Metallica to sound largely pristine at decibel levels turned to 11. Their stunning graphics on a large panoramic screen exceeded the imagery on the 60-foot-high curved panoramic backdrop at Desert Trip.

Photo by A. Bonecutter, Power Trip

Goldenvoice also skirted the problem of only allowing two bands to play at night by presenting Power Trip over three evenings. At least since Ritchie Blackmore insisted on Deep Purple playing after dark at the 1974 California Jam festival, artists have known that playing at night adds a level of production unattainable during daylight. After dark, pyrotechnics are a spectacle; in the afternoon, they’re a reminder of how this venue could go up in flames. At Power Trip, every moment after the bumper music was part of an electrifying spectacle.

The two bands per night also reduced the Big 4 problem of what to do when the bands aren’t playing. We still had to figure that out during the Power Trip intermission. Standing in line for food or drinks is only amusing if you’re lucky enough to engage in an interesting conversation – which can happen and evolve into a multi-cultural experience with all the people coming from around the world to see a unique lineup like Power Trip, Desert Trip and the Big 4.

Photo by C. Wilson, Power Trip

(L-R) Duff McKagan and Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses, Power Trip (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Power Trip

But Desert Trip had an exhibition tent of historic rock photography to peruse that made that festival featuring the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who even more compelling. Power Trip needed something like that.

A social media commenter wondered if “Goldenvoice has been consulting Jann Wenner on their lineups for these ‘once in a lifetime festivals.’ Just like Desert Trip, Indio, all male, all white.”

I replied that Guns N’ Roses guitarist, Slash, can identify as Black being the son of an African American woman. But the commenter had a point. While no Black or female-led bands have the massive followings the Power Trip groups have (Poppy is the only female artist to ever be nominated for a Metal Performance Grammy), an exhibition hall could give festivalgoers a fascinating pre- and halftime diversion by showcasing Black and female artists who paved the way for Power Trip.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Power Trip

Metallica Bass Man, Robert Trujilo, Photo by Q.TUCKER for Power Trip

A. Bonecutter, Power Trip

There might not be a Power Trip without Jimi Hendrix, and Hendrix might not have emerged without the influence of Black guitarists such as Buddy Guy, Elmore James, and Robert Johnson, plus Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who likewise was influenced by Black female guitarists such as Memphis Minnie and Elizabeth Cotton. Hard rockers Joan Jett, Jennifer Batten and Nita Strauss were also inspired by those guitarists. If Goldenvoice were to do another Power Trip, I’d love to see a photo exhibition and short documentaries on the pre-rock power guitar pioneers, and the men and women they influenced.

And that brings us to the question, should there be another Power Trip?

Photo by A. Boyle, Power Trip

Clearly, an argument can be made for that. Eventy.com said 65,000 people a day were expected at Power Trip, and from my observations, most were having a great time despite primary-market tickets ranging from $599 to $1,599 (plus add-on fees) and cups of ice with a little lemonade selling for $14, plus a tip. Desert Trip set a live music industry box office record, but the Big Four drew less than 50,000 fans.

Power Trip also was undeniably satisfying. Not everyone who came to see Iron Maiden on Friday stayed to watch Tool on Sunday, and that’s too bad because Tool gave a sophisticated, groove-based performance that was one of my two favorite sets.

Photo by Q. TUCKER, Power Trip

Photo by Q_TUCKER, Power Trip

Photo by Q. Tucker, Power Trip

Every band sent their fans into a euphoric state. But, from an historical perspective, AC/DC provided the set of the event.

Ignoring factors extraneous to the performance, guitarist Angus Young is a riff-meister of Keith Richards proportions and his weave with lead guitarist (and nephew) Stevie Young, set within the loud, deep pocket rhythms of drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams made their huge catalog of hits sound fresh and vital. Add to that sonic feast the fact that AC/DC was playing for the first time in seven years and vocalist Brian Johnson is 77 and almost deaf, and Angus is 68, AC/DC provided a festival experience ranking with the top Coachella and Stagecoach moments.

Photo by A. Bonecutter, Power Trip

Getty Images for Power Trip

Power Trip deserves a sequel. But it must evolve. Desert Sun music reporter Brian Blueskye suggested a lineup including international metal bands, and that’s a good idea. X Japan is a world-class metal band from Chiba, Japan that had the unfortunate fate of playing Coachella opposite Beyoncé in 2018. I’d love to see them return to Indio.

But, instead of narrowly defining the concept of heavy metal, I’d like to see the genre of hard rock expanded, as Goldenvoice did with Power Trip 12 years after the Big 4. Metal has so many sub-genres, some of been niched out of existence. I never hear Metallica called thrash metal anymore. In fact, I loved that they opened their Sunday set with their early ‘80s staple, “Whiplash,” reflecting their punk influences.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Power Trip

But the bands that play Hellfest in France and the Desert Fests in England, Belgium and Germany also are hard rockers that reflect their regional European influences. If there’s another Power Trip, I’d love to see desert or stoner rock represented. That might be the perfect time for Tollett to reunite Kyuss with Josh Homme, Brant Bjork, Nick Oliveri and John Garcia.

I’m not in favor of Power Trip being the annual fall festival at the Empire Polo Club. I know from having interviewed concert promoters across the nation that Tollett is considered a genius for his curating skills. Don’t shackle him!

Goldenvoice’s Phish Festival 8 in 2009 was another of my favorite festivals. Phish played eight sets over three days, including a set of the Rolling Stones’ “Exile On Main Street” in its entirety. Obviously, Phish conceived their program, but Tollett saw the opportunity to showcase them at the home of Coachella and that combination made the fest magical.

Tollett knows what will sell 50,000 to 125,000 tickets a night without having to pander to the lowest common denominator. His mastery of the art of assembling a festival lineup can turn an intellectually compelling idea into a visceral experience.

Let him practice the art of curation, so he can continue to create a variety of masterpieces in what was once a cultural desert.

Bruce Fessier has been winning journalism for 50 years: at the community college level when he won a best in California award for spot sports writing, at the university level when he won a second place in six states competition for enterprise reporting, and during a 40-year career at The Desert Sun, when he also covered the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for USA Today. He’s now writing freelance stories and a book on the desert music scene “From Sinatra
to Coachella.


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IndioLive MusicPowertrip

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