Desert Trip? You know, the one with Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones on night one, Neil Young and Paul McCartney (playing 35 songs) on night two, and The Who and then Roger Waters finishing things up the final night.
We almost didn’t make it to the concert. Four of us tried to get tickets in the spring when tickets first went on sale. Even with all of us dialing constantly, we didn’t get through. Some after-market tickets were in the thousands. So we thought that was that.
Flash forward to a week before the October concert (2nd Weekend). Got a call from my buddy Randy and he said he could get tickets for all three nights for about $200. I said I’d call him the next day and asked him what he was smoking. I didn’t think that was possible. I checked on the internet and, sure enough, due to various reasons there was a glut of last-minute, low-priced tickets available. I called him back first thing in the morning and got two tickets. Our friends, who we had just dined with the night before, jumped on board and bought tickets too.
So there we were with our friends a week later at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Ca., the scene of Coachella Stagecoach Music Festivals, and in 2016, Desert Trip (see photo). There were about 75,000 paying customers each weekend. The estimated gross was at least $130 million, according to Billboard, which made it the highest-grossing festival ever. Even with all the people the experience was terrific. Clearly the promoters were way up the learning curve in terms of providing a great concert, festival-seating experience. The monitors were huge. You could see the wrinkles on the faces of most of the performers from wherever you were sitting. And the sounds was fantastic.
Dylan started things off on Friday night. He had just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He played a lot of the old songs, although often with different arrangements. When The Rollings Stones came on stage and hit the opening riff of “Start Me Up,” the place exploded! I’d seen the Stones twice before: in the late 60s and in the 70s. This performance was by far the best Stones concert of the three. Mick was moving and dancing for two hours almost nonstop. And he was charming and even a little self-deprecating: “I hear this is being called the ‘Catch ’em Before They Croak’ tour.” My wife had never seen them live and she was extremely impressed. When Keith broke into what is probably the most famous opening guitar riff in rock history (for “Satisfaction”) if there had been a roof on the place, it would have blown clean away.
The second night was more of the same with hits and long jams from Neil Young and an incredible 36-song set from Paul McCartney covering Beatles songs, Wings songs and several more recent songs. He was animated, in great voice and his band was energetic and phenomenal.
The third night featured The Who. During the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” there one of Daltrey’s–and rock music’s–most famous screams. At one point near the end of the song, the music drops to almost nothing, just an organ playing a repetitive riff. Then the drums come in. And then… The scream! When the band got to that point, the music came down and we all waited. Could he still do it? Could he still hit that vocal and emotional peak? We continued to wait. And then… Wow! He could still deliver. Roger Waters finished off the set that included several “Pink Floyd” favorites.
Whether or not Desert Trip was the greatest concert event of all time is debatable. What is not debatable, however, is that it was, and will probably remain a unique music experience. Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time List ranks The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones as the top four. That means that during Desert Trip three of the top four were represented: The Beatles (in the form of Paul McCartney,Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones,
It is unlikely that such an event will ever happen again. I was there. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.