10 Ways Desert Hearts Got That Impeccable Vibe

A Master Class in How to Craft a Micro-Festival

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” —  Arthur C. Clarke

The single stage feels like a beating heart, glowing and thumping for 72 hours non-stop. It casts shimmering lights into the trees and radiates energy into the night air. “One Stage, One Vibe, One Love” is printed on my wristband. This singularity of focus goes far beyond the dance floor and permeates the entire festival grounds.

For those who’ve spent significant time in California’s alternative festival scene, much of the recipe feels familiar. There is a sacred space that offers yoga and talks; vendors hawk fancy clothing; visionary artists live-paint; neighbors cavort in cozy campsites; everyone wiggles on the dance floor to banging beats. However there’s a special quality in this particular 3,000 person event, something poignant and subtle and properly magical. It’s something in the vibe, which is safe and friendly, yet wild and free. We’re all having an exceptional time and there’s no feeling of danger or judgment. The attendees look fabulous and express themselves with righteous dance moves but there is no dividing sense of popularity or coolness. As a first-time guest in this scene I instantly understand what they mean when they say, “We are all Desert Hearts.”

How did a small Southern California festival create something that feels so effortless, and yet achieves such a cohesive feeling of family? What social technologies and strategies were used and how can these ideas be harnessed by other festivals? Even those cooking up the vibe seemed a bit baffled by the precise recipe that made Desert Hearts so savory. Nevertheless, I shall attempt to unravel its secrets.