Auckland journalist Colin Taylor missed Woodstock but - along with many classic rock fans - wasn't going to miss Desert Rock otherwise known as Oldchella

The Desert Trip rock concert in the Empire Polo Club grounds in the Coachella Valley, 37km east of Palm Springs, California, last month, was hyped by its Golden Voice promoters as "the bookend of Woodstock."

Held over four days in upstate New York in August 1969, Woodstock headlined the early days of the rock music genre, while the three-day Desert Trip in October 2016 - with rock legends' obituaries appearing depressingly frequently - was billed as marking the closing days of the rock era.

As the New York Times sardonically noted: "It was immediately dubbed Oldchella for its line-up of septuagenarians performing once-startling songs that are up to half a century old to a crowd that can look pretty creaky when trying to dance."

In fact, the average age of ticketholders was a sprightly 51 years and, unperturbed, we boomers were attracted by an impressive line-up: Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones on day one; Neil Young and Paul McCartney with Wings on day two; The Who and Rogers Waters of Pink Floyd on day three.


"We missed out on Woodstock," said my wife Charmaine. "We're not missing out on Desert Trip."

So, when the bookings opened in New York at 9am Eastern Standard Time, Charmy sat with both phone and computer running hot to the ticketing agency at 4am NZ time and remarkably got through half an hour later. Miraculously, we were allocated two of 75,000 tickets that sold out in three hours with over 500,000 applications received - a reaction that motivated the organisers to announce a second concert a week later.

Instead of reserving one of the many air-conditioned hotels in Palm Springs or nearby Rancho Mirage, we opted in a kinda Kiwi way for "glamping" in a safari tent in the polo grounds, within walking distance of the venue. The campground was highly organised with our tent having two double beds, wooden floor, carpet and, most importantly in daytime temperatures of up to 38C, a small refrigerator and air-conditioning unit. Well-maintained toilet and shower facilities were contained within big trailer units parked nearby.

At the centre of the campground was a large air-conditioned tent with bar in which substantial cooked breakfasts were served. From 11am drinks were available with free snack foods to accompany the build-up - DVD films and documentaries on a large-screen TV about the performers of each day. Following the concerts each night, the big tent served as Party Central with a DJ playing 60s and 70s rock songs until the early hours.

Transport to the venue was provided by chauffeur-driven golf carts running a constant relay from the campground concierge desk - a trip that took all of five minutes. We patted ourselves on the back for choosing the glamping option when hearing nightmare tales from other fans who sat in traffic for hours, in buses and in cars, travelling from their hotels to drop-off points and then facing a long, hot, dusty walk to the venue - and vice versa.

Within the polo grounds, over 100 vendors and leading chefs served food ranging from silver service, three-course dinners with wine pairings to wood-fired pizza, hand-crafted burgers, along with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes.

The concert was opened by a rather melancholy 75-year old and croaky Bob Dylan. The yet-to-be announced Nobel Prize winner for Literature was warmly acknowledged as he delivered a set including Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, Tangled Up In Blue, Don't Think Twice It's All Right, Highway 61 Revisited and It's All Over Now Baby Blue.

Just under three hours later, 73-year old Mick Jagger - as the local Desert Sun newspaper reported - leapt out and "pranced across the long horizontal stage like a man in his 20s". Enough said: The Rolling Stones were the same consummate crowd-pleasers we have seen on their New Zealand tours, Mick promising, "Tonight we're not going to do any age jokes," and then adding, "But welcome to the Palm Springs retirement home for genteel English musicians."

A personal surprise on the second day was Neil Young, who gave a dismal performance at his last concert in Auckland. Neil redeemed himself to us 100 times over by playing many of his hits including Harvest Moon, Old Man, Heart of Gold, Long May You Run, Comes a Time, and Powderfinger. Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Water Is Life", Young's rebellious streak shone through when he announced that organisers had given him 40 seconds to wrap up his performance.

"D'ya reckon we can do Rockin' in the Free World in 40 seconds?" he asked - launching into it and bringing everyone to their feet for a magical 10 minutes.

In a tip to the upcoming presidential election, Young urged the audience to: "Come back tomorrow night - Roger [Waters] is gonna build a wall and make Mexico great again."

Young surprisingly starred again, well into Paul McCartney and Wings' set, when he suddenly appeared for a historic duet with McCartney on A Day in the Life, Give Peace a Chance and Why Don't We Do It In The Road? McCartney, his rasping 74-year old voice mirroring Dylan's at times, performed a Beatles' loaded set-list that included tributes to the late John Lennon and George Harrison.

The Who went back to their founding roots, kicking off day three with Can't Explain and continuing with crowd-pleasers like Who Are You?, My Generation, The Kids Are Alright, Pinball Wizard, See Me, Feel Me and Won't Get Fooled Again. In contrast to some of the earlier performers, Roger Daltrey's 72-year old voice appearecd in good condition while Pete Townshend's wildly swinging-arm guitar skills were undiminished.

It was left to politically-charged Roger Waters to bring the extravaganza to a conclusion. His The Wall backdrop was astounding - mimicking London's Battersea Power Station complete with four giant billowing smokestacks which dramatically and eerily arose high into the air from behind the stage.

Although gaining media attention for his "Trump is a Pig" tirade, complete with screen depictions of a pig with a Donald Trump head and a huge pink floating pig balloon that drifted lazily over the crowd with "Stop Trump" emblazoned beneath it, the 73-year pacified his non-departing, non-Republican fans with plenty of Pink Floyd classics including Another Brick in the Wall, Breathe, Time, Money, Fearless, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Welcome to the Machine and Comfortably Numb.

The Floyd sound effects were uncanny with voices appearing to come from behind and above us, while the screen and lighting displays were nothing short of stunning - as were the concluding pyrotechnics.

Such was the success of Desert Trip that a repeat is being contemplated with names being bandied around like Bruce Springsteen, U2, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Eric Clapton, The Police and Aerosmith.

Would we do it again? Well, it was far and away the best rock festival we have attended and there are reports both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant attended Desert Trip, so if Led Zeppelin...