For many years it seemed that the few souls who stopped over at Joshua Tree were either sun-baked desert rats, bohemian artsy types, drug-addled hippies or extraterrestrials traveling via saucer. As this year’s edition of the Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival once again emphasizes, those days are gone—they are featuring bands from all over the world, and the prospect for two days of nonstop musical action are at an all-time high. It’s a characteristically freewheeling line up, with the nimble-fingered razzle-dazzle of Hawaiian ukulele champion Jake Shimabukuro, who goes from pop to rock to blues and jazz with equal aplomb, expanding on the long-established Island practice began in the ’20s by slide guitarist Sol Hoopi and, more recently, acclaimed jazz ukulele master Herb Ohta. Shimabukuro serves nicely as a symbolic unpredictable archetype for this deliberately unfettered annual showcase of musical mavericks, and along the way, you can dig a cornucopia of updated sounds: fast-rising sibling duo the Avett Bros. plunder the Americana trove with great effect, and the finger-blistering, furioso redneck artistry of Los Angeles country fetishists Merle Jagger, always conjures a high-octane dose of honky-tonk revelry. Bluegrass is ably represented by all-female powerhouse Uncle Earl, acclaimed eccentrics the South Austin Jug Band, while the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band shakes loose a stomping brand of hypno Delta Blues. Of course, there’s also the notorious jam happy aggregation known as Hot Buttered Rum, and quite a few more into the bargain. Assuredly, the category here is “Never a Dull Moment.” (Jonny Whiteside)
The Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival, at the Joshua Tree Campground (2601 Sunfair Road, Joshua Tree); Running October 20-21; Tickets $40 for Saturday only, $30 for Sunday only, and $65 for two-day passes. For more info visit: www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com.