Access To Rock

Access To Rock

Sean Burke originally wrote this story about the Power Trip Music Festival in Indio, California.

Needless to say, the last few years have been hard on all of us. We’ve been torn physically, emotionally, financially, and everything in between. We at times lose the things that unite us over the things that we disagree about. On one dry October weekend in the desert, in Southern California, we decided to leave all of that behind. We left behind our families, our hopes, our fears, our dreams, and our nightmares, all for one thing that unites a whole lot of us; rock n’ roll.

The hard rock/heavy metal festival, Power Trip, occurred October 6-8, 2023. Somebody got it in their crazy mind to bring Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Tool, and Metallica together in the desert for a 3-day festival, and it worked. As fans, we wanted to tap into that devil on one shoulder that we don’t often don’t listen to. “Don’t spend frivolous money.” “Don’t get together with your friends on a crazy trip” “Don’t rock like you are a kid again.” We listened to that devil. He had a lot to say.

When I heard about the festival, my heart fell in my stomach, and I felt all of the hairs on my arms stand up. I had to go. I needed to go. I knew this wasn’t a simple mission…as it would require a lot of time, a lot of fandom, a lot of patience, and a lot of sweat. I knew just the man for the assignment. I contacted one of my best friends, Shane Kelly, who immediately understood the assignment.

We agreed to meet for this trip to the desert, but in true Sean and Shane style, that wasn’t enough. We needed more. We decided to begin our trip in LA, where a lot of that music began. Even if some of it did not, the lifestyle that immortalized it did, and we wanted to be a part of that. He flew from Florida, and I flew from Philadelphia. We quickly connected as if we had seen each other the previous day, even though it had been four years. A sign of true brotherhood.

  • Visiting LA

    Power Trip

    We immediately grabbed the most necessary food when in the West (In N Out Burger), and then started seeing sights that you read about (The diner from Pulp Fiction, The Jimmy Kimmel Show, The Van Halen childhood home, you get the picture). We lived like kings around the smog-filled LA scene.

    Once night fell on Wednesday, it was time for the LA main event, the Sunset Strip. You think of the clubs in LA as “bars” but they aren’t. If you want to go to the Whiskey a Gogo, or The Troubadour, you have to buy a ticket to a show. There is only one place to go and be welcomed as a friend no matter what. That would be The Rainbow Bar and Grill.

  • Rainbow

    Power Trip

    We entered the Rainbow, and it was like stepping into a Time Machine. The crowd was decked out in a who’s who of rock n’ roll t-shirts, and the sound of Dio reigned through the air. While Lemmy Kilmeister was no longer sitting at his famed bar seat and poker machine, a large iron statue stood in his place, which people wasted no time in taking pictures with and placing lit cigarettes in the mouth of.

    We had to blend in, so we too decided to consume alcoholic beverages. We soon found ourselves becoming chummy with patrons from Norway, Germany, South America, and Poland. They were ALL heading to the desert in a day.

    We rocked the night away, and as the good gentleman we were, left and went on our merry way to sleep. We had a bigger mission in mind. We had to get to the desert.

  • The Trek to the Desert

    Power Trip

    For those that don’t know, the desert isn’t “around the corner” from LA. It is about three hard, boring hours away. We needed to be ready. We equipped ourselves with all of the essentials (Gatorade, Del Taco, water bottles), and made our venture. We laughed our time away telling jokes about everything under the Sun. Laughter we haven’t experienced in a long time. We listened to music of the bands we were about to see, and some that neither of us would admit to listening to.

    We knew that the hotel wouldn’t allow us to check in until 4pm, and that is when we remembered that AC/DC opened up a pop-up bar around the corner from our hotel, complete with memorabilia, a tattoo station, photo ops, an AC/DC megastore, and drink specials.

    There was no other possible answer for us. We approached the bar, and realized exactly how this weekend was going to go. As we purchased our five dollar Tecates, we quickly made friends with Metal Mike (correctly pronounced as “f***ing Metal Mike-ahhhh”) and John and Yvonne from Scotland. We found our people.

    As much fun as we had, we realized our mission. We needed to leave, though I could still be sitting there now, based on the fun we had. We needed to check into our hotel, and we needed to get a lay of the land of Indio. The festival is tomorrow.

  • The Empire Polo Club

    Power Trip

    While this festival on paper may seem like just a concert, it isn’t. The desert is a different animal. The venue might as well be its own zip code. This is the land of Coachella and Stagecoach. They can accommodate upwards of 100,000 people. To put that in perspective, the Wells Fargo Center holds around 19,000, Citizens Bank Park holds about 40,000, and Lincoln Financial Field holds about 60,000. Not a small show.

    We needed to understand how to get in and “live” but there was no true way to do that without “living it.” We thought we understood. We enjoyed a bit more friend bonding, and a bit of karaoke, and then went to bed for the main event.

    We awoke Friday feeling like we slept for days, only to realize we slept for a few hours. The EST to PST change will do that. We knew we were in the desert, but I’m not sure we fully understood what that meant.

    It was 102 degrees, which is not cool. We did an okay job of hydrating on day one, but we could not fathom the distance. Per day, we made approximately 20,000 steps to and from the venue, with our hotel being three blocks away. This means 10,000 steps each way. This really helped to justify our dietary choices over those days.

    When we finally made our way to the Empire Polo Club (the venue), we had a proper mix of both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages; something we would fail at in the coming days.

    As we arrived in the venue, our eyes lit up like children on Christmas morning. The sun was bright, and the scenery was cool. A cactus formed in the rock horns hand sign was at the forefront, and we watched people of all ages and nationalities coming together for this special occasion.

    Seriously. We probably met people from fourteen or so countries at the festival. This was amazing in and of itself.

  • Day 1

  • Iron Maiden

    Power Trip

    Day one would prove to be the most challenging for most. Iron Maiden started the fest. Not too shabby of an “opener” right? They sounded amazing, and Bruce’s voice shows no signs of aging.

    If they had a downfall, it would be that they played their tour setlist, which consists primarily of songs from the 1986 album Caught Somewhere in Time and the new album Senjutsu.

    This meant the crowd didn’t get hits like “Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” but they DID get “Alexander the Great (never before played on tour until this one)” and “Heaven Can Wait.”

    It was great for people like yours truly, who has an Iron Maiden tattoo, but not for the casual fan. Otherwise they were perfect, and watching Bruce and Time Traveler Eddie have a gunfight was a special thing.

  • Gun N' Roses

    Power Trip

    We had a short break before Guns N’Roses hit the stage. This short break was important because GNR played a LONG set.

    Seeing Axl happy is really cool. While their set was full of both hits and album tracks (like Bad Obsession and Pretty Tied Up), it was likely becoming aware to this crowd that they weren’t completely ready for the pleasantries of the desert. We were also not ready, but we wouldn’t learn that until tomorrow.

  • Day 2

  • Judas Priest

    Power Trip

    We both knew and didn’t know that the main event was waiting ahead to day two, AC/DC.

    We had a normal day for two male best friends (beer and pizza), before heading to the show. We were comfortable as we headed to Empire Polo Club, but again, it was 102 degrees 10,000 steps to the venue (from how we knew how to get there. This proves to be wrong later). We got to our seats with a couple drinks ready for today’s “opening act” Judas Priest. Not exactly a lightweight. They started off with an intro tape of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” which was both a welcomed song and sore reminder of Ozzy’s lack of presence.

    Out of the ashes of the song, images emerged on screen telling us the date and title of their new album. We were the first to know. Judas Priest played a thunderous set of everything any fan would want to hear, and even brought out the semi-retired Glenn Tipton for the encores. What an amazing set they played!

  • AC/DC

    Power Trip

    As Judas Priest ended their set, we realized that our water-to-beer ratio was off. We ceased drinking beer, and stuck to water.

    AC/DC hadn’t played a set in seven years, in fact, the two of us were at the LAST AC/DC show (9/20/16 with Axl). Technically, we have been to back to back AC/DC shows.

    Looking around the crowd, it was clear that most people were here for AC/DC. Judging by age, many never saw them before. Even if they had, adults reverted to child-like happiness to wear their light-up horns for an AC/DC show. The crowd increased by about 20k that night.

    AC/DC played 24 HUGE songs, and everyone lost their minds. They took their time between each song, as if they were making sure they were ready for what was next. I believe they don’t know what is next. This could be the beginning of the end, or simply the end. If it is the end, they will have gone out in extreme fashion, complete with cannon salute in “For Those About to Rock.” Most people’s admission was covered by this set. Let me remind you; we still have one more night.

    By night three, we were all exhausted, yet still ready to rock. We had a lay of the land, so we got the trip down to the least possible steps, we wore masks, and realized the need to stay hydrated. Everyone did. We are all rockers, and made the same mistakes.

  • Day 3

  • Tool

    Power TripThe first band on for the day were “the babies of the fest” Tool. Of course they are immensely talented. They are arguably the most creative band on the bill. They knew they were the young guys, and played what would be considered a “greatest hits” of Tool for the set, as we were dazzled with trippy screen animations. My friend Shane doesn’t really care for Tool (simply because he doesn’t know them) and looked over and said “I am enjoying this a lot more than I expected to.” That was a win for me. We still had one more band

  • Metallica

    Power Trip

    Metallica hit the stage as the last band of the fest. They understood the assignment. Metallica came out the gate with “Whiplash” “Creeping Death” “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and then “Enter Sandman.” They were speaking our language. The energy didn’t stop for the entire set, which leaned “old school” and they ended it with a huge firework display. They understood the gravity of the moment, and even rocked out in the pit during the prior nights.

  • The Final Sendoff

    Power Trip

    The end of their set meant the end of our time, which didn’t seem like it would hurt as much as it did. It was amazing to see how many of us from so many places united over the love of metal. They say music is the universal language. It is. I think we could all use a lesson in focusing on what unites us over what divides us. Music does that. Long live rock. Long live metal. Long live friendship. I had the time of my life, and I hope that everyone that reads this finds the time to do something crazy and uncomfortable.

    Whether you love it or not, you will leave with a great story to tell!

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