A Desert Hearts and Lee Foss Christmas Story
Feb 9, 2023
B. I. Empey
6 min read
Mikey Lion on how Desert Hearts and Lee Foss turned two horrible holiday surprises into happy holidays for all
A significant driver of Desert Hearts’ ongoing story — perhaps as much as their namesake festival’s coronation as Best Boutique Festival in the world by DJ Mag or any of their other accolades and accomplishments — is the crew’s fostering of a cohesive community of partygoers around their home base on the southwestern tip of California.
A standout example is the DH practice of gifting every attendee at the festival with the same DH-branded necklace, be it pitted copper, iridescent chrome, or handmade wooden emblem — the latter being the case for the earliest editions of the festival over a decade ago.
“We have a faction of Desert Hearts that’s our Helping Hearts Initiative. We’ve done a lot of stuff for the homeless and needy children over the years,” explains Desert Hearts co-founder Mikey Lion. “For our Holiday Hearts party [in San Diego] which we always have right before Christmas, we’ve always thought it’s a really cool way for our community to get involved and to just give back. So what we end up doing is hosting a big toy drive right at the door — people bring a toy to give away, and in exchange, we give everyone a Desert Hearts necklace. So it’s a really good way to incentivize people to give back, and also it just brings our community together for doing something outside of dance music.”
As label head at Desert Hearts Records, Lion is laser-focused on maintaining the group’s cultural relevance by driving the ongoing sounds and aesthetics of the brand — both through the label’s ongoing releases and through their signature namesake festival. But there’s also attention paid by himself and co-founders Marbs, Porky, and Lee Reynolds toward how all of the above works holistically.
“We’re all part of a society here, and Desert Hearts is a small niche community within that society,” says Lion. “When we host these Holiday Hearts parties and give people the opportunity to give back to the greater society, it’s bridging the gap of what we’re trying to accomplish — which is spreading as much love and positive energy in the world as possible — and really inspiring people from inside our community into that greater society that we live in.”
Although the dedication to positively impact the community at large leads to sometimes predictable holiday traditions for the Desert Hearts crew, such as the toy drive, 2022 brought two big surprises.
“When we were figuring out where we were going to deliver our toys [this year], we reached out to [the San Diego County Foster Parent Association]. They were just through the roof, just completely gushing!” Lion recounts excitedly.
“They had this huge flood [in] their warehouse, so they lost all the toys that they’d been collecting for months leading up to when they give out all their toys to the children,” Lion remembers. “So when we hit them up asking if we could help them out, they were literally telling us that we were like real life Santa Claus!”
“These were the only toys these kids were gonna receive this year. For us, that meant everything. We told our community, and that really fired everyone up to get involved and bring stuff — just to make a real impact on these kids.”
As unexpected a surprise as the winter flood of a warehouse full of donated holiday toys was, that probably wasn’t as shocking to the Desert Hearts crew as the wild surprise they experienced on the day of the Holiday Hearts party.
“We had all our ducks in a row. We’d been wanting to do a warehouse party in San Diego for a long time. We finally found a spot that we were very happy with, they had it fully permitted and everything,” Lion states with incredulity. “Then, the day of the party, I received a phone call from a [police] lieutenant who was basically telling me this party was not permitted! That the warehouse did not have all their ducks in a row. And, [the police] were going to take the steps to shut it down if we didn’t shut it down right then and there.”
What to do, then? Sans action, there would be no party. More importantly, there would be no physical place to collect donations for the toy drive.
“We went on this mad scramble trying to figure out what we were going to do, and found out that our friend Lee Foss was playing in town,” Lion tells Gray Area. “We had all of our ticket buyers basically funneled into his party, and Lee invited us to play. It was great! It was a really cool party just getting to play in front of two different crowds coming together.”
“Ultimately, it was a huge win for us. Not only were we able to refund all the ticket buyers to our party cause everyone had paid for a warehouse party, but then we were able to add Lee Foss to our [holiday party] lineup!” exclaims Lion with a degree of reverence. “We’ve always had a great relationship with Lee Foss, have always really respected his parties and his music. So it was cool to link up with one of our heroes and just be able to get embraced. It felt really good!”
After a successful toy drive during a turbulent yet rewarding holiday season, Lion and the rest of the Desert Hearts crew have lots to focus on moving forward. But looking back at this past holiday season’s turmoil, what does Lion think in retrospect?
“It always feels good to give back. It always feels good to figure out a problem and solve it when your back’s against the wall,” concludes Lion. “Our whole mission has always been to spread as much love and positive energy in the world as possible.”