Top cultural moments of 2023 in the Palm Springs area


There are a lot of moments we’ll remember from spending 2023 in the Coachella Valley. From new theater companies debuting in the desert to history-making Coachella headliners, the arts and entertainment scene was full steam ahead.

This year, we saw the return of two popular events — Desert X and the Palm Springs International Film Festival — the latter of which hadn’t been hosted since the pre-COVID era. The opening of Acrisure Arena also brought prominent entertainers and bands throughout the year, and its owners say there’s more to come in 2024.

Here is our list of the top 23 cultural moments of 2023 in the desert.

1. The Palm Springs International Film Festival and Film Awards return

From left, Austin Butler, Nischelle Turner and Baz Luhrmann take a selfie backstage at the Palm Springs International Film Festival awards gala in Palm Springs, Calif., Jan. 5, 2023.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival and Film Awards returned in January for the first time since 2020. The Film Awards, which was held at the Palm Springs Convention Center, honored nine people in the film industry and one ensemble cast. The festival screened 134 films from 64 countries, including 27 premieres.

2. Actor Brendan Fraser brings his dog to ‘The Whale’ screening

Actor Brendan Fraser reveals his dog Pee Wee from under his coat at the start of a Q&A after screening his film

Hours before actor Brendan Fraser was given the Spotlight Award at the PSIFF Film Awards, he presented a Talking Picture screening of “The Whale” at Palm Springs High School that included a question and answer session afterward. As he arrived wearing an olive green coat and matching baseball cap, he reached inside his coat and pulled out his dog, Pee Wee.

3. Jane Fonda, Sally Field and other ’80 for Brady’ castmates attend premiere

Actresses Jane Fonda (from left) Rita Moreno, Lily Tomlin and Sally Field pose together on the red carpet before the world premiere for

Legends Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno and Sally Field hit the red carpet at Palm Springs High School for the premiere of their film “80 For Brady,” which was screened on opening night of the 2023 Palm Springs International Film Festival. The stars held each other tight as they took group photos on the red carpet, and their excitement was evident as they spoke with reporters.

4. Gwen Stefani brings old-school pop to The American Express golf tournament

Gwen Stefani performs on stage at The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.

“It’s my show and I can do whatever I want,” No Doubt vocalist Gwen Stefani told diehard fans and attendees of the American Express golf tournament in January. The performance was a mix of songs from her tenure in the band No Doubt and the songs that launched her as a successful pop artist. The American Express concert series has become a major part of tournament week for the PGA Tour event in recent years, attracting thousands of fans for two nights of music on the driving range at PGA West in La Quinta.

5. Harry Styles celebrates his 29th birthday at Acrisure Arena show

Harry Styles performs at the Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, Calif., on Feb. 1, 2023.

Harry Styles’ February concert at Acrisure Arena, marked the end of the North American leg of his “Love On Tour” as well as 29th birthday — a fact that brought on a symphony of screams when discussed onstage. The ”Watermelon Sugar” singer also took time to poke fun at fans’ signs, one of which read ”Got dumped by my situationship,” to which Styles said he wasn’t “even sure how that was possible.” Another fan learned she was three months pregnant and Styles said he knew she would “be a great parent.”

6. Fran Lebowitz doesn’t hold back at Rancho Mirage Writer’s Festival

Fran Lebowitz speaks during a session at the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival at the Rancho Mirage Public Library, February 3, 2023.

Author and social commentator Fran Lebowitz has made her opinions known on a number of topics over the years, and she didn’t hold back at the Rancho Mirage Writer’s Festival in February. She spoke about her disdain of travel, her friendship with director Martin Scorsese, and her New York City life. Lebowitz also noted there’s been a noticeable shift in what people read. “People have been taught to care about whether they see themselves in a book, which I think is absolutely the opposite of the point of reading,” she said.

7. Modernism Week features a peek inside Sinatra’s mountain retreat

The main house of Frank Sinatra's Villa Maggio in Pinyon Crest, Calif., on February 18, 2023.

For the first time in Modernism Week history, the annual February event featured a tour of Frank Sinatra’s private retreat “Villa Maggio,” tucked away in the mountains of Highway 74 in Pinyon Crest. The seven-acre property was built for Sinatra in 1970. Each of the three houses was built with locally sourced materials featuring natural stone and hardwoods to blend in with the natural environment. The name references Sinatra’s Oscar-winning performance as Angelo Maggio in the 1953 film “From Here to Eternity.”

8. Desert X returns with a theme focused on water

The biennial outdoor exhibition Desert X returned in March with 10 large-scale, and sometimes provocative, installations from Palm Desert to Palm Springs — all with a theme focused on water. The installations highlighted the topic through a fictitious conspiracy theory, the plight of the Salton Sea, a remembrance of water flowing through the desert and more. One highlight was artist Matt Johnson’s “Sleeping Figure” made of shipping containers, which was located off Interstate 10 Exit 110, Haugen-Lehman Way and Railroad Avenue in Palm Springs. Its location along the path to the Port of Los Angeles, between the distribution centers in North Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, was a meditation on the global economy and the logistics of moving the everyday products we buy.

9. Blink-182 makes its triumphant Coachella festival return

Blink-182 guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge performs

If the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were the lottery, Blink-182 would be the jackpot winners. The band was originally announced as the special guest ahead of Weekend 1 in the Sahara tent, which was the group’s first show together in nine years. Following Sunday headliner Frank Ocean’s disastrous set during Weekend 1, the pop-punk trio returned to take his headlining slot Weekend 2 and delivered another exceptional set. Bassist Mark Hoppus joked the band would be coming back the following weekend for the Stagecoach country music festival to play the album “Dude Ranch” in its entirety.

10. Bad Bunny, BLACKPINK and Frank Ocean become history-making Coachella headliners

A fan cheers for BLACKPINK as they perform on the Coachella stage during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., Saturday, April 22, 2023.

BLACKPINK, the four member K-pop girl group under YG Entertainment comprised of members Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa and Rosé, delivered a high-energy and top-notch production during both its headlining sets at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. It showed just how far they’ve come since their first time performing at Coachella in 2019. During their dynamic Weekend 1 set, the band made history as the first K-pop band to headline Coachella. Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny also made history as the first Latino solo artist to headline the festival, and though he only performed one weekend, Frank Ocean also made history as the first queer man to headline the festival.

11. Local musician DannyLux makes Coachella debut

DannyLux performs in the Sonora Tent at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., Friday, April 21, 2023.

DannyLux was literally at home at the Coachella Valley festival — he grew up in Desert Hot Springs. During Weekend 2 of the festival, the 19-year-old crooner commanded the stage with his songs of love and loss. And when DannyLux and his band formed a close circle to jam to “Junto A Ti,” many in the crowd couldn’t help but to scream, “I love this song!” Leading up to DannyLux’s first festival appearance, he’d gushed that his father once formed part of the cleaning crew that picked up the trash following Coachella, but that this year, he’d be backstage at the festival. But DannyLux’s dad, Oscar Balderrama, made it even farther than that. Before closing with “El Hombre Perfecto,” DannyLux proudly brought Balderrama onstage as a special guest.

12. Esteemed Palm Springs International Film Festival chairman retires

Palm Springs International ShortFest chairman Harold Matzner welcomes attendees to the opening night of the film festival, June 22, 2021.

In April, Palm Springs International Film Festival and McCallum Theatre chairman Harold Matzner announced his retirement from both organizations. His tenure with the film festival over two decades helped the event grow into an imperative event for Academy Award contenders. At the McCallum, Matzner succeeded the late Isabel Bigley Barnett, who passed away in 2006. The theater enjoyed building a substantial financial surplus every year, and its reserves increased from $8 million to $40 million. Even though Matzner was succeeded as film festival chair by Chandi Group USA President and Chief Executive Officer Nachhattar Singh Chandi and Entertainment executive Garry Kief at the McCallum Theatre, both acknowledge Matzner’s legacy. Kief said, “Harold has pretty big shoes. I’m not going to pretend to fill them, but maybe half the size.”

13. Women thrive at Stagecoach festival despite all-male headliner lineup

Elle King performs during her set on the Mane stage at Stagecoach at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., Friday, April 28, 2023.

The Stagecoach country music festival lineup has always skewed male — this year marked the eighth time in the festival’s 15-year history that all the headliners were men — but the 2023 lineup was full of inspiring women who prove with every new performance that women deserve more respect in this male-dominated genre. Some highlights of emerging new women in country were Mackenzie Carpenter, Tiera Kennedy, Lily Rose, Morgan Wade and Priscilla Block. Elle King, who skyrocketed to the top of music charts with her 2015 pop-rock hit “Ex’s & Oh’s,” walked out on the Mane Stage carrying her toddler-aged son, Lucky Levi Tooker. Sets by Melissa Etheridge, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Gabby Barrett also left a lasting impression.

14. Trixie Mattel brings drag to Stagecoach

Trixie Mattel performs on the Palomino stage at Stagecoach at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., Friday, April 28, 2023.

Drag superstar Trixie Mattel was an outlier at Stagecoach. The “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Star” winner, comedian and country singer took hits at recent anti-drag laws and said she was happy to be performing at Stagecoach — the first drag performer to ever do so— and in California because if she were in Tennessee, she’d “already be in the back of a police car.” Along with a possible record number of outfit changes during a set, the drag queen kept the jokes flying throughout. She described the crowd’s outfits as a mix between “Brokeback Mountain” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

15. Chris Stapleton closes out Stagecoach with exceptional stripped-down sound

Chris Stapleton performs his headlining set on the Mane stage during Stagecoach country music festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Country singer Chris Stapleton closed out Stagecoach with a 90-minute set that felt like an actual concert and played a more inviting, stripped-down offering of rock-meets-country to appease all audiences. It was a big departure from the hip-hop-infused Friday night performance by Kane Brown, the first person of color to ever headline the festival. In the current state of the music industry, especially country music, where headlining sets are filled with pyrotechnics, extensive video production and sometimes a special guest, Stapleton held on to the crowd that braved triple-digits throughout the weekend with nothing but music.

16. New theater companies take the stage in Palm Springs

Joachim Moore is the founder of Inner Circle Arts Society.

A Palm Springs theater that shuttered in 2022 get a second life in 2023. Desert Rose Playhouse closed suddenly in July 2022 to transition to a “new core team,” according to a Facebook post from Producing Artistic Director Robbie Wayne. But that never happened, and instead, the space went unused until new theater group Revolution Stage Company opened its first show in the fall of 2023. But Revolution wasn’t the only theater to open its debut Palm Springs season in 2023. Inner Circle Arts Society, a Black-owned arts group whose founder recently moved to the Coachella Valley, kicked off its first full season at the Palm Springs Cultural Center in December with “Heart!”.

17. Little Street Music Hall opens in Indio

Little Street Music Hall, founded by Avenida Music, is located on Miles Avenue in downtown Indio, Calif., on Friday., July 28, 2023.

Little Street Music Hall, a new all-ages music venue, opened its doors in Downtown Indio in July. But this spot owned and operated by the members of local band Avenida Music — featuring Indio residents Josiah, Vincent and Samuel Gonzalez and drummer Sean Poe — is also a coffee shop and taproom. The two-story, 5,357-square-foot building at 82-707 Miles Ave. was purchased by the city using federal bonds in 2008, and Avenida Music’s three-year lease with monthly rent of $1,767.81 was approved in April 2022. According to Little Street Music Hall’s Facebook page, the venue has recently hosted a metal night and performances by local performers Razor J, Lost Palmas, Jetta King and more.

18. Power Trip brings a new crowd to the Empire Polo Club

The rocker cactus sculpture is seen with Spectra and the Ferris wheel in the background as the sun sets behind the mountains at Power Trip Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023.

The Coachella Valley isn’t known as a hotbed for heavy metal, but Los Angeles promoter Goldenvoice surprised music fans when it announced an October festival featuring six iconic metal bands: Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Tool and Metallica. (Osbourne later backed out of the festival due to ongoing health issues and was replaced by Judas Priest.) Power Trip attracted an international audience from countries such as Austria, Nepal, Lebanon, Australia and more. Aside from the music and the rocker cactus sculpture, some of our favorite moments were a South Carolina father bringing his son to see AC/DC, a Florida grandmother who flew her granddaughters from New Jersey to attend the festival with her, and an AC/DC-themed dive bar popping up in Indio.

19. AC/DC delivers first show in 7 years at Power Trip

AC/DC lead vocalist Brian Johnson performs

If there’s one word to describe AC/DC’s first set in seven years at Power Trip, San Diego resident and fan Craig Blucher’s description of “epic” was appropriate. The band brought a ton of energy and performed 25 songs, and it felt like a full-circle moment following the group’s 2015 Coachella set, a year before AC/DC stopped touring. When the band played “Thunderstruck,” the massive video monitors behind the stage displayed a video with thunder. During “Highway to Hell,” huge (graphic) flames shot up the monitors and on the stage. But even though AC/DC was celebrating 50 years in 2023, there hasn’t been an announcement of a new album or plans to tour, leaving many fans speculating whether Power Trip may have been the group’s last performance.

20. Metallica closes out Power Trip with tender message to fans

Metallica lead vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield performs

“Oh, are we going to have some fun tonight?” Metallica frontman James Hetfield asked early in the band’s set on the final night of Power Trip. The thrash metal veterans didn’t disappoint and delivered on songs such as “Whiplash,” “Creeping Death,” “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and more. The band displays a more empathetic and fondness for its fans these days, especially Hetfield, who took a few moments during the middle of “Fade to Black” to explain the song is about suicide, mentioning fans and friends who tragically died. “I don’t know how dark their lives got, but I do know they’re missed and I wish it didn’t happen,” Hetfield said. “If you’re feeling the darkness, talk to your friends, please. We need you and love you, Metallica family.” At the end of the show, each of the band members thanked the crowd. “I think you may have spotted it this weekend, but heavy music is alive and doing better than before,” drummer Lars Ulrich said before screaming “F–k yeah!”

21. Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza and Museum opens

The history of the Agua Caliente Tribe is on display at the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs, Calif., Nov. 2, 2023.

After a five-year wait, the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza and Museum finally opened in November. The project has been discussed for three decades and had its groundbreaking in 2018, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and a large Indigenous archeological artifact recovery project. Some of its features are five exhibit areas detailing the history of the Cahuilla Nation, exploring the ancestral lands of the Agua Caliente people and showcasing ancient artifacts that were discovered during the excavations for the Cultural Plaza, which includes the museum and The Spa at Séc-he.

22. KISS includes Acrisure Arena as part of its ‘End of the Road’ tour

KISS bassist Gene Simmons (from left), guitarist Tommy Thayer and vocalist and guitarist Paul Stanley perform during their show at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

The hard rock band KISS performed its final concert in December at Madison Square Garden, but included Acrisure Arena as part of the “End of the Road” tour in November. When the show began, frontman Paul Stanley, bassist Gene Simmons and guitarist Tommy Thayer each descended from octagon video panels hanging above the stage while pyrotechnics went off behind drummer Eric Singer’s riser, and flames shot up from various areas of the stage. The fans, known as the “KISS Army,” took in the set featuring hits such as “Love Gun,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Rock and Roll All Nite” and more with pyrotechnics and theatrics for what is most likely the last time in the local area.

23. Palm Springs Art Museum exhibit posthumously showcases local photographer’s work


Until recently, most locals and the Palm Springs Art Museum had never heard of the late Joan Archibald, a former Long Island housewife who ran away from her old life to become an artist in Southern California. Archibald died in 2019, but the enigmatic and newfangled photographer lived in the former Palm Springs home of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, changed her name to “Kali” after a Hindu goddess, and created fused art and photography together long before Photoshop existed. She used film and Polaroid cameras to develop a process of transforming black and white prints into colorful imagines by throwing them in her swimming pool, using paint or editing the negatives in the darkroom. The Palm Springs Art Museum is displaying her work in the exhibition “Kali, Artographer, 1932-2019” through April 8.

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