Slab City artists play their music free and easy


Slab City, just east of the desert berg of Niland, Calif., is home to wanderers and music lovers. --Photo by Melissa Opina

NILAND, Calif.–In a small secluded area on the outskirts of this desert town, a mish-mash of trailers and tents surround a big stage that unites the people of Slab City in a very unique way and brings their musical talents to life every Saturday night.

Slab City is a tiny “town” where there are no bills to pay, no running water or electricity, and when nature calls, you choose your bush.  And yet there are about 50 people who live here year round, even in the harsh summer months when temperatures can reach 118 degrees and “residents” spend a lot of time cooling off in nearby irrigation canals.

“Most of the people who live out here in Slab City have lost their home, money, and family, so they have nowhere else to go,” said Sean Paul, a U.S. Army combat veteran. “I can eat out of a can. I am used to this, but a suburban American might find living here a challenge.”

Paul said he arrived in Slab City about 13 years ago and he chose to stay because life at the Slabs is free. (Story continues following slideshow.)

The music is especially free, and easy.  Every Saturday night when the sun sets, Slab City becomes an ampitheater under the clear, starry skies and against the backdrop of the Chocolate Mountains that may just echo the tunes of Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane, among other artists of the hippie era.

Anyone and everyone with an instrument and/or a voice is invited to perform on Saturdays—winter, spring, summer and fall.

During the mild winter months the Slabs can be packed with thousands of travelers from all over the world living out of everything from their Harley-Davidsons to luxury RVs.  It is respite for weary hitchhikers like 24-year-old Alejandro, who asked that his last name not be used, a college student from Spain.

“I am doing a project on how Americans interact with each other,” Alejandro said.  “My friends and I chose this place because this is a different kind of scene than the regular party scene; it’s more a 70s scene.”

Nabila Gaines, a student and volleyball player at nearby Imperial Valley College, attended one Range concert in May.  “ It kind of looks like when we were young how we would put things together just to have fun.  Overall I had a great time, and mostly I felt free.”

7 thoughts on “Slab City artists play their music free and easy

  1. What a cool story. It really reflects a sad reality about depth of the recession. Kudos to you for seeking out this rarely reported reality. Nicely written too.

  2. I was staying at slab city every weekend for a few months, Its a cool place to get away from the city and hang with some nice folks.

  3. Very nice Melissa. See you got Rick and Rhonda playing at the Range with Linda. Hope you come back and visit again.
    If not you can always catch video from slabcityscene on Youtube. Thank-you. facebook/desertmoonstar.

Leave a Reply