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John Robbins has been around the local music scene for quite a while—and one of his many talents is his expert playing of the ukulele. He can perform classical pieces on the instrument, as well as a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and even songs like AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” Despite being visually impaired, he’s also a visual artist; his work can be seen at www.facebook.com/whoseworldcomic. John was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

I’m not exactly sure, but the earliest one I can remember is seeing Jose Feliciano on an outdoor stage in Berkeley when I was a kid. It was great to see one of my idols at the time!

What was the first album you owned?

Nirvana’s Nevermind, back in high school. Better late than never, right?

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz recently with my dad: Steve Allen, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, etc. Otherwise, I’ve been really into J-Rock (bands from Japan): X-Japan, The Oral Cigarettes, The Pillows, Special Others and The Brilliant Green.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Any sub-genre of metal. What’s djent and metalcore? Why not just say you play metal? 

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Kaki King. I saw her play once back when her first album came out, but I’d love to see what she can do now since her style of playing has evolved so much within the last decade.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

1990s pop/pop-rock. It’s just fun to listen to! Who wouldn’t want to bob their head to “The Sign” by Ace of Base or sing along to any Boyz II Men?

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert. It’s always a good time over there, especially for open mic!

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“Let’s drive them crazy!” from the English version of “Hey Kids!” by The Oral Cigarettes, which is performed by a YouTuber called AmaLee.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Jake Shimabukuro. I saw him live in 2006 when he played at The Knitting Factory with Kaki King. The way that he played ukulele was absolutely mind-blowing. I had no idea such a tiny instrument could be that powerful and move so many people. Needless to say, the ukulele has been my favorite instrument to play ever since!

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I’d ask Jake Shimabukuro: “How does it feel knowing you’ve inspired so many people to learn how to play ukulele?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Jake Shimabukuro’s arrangement of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Nirvana’s Unplugged.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Little Monster” by Royal Blood! What are you waiting for? GO LISTEN! (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

Best Tearjerker

Dezart Performs’ Production of The Outgoing Tide

I went to see the final performance of The Outgoing Tide—Dezart Performs’ 2015-2016 season-closing play—back in May with my friend Robert. Both Robert and I are … well, curmudgeonly, to put it kindly. While we had high expectations due to the production’s rave reviews—about an older couple and their adult son coming to terms with the father’s advancing Alzheimer’s disease—we most certainly did not expect to be blubbering our eyes out at the end … and there we were, along with much of the rest of the audience at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, sniffling and weeping. Judith Chapman, Scott Smith and most especially Michael Fairman (who played Gunner, the father) knocked it out of the figurative park, thanks in no small part due to the amazing direction by Michael Shaw. If you ever hear of this play being performed elsewhere, I highly recommend going to see it—but I’d be shocked if that show is as good as the one put onstage last spring by Dezart Performs. Jeez, I am tearing up just thinking about it.

—Jimmy Boegle


Best Tailor

Pero Dzekov at Pero’s Tailor Shop

For more than 45 years, Pero Dzekov has worked in a trade that does not forgive a mistake: He’s a tailor, a master craftsman whose clients include celebrities of a highest caliber, including Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow. Both singers have penned accolades to him on their photographs that hang in his Smoke Tree Village shop. Dzekov, an immigrant from Macedonia, is fond of saying that his favorite clients were publisher Walter Annenberg and Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Richard Milanovich. On any given day, you’ll see familiar faces in his shop—former Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden, perhaps, or Palm Springs City Manager David Ready—but Dzekov is most proud of the fact that many of his clients have been repeatedly coming back since the 1970s.

—Brane Jevric


Best Local Album

Bridger, Forces Against Us

Many great bands in the Coachella Valley released fantastic albums over the last year, including Dali’s Llama and The Hellions. However, to my ear, there is one new album that stands out: Bridger’s Forces Against Us. Numerous local musicians took to social media to express their love for the album; however, making a great album wasn’t enough for the band: Bridger even made a hilarious music video for the Forces Against Us song “Death to Snowbirds,” There’s no doubt that Bridger is an awesome live band—and Forces Among Us proved that Bridger can turn in fantastic music in the studio, too.

—Brian Blueskye


Best Ukulele Master

John Robbins

John Robbins is a well-known local musician—who plays a not-so-well-known instrument: He plays a mean ukulele. Robbins has opened many shows for local bands, and he recently took part in an acoustic showcase. Robbins, who is visually impaired, also has many other talents, including being visual artist; in fact, he recently signed with an independent Web-based comic publisher. When you mention John’s name to local musicians or music fans, the first thing they say often say is, “The guy who plays an awesome ukulele?” He deserves all the recognition he can get.

—Brian Blueskye


Best Guilty Pleasure Food

The Atomic Tots at The Hood Bar and Pizza

When I need comfort food and don’t give a rat’s behind about diet or calories … chances are you’ll find me devouring the atomic tots at The Hood Bar and Pizza. They’re definitely not good for you (I hope my primary care physician isn’t reading this), but that gooey cheese and the bits of bacon melted all over those little potato barrels create a piece of fat-intensive heaven. I’m not the only one with these feelings for the atomic tots; many locals frequent The Hood Bar and Pizza just for these tasty treats.

—Brian Blueskye


Best Place to Pig Out on Sugar-Free Desserts

The Fresh Grill Buffet at Fantasy Springs

Gym workouts have minimal effects on me, and no diet seems to last … but at least I get some small bit of dietary help at the Fresh Grill Buffet at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino: It features an ample selection of delicious sugar-free desserts every day at lunch and dinner. At the giant dessert table (two levels tall, with a chocolate fountain and soft-serve ice cream to boot), an entire section is devoted to lower-calorie goodies. Gorgeous layer cakes, crumbly cookies, pies and even cheesecake are available—and since it’s a buffet, have as much as you like! However, consider yourself warned: The white sauce beside the cheesecake is loaded with sugar, and sometimes cobblers that are not sugar-free will elbow their way into this space. Whenever I meet the chefs, I thank them on behalf of my endangered waistline. For those born with a sweet tooth, here is our salvation. Just don’t look at the sugary competition on the rest of the table.

—Valerie-Jean (V.J.) Hume


Best Happy Hour Meal

The Capricciosa Pizza at Piero’s PizzaVino

There are many, many dining options in Palm Desert on or near El Paseo—but when I find myself hungry while running around the area, more often than not, I wind up in the bar area of Piero’s PizzaVino. Why? Well, every day from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Piero’s offers one of the area’s most amazing happy hour menus—including the unbelievably delicious capricciosa pizza. This amazing pie comes with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and olives—and it’s always cooked to perfection in Piero’s brick oven. Not only does this personal-size pizza taste amazing and fill you up; it only costs $8.90. Add in a tasty glass of the house chianti for $5, and you can still get out of there with tax and a nice tip for less than $20. What a deal.

—Jimmy Boegle

Published in Staff Picks

It’s that time of the year again: Coachella and Stagecoach are here, and things are crazy before the season begins to wind down. Consider April to be last call before the summer heat comes.

I will be throwing my third NestEggg Food Bank Benefit Show, this time at the Coachella Valley Art Scene, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 4. On the bill: John Robbins, The Rebel Noise, Alchemy and CIVX. There will also be a closing DJ set by Pedro Le Bass. The Rebel Noise and CIVX have recently had to reshape after changes to their lineups—but both bands are back and sound great. There will also be raffle items. Admission is $10, and all proceeds go to the NestEggg Food Bank. Coachella Valley Art Scene, 68571 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City; www.thecoachellavalleyartscene.com.

The McCallum Theatre is concluding its season with a couple of great locally focused events. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 11, the McCallum will host a special anniversary gala for the The Desert Symphony. The gala will be hosted by Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame. Tickets are $65 to $125. At 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 22, Jewish Family Service of the Desert will be presenting Michael Childers’ production of One Night Only, which features music from the ’60s. Tickets are $75 to $195. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino will host Marie Osmond at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 4. She performed with her brother Donny under the name “Donny and Marie”; that led to a variety show during the late ’70s. She’s recorded 35-plus albums and has appeared on Broadway. Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 25, Earth, Wind and Fire (first below) will be performing. One of those disco groups that defied “Death to Disco,” EW&F has been inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, earned eight Grammy awards and sold 90 million albums worldwide. Tickets are $49 to $79. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

The Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa only has one big music event scheduled in April, but it’s a good one: At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 4, it’ll be time to boogie with Kool and the Gang. Since 1964, the band has sold 70 million albums worldwide. Tickets are $45 to $65. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 has a couple of events worth mentioning in April. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 3, you can enjoy a personal evening with Barbara Eden (above right), of I Dream of Jeannie fame. The actress has had an acting career for six decades—and she has a lot of stories to tell. Tickets are $25. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 18, R&B singer Keith Sweat will be stopping by. With several hit singles in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Sweat became a household name. Tickets are $30 to $45. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa is the place to be in April. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 3, Lily Tomlin will be performing. She’s as busy as ever, with rumors of a possible 9 to 5 sequel and various television appearances. This is a great time to see her live. Tickets are $49 to $59. You’ll be happy to know Margaret Cho will be returning to the area at 9 p.m., Friday, April 24. The Korean comedienne includes anecdotes from her family and personal issues in her comedy. Just a warning: She can get raunchy. Tickets are $35 to $45. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace looks ready to open the outdoor stage for the spring/summer season, so there are probably some great outdoor shows coming. At 7 p.m., Saturday, April 11, The Evangenitals will be returning to Pappy’s for a free show. If you missed them back in December, don’t miss them again. I can guarantee there will be plenty of laughs. At 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 14, Jenny Lewis will be performing in between Coachella performances. Tickets are $25. At 7 p.m., Thursday, April 16, Jamie xx from The xx will be performing. Tickets are $35 to $45. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The LED Day Club will be featuring performances during both weekends of Coachella at the Hilton Palm Springs. On Thursday, April 9, Chromeo will be doing a DJ set; on Friday, April 10, Panda Funk will be appearing; on Saturday, April 11, Odesza will be doing a DJ set; on Sunday, April 12, Flosstradamus will be appearing. On Thursday, April 16, CHVRCHES will be doing a DJ set; on Friday, April 17, Porter Robinson will be doing a DJ set; on Saturday, April 18, Skrillex and “friends” will be appearing (that guy has friends?); and on Sunday, April 19, DJ Snake will perform. A four-day pass to the event is $125 per weekend (which is really not bad); day passes vary. Hilton Palm Springs, 400 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; leddayclub.frontgatetickets.com.

The Hood Bar and Pizza has a couple of notable events taking place in April. At 6 p.m., Thursday, April 9, Fishbone will be performing at an outdoor show. The Pedestrians, which now features Machin’s David Macias on guitar, will be opening. Tickets are $25 pre-sale and $35 at the door. My suggestion: Get your tickets now! Remember McLovin from Superbad? Or “The Motherfucker” in Kick-Ass? Well, Christopher Mintz-Plasse will be bringing his band Bear on Fire (second below) to The Hood at 9 p.m., Saturday, April 18. Local bands Caxton and War Drum will also be on the bill, and admission is free. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.facebook.com/thehoodbar.

Published in Previews

John Robbins is best known as a drummer for the local band Sunday Funeral, although he’s actually a talented multi-instrumentalist.

The musician has accomplished much despite his eyesight: He’s completely blind in one eye, and only has a small percentage of his vision left the other. He recently wrote a book about his journey, Echo of Sight. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27, he’ll host a release party and book-signing at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert. The party will feature performances from Burning Bettie, Bridger, Blasting Echo and Boycott Radio.

Robbins is originally from the San Francisco area and has lived in the Coachella Valley since 2001. He plays the guitar, ukulele, piano and drums, but his main passion these days is writing.

“I’m always writing,” Robbins said during a recent interview. “Even when I’m out, I’m always writing on my cell phone. … I have an idea; I write it down, and when I get home, I expand upon the idea, and it just goes from there. … A lot of my inspirations come from my relationships here in the valley—and the music I listen to out here has such an impact on everything that I write.”

Robbins has had vision troubles his entire life.

“It’s a congenital condition,” Robbins said. “My mother has vision problems as well, and unfortunately, for her, while she was growing up, she didn’t know she had vision problems. When I was born, we figured out that I was blind in my left eye. With technological advances in the medical world, optometry and ophthalmology are more advanced. We figured out that I had these same exact problems my mom has, but on a more grand scale. We always thought my right eye would be my good eye, and I had no vision problems (in that eye) from the time I was born up until I was 22.”

He noticed his vision was starting to decline while working one day. When he told his parents, they all went to LensCrafters to determine whether or not he needed a new prescription.

“It turned out it was a worse case than we thought,” Robbins said. “The optometrist there referred me to the Retina Institute of California, and I was told a blood vessel was expanding, and it was leaking, which was causing my retina to detach. Luckily we went when we did, because I needed to have immediate surgery, or I was going to go completely blind.

“The surgery happened three days later, and it was successful. Now, my vision is more stable, and I can do the things I love.”

He demonstrated his vision problems by explaining what he had to do just to see my face while I was seated directly in front of him.

“I’ve lost a major percentage of my vision. I have absolutely no peripheral vision any more,” he said “About 50 percent to 60 percent of my central vision is blocked. Basically, I’m using the lower half of my right eye to see.”

Aside from writing, music has been his escape.

“I remember hearing one of my cousins playing piano one day, and I sat down next to her, and I asked her, ‘Hey, can you teach me how to play what you’re playing?’” he said. Fifteen minutes later, I learned how to play that same song she was playing, with both hands. That’s how I knew I liked playing music. From then on, my dad took it upon himself to teach me piano, and introduced me to all the contemporary artists he liked at the time. He also showed me Led Zeppelin and The Doors. The first instrument I took a major interest in was the guitar around the age of 8.”

Robbins used fictional characters and situations to write about his personal journey while being visually impaired in Echo of Sight, which is being touted as a young-adult novel.

“The book means a lot to me in the sense that it shows what it means to be visually impaired, and the steps that you have to go through to adapt to life,” Robbins said. “I was in a bad place when I first started writing the book. I thought that I had no direction, and I didn’t know if my life would get any better, despite going to the Braille Institute for a couple of years. There was still something I needed to get out into the open. …  I wanted everybody to see how a blind person lives and to understand what they’re going through, and for people to have empathy.”

Robbins said he is happy with how the book turned out. “I feel that it’s my masterpiece, and I’m really proud of the book, and I really hope a lot of people read it and enjoy it.”

He also has a positive perspective regarding his vision issues.

“I’ve always said I view being visually impaired as a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it didn’t happen.”

Echo of Sight: The Release Party takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27, at Schmidy’s Tavern, 72286 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is free; copies of the book will be available for $8. The event will include performances by Burning Bettie, Boycott Radio, Bridger and Blastic Echo. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/echoofsight.

Published in Previews