CVIndependent

Tue10272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Campout 12, the annual party and music festival arranged by Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, returned to Pappy and Harriet’s for three days, Thursday, Aug. 25, through Saturday, Aug. 27, filling Pioneertown, Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree with “no vacancy” signs thanks to the temporary resettlement of music fans.

This festival has ingrained itself into the high-desert community. One example: I was seeing discount offers on social media specifically for fans of the event. ArtFx and Furnishings offered a 10 percent discount if you mentioned the Campout, and 2 Guys Pies Brick Oven Pizza did the same if someone used the code word “Crumb,” the moniker of Cracker fans.

Skylar Gudasz, hailing from Durham, N.C., opened Thursday night, keeping with the tradition of having great new talent appear at Campout. “Oh my God, this place is gorgeous!” she said, quickly understanding the unique vibe of Pappy and Harriet’s. She hooked the audience with “I’ll Be Your Man”; the song’s video was directed by her brother, filmmaker Jason Gudasz.

Custom dictates that a Cracker duo set takes place on Night One—but this was not to be: David Lowery was absent, as he had a class to teach. Thus, Johnny Hickman took charge, performing double duty by offering a solo warm-up, and then playing with the Hickman-Dalton Gang. “Mick could not be here, but you got Keith,” Hickman joked. A highlight of Thursday night was a stripped-down version of “San Bernardino Boy.”

Johnny Hickman’s fans can get a little crazy—in a fun way. Odd overheard comments, like “My favorite word is labia,” caused those on the stage to pause temporarily. Still, the comfort level at the Campout is high, since everyone here loves the music, and the fans love each other.

Last year, fans wore pink to remember Karen Pratt-Mills. In her honor, Chris LeRoy, of the Dangers, with Johnny Hickman sang a song written for Karen by LeRoy. Some tried yet failed to maintain their composure during this sweet song about a special Crumb who passed to soon last year after a battle with cancer.

The Kolars, a husband-and-wife duo, were a treat, after being featured band at Echo Park Rising in L.A. a few weeks ago. Rob Kolar sings and plays guitar, as Lauren Brown becomes an instrument herself, by using her feet on top of a bass drum while playing a full drum kit. The Kolars mesmerized the audience. They are slated to return to desert for the Joshua Tree Music Festival on Oct. 6.

Friday night brought Skylar Gudasz back for another indoor set. On the outdoor stage, Jonathan Segel of Camper Van Beethoven showed off his guitar and violin talents while bandmate Victor Krummenacher supported Segel on the bass.

Jesika Von Rabbit also brought her show to Pappy and Harriet’s. Focusing on her solo material like “You Drive Me Ape”—including the banana cannibalization by one of her ever-present Grundle sidekicks, which also included a leather-clad gorilla-faced Grundle. A new fan favorite, “Dog at a Human Party,” brought a four-legged friend to the front of the stage. Todd Rutherford Johnson from Gram Rabbit joined Jesika onstage, pleasing Gram Rabbit fans by closing with “Dirty Horse.”

Camper Van Beethoven headlined on Friday, with lead vocalist David Lowery present and wearing all-white, forgoing the “Pajama Party” theme of the night. Campout participant Douglas Avery of Arizona wore his best bathrobe and turned in a fine impersonation of the “Dude” for the pajama party.

Lowery sang the hits, including “Eye of Fatima (Part 1)” and “White Riot.” Camper Van Beethoven also played “Northern California Girls,” a 2013 release from the album La Costa Perdida. Pajama-clad fans sang and danced with joy.

Saturday featured the Dangers, a staple of the Campout, along with the Whiskey Gentry duo. Los Rios Rock School, a music academy in Orange County, offered students an opportunity to play a rock show.

Ike Reilly, a singer song writer from Libertyville, Ill., performed solo, warming up the audience for Cracker. He just released his seventh studio album, Born on Fire (Rock Ridge Music/Firebrand). Reilly is a fabulous storyteller, a fact best demonstrated by the title track “Born on Fire,” a song about his middle child: “Don’t let nobody try to dampen your flame, try to cool you down, try to make you change, try to steal your heat, or mock your desire. Take your flames to the street cause you were born on fire.” Johnny Hickman joined Reilly onstage, and a request for a female backing singer resulted in an onstage female invasion.

It is safe to say that Cracker drew the biggest crowd on Saturday. I ran into one of my blog followers, Rocio, who was attending her first Campout. She is a music fan who seemingly appears at every must-see concert, meaning her presence is a true litmus test on what is good and hip in music. She’s also a former Marine who turned in several tours during the War on Terror. I suggested that she shout out a request for “Yalla Yalla,” a song about the Persian Gulf conflict, since the song is seldom heard at the Campout. Alas, she did not feel comfortable screaming out a request.

Lowery wore his vintage “The Inland Empire: We will kick your ass” shirt, a slogan I first heard about when Lowery penned an op-ed after the San Bernardino shooting. Cracker performed well with hits including “Teenage Angst,” “The World Is Mine” and “Low.”

After the show, I ran into Rocio. She smiled and told me Cracker played her favorite song “Almond Grove” from their latest release, Berkeley to Bakersfield. I did not ask her if she knew someone who could relate to this somber song, including the lyrics, “See my big brother Jack? He went to Kandahar, but he never came back.”

Sometimes, people ask me: Why go to the Campout, with the same two headliners and the same lead singer, year after year? The answer is simple. Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker have cultivated a catalog of songs making the bands as relevant now as they were two decades ago. Attendee Jessica Auck said it best: “It’s the only place in the universe where I love the audience as much as I love the band.”

Published in Reviews

David Lowery, the frontman of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, doesn’t think some musicians fully understand their rights.

“A lot of the younger artists don’t realize that the pay was considerably higher about 15 years ago,” he said. “It’s kind of like a one-two punch. First, you’re affected by online piracy, where that knocked off about a third of our income, and then the thing that’s happened lately—and none of us saw coming—is that our share from online streaming services is so low.”

Lowery is bringing Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker to the bands’ 10th annual Campout at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, from Thursday, Sept. 11, through Saturday, Sept. 13.

During a recent phone interview with the Independent, the former Redlands resident said that while he loves streaming music, there is a big downside to it.

“I have Beats Music on my phone; my kids have it on their phones, and we listen to it and find it convenient,” Lowery said. “But between the services and the record labels, the artist is getting a really small premium from that revenue that comes from streaming. With Spotify being valued at $6 billion now, and Beats Music being sold to Apple—and that’s $3 billion there—it doesn’t seem right to us. It’s not that we’re against streaming; it’s the share of revenue.”

He said that most people don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes regarding streaming music.

“It’s really hard to explain it to the general public. Basically, when the labels cut their deals with the streaming services, it looks like they trade in equity, given they own a part of Spotify,” he said. “Universal Records owns part of Beats Music, and Apple gave them a big payout. So, essentially, the labels traded our songs for … ownership in the services.”

Lowery conceded that the struggle between musicians and record labels is not new.

“There are these stories that go back to the ’50s about the blues band going to the record label and saying, ‘Hey, where’s my money?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, we got you this Cadillac.’ The Cadillac was worth less than the royalties. By the way, this story about the Cadillac: It’s true, because my mother-in-law worked for Sun Records, and my father in law was a car-dealer, and that’s exactly how they met each other. That really did happen!” he said with a laugh.

However, Lowery said there was a progression toward protecting artists and their royalties.

“There was a period in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s where the artists kind of finally worked it out,” Lowery said. “Between our unions and our songwriter groups, that were kind of like unions for songwriters, we could work out some pretty equitable pay arrangements—and we’re sort of back to square one right now. It’s not like it can’t be worked out, but it’s not going to get worked out without us bitching, moaning, screaming and holding these people’s feet to the fire. That’s how it’s going to get sorted out. It’s not pretty, but that’s the way it’s going to go.”

At stake, Lowery said, is the standard of living for a lot of musicians, some of whom struggle to make ends meet even after a hit song or record.

“They’ve seen their revenues fall from maybe having a nice middle-class existence to, ‘Oh, shit, I can’t even support my family on this!’ So, it’s tough times. It’s going to take guys like me, East Bay Ray from Dead Kennedys, John McCrea from Cake, and some (other) older musicians with a sense of what’s fair in this industry to speak out and explain this to people.”

He said the modern economics of the music business have led to some musicians deciding not to record new material, because it’s no longer economically beneficial.

“There are a lot of artists doing that,” he said. “I’m essentially an optimist for the long-term. Eventually, I assume these streaming services are going to have to start paying more to give people the incentive to make albums again. It’s going to have to work itself out.”

Camper Van Beethoven has recorded two albums in recent years: La Costa Perdida, which Lowery said is Northern California-themed, and El Camino Real, which is Southern California-themed. Cracker also has a new album in the works.

As for this year’s Campout, Lowery conceded he’s had some booking challenges, but he promised it’s still going to be a lot of fun.

“We had a few people who were in, and then they were out, and then someone bigger might come in, and we’ve delayed announcing a lot of details,” he said. Chris Shiflett from the Foo Fighters was going to come and do his country thing again, but he had to drop out. But we do have Brant Bjork from the Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age family. We have The Dangers from Riverside; we’ve got the various Camper side projects … and there will be local people like Jesika Von Rabbit, who’s going to do some stuff again. It’ll be great and just as good as last year.”

The 10th annual Campout with Camper Van Beethoven and Camper takes place Thursday, Sept. 11, through Saturday, Sept. 13, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $75 for a three-day pass, or $25 for one day. For tickets or more information, visit crackersoul.com.

Published in Previews