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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Warning: The Campout, the popular Pappy and Harriet’s Labor Day Weekend staple, is being held a week early this year, Aug. 27 through Aug. 29.

However, David Lowery—the frontman of hosting bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker—promises the move is just for this year, and that the event will be as good as ever.

During a recent phone interview, Lowery discussed the fact that Cracker is often viewed as a mainstream band, thanks in part to the hit single “Low.” Cracker released a new album last year, Berkeley to Bakersfield.

“I think for Cracker in general, a lot of people seem to think of us in a more mainstream perception than an alternative-rock band from the ‘90s. In actuality, that’s a very short kind of piece of our career, which has stretched on for about 25 years now,” he explained. “We’re a fairly eclectic group; we play a lot of Americana/roots and country stuff, and we’re widely accepted in that role.”

Lowery said he never expected to do more than make a living when he teamed up with Riverside’s Johnny Hickman to form the group after the wildly successful Camper Van Beethoven disbanded in 1990. (The group would reunite in 1999.)

“We made a living, and we didn’t sell enormous amounts of records,” Lowery said about Cracker. “In fact, our first album … the fact it was more heavy on folk and the blues meant there were a lot of people at the label and other places who weren’t expecting us to garner mainstream radio play—which we managed to do with those first three albums. We weren’t really expecting it, either, but it was certainly nice. Those first two albums went gold and platinum, and the third album never really reached gold, but it was a pretty good run there.”

Two and a half decades later, the band faced some challenges while recording the critically lauded new double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, the group’s first studio effort in five years. Most notably, drummer Frank Funaro suffered a severe arm injury that continues to sideline him.

“I think it was a case where we took the situation and worked with it. … We embraced the challenges and restrictions we had,” he said. “The first one is we were working with a group of studio musicians in Athens, Ga. That’s the band that’s on the Bakersfield album. At the same time, we got back our old drummer, Michael Urbano, and worked in a studio in Berkeley just to see if we could write any songs. We ended up more or less banging out most of that album in three days up there. … We kind of just embraced the situation and came up with these two really cool discs, which at first were going to be separate albums.”

The project is similar, in some ways, to Camper Van Beethoven’s recent releases, La Costa Perdida and El Camino Real, which were about Northern and Southern California.

“We released 40-something songs in a little under two years. It’s been kind of crazy,” he said about his two bands. “Going back to 2009, it’s been like every 18 months, we’ve been putting out an album. It’s been pretty interesting. It’s been a very productive period for both bands, just to concentrate on writing songs. It’s what separates us from our peers in the alternative-rock scene in the ‘90s—we’re still writing and releasing records. Camper Van Beethoven also has two new songs coming out that are on the Sharknado 3 soundtrack. We’re always working it now.”

David Lowery has been touring with both bands over the past couple of years; Cracker played at Pappy and Harriet’s in the spring. With all of the touring, writing and recording, one has to wonder how Lowery has time to sleep.

“I think down in Southern California, you hear quite a bit of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, so it probably seems we tour more than we do, but it’s been pretty busy this year,” he explained. “We have a full schedule through Labor Day weekend; we’re doing five or six shows a week until then, and a little recording probably during the days we’re not working. Eventually, at the end of the year, we’ll go to Europe and wrap it up.”

What can attendees expect at the Campout this year? Lowery said it’s more of the same, prominently featuring the varied groups in which the members of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven are intertwined.

“We’ll be bringing the Bakersfield lineup from Athens; we’ll be bringing the full extended country band lineup,” he said. “We’ll also have a lot of the side projects happening. Victor (Krummenacher) will be playing; Jonathan (Segel) will be doing stuff, and it looks like Johnny Hickman is going to do his side project, the Hickman-Dalton Gang, with Roger Clyne of the Peacemakers. We have Jesika Von Rabbit again, and it’s, as usual, based on family and friends.

“I think it’s going to be at least as good as last year, and it’s going to be warmer this year, because we had to move it into August. With all of the other things that are going to happen up there in Yucca Valley this year on Labor Day, we were colliding on the same weekend.  So we moved into August, and we’ll move it back to September for 2016.”

Campout 11 takes place Thursday, Aug. 27, through Saturday, Aug. 29, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $25 for each individual night; three-day passes start at $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

Published in Previews

The band Cracker held its first “Spring Training Camp” last Sunday, March 29, at Pappy and Harriet’s.

“Spring Training Camp” is a term coined by Cracker fans—proudly known as the Crumbs—who considered this concert to be in preparation for Campout 11, set for Aug. 27-29 at Pappy and Harriet’s.

The Crumbs are a merry band of Cracker music fans who are the happiest group of people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting at a concert. Fans came from across the U.S.A. to see their beloved band in a packed house at Pappy and Harriet’s. The connection between Pappy’s and Cracker is strong; in fact, the gold record for Cracker’s Kerosene Hat hangs on Pappy’s Wall of Fame. It was recorded a few steps away on a neglected sound stage that’s a relic of Pioneertown’s glory days as a film location for Cowboy serials. Lead singer David Lowery acknowledged the connection, stating, “Our career has centered around here.”

Cracker was in town backing Berkeley to Bakersfield, a double-album released last year via 429 Records. Cracker performed as a six-piece touring band, with a keyboardist and a pedal-steel guitar player added to the group. The show started with Lowery singing “Where Have Those Days Gone,” featured on the second disc of the new double album. Lead guitarist Johnny Hickman sang lead on “California Country Boy” and on the humorous tune “The San Bernardino Boy.” Hickman pointed west toward San Berdu as he began to sing, “In his underwear, playing in that dirty air, and his daddy’s in the Chino jail, he will grow up to be dumb as dirt, by 23, with the county sheriff on his trail.”

“King of Bakersfield” is a version of the American Dream, as dreamt in the Central Valley, that discusses what is important in life: Lowery sang, “I got some motorcycle riding neighbors; we never have no trouble round here. All my friends say I live like a king out in Bakersfield. So do what you want if you ain’t hurting no one; ain’t nobody’s business how you live your life.”

Lowery is a well-known advocate for artists’ rights, demanding equity in compensation for musicians. Cracker is overtly political in “March of the Billionaires” and “Torches and Pitchforks,” voicing concerns regarding special interests and a lack of class equality. The theme of gentrification in the San Francisco Bay area is the subject of the song “El Cerrito”: “Everyone’s is squeaky clean; they look and dress and act the same. I don’t give a shit about your IPO; I live in El Cerrito.”

Cracker has a way of engaging the audience by covering genres from traditional country all the way to alternative rock. The mainstay “Low” made the set list, but you can’t have every song, and fan-favorite “Euro-Trash Girl” was missing.

Velena Vego, Cracker’s manager and Lowery’s spouse, was present, and Lowery adapted “Gimme One More Chance” to “Gimme One More Chance, Velena” on one of the verses. In some ways, it was Vego’s night: The unofficial den mother of the Crumbs was presented with a birthday cake that was accepted graciously by her husband as she stayed away from the jam-packed stage during Cracker’s performance.

Cracker ended with a two-song encore: “The World is Mine” and “Mr. Wrong.” After the band concluded, smiling Crumbs corraled the entire audience to take a group photo—a tradition in Pi-Town, and something that you never see in any of the storied venues on the Sunset Strip. 

Published in Reviews