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Willdabeast is one of the best-known hip-hop artists in the Coachella Valley—even though he has not released any music or done any interviews.

However, thanks to a nudge from friend and collaborator Provoked, Willdabeast (William Randal) is now working to put himself out there more—including an upcoming music release, and a chat with me.

Willdabeast’s home in Sky Valley is off a dirt road, with a large dog standing guard over the property. After greeting me, he explained that he liked the location because it was quiet and beautiful. He said his love for hip hop began to develop when he was in the eighth-grade.

“I asked my mom to get me turntables for Christmas,” Willdabeast said. “… On Christmas morning, there was this big ol’ box, and I was like, ‘I got turntables!’ When I opened it up, it was a huge keyboard. I was like, ‘What?’ She opened it up with me, and there were these two buttons on it that made the turntable sounds. I was like, ‘Ugh! This isn’t it!’ But the cool thing about that keyboard is it had a multi-track recorder. I was in band in school and playing the trumpet, and I was able to record music.

“Going into high school, I started freestyling, and my friends noticed I had a knack for making beats. That was it—and I never stopped.”

I noticed a few musical instruments hanging on the wall of his living room; I’ve been told Willdabeast is a fantastic instrumentalist.

“My first instrument was the trumpet when I was in sixth-grade, and I played that for about two years,” he said. “Then I got into percussion, and by the end of high school, I was making beats and playing guitar. Out of high school, I was already doing gigs. I can read and write music, and I can transpose music, because trumpet is B-flat and all the other instruments were in C.”

He told me about This Is the Life, a 2008 documentary about the underground hip-hop movement in Los Angeles that came out of the Good Life Cafe.

“I was trippin’ out when I saw it on Netflix, because the people in it are so underground,” he said. “These guys deserve praise in every sense of the word for hip-hop. When shit started going super industry, they represented in the underground with conscious thought.”

When I talked to fellow local hip-hop artist Provoked a couple of months ago, Provoked told me about the battle-rap scene from about 20 years ago that also included J. Patron and Willdabeast. Willdabeast laughed when I brought it up.

“When we were young, it was super aggressive. If we heard you were rapping, we’d show up at your school and shit, being like, ‘Oh, so you’re rapping, huh?’ with one of those old school Pioneer boomboxes,” Willdabeast said. “We’d put the beats on and start going at it. If you didn’t respond back, you fucking lost. That’s how simple it was back then—but that was the battle scene. There was no rehearsing. You didn’t have time to write, and you had to do it freestyle where we’d talk about your girlfriend or some shit to hurt your feelings.

“I grew out of that shit real fast, though. I always wanted to make music, because I was a musician. The battle-rap scene was cool, but I didn’t want to waste my time on some negative shit. I had people showing up at my school to call me out, ‘WHO IS WILLDABEAST?’ I ran with a crew called Organics Crew that Mikey Reyes was also part of. This other crew made a diss track about us, and we reached out to them asking why they made it, and they were like, ‘Oh, it’s you guys?’ Our friends made a diss track on us without even knowing who we were!”

I asked J. Patron about the rap battles, and he confirmed the madness of those days.

“Provoked and I would battle, then we became good friends and battled the varsity football team at lunch in front of the whole school through a PA system; it was epic,” J. Patron said. “After that, kids from other schools would come over and get served. I remember Will started around that time, and he was—and still is—a fucking beast! He’s just so nice with the words.”

Willdabeast reiterated that those days are long gone, and that he now has different goals in mind for his music.

“I’m just all about making music. I want to do something that’s all about a message and not falling on deaf ears,” he said. “I’m not about telling women to shake their ass or do this type of drug, I want to make some conscious shit that will move you.”

While Willdabeast has released no music as of yet, he said that will change in the near future; one recording he plans on releasing is a collaboration he recently did with Provoked. He said he has recorded music going back to 2005, and explained why he has heretofore not released any of it yet.

“It’s all been practice to me,” he said. “Everything I make is practice. … It could just be bullshit or however I’m thinking about it. The way my brain works, when I’m doing this stuff, I’m focused on it, and I’m not thinking about anything else. It’s therapeutic. It always pushes me to keep learning.

“I’m developing a sound, and I think I kind of have it now.”

Willdabeast said he’s encouraged with the current hip-hop climate locally.

“I have to be excited with the direction of where everything is going right now,” he said. “There have been a lot of people coming together to collaborate and work together, and that’s exactly what we needed. That’s what the fuck needed to happen—and how we’ll grow this scene.”

Willdabeast will perform at Mikey Reyes’ Wordplay Wednesday/Desert Rhythm Project Album Release Campout on Saturday, March 30, at the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground, 2601 Sunfair Road, in Joshua Tree. Tickets are $45 at desertrhythmproject.com. For more information on Willdabeast, visit www.facebook.com/willdabeastmusic.

Published in Previews

The 13th annual fall Joshua Tree Music Festival had a fine four-day run.

Located at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground, the festival features some local regulars, like Gene Evaro Jr. and the Desert Rhythm Project. New this year was a solo appearance by Jesika Von Rabbit, who previously appeared with Gram Rabbit, which is on hiatus.

Beyond the locals: Festival-goers are treated to bands from all over the world—and every year, I wonder if I am in a musical bubble, since most of the bands are completely new to me. Perhaps Barnett English, the founder of the festival, is just better at keeping up with the best new music in the world. I suspect the latter is true, and I’m grateful for the musical education Mr. English provides me twice a year.

I was able to catch most of Gene Evaro Jr.’s show on Thursday; he had fans swooning … or was it Piper Robinson, the bass player, who had fans mesmerized? Evaro always delivers an incredible performance, and it is only a matter of time before he receives wider acclaim. He played a favorite, “Hold Onto Nothing,” a song he wrote after quitting his old day job.

Raul Del Moral was up next on the Boogaloo Stage, bringing his soulful tunes to a receptive audience. The night was a mish-mash, with Afrolicious joining Mustafa Akbar, and then Raul Del Moral returned later, creating a medley of slamming soul funk. Songs about rising up and living in the moment were the theme of the night … possibly a deliberation on our times.

Friday brought Evanoff to the Indian Cove Stage, pounding the best of electronic dance music supported by real musicians. This band would fit well at a pool party in Palm Springs, with groovy joy and melodic beats.

Monophonics was jubilant. Lead singer Kelly Finnigan asked, “Joshua Tree, are you feeling great? Are you feeling magnificent?” The response: a cheer from fans.

Matador! Soul Sounds vocalist Adryon De Leon announced, “We are the real fucking deal,” making sure the attendees knew she was not part of a cover band. No, she’s part of a badass band with a badass sound.

Jesika Von Rabbit came to Joshua Tree Festival for the first time with her new band. She greeted familiar faces: “Hi JT Fest!” A recorded backing track blurted, “Today we see our phones every two minutes. Did the world change?” As I notice many millies staring at their phones as Jesika Von Rabbit started her set with the acoustic “Devil’s Playground,” a Gram Rabbit song—tipping her rabbit ears to her first appearance at this festival many years ago. The audience went crazy and danced away during her impeccable 75-minute set.

At one point, Jesika said, “I love the rabbit ears, the Royal Order of Rabbits.” It was evocative nod to the happy cult that has followed Von Rabbit through the years in various reincarnations. I spied Travis Cline, a member of the original Gram Rabbit band, working in production at the festival and watching his old band mate. “Olde October Moon,” another song from her old band, was perfect for the season. Another old band mate, Brandon Henderson handled the lighting and projection duties that conveyed a psychedelic vibe.

Beyond the music, at the Joshua Tree Music Festival, you are surrounded by art everywhere you walk. Lali Whisper is an incredible artist who works with mirrors; she previously contributed a piece in May. As a backdrop to the natural mirror of the small pond at the campground, she assembled mirrors that were unmarked and pristine. She left felt markers so festival-goers could write their feelings and thoughts.

Sunday’s stand out was the Kolars. I have seen the Kolars several times, since the duo performs in the desert on a regular basis, but it was a treat to see a 90-minute set, which pushed Lauren Brown to her limits as she tap-danced on a kick drum while providing half of the sound. Rob Kolar is the other half of this big-sound band that would be home at a rockabilly festival or a desert generator party.

As the show ended, Brown limped over to the merch table in front of the Copper Mountain stage to greet fans. What a trooper.

With another festival in the can, you really must come to the next festival in May. You’ll experience the best music in the world you have never heard of. This is a rare festival which has 60- to 90-minute sets, allowing the listener to appreciate deeper cuts.

Published in Reviews

Locals in the Morongo Basin refer to the Joshua Tree Music Festival as “our festival.”

The Sweet 16 version of the festival, held May 17-20, broke records, with a reported 3,500 people in attendance.

For me, the festival is kind of like a block party run by the local artist community. You run into your actual neighbors controlling traffic, submitting art projects and/or just having a good time. With more than 25 bands performing, there was music for everyone’s tastes. When someone asks me who is playing at the festival, I always say I have no idea—but the music is always great. This is a testament to the organizers’ ability to produce a festival that stays away from the mainstream, vanilla acts we see at most musical gatherings.

Tradition dictates that the pre-party takes place on Thursday, with the serving of free beans and rice.

Desert Rhythm Project warmed up the crowd on the Copper Mountain stage on Friday, playing to the hometown crowd. It’s always a fun band to watch, as friends and family sing along to every song. Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles ruled the Indian Cove Stage that same night with a fabulous cover version of “Staying Alive.”

Saturday’s highlights included Con Brio, a soul-funk band on the main stage from the Bay Area. Lead singer Ziek McCarter had dance moves that would make Michael Jackson envious, with speed faster than a Mojave rattler. He walked onstage and asked, “Are you ready to fly?” Fans tried to keep up with Ziek’s grooving and gyrating, but to no avail. His soulful singing dug at one’s heart with vigor.

Walking the grounds on Saturday, I ran into Lali Whisper, a multimedia artist and clothing designer who was one of the contributors to the massive art installation by Randy Palumbo, Lodestar, at Coachella 2018. She created a small mirrored piece for JTMF titled “I Am You.” She openly shared her obsession with mirrors.

I received passionate recommendations from music fans to see Dirtwire, another fun Bay Area band, with Ennio Morricone-inspired instrumentals with some heavy Cajun influence. The meaning of the song “Shish Kabob” is explained on the band’s YouTube post: “Shish Kabob is about an orange mans (sic) unstable appetite for an absurd amount of power and the unintended consciousness.” The cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” rocked.

As I left the Boogaloo Stage, I heard music coming from the shaded music bowl. I first thought it was recorded music being played by the production staff as they prepared for another day. As I got closer, I realized the singing was pitch-perfect—and that a band was performing on the Café Stage. I ran into my friend Marisol, who once created a stir by kissing Peter Murphy at Pappy and Harriet’s (but that is a story for another time). Marisol told me excitedly, “I am going to cry; I am going to cry—she is singing perfectly.” She was right: Gabriella “Gabba” Evaro, the lead singer of Earth Moon Earth, was incredible, with silk-smooth vocals on “Rose City (Can It All Come Back)”: “I am lost without your love, my dear, I am afraid, I am afraid to go without you, feeling has always been so hard to speak to you again … it’s been so long since you held me in your heart. … Can it all come back?” Gabba was truly a highlight of the festival.

On Sunday, the festival closed out with some incredible acts. The Shook Twins from Portland were a pleasure, melding alt-country with an indie feel, and proving that adding a banjo is always an improvement. The twins’ sound check prior to their performance was a very quiet version of “La Cucaracha.” Laurie Shook announced: “We are the Shook Twins, not to be confused by the Shit Twins.” The song “Safe” was flawless with spiked melodies. They added to a new song, called “Stay Wild” … imagine if the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack had banjo influences. The Shook Twins’ cover of “Dear Prudence” was astonishing.

Bicicletas Por La Paz, a Latin funk band by way of Oakland, was part carnival and part Resistance, with campy lyrics. Bicicletas’ funk shared influences with traditional Latin music, melding African and indigenous harmonies. Various band chants were encouraged by Adley Penner, who handled the majority vocal duties. Political chants—like “Nazi skinheads go away; Trump is in bed with the NRA”—gave way to a free-for-all cavalcade with dancers, marchers and a few stilt walkers. The members of Bicicletas Por La Paz are pure entertainers with a message.

Grammy-nominated Adam Freeland, a DJ and music producer from the United Kingdom, closed out the festival on the Boogaloo Stage, thumping up some incredible rhythms via his turntable. His live band The Acid recently did the score for The Bomb, a film that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. I just know him as the guy who lives in Pioneertown, who DJs some of the parties at artist Cain Motter’s Domeland. He is just another talented great artist drawn to this enchanted place.

Published in Reviews

After the Empire Polo Club is cleaned up following Coachella and Stagecoach, it’s time for music-lovers to turn toward the high desert—and the Joshua Tree Music Festival, with the first of its two annual iterations taking place May 17-20.

The spring festival will feature performances by record producer and DJ Adam Freeland; Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles; Con Brio; and many others. Local artists participating include Gene Evaro Jr., The Desert Rhythm Project, and Myshkin.

The festival has grown increasingly popular in its 15 years of existence, but it has kept its smaller scale, as well as its focus on creativity, community and arts education for attendees of all ages.

During a recent interview with founder Barnett English, he told me how he came up with the idea to do a festival at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground.

“For 25 years, I’ve been traveling to music festivals, and every season, I go to as many as 25 to 30 festivals with my coffee business,” English said. “I’ve been doing that since the summer of 1993, mainly on the West Coast and every Coachella. I happened to come up to this campground here in Joshua Tree in 2002, and drove in at night not seeing anything. When I woke up and saw it, I said, ‘Wow, this would be a great place for a music festival.’ Literally, within six months, I moved here, and we had our first festival. Luckily, I was naive and went ahead and did it.”

The Joshua Tree Music Festival includes world-music acts in each lineup; English said it’s important to be diverse.

“I’ve always been a huge music fan, fiendishly collecting music and hoping to hear the next favorite song ever since I was 10,” he said. “A good 45 years of that, and after going to all these festivals, you realize that a lot of them sound the same, or it’s just one certain type of music performed by white men. I think diversity is important, along with keeping it interesting and unique.”

Since its inception, the festival has utilized members of the community to take part and help with logistics.

“Community is our main focus, and that includes people working on the festival, too,” English said. “I might be responsible for taking out the garbage, but there are hundreds of people who help build the place and paint it, and all the vendors; that really makes the whole thing better. We really are all connected.”

All music festivals face the challenges of finances and getting the word out—but the Joshua Tree Music Festival does things differently.

“From the very beginning, and even to this day, it comes down to the fact that I don’t have money,” English said. “It’s always challenging to produce it every time. I’ve never had investors or corporate sponsors; that was a real challenge at the beginning—and (it is) even now, because we pour back into it and make it better each time. The good thing about that is it forced us to be creative and not overdo it. The result is the festival grew organically over the years. It grew because people showed up with their friends and thought, ‘Five of our friends will love this, so let’s bring them next time.’ It really grew that way versus having a $500,000 advertising budget and bringing in thousands of people who didn’t know each other.

“The constant challenge of being better-organized is always a fun game, and you can always improve at it. I’m constantly learning still.”

English talked about a couple of notable recent performances.

“Every festival, there are some performances that strike a note for some reason,” he said. “… This one we had last year from South Korea called Jambinai almost scared people at the beginning, because they’re atonal, and then go into heavy metal and play these classical music instruments. It was so bizarre, but the whole place was in tears, because they loved it so much. Last month, they were on worldwide TV closing out the Winter Olympics, nine months later.

“We also had DakhaBrakha from Ukraine. They were playing classical instruments, too, but all electrified, and it made for a one-of-a-kind sound. I still have people e-mailing me every asking, ‘Are they coming back?’”

English said he thinks the backdrop of the festival makes it better.

“It has something to do with the wide-open space and the wide-open sky,” Barrett said. “It’s like … your mind is free of the clutter that you might have in the city, where you have the electrical eyes in the buildings and the cars. I think people just exhale when they come up here and are physically more relaxed and open. I also see that in the performers when they’re up onstage. When they come out here, the performances are 10,000 times better than when I saw them a few months prior at another festival. It comes through in the performance, which is awesome.”

The different atmosphere at the Joshua Tree Music Festival also draws a wider variety of attendees.

“We actually have a lot of people who attend that don’t really go to festivals,” English said. “They don’t like crowds. They aren’t up for paying a fortune to wait in line, be hot and bothered, and be squeezed into a campground. I get it. I’ve reached a certain age where I’m not into that, either. When you come here, it’s a totally relaxed vibe and atmosphere. There’s plenty of room to camp, and everything is within walking distance. I think that is a great appeal, with the music being as high-grade as any festival, but in an intimate setting.”

The Joshua Tree Music Festival takes place Thursday, May 17, through Sunday, May 20, at the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground, 2601 Sunfair Road, in Joshua Tree. A four-day pass is $180; discounts and single-day passes are available. For tickets or more information, visit www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com.

Published in Previews

Last weekend, great music came to the high desert during the 14th annual spring Joshua Tree Music Festival.

Locals refer to this event as “our festival”—for good reason. Most of the festival staffers are friends and family members who volunteer their time to make the festival happen. The icing on this gluten-free cake is the talent of the promoter Barnett English, who brings in great musical acts from all over America and the world.

Gene Evaro Jr., who recently toured with Elle King (Grammy nominee and JTMF alum), kicked things off on the Boogaloo Stage on Thursday. Gene is a homegrown star who gets better and better every time he performs. This is to say: When I saw him opening for King last year at the Observatory in Orange County he was amazing. Now you get that feeling that he could really become a star. Dam-Funk and the Light closed the event on Thursday night with plenty of funk jams after pausing during the first song to correct issues with a monitor.

Considering there are so many music festivals out there, groups need courage to bring music that does not get played at every other fest. Dakhabrakha offered the perfect example of great world music by way of the Ukraine. This folk band was my highlight for Friday. The Main Squeeze from Chi-Town pumped up some old-school soul with some smooth vocals by Corey Frye that had me wanting to put on a velvet jacket.

The standout on Saturday was the Desert Rhythm Project, headed by Mikey Reyes on guitar and Bryanna Evaro on bass—who happened to strap a knife onto her calf. The Desert Rhythm Project shared a great funky, reggae, desert mishmash sound.

I got to see a wonderful performance on Sunday by local favorite 3rd Ear Experience, with stunning vocals by Amritakripa Watts-Robb on “I Am,” off of the 2015 release Kiss the Bliss. 3rd Ear Experience offered the best of local world music at this year JTMF. I’m someone who loves to listen to short-fast jams, and 3rd Ear Experience created a convert in me; I dug their desert psychedelic space tracks. Not to be outdone by Bryanna Evaro, 3rd Ear Experience a brought sword-wielding belly-dancer. As the sun began to set, people held hands, watching the sun before everyone migrated to the Boogaloo Stage.

Gene Evaro Jr. came back on Sunday to that Boogaloo Stage, creating a party atmosphere that included a giant bouncing beach ball. Evaro Jr. shared a fantastic new tune, “California Is Burning,” just released in March. Kudos to Amanda Davis, a backup singer in the band who had been resting her voice. She is now making a splash by singing again.

I am fortunate enough to cover many of the major music festivals in California, but the Joshua Tree Music Festival is special to me, because it is powered by the love of music and love we have for our friends and neighbors. It is truly an organic gathering of progressive people that can’t be mass produced.

Find more from Guillermo Prieto at www.facebook.com/irockkphotos and irockphotos.net.

Published in Reviews

As you drive in the dark to the Joshua Tree Music Festival on Highway 62, you have to look carefully for the right turn. As I tried to enter, I was met by a security person manning a handmade level barrier with the word “Alto” hand-painted on it.

I stopped. Lucky for me, I am bilingual.

This was the 10th year for the fall Joshua Tree Music Festival, which took place Oct. 8-11 at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground. This micro-festival takes place an hour away from the spot where those mega-festivals take place in Indio. With the help of volunteers, this is definitely a DIY affair. Familiar faces were everywhere, helping with everything from food to production to the construction of the grounds.

Gene Avaro Jr. and the Family (which just finished a national tour with RCA recording artist Elle King) provided the soul of the festival: The musical genes of the Evaros were sprinkled all over this fest. On Thursday night, Gene Jr. and the Family performed at the Boogaloo stage and was a crowd favorite. I loved Ronkat Spearmans Katdelic, who funked things up after the Gene Jr. and the Family set. 

The Boogaloo Stage had an excellent lounge that rivals those at the mega-festivals. It came free with the price of admission—and included complimentary beans and rice on Thursday.

On Friday, the Ben Miller Band brought a mishmash of Appalachian style rock that was exceptionally cool. Meanwhile, Brooklyn funk band Turkuaz turned in a well-executed set; imagine an Anglo George Clinton who listened to the Talking Heads on a regular basis.

Although you would think the festival would be packed with psychedelic bands, anyone in attendance would be very pleased with the diversity of music—and the precise set times, which is a rarity these days.

On Saturday, Oakland’s Bang Data was a stand out hip-hop act. Daby Touré brought African fusion to the Indian Cove stage that was awe-inspiring.

You could consider Gene Jr. the emcee of Joshua Tree, as he hosted a variety bands. The Desert Rhythm Project with Gene Evaro Jr. on keys, Bryanna Evaro on bass and Michael Reyes on lead vocals was another example of how the Evaros dominated multiple stages.

Moon Hooch brought EDM with two saxophones and drums; the group was full of energy and had fans dancing during the beat-driven set.

One of my favorites on Sunday was Xavier Rudd and the United Nations, an Aussie band whose heavy reggae tunes were well-received.

It’s a pleasure to be at a fantastic musical happening with no VIP section and no special entrances—just the chance to hang out with joyful individuals who just want to listen to music for the sake of music.

Published in Reviews