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Mon07062020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Desert summer is upon us, and it’s hotter than Haiti outside!

Many of our local music venues are on auto-pilot—but there are a lot of great live shows and music festivals not too far away that will allow you to escape the heat and get your live-show fix.

As for me … well, stoner rock and way-outside acid-jazz are in my immediate future.

I am escaping the desert heat and heading up the Sierra Nevadas into beautiful mountain surroundings for the Yosemite Music Festival, taking place Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11. The Atomic Sherpas, Green Machine, 3 Leafs and others are scheduled to perform; a weekend pass is $40.

Past performers have included Hungry Bear, Fatso Jetson and Hawks. Also on the bill this year is San Francisco-based stoner rock band Golden Void. The band’s latest release on Thrill Jockey Records is firmly rooted in melody, and the band is not afraid of exploration. The hooks get stuck in your head, and the riffs transport you to the astral plane.

Regular readers know I am a big fan of the Atomic Sherpas, a psyched-out, funked-up groove-based sextet led by the masterful Vince Meghrouni (Fatso Jetson) on vocals/sax/flute/harmonica, and featuring guitarist Anthony Cossa (The Aliens), keyboardist Marc Doten (Double Naught Spy Car), bassist Michael Alvidrez, trombonist Carlos Alvidrez and drummer T. Alex Budrow. The band’s live show is high-energy, artful and guaranteed to put the boogie in your woogie. This summer, the Sherpas will be touring Southern California—and they’re one of the headliners at the Yosemite Music Festivalin Mariposa County for the eighth consecutive year.

Though Meghrouni is a Los Angeles-based musician, he has been a member of the desert’s music scene since the early ’90s. He is featured in the film Lo Sound Desert and has performed here with Fatso Jetson, Brother Weasel and Bazooka over the past couple of decades.

I asked him how he got involved with this annual event.

“The first time we played there, in 2008, I remember pulling up in our rag-tag caravan, looking at the bucolic setting, seeing the sturdy rural folk walking around, and talking to larger-than-life people like Cobra (security) and Hungry Bear,” he said. “As we got set up to the sound of the new bluegrass bands that usually start the proceedings on Friday afternoon, I thought that maybe these good, honest people surrounded by beautiful nature—people raised in a mountain culture of strength and survival—might have no use for our city-slicker fancy costumes, hyped-up stage characters, funny dancing and showy little jazzy fancy-isms. ‘Why don’t ya’ll just be yourselves?’ I imagined going through their minds.”

However, Meghrouni said his concerns were for naught.

“From the get-go, they went hog-wild nuts, and demanded encores—more than one!” he said. “They … streamed down the hill from their comfy camps and lawn chairs and danced like mad! It turns out that our music is rooted in joie de vivre, and that it cuts across. What I perceived as possible differences that wouldn’t enable our communing over the sacred spirit of music was just another veil of illusion manufactured by my own constant self-doubt mind-monkey.

Meghrouni said that today, he and his band mates consider the festival’s organizers and regulars to be family.

“Our pilgrimage every year is to nourish our souls—to dip into the well of our home, our spirit home, and to be among our people,” he said.

The Yosemite Music Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11, at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, located at 5007 Fairgrounds Road, in Mariposa. Admission is $40. For tickets or more information, visit www.yosemitemusicfestival.com. Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at www.desertrockchronicles.com.

Jam in the Van is an Internet music program that’s taking the music world by storm. It is quickly becoming as recognizable as the giant music festivals to which it travels. What MTV was to music videos in the early ‘80s, Jam in the Van is to music festivals and independent artists today.

The van is a moving piece of art, covered with colorful portraits of rock legends and wallpapered in memorabilia from shows gone by. It is also a solar-powered recording studio that travels to the hottest music festivals. Parked outside of Bonnaroo, High Sierra, SXSW and Bottle Rocket, JITV entrepreneur Jake Cotler and his crew invite performing artists inside for a three-song set, documented with state-of-the-art recording gear by pros who are passionate about capturing the magic.

The concept was born in 2011 in the expanded consciousness of Jake Cotler. In a psychedelic haze at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., beneath the starry sky on top of their rented RV, Jake and his and partners, Dave Bell and Louis Peek, thought, “What if we could bring the music to us?” The young festies had been attending Bonnaroo since 2002, and each year, they rented an RV to the tune of a couple of grand. They began contemplating what would happen if they bought an old RV, loaded it with recording gear, and got the bands they were traveling to see to record live sets inside the van. They bought the first jam-van off craigslist for $800, parked it in the alley behind Cotler’s Venice Beach home, and began inviting bands to come play.

Cotler remembers the first time they were invited to park the van backstage at Bonnaroo in 2012.

“Everything but the engine is powered by the sun,” he said. “The studio is fully solar-powered, amps and all. We use four-domestic sized solar panels on the roof of the van to run everything. That’s why we can pull up literally anywhere and film our sessions.

“… The first Bonnaroo we worked at was pretty surreal for us. That was probably the last year that Bonnaroo was really awesome, 2012. Just three months prior, we’d been on the side of the road in Fort Stockton, Texas, broken down in a 1984 Jam Van that died on us on the way back from SXSW. We had to sell the van to a sheriff on the side of the road who was going to use it for storage and to let his nephew sleep in. We packed everything up in a U-Haul and drove back to L.A. with two choices on our minds: Throw in the towel and say it was fun while it lasted, or crowd-fund a new van, and make shit happen. We went with option B, because we don’t quit shit, and we succeeded.

“In the midst of our crowd-funding venture, we signed a deal with Bonnaroo to be part of the festival and film bands backstage. So that first time we … got to be backstage at the festival that started it all. That was really a good feeling.”

The show has picked up sponsors and has filmed hundreds of live music segments. The crew visits major music meccas and music festivals. In April, the crew visited our high desert for a two-day shoot before making their way down to Coachella to record some of this year’s best acts, wrapping things up with desert-based War Drum.

Day one took place outside the van at desert rock icon Brant Bjork’s Low Desert Punk studio in Joshua Tree. The shoot started off with several songs by Brant’s band Low Desert Punk, fresh off this year’s Coachella stage. They included a track from his recent release, Black Flower Power. Next up was DRUG, a surf-punk trio featuring Jamie Hafler on guitar and bass (using a custom built double-neck guitar, allowing him to pull off the feat), and the dramatic impassioned vocals of frontwoman Cristie Carter. A last-minute addition to the lineup was Gram Rabbit songstress Jesika von Rabbit, who took the intimate route with her vocals and guitar. The grand finale featured The Atomic Sherpas.

Day two occurred inside the van at the world renowned Rancho De La Luna Recording Studio in Joshua Tree, where the cream of the desert rock crop gave the crew a taste of what our underground music scene is all about. Guitarist Bobby Nichols (Inner Planetary Monks), drummer Rob Peterson (The Pedestrians) and bassist Armando Flores (The Pedestrians, Blasting Echo) recorded as Sundrug Experiment. They set the mood for the day with fiery psychedelic jams. Next up was Americana indie-band Gene Jr. and The Family, making Joshua Tree proud with its polished pop-infused rock. Waxy then delivered an authentic set of desert stoner rock; Fatso Jetson made the trek from L.A. and blew EVERYONE away with a flawless set of pounding compositions. The evening ended with punk-laden power pop by desert bad-boys, Eagles of Death Metal. Dave Catching and Bingo Richey were going over new tunes that are part of their latest project, the Mojave Lords, predicted to be the desert’s new supergroup.

Visit Jam in the Van at www.jaminthevan.com. Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story with video imbeds, at www.desertrockchronicles.com.