Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

While you may not always see his work firsthand, Will Sturgeon is one of the most influential people in the Coachella Valley music world.

Sturgeon was first known for his solo-project/band hybrid Brightener, but recent years have seen him take on more behind-the-scenes roles—working with other artists and recording them in “The Sturdio,” and devoting time to the youth of the valley via the Academy of Musical Performance program.

But three years after Brightener’s last release, the project is back with a new, four-song EP, Stay Open, slated for a May 20 release. Sturgeon gave me a sneak preview; while Stay Open is by far the most synth-heavy of all his releases, Brightener’s well-known feel-good indie sound shines even brighter on the new EP. Fans of Brightener will see this EP as a modern take on the same sound they love, while new fans will be introduced to the Brightener sound via less rock and more electronica.

I spoke to Will Sturgeon over the phone about what the past three years have been like for him; Brightener’s new sound; and his strategy for releasing music during a pandemic.

It was in 2017 was when we released Headroom. I really wanted to get an album out within a year of us playing Coachella (in 2016),” Sturgeon said. “It was an arbitrary timeline, but I really hustled to do that.”

He met that goal by releasing Headroom in April 2017.

“We went on a tour, held a Kickstarter (fundraising campaign)—and that whole process really stressed me out,” Sturgeon said. “I took a step back from trying to do Brightener and took the rest of 2017 off. I went and played in L.A. with a band called the Tambourines, and I also started making some solo beats. In 2018, I moved to a new house and started doing stuff with The Sturdio. During that time, I started toying with some songs, and every couple of weeks, I would set aside an hour or two a day for songwriting. I set out a goal to put out 10 songs in 2019, but it just took the band and I way longer than we wanted to.

“In 2019, we were only able to meet about four times. We all realized that life was getting in the way, and that Brightener was entering a new phase. Over the years, I’ve had these four songs that I’ve identified as a potential release, so I have been working for the last few months, putting essential touches on these tracks to get them ready for release.”

I asked if the “band” era of Brightener was over.

“Everybody in the band can’t make Brightener a priority,” Sturgeon said. “At its core, Brightener is a solo project. All the recordings and songwriting have been done by me. I want to make Brightener fit into my life more—in a way that’s not as stressful, and in a way that doesn’t define my whole identity. I’m not sure of the next time we will play a show, but for now, I just want to put out great music as Brightener.”

This new chapter is also signaled by a change in tune: Sturgeon explained that the move in a more-electronic direction came from him wanting to create with no limits.

“I got a lot more comfortable with using electronic sounds, so there’s a lot more of those on this release,” he said. “I have a Juno-60 synthesizer from the ’80s that I’ve grown more dependent on, as well as a piano that I have more access to for songwriting now. The last release, I wrote for the live band, but moving forward, I just want to make the music I want to make. I don’t have any plans to play these songs live, so I can make them exactly what I want to make them.”

Over the last couple of years, Sturgeon has been busy in The Sturdio, producing releases from bands like The Flusters, Israel’s Arcade and others. I wondered if his time spent tracking bands has been helpful in crafting and tracking his own music.

“All of the projects that I’ve worked on in The Sturdio for the past couple of years have been super-helpful for me,” Sturgeon said. “I originally wanted to bring the skills I learned in Brightener to The Sturdio, but now, I’m able to use all the skills learned in The Sturdio on Brightener. This is the first Brightener release that I’ve mastered, and those skills definitely came from those other projects. All of the elements of my life work really well together, which I’m really grateful for.”

With the stay-at-home order still in place, the days of being able to promote new releases in person through live shows and the selling of CDs are on hold for the foreseeable future. Sturgeon, however, said he wasn’t worried about that for this release.

“I’m just going to put it out and see what happens,” he said. “When I look back on the Brightener stuff I’ve done in the past decade, there have been a couple of really stressful moments. A lot of those moments came from trying to put so much energy into Brightener—planning the tour, running a Kickstarter, and doing this managerial stuff that is necessary for having a career as an independent musician.

“For this release, I want to preserve the things I love about Brightener, which is making good music, and I hope people enjoy it enough to share it. My release strategy involves me just reaching out to people I know, letting them know I have the record, and hoping they share it. Even if they don’t, I’m still very proud to have this release as a part of my discography.”

For more information, visit

We’re under an emergency shelter-at-home order in California, with a lot of businesses closed down—meaning many people are now without a steady income, including the Coachella Valley’s hard-working, talented musicians.

Many of us also now have a lot of time on our hands … so why not use that time to get to know the local music scene better—while supporting these musicians in the process?

Also, remember that music can be a healer of wounds! For me, music can turn a terrible day into a great day—so I hope that this list can bring you joy in this uncertain time.

Because of all this, I’ve compiled a “Coachella Valley Quarantine” playlist of some of my favorite songs by valley bands. By streaming their songs on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube or any other service, you will also assist them financially … not much, but every little bit helps!

Click here for the Spotify version of the playlist.

Click here for the YouTube version.

“Last Day,” Captain Ghost

I started the playlist off with this one, because the only way to transition into the apocalypse is with roars and sick guitar riffs. This song is as heavy as it is funky—dare I say, with perhaps a hint of ska? The screamed-out chorus lines of “set forth your hands / like it’s the last day on Earth” make this song a perfect soundtrack for the end times. You can read more about Captain Ghost in the interview I did with them last year at;

“Coachella Gold,” Giselle Woo and the Night Owls

After being announced as part of the 2020 Coachella lineup, Giselle Woo and the Night Owls’ profile in the music scene became bigger than ever. Alas, the postponement of the festival means the world will have to wait to experience in person the greatness we’ve seen evolving over the past few years. “Coachella Gold” makes you proud to live here—and a sense of community is definitely something we all need during this time. Learn more about Giselle here;

“Beat Up Your Mom (Sides One and Two),” Sleazy Cortez

In these times of mass hysteria and paranoia, you really could use a good laugh. Sleazy Cortez’s comedy stoner-punk jams are a perfect 20-second hand wash to take your worries away. You don’t even have to worry about too many lyrics, because the only words to this song are: “Beat up your mom.” Side One’s fast punk transitions beautifully into Side Two’s slow-burning blues groove for an epic 3 1/2-minute track. Learn more about Sleazy Cortez here;

“Alone,” Black Water Gospel

“This is how it feels to be alone,” sings Lance Riebsomer in the chorus of this song. The desperation in his voice echoes many people’s uncertainties in this time of isolation—yet this song has one of those guitar solos will help you feel amazing. It’s hard to describe, so just listen. I challenge you to not bob your head at least once throughout the entire track; it may be impossible. Read more about Black Water Gospel here;

“Back on Track,” Brightener

Whenever I listen to Brightener, I can’t help but smile. Will Sturgeon has a voice that just makes you happy, and any track from his band will lift your spirit. It’s no wonder the band has played many top-notch gigs in Los Angeles, not to mention Coachella in 2016. “Back on Track” is one of Sturgeon’s funkier songs, and will make your stay-cation a lot dancier. Learn more about Brightener here;

“Gallium,” Calico Wonderstone

Calico Wonderstone dominated the backyard music scene, but has only played a few shows at local venues, so the band’s name is unknown to many. The band dropped a five-song EP, but has not played a show since releasing it, meaning it has been severely underappreciated. “Gallium” is an indie-rock jam, and lead singer Ramses Lopez’s unique vocal style adds an edgier tone to the groove;

“Mainframe,” Fever Dog

Fever Dog has brought full effort into each of the genres the band has pursued. The group’s first two albums were heavy stoner rock, and then in 2017, Fever Dog released the Mainframe EP—three tracks of psychedelic jams. The title track sounds like something straight out of Pink Floyd, and is the perfect track to let your mind wander away from the negativity. Learn more about Fever Dog here;

“Elevator Dance,” The Flusters

The Flusters offer a perfect mix of dreamy grooves and rockin’ choruses. Take “Elevator Dance,” for example; the verses are very Doors-esque, with lead singer Doug VanSant’s reverbed voice haunting the listener’s ear. But then, the guitar turns up for the choruses—and turns the slow groove to a full-on jump-around-and-dance vibe. Check out more about The Flusters here;

“Wao Wao,” Ocho Ojos

Ocho Ojos’ catalogue features the best of the best when it comes to psychedelic cumbia. The band has played Coachella twice, and has performed at pretty much every venue in the valley—a handful of times—while sprinkling some out-of-town shows in between. The Latin rhythms shine bright on “Wao Wao,” and the 4 1/2-minute banger features synth player Danny Torres and guitarist Cesar Flores trading off solos in epic fashion;

“Funk Jam,” Desert Rhythm Project

This is a pretty self-explanatory track from Joshua Tree favorites Desert Rhythm Project. Funk is a healer of many things; in fact, I’ve been told there’s nothing a little groove can’t fix. Lead singer Mikey Reyes' soothing voice guides listeners through this song; it’s almost as if he’s checking in with us after every extended groove to make sure we’re OK. And this track is packed tight with groove, as it’s a six-minute song that features every essential funk instrument—horns, bass and, of course, a talk-box solo;

“Sand Dune,” FrankEatsTheFloor

Shameless self-promotion: This is my band, and a song I wrote—of which I’m particularly proud. I used our desert landscape to represent how lonely you can feel in a situation of unreciprocated love. I wrote it when I felt lonely; I was sitting inside all day staring at the sand dunes, but now that I have to stay inside, I truly understand how lonely it can be living in a sandy jungle. The bassline is prominent, primarily because I wrote the song around the riff—but also because it sounds cool. Learn more about us here;

“Tied Up,” Instigator

We’re all tied up at home, so why not throw on this aptly named metal tune from local rockers Instigator? The intro riff has been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it; about 40 seconds into the song, the headbanging begins in full effect. Leader Mark Wadlund just posted on Facebook: “‘Coronavirus’ is a great name for a song on a heavy-metal concept album about disease,” so maybe something good will come out of this situation. Read more about Instigator here;

“Isolated,” Israel’s Arcade

Speaking of aptly named songs, this indie-rock track from Israel’s Arcade is the perfect song for your isolation blues. “Don’t come find me … let me rot,” sings Israel Pinedo over a melancholy instrumental—featuring some sweet saxophone backup. The standout part of this track is the lead guitar, as its back-and-forth rhythm, while extremely catchy, elicits a true sense of loneliness. Learn more about them here;

“Strange,” Ormus

Ormus’ first album was a collection of hard-hitting metal-punk tracks, complete with frontman Martin Posada’s death growls. But “Strange” sounds like something straight from the ’70s, with Posada and bass-player Serene Noell sharing vocal duties on a rock track that’s very Black Sabbath-esque. However, Ormus’ signature sound comes back in the middle of a song, for a minute-long metal-punk death-growl interlude;

“Bad Conscience Blues,” Plastic Ruby

Plastic Ruby’s unique “Desert Jangle” sound slows down a bit on “Bad Conscience Blues.” Lead singer John Marek’s reverb-caked voice sings over a slow-burning psychedelic-blues track that is as groovy as it is bluesy. The three-minute-long jam would not be complete without the organ solo, however—as everybody knows that you can't have psychedelic jams without an organ. Learn more about the band here;

“King Street,” Pescaterritory

“King Street” is one of those songs that makes you feel cool. The pounding rock beat of the song may just lead you to strut around your isolation chamber. Halfway through the song, guitarist Jason Zembo steals the show with what may be one of my favorite guitar solos of all time. The best way to beat the virus is with rock ’n’ roll! Read more about the band here;

“Ppl Like U,” Throw the Goat

The first release from Throw the Goat after a recent lineup change proves that the same ol’ Goat is still there. It’s a punk outcry against hypocrites and the current state of the world—a perfect song for letting out your rage. The band is setting up for a full album about the political nonsense, appropriately titled Vote Goat 2020. Read more about the group here; (Photo below by Keleigh Black)

“The Death of a Gentleman,” YIP YOPS

The Yip Yops’ recent lineup departures left the group as a two-piece—but the boys are determined to not change the sound that much. “The Death of a Gentleman” is an ’80s-style synth-rock gem that sounds so much like Depeche Mode. It’s groovy; it’s danceable; it even has somber moments. A lot of ground is covered in three minutes, and will cover many of the moods you are feeling during this time. Read more about them here;

“Baby’s Breath,” Koka

Another notable band in the backyard-show scene in the valley is Koka, an indie-rock group with soothing melodies that offer a bedroom-pop vibe. Their sounds have brought them Internet attention, with “Baby’s Breath” nabbing more than 37,000 listens on Soundcloud alone. Lead singer Edith Aldaz’s vocal lines are catchy; singing the oohs of this song’s chorus will definitely help alleviate some stress;

“I Wanna Be Over You,” The Hive Minds

The last song on this playlist ends things on a high note. A happy instrumental is met by lead singer Derek Jordan Gregg reminiscing about the good times: “Remember the way that I fell when I held you, December.” Gregg wants to go back to “feeling himself”—don’t we all? This song is cheery and proves that music can be a source of joy, even in times like these;

Local band Brightener had been on a bit of a hiatus, but the band has started to resurface recently, including the CV Independent Presents show at The Hood Bar and Pizza with Haunted Summer on April 12. Behind the drums of Brightener is Elias Texel, who recently got engaged to his girlfriend, Ashley. For more information on Brightener, visit Elias was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Whoa, it was actually an MxPx concert! Ha ha! I was in fourth-grade and went with my best bud and his older brother. We were amazed.

What was the first album you owned?

The first album I remember buying was Sum 41’s All Killer No Filler. Really got my 11-year-old angst going.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to A LOT of Future Islands. Also: Dr. Dog, MewithoutYou, Joyce Manor, Flying Lotus, and Phoenix.

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

People won’t like me for this, but Lana Del Rey.

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

I haven’t seen Death Cab for Cutie yet, but they are on my musical bucket list.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

“The Sound” by The 1975. I never listen to it around people I know. Ugh, I can’t escape it!

What’s your favorite music venue?

I haven’t been to that many, but I really love the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

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

“I farted in a can and stirred it with my finger singin’ oh da da da da da da oh dada dada, threw it out the window,” “Heart It Races,” Dr. Dog.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Snarky Puppy. A whole new world of possibilities with music opened for me when I started listening to them.

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

Brian Blade: “Will you give me some of your powers?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Life Is a Highway,” Tom Cochrane.

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

Menos el Oso, Minus the Bear.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

Go listen to “Compromised” by Tim Atlas. I’ve had it on repeat for the last couple of weeks. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Published in The Lucky 13

Brightner’s last full-length record, Hummingbird, was largely acoustic. Headroom, Brightener’s Kickstarter-supported follow-up, is quite different.

Returning home after a brief tour, Brightener will celebrate the release of Headroom on Friday, April 7, at the Art Pop Gallery in Palm Springs.

During a recent interview, Brightener mastermind Will Sturgeon talked about the successful Kickstarter campaign, which recently surpassed the $7,500 goal.

“It’s been going well,” Sturgeon said. “I did a Kickstarter a couple of years back for the first full length, Hummingbird. I prepared a lot for it and was very successful. We’ve hit over our goal, which is incredible.

“Artistically, it took me six years to record that record (Hummingbird). That led to a sense of really wanting to be immediate with the next one. I really loved doing the Kickstarter thing last time, and I didn’t have funding coming from anywhere else, so that made it easier to produce the record. … It’s been a lot of work in that I’m preparing for the album release and (was) planning our first tour. I wanted to do it in the same month so that there was a lot going on for us.”

Sturgeon played everything on all the tracks on Hummingbird—and that’s the case again with Headroom, even though he now has a band behind him that includes Raefer Finnegan (bass), Michael Santella (guitar) and Elias Texel (drums). His sister Abigail, music-school classmate Aman Alem and former CIVX bassist and Kayves frontman Nick Hernandez are among the musicians who have backed him during live performances in the past.

“I actually did everything myself on this album as well,” Sturgeon explained. “The recording of this album has been over the course of the past couple years. During the recording, I got a band. But the recording has been in my room and on my laptop. When I did the last album, I thought I should go into a studio and do it the right way, but it took so much longer, because there are more people involved, and you have to work around other people’s schedules. The mixing for the last record took a year. The process is a lot faster when I make all the decisions myself. It’s a process that I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. Elias did play drums on a couple of these tracks, but otherwise, this record is all me again.”

Sturgeon insisted he’s not pushing the rest of the band aside.

“I think they do want to be involved, although I think that it’s clear that I am doing it this way because this is the process that works for me, and I’ve explained to them my rebounding from the last record to this record,” he said. “It’s not to exclude them, but nobody knows more what I want than I do. I can spend three hours in my room after midnight, and it’s just a much easier process for everyone.

“We did record a couple of songs at Pink Satellite Studios up in Joshua Tree as a band a couple of months ago, courtesy of Tachevah, given that was part of what we won last year. That was a really fun experience to record together as a band. A couple of the guys in the band had never even been in a recording studio before. I’m always looking for ways to include them, while at the same time honoring the process of recording that works for me.”

Sturgeon said the energy level of Headroom is the main difference between the new album and Hummingbird.

Hummingbird was much more acoustic, and this one is a lot of synths and a lot more electric guitar and drum-propelled songs,” he said. “I think it sounds pretty good. I don’t know if people are going to be able to hear the difference. To not record in a studio, there might be some loss of recording quality, but I think this record feels better, and that’s more important, in my opinion.”

Sturgeon said he’s happy with where Brightener is at right now.

“In college, I was in a band called The Smiles, and it was like a surf-rock band,” he said. “I played bass and sang. Where we are now with Brightener, it reminds me of that era of my musical life. … It seems like a natural evolution, and it’s exciting for me to explore more synth-based and upbeat stuff. I went through my acoustic singer-songwriter phase, and I’m not in any rush to return to that.”

April last year was also a crazy month for Brightener, after winning the Tachevah music showcase and being selected to perform at Coachella.

“I loved Tachevah, and it’s a great platform, especially for us, and it’s a great benefit for the local music scene,” Sturgeon said. “But one of the biggest weird things about it is that you’re not used to competing with other bands. A little competition between bands is not generally in the musician’s psyche. Maybe it’s the reason musicians are musicians, and athletes are athletes. It was weird to compete, and I’m not a very competitive person, so it was a stress on all of us. It just felt weird interacting with the other bands, many of whom are our friends, with one of us moving on and the other not, even though everyone puts in the same amount of work and is super-talented.”

Brightener is touring outside of the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles for the first time. The week-long tour took the band to San Diego, Fresno, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.

“It’s our first tour. We self-organized it, which was really hard,” Sturgeon said. “I haven’t done a lot of booking outside of the valley or Los Angeles, so it was definitely a challenge to figure out how to play shows. We found a lot of shows, which is really nice.”

Brightener will perform at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 7, at Art Pop Gallery, 1566 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Published in Previews

Will Sturgeon returned to the desert a couple of years ago and kicked his band Brightener into full gear—and ever since, it’s been one of the valley’s most talked-about bands. Brightener won last year’s Tachevah Music Showcase and was the local band to play at Coachella 2016’s first weekend. Catch them in action this Friday, Feb. 3, at the Coachella Valley Art Scene's 19th Hole Block Party in Old Town La Quinta. For more information on the band, visit Raefer Finnegan, the band’s bassist, was kind enough to answer The Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

The Sounds at House of Blues in San Diego. My cousin Bonnie took us for my sister’s birthday, and it was such a new thing to me—a bunch of “cool kids” packed together, sweating and dancing to indie rock. I fell in love.

What was the first album you owned?

Nirvana’s Nevermind. I remember saving my money and going to Borders and buying it. It was like $18. I remember it feeling like a lot of money, but I didn’t care—I needed it.

What bands are you listening to right now?

It’s always changing, but the constants are Touché Amore, Joyce Manor, The Smiths (forever and always) and a lot of Little Dragon and Title Fight. Also, Tony Molina!

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

Mumble rap. Let’s leave it in 2016, please. Alsom Iggy Azalea can stop what she’s doing.

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

I’d have to say Nirvana, but current would be Fleet Foxes or Little Dragon.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Hmmmm. I’m not guilty about the music I love; everyone has different tastes, but (there are some things) I listen to that I don’t throw on at parties or for other people: bands like Knocked Loose, Expire and Bracewar, which is harder stuff. On the softer side, I love me some Eurythmics/Annie Lennox and Sade. I loooove Sade.

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Gilman in Berkeley, Calif. Every time I went, it felt like the room vibrated with energy.

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

“Oh take me to the haven of your bed, was something that you never said. Two lumps please, you’re the bees knees but so am I,” from “Reel Around the Fountain,” The Smiths.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

The Smiths, because Morrissey is a genius, and the individuals shine through like no other band back then or that’s out there today. (It was a) highly skilled singer and musicians making highly refined music. It’s perfect.

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

I’d ask Morrissey if I could take a picture with him, and if he could sign a copy of The Queen Is Dead for me. Maybe Meat Is Murder as well if he had enough time.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Rest in Piss” by Brotha Lynch Hung.

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

The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths. Second would be Menos el Oso by Minus the Bear.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Lovers’ Carvings” by Bibio. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

During the month of December, there are more than enough events to keep you entertained—whether you’re in the Christmas spirit or not.

The McCallum Theatre has a great list of Christmas-themed events. At 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 5, enjoy a special Christmas presentation from the Vienna Boys Choir. One of the best known boys’ choirs in the world, the group’s various incarnations perform about 300 concerts a year. Fun fact: The boys in the choir are around the ages of 10 to 14. Tickets are $37 to $77. Locals will take the stage at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 10, in a show being assembled by Best of Coachella Valley radio personality Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald of CV 104.3 called “A CV Christmas.” The show will feature Kal David and Lauri Bono, Ronnie King, Brightener, John Stanley King and others. Tickets are $27 to $67. At 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16, and Saturday, Dec. 17, Johnny Mathis will be bringing his 60th anniversary Christmas tour to the McCallum. You can’t go wrong with Johnny, especially when he’s singing Christmas tunes. Tickets are $67 to $137. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787;

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has some good stuff onstage in December. At 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 2, Celtic Woman will be performing a Christmas-themed show as part of the “Home for Christmas: The Symphony Tour.” Celtic Woman has made a name for itself by performing Celtic music that’s mixed with folk and new-age sounds. The group’s Christmas repertoire is very popular and has added to Celtic Woman’s success. Tickets are $49 to $89. If you aren’t in the Christmas music mood … at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, there will be a performance by ARW (Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman). These three members of YES hadn’t performed together in 25 years, so this is one tour you’ll want to catch if you’re a rock music fan. Rick Wakeman made the Moog what it is today in rock music, and Trevor Rabin’s guitar-playing is legendary in prog rock. Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 10, the Goo Goo Dolls will be returning to the Coachella Valley. I’ve mentioned how annoying it was hearing the song “Iris” over and over during my junior and senior years of high school … and my high school even made the song part of my prom. Ugh! Tickets are $49 to $79. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 800-827-2946;

The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has a couple of events worth mentioning. At 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9, Penn and Teller will be stopping by. Originally known for magic shows that included comedy, the duo stepped it up for a television show on Showtime called Bullshit!, which featured the duo taking on a variety of subjects, from Sept. 11 conspiracy theories to bottled water and beyond. Tickets are $45 to $65. Looking for something to do on New Year’s Eve? At 10:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 31, bring in 2017 with Huey Lewis and the News. Huey is a big part of one of my more tortured childhood Christmas memories: I once asked for a Metallica album … and received his Sports album instead. Boo, Huey! Boo! Tickets are $105 to $125. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995;

Spotlight 29 has a couple of intriguing December offerings. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, former Supertramp vocalist and songwriter Roger Hodgson will be performing. He wrote most of Supertramp’s most well-known hits, which have sold more than 60 million records, so this should be a pretty good show. Tickets are $45 to $65. At 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 91 and 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 10; and 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11, Spotlight 29 will be hosting its Winter Gathering Pow Wow. This Native American custom includes dancing, singing, visiting and the renewing of old friendships. This event is free and family friendly.Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella;

After an epic summer, Morongo Casino Resort Spa’s entertainment schedule has slowed down just a bit—but there are a couple of great December shows worth mentioning. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, Morongo will be opening the Drum Room, a new bar and lounge on the 26th floor of the hotel. The grand opening will feature some great cocktails and appetizers in the venue, which has great leather seating and huge windows offering stunning views of the desert. At 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9, there will be a performance by the Charlie Daniels Band. If you’ve never seen the Charlie Daniels Band, trust me: Mr. Daniels puts on one hell of a show, even though he’s 80 years old and has survived prostate cancer—with a pacemaker installed in his chest to boot. He was a highlight of Stagecoach in 2013. Given this is Christmas, you can expect some Christmas tunes mixed into his Southern-rock set. Tickets are $25 to $35. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499;

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has some events in December you shan’t miss. At 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9, Hanni El Khatib (upper right) will be returning to Pappy’s after a stunning sold-out show earlier this year. Hanni El Khatib denied being a blues man when I interviewed him last year, but blues and hard rock are definitely part of his sound. This show is a must-see. Tickets are $15 to $20. At 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 22, it’s locals’ night when The BrosQuitos and Yip Yops play Pappy and Harriet’s. This is a much-deserved gig for both local bands—groups with bright futures ahead of them. Admission is free. After the presents have been opened, and the holiday hangover has set in, get yourself to Pappy’s at 8 p.m., Monday, Dec. 26, for the Evangenitals. The Evangenitals is one of the best bands to see when you’re sad—because you’ll enjoy a lot of laughs at the no-holds-barred humor. Oh, and be sure to stay until the end when the band does its own personal rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Admission is blessedly free. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956;

The Purple Room has a fine December schedule. At 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9,and Saturday, Dec. 10, the Kinsey Sicks will be bringing a holiday show, “Oy Vey in a Manger!” to the Purple Room. The Kinsey Sicks is known as “America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet” and is named after the Kinsey scale—with six meaning “exclusively homosexual.” Formed in 1993 in San Francisco, the group has earned a reputation as one of the LGBT community’s most entertaining and hilarious groups. Tickets are $30 to $45. At 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16, the Martini Kings will be performing. Back in October, when I was at Pappy and Harriet’s for Paul McCartney’s show, I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Marsico of the Martini Kings. He was once a sideman for Bob Dylan, and he told me some fascinating stories from those days. The Martini Kings have a sound that modernism fans will love—and the group should turn in a great Christmas show. Tickets are $25. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422;

The Hood Bar and Pizza has announced a December show you’ll want to mark down on your calendar. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 10, Dali’s Llama will be performing, along with other great bands such as Supersonic Dragon Wagon; an old group including Zach Huskey of Dali’s Llama, Hot Beat Pussy Fiend; and Sleazy Cortez. Admission is free! The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220;

The Date Shed has one event in December worth mentioning. At 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 2, there will be a performance by Too Short (below). During the ’90s, when the whole East Coast-West Coast rap thing was going full-force, one man worked with both 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G.—and that was Too Short. While his lyrics are about pimping not being easy (Has it ever been easy?), and “bitch” is nothing but a word to him, he’s a legend of the genre. Tickets are $25. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe Street, Indio; 760-775-6699;

Published in Previews

Until recently, brightener was flying under the radar in the Coachella Valley music scene.

Then brightener advanced to the finals of The Desert Sun’s Tachevah competition. And then the group was added to the first-weekend lineup of Coachella.

Add in the fact that a new album in the works, and brightener’s Will Sturgeon is definitely on the rise.

During a recent interview, Sturgeon discussed how he came up with the band’s name.

“I had been putting out a bunch of solo stuff for years on the Internet, and there was a period of time when I had an active YouTube following from all over the world,” he said. “At one point, I released a solo record under my name, and some Turkish fans commented on my page and said they called me brightener, because I brightened their day. I kind of liked that, and it meant something to me. So I just went with it.

“It’s kind of a solo project, but right now, I have a band that’s solid. The writing and recording is generally my thing, and I wanted to have a name that could kind of evolve and have a band. I didn’t want it to just be about me. It allows me a lot of creative freedom.”

While Sturgeon has that band of musicians backing him now, he recorded his previous record, Hummingbird, almost entirely on his own, playing every instrument.

“When I was a teenager, I had a Mac, and I had GarageBand; I started writing songs, and I would layer instruments on top,” he said. “I’ve been playing piano for years, and I picked up guitar and drums in middle school jazz band. So I know how to do it all, and I really like the process of arranging and recording. I’ve been doing that for almost 10 years.

Hummingbird was more normal. I went to a studio and worked with a mixing engineer, but it was very small process, because only two people were involved (along with) a couple of friends of mine. … It took me so long, because when you work by yourself, you work on your own schedule. When you work with one other person, it takes forever. That record, from the beginning to recording to the release, (took) almost two years, which drove me crazy, because the songs were four years old at that point, anyway.”

In May, Sturgeon will release a new record.

“I went back to my roots. They’re recordings that I feel are authentic and fresh to me, as opposed to the other album, which was a bit more stale because of the process,” he said. “… I really want to get to a point where conception of the song, recording of the song and release of the song is as fast as it possibly can be. That’s partially in response to the last record.”

One of brightener’s former members is Nick Hernandez, who at one time was the frontman of CIVX. Sturgeon said Hernandez has remained supportive and even helped Sturgeon put his current band together.

“Nick is currently starting a new music project, and he was really busy with work. He left the band after we played the 111 Music Festival. He was really great and hooked us up with our drummer, who lives in Pasadena and who comes out here whenever he can to rehearse,” Sturgeon said. “We got our bassist from our drummer, and it feels like a family now.

“It’s hard to keep a band together for brightener, because in Los Angeles, where I was living for a while, all the friends I had there were professional musicians. I’d have them play with me, but because they were professional musicians, they needed to get paid; they couldn’t do my thing exclusively. After coming out here … this is the city of events, where we get hired for events, and we get paid, which is incredible. That’s an income source I never had. I can pay these guys in the band, which is really nice, but they don’t do it for money, which is even better. But I want them to know they’re appreciated, and we split whatever we can.”

Sturgeon explained that his writing happens in spurts.

“I need the time to write, and I go through waves of being really busy or not too busy,” he said. “It’s hard because right now, I don’t have a full-time day job. That’s actually how I wrote this past record coming up, because I had a job that supported me, and I didn’t need to do all these crazy things for money. It just goes in phases, and right now, I’m super busy.”

As for advancing to the finals of Tachevah—on Wednesday, May 18, at The Date Shed—Sturgeon said it was surprising that the band advanced, although the process to get there was a little bit … well, annoying.

“I’ve been in the desert for the past Tachevahs and didn’t have an active band,” he said. “I didn’t really want to throw my name in the hat, because the first step is annoying all your friends online to vote for you, which I don’t like to do unless it’s something you really should do. This year felt like the right time, and I was very surprised that we made it into the Top 10. … Tachevah has been very good to us so far, and we advanced to the semifinals at Pappy and Harriet’s. I got to be onstage with people I loved, and that was super sweet and legitimizing, in a sense.”

Sturgeon has played a role in another up-and-coming local group: He is producing The Flusters’ upcoming EP. During a recent visit with Doug Van Sant, frontman of The Flusters, he played me a track from the EP and praised Sturgeon’s abilities to help the band members rewrite or add to their material. Sturgeon said it’s been great to work with The Flusters.

“Given I do all my own arrangements, I’m my own producer,” Sturgeon said. “Producing another band has always been a dream and a goal of mine. This is the first project for me to start with, because they’re really guitar-based surf rock, and I was in a surf-rock band in college. I understand what they really want, and I think we got some really good takes in the studio. … Doug was looking for another outside perspective, because they’ve been living for the songs for so long, and I know what that’s like. I care a lot about songwriting, and I spent about a month with them in their rehearsals, and if I had a suggestion, I’d throw it out there. A lot of the songs have become more concise, I’d say. That was the goal. It all sounds so colorful, and it’s been really awesome.”

For more information, visit

When the Coachella Valley Art Scene announced the first 111 Music Festival last year, the idea of putting local bands and DJs on SunLine buses seemed pretty crazy. But the festival was a success—and the 111 Music Festival will return for a second year on Sunday, Nov. 1.

The festival will take place on the 19-mile long Route 111 Line from Palm Springs to Indio—and back again. Bands playing the festival include The Flusters, Alchemy, Brightener, CIVX, IIIz (formerly the Yip Yops), Machin’ and others. The fare will be $3 for the whole festival; a one way ride will cost $1.

Coachella Valley Art Scene founder and director Sarah Scheideman and marketing director Ian Cush recently explained how they came up from the concept. (Full disclosure: I also do work for the Coachella Valley Art Scene.)

“It actually came from Portland,” Scheideman said. “I went up there (to Oregon), and I saw a much smaller version of it, and I thought it was a cool idea. I thought about doing it down here in the Coachella Valley. It was like, ‘They do it, so why can’t we do it?’”

Cush explained the differences between Portland’s festival and the 111 Music Festival.

“Their festival is tiny,” Cush said. “They have carolers and things. Sarah mentioned she had a good time with it, and that it was fun and cool. I worked with SunLine before, doing their training and tutorial and training video. I said, ‘Let’s do something like that, but really put it on the bus.’ The one thing that comes down to this festival is that this place is open to ideas, too.”

Cush said there was no resistance to the idea when it was pitched to SunLine.

“The logistics of it is where there was a lot of worry,” Cush said. “I think we came in strong with the idea, and we were both passionate about the idea. I called them on the phone, and within two minutes, I had the CEO on the line. They were like, ‘Yes, we want to do something like this!’ Once they met us and realized we’re not completely crazy, it was more like, ‘How is this going to work?’ We still probably freaked them out every day.”

The festival results in no changes to the normal SunLine schedule.

“We didn’t want to change anything that they were already doing; we just wanted to add to it,” Scheideman said.

The response to the 111 Music Festival last year was quite positive.

“Ridership was good, but we could have had more riders,” Cush said. “I think there was a little worry the first time of, ‘Is every bus going to be full?’ It’s such a small venue. You put 30 people on there, and it’s packed. We had a worry and said, ‘Let’s not go too crazy.’ So many people talked about it that the idea now is clear. Everyone was excited about doing it, too.”

Playing on the bus isn’t hard for some bands, although others obviously cannot play on a bus. When I was discussing the idea with Dan Dillinger of Bridger, he remarked, “You think we could fit Katie (Cathcart’s) drum set on a bus?”

Cush said organizers talk to participating bands in advance about what they can and can’t bring.

“The nice thing about bands is they are road guerillas,” he said. “(Some) brought the full arsenal. We did have some inverters go down on the bus, and they just had to play acoustic. They also had some swinging mics, because things move on a bus. That’s what makes it cool, though: It’s live, and it’s a crazy event; everyone is in there together. You’re going over bumps, and you’re mobbing. It’s like road trippin’ with the family.”

Local musician Alfa Cologne said his performance last year offered him some welcome exposure.

“It was very interesting. It gave me a new crowd to play music to: people who were just riding a bus, and also people who came to see me play on the bus,” he said. “It was a little wobbly; the mic was swinging, and felt like a Disney ride at times. But it was a very fun experience.”

There will be some changes to this year’s festival. Scheideman said an event in downtown Cathedral City has been added.

“This year, instead of having people get on the bus and not have any direction, we’re going to be directing traffic toward the Cathedral City City Hall lawn, where we’re going to have a stage, and headlining bands performing on the stage,” she said. “You can ride the bus with the bands to here, and they’ll perform on the stage, too.”

Cush said almost every city on the Route 111 Line has been supportive of the festival.

“Next year, the line will go all the way into Coachella. Coachella has been a donor; they see it coming, and they want to be a part of it,” he said. “They donated last year, and they donated this year. Every city on the route donated to this festival. It’s a true public festival, and it’s for the people. The whole point is we’re connecting everyone: Everyone is getting on the bus together and enjoying this experience. Cathedral City stepped up and said that they wanted to be more involved, and they let us have the lawn to produce something.”

Cush said he hopes next year’s fest has even more stages.

“I hope next year, we do the same thing we’re doing in Cathedral City at city hall in Coachella, Indio and Palm Desert. Why can’t we do the entire valley?” he said. “I also hope businesses along 111 will do something for it. They don’t need our permission, and they can get involved. If the stop comes by your business, offer something.”

The 111 Music Festival takes place from 3 to 10 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 1. For more information, visit

Published in Previews

Will Sturgeon is better known in the music world as Brightener. Most of the work on Brightener’s recordings comes from Sturgeon, but he also includes his sister Abigail Sturgeon on backing vocals, and guitarist Aman Alem. Brightener has a low-fi sound that’s perfect for Southern California, and Sturgeon’s songwriting skills are top-notch. For more information, visit Will Sturgeon was recently kind enough to answer the Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

The Backstreet Boys. They literally flew in on hoverboards. Can’t beat that.

What was the first album you owned?

Ha ha ha this is not getting off to a great start. I think Astro Lounge by Smash Mouth was the first CD I ever owned, and had in my first Walkman. I wouldn’t recommend it now. 

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’m listening to Lil Dicky right now, and I love Vulfpeck, Father John Misty, Tame Impala, Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Mac DeMarco and stuff in that vein.

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

Even if I don’t like a musical genre, I feel like I at least understand the appeal to certain people. Except for Riff Raff. I don’t get that.

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

Either The Beatles or Led Zeppelin. The Beatles are my favorite defunct band, and Led Zeppelin is arguably the greatest live band of all time.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Probably Dashboard Confessional. Chris Carrabba was very influential to me and my emotions in high school. It’s so ridiculous, but I still love it. “Screaming Infidelities” is a classic.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Probably the Coachella Outdoor Stage. I’ve had my fair share of transcendent life experiences at shows there from my teenage years ’til now.

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

“Your hair, it’s everywhere,” from the aforementioned “Screaming Infidelities.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

In 10th grade, my school and our rival schools held a battle of the bands. A group from another school nailed an amazing rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” That inspired me to really start taking my music seriously. Coincidentally, years later, I learned that the bassist from that band booked Brightener for a show. It’s the circle of liiiife!

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

I’d ask Kevin Parker from Tame Impala if I could play bass in his band.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I’d just force the congregation to listen to my entire catalog of music from beginning to end. HONOR MY MEMORY, DAD!

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

Abbey Road, the Beatles.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Back Pocket” by Vulfpeck. So funky and feels great. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Published in The Lucky 13