CVIndependent

Fri12152017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

“Lucky” Campout 13, the annual resettlement of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven fans, came to Pappy and Harriet’s for three days and nights over Labor Day weekend.

A new fan who came to the Campout for the first time summed up the level of Crumb love: “Man, I am a Cracker fan, but nothing like these fans. This is incredible.” I see the Campout as an annual family reunion—full of traditions and a family you actually want to see.

Thursday night customarily features “acoustic” sets by Johnny Hickman and David Lowery, but it is really the first night of the family get-together, where fans first get to catch up. Claire Wilcox, a Crumb super fan, greeted me with silver beads she was handing out in celebration of Cracker’s silver anniversary.

Jonathan Segel started things off on Thursday. Segel mentioned: “There is a guy who is playing later. He lent me his guitar. What is his name?” He then gestured at the guitar all Crumb fans know belongs to David Lowery.

Segel is the violinist for Camper Van Beethoven, and his backing band, 20 Minute Loop, opened by playing tracks from the band’s new record, while Segel played violin in support. Segel then introduced fervent Camper fans to new solo material.

David Lowery walked onto the stage and declared: “Welcome to Lucky Campout 13. We will be playing some songs we will not play out there,” pointing to the outdoor stage. His solo show included “Let’s Go for a Ride” from Kerosene Hat; the gold record for that album, well-worn from age, is nailed to the Pappy and Harriet’s Wall of Fame, a few feet away.

The set also included “Let’s All Be Someone Else,” which began a chorus of sing-alongs that lasted the rest of the show. Lowery later mentioned, “I had my phone on shuffle, and this song came up,” as he began singing “Bad Vibes Everybody” which sparked another cheer. Then came the very wonderfully sappy lyrics of “Something You Ain’t Got”: “Well the first dance cost me a quarter and the second dance cost me my heart. … Like a circle it ends where it starts, and it goes something like this, always a swing and a miss.” Lowery ended his solo set with the rebellious “Torches and Pitchforks.”

Johnny Hickman then entered stage right and saluted his predecessor to the stage: “The mayor of Campout, David Lowery.”

Lowery may be the mayor, but Johnny Hickman is the suave marshal, always surrounded by a posse of his female fans. Hickman set low expectations with his devotees: “I have a couple of new songs that I am hesitant to play, because they will end up in a crappy You Tube video.” Without a set list, I could not identify some of the new songs, but the fans were pleased.

Toward the end of his set, Hickman asked for direction on how many more songs he could play; the pause resulted in some requests from the crowd. Arie Haze, to the left of me, yelled out: “Little Tom,” and Johnny obliged the request, before asking for help with a new song, “Poor Life Choices”: When he pointed to the audience, they needed to shout out “Poor Life Choices!”

A few signals got crossed: Johnny announced, “It’s time to welcome back the mayor of Campout,” but David Lowery was not there quite yet. Hickman, with tongue firmly placed in cheek, noted: “This is the beauty of Thursday night; we don’t give a shit.” So Hickman strapped on his acoustic guitar to play a few more songs.

Closing out the first night, the Cracker duo was in great form, playing cuts normally not heard during a normal Cracker show.

Campout tradition dictates that special appearances are made at a nearby location. This time, Douglas Avery, a hardcore fan, rented a “shack” a few yards away from Pappy’s—the third year he had done it. There, a small stage illuminated by a lamp and run with a primitive mixing board greeted Thayer Sarrano (who performs with Cracker), who played an acoustic set followed by Johnny Hickman, playing solo under the desert stars—as the nearby desert sparkled by way of lightning. It was magical moment and a great example why Hickman is so loved.

On Friday, the outdoor stage brought the always-wonderful jam session fronted by Jonathan Segel, with Camper bandmate Victor Krummenacher in support.

David Lowery came out personally to introduce Coachella Valley’s Tribesmen, who followed these music veterans without a hitch, playing a interpretation of instrumental rock that delighted hardcore music fans.

Once again, Camper Van Beethoven headlined on Friday. Did Camper forgo the dress theme, or did I miss a subtle reference to the theme of for the night, “All Her Favorite Fruit,” a song about a civil servant yearning for another man’s wife: “She serves him mashed potatoes; she serves him peppered steak with corn.” Campout attendee Molly Thrash depicted the theme beautifully and explained the meaning of the melody with a tray full of vittles outlined in the song. David Lowery sang popular tunes, including “Eye of Fatima (Part 1),” “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” “Pictures of Matchstick Men” and “White Riot.”

Prior to the start of the show, fan Jenny Wariner asked to borrow a pen, because she wanted to write “S.P. 37957” on a Wendy’s Hamburgers white paper bag in hopes that the medley would be played live. Jenny drove from Utah with her husband, and the song came on via shuffle during the long drive. She said she realized that she had never heard the song live, and she did not have time to go to the store to get “proper supplies” for a sign. As fate would have it, this CVB uber-fan got to hear the song.

After the CVB show, Thelma and the Sleaze tore things up on the indoor stage.

One always meets lots of different people at the Campout, including Rosario Romero, a Campout regular who always dances by herself stage right, near the large speakers. Over the years, she has mentioned that her son Indio Romero is a performer, even playing at the House of Blues in San Diego—so I was pleased to find out that Indio Romero was going to be able to play at the Campout on Saturday, on the indoor stage, the same stage that has the sweat and tears of such bands as Babes in Toyland, the Savages and Sir Paul McCartney. The indoor stage was packed, which would be expected since a member of the “family” was playing. Romero killed it, explaining that the song “Headlights” got him the gig.

Saturday headliner Cracker actually complied with the night’s “movie stars” dress code, as the entire band dressed as the cast of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. David Lowery, of course, played the part of Steve Zissou. Cracker gratified with all the hits, including “Eurotrash Girl,” ‘“Teenage Angst,” “The World Is Mine” and “Low.”

On a personal note, I would like to mention one last family tradition. Bradford Jones takes the band photo every night, with fans in the background. However, this year, Jones could not make it, because his father passed away during the Campout weekend. Arie Haze was deputized to fill Bradford Jones’ big shoes, and Arie—a very serious math teacher by day—drafted me to take the backup shot. Bradford has set the bar high as a professional photographer, and Arie wanted to make him proud. I hope he approves.

Another Campout is in the can, as they say. With such a rich catalog of songs to pull from, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker always connect. The only thing that changes every year is that the family gets bigger and stronger, making the patch of desert called Pappy and Harriet’s feel a little more enchanted.

Published in Reviews

It’s August, which means we’re starting the downhill slide into fall (and the amazing weather that season brings). Meanwhile, there are still plenty of great shows to enjoy.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a couple of events to consider. At 5 p.m., Friday, Aug. 4, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera of Riverside will square off against Jesus “El Renuente” Soto Karass of Los Mochis, Mexico, in a welterweight-division match that’s part of Golden Boy Boxing. The event will also be broadcast on ESPN. Tickets are $25 to $45. At 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 18, the legendary Doobie Brothers will return to Fantasy Springs. The band’s name has always amused me, but the music is no laughing matter: It’s great. Tickets are $39 to $69. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 800-827-2946; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa also has a sports event taking place: At 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 5, get ready for the beatdown … the Gladiator Challenge MMA: Ultimate Beatdown, that is. While the card had not been announced as of my deadline, you can bet the beatdown awesomeness will be … uh, awesome, considering the Gladiator Challenge has been going since 1999, and MMA greats including Dan “The Beast” Severn and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson have participated. Tickets are $40 to $150. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12, you’ll be off the wall and asking Annie if she’s OK when the Michael Jackson History Show hits the valley. This is a production by Showtime Australia, and will feature MJ impersonator Dantanio. Tickets are $29 to $59. Speaking of the King of Pop (sort of): Do you love the ’80s? Well, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 19, you’ll be loving Lost ’80s Live, with a lineup featuring Wang Chung, Cutting Crew, Pretty Poison, Naked Eyes, The Flirts, Trans-X, Berlin (right) and Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, who recently made it known that Spandau Ballet is officially done. Confession: Since I bought my new car a couple of months ago, the SiriusXM radio has been set to the ’80s station almost all the time. Tickets are $45 to $65. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 is offering an interesting mix of events in August. First, do you know who really loves reggae music? Independent contributor Guillermo Prieto does—but I’m sure you do, too, and at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 5, there will be a celebration of Bob Marley put on by OneGunn, OneLove. There’ll be good times and good vibes, for sure. Tickets are $20. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12, you’ll be banging your head with the horns up during the celebration of Metallica put on by Masters of Puppets. The group has received a lot of props from Metallica fans, so don’t miss this one if you, too, are a fan. Tickets are $20. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 19, fans of Norteño will be delighted to enjoy the show by Los Tucanes de Tijuana. The band has sold more than 13 million albums! Tickets are $30 to $50. It’ll be ladies’ night at 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 25 when Las Vegas production Hunks comes to town. The scantily clad muscle men of your dreams will be strutting across the stage and making you scream! Tickets are $20. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a solid August lineup. At 9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 11, R&B crooner Peabo Bryson will be performing. If you were a ’90s kid who loved Disney films and/or had the “pleasure” of singing in your elementary school choir, you know him as one of the voices featured on several huge Disney hits, including “A Whole New World” from Aladdin and “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast. Tickets are $59 to $69. At 9 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 24, The Gipsy Kings will take the stage. Although it is a French group, The Gypsy Kings perform salsa, flamenco and other varieties of world music. Tickets are $59 to $69. At 9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 25, Fuel will be performing, with the promise of “special guests.” Fuel was a ’90s radio staple, and songs “Shimmer” and “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” always had the potential to get stuck in one’s head. Tickets are $28 to $35. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s has the best lineup for music-lovers in August; here are just a few highlights. At 9 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 17, Neon Indian (below) will be performing. Neon Indian’s electronic pop anthems are a lot of fun and have been remixed by some big names. If you’ve never heard of the band before, check out the song “Polish Girl.” Tickets are $20. At 9 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 24, New York City band Psychic Ills will come to Pappy’s. It’s hard to describe the band’s sound; think psychedelic rock with an experimental vibe. The group has been around since 2003 and has put out five full-length albums. This will be a great show for a summer night! Tickets are $15. And we saved the best for last: Thursday, Aug. 31, through Saturday, Sept. 2, the Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven annual event Campout will be back. In its 13th edition, the event will feature the usual Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker performances, along with appearances by The Dangers, Black Marshmallows, Tribesmen (Take the East Valley kids bowling!) and many others. Tickets are $25 to $100. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

Published in Previews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Reviews

It’s again that time of year when Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker and fans of both bands take over Pappy and Harriet’s for a weekend known as the “Campout.”

The 12th annual Campout will take place from Thursday, Aug. 25, to Saturday, Aug. 27.

During a recent phone interview, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker frontman David Lowery noted that the year since the last Campout has included a lot of downtime—and no new material for either band.

“This is one of the first kind of years off we’ve had,” Lowery said. “The last two years, it’s been something coming out every year.”

However, Lowery pledged that the next year won’t pass without new material: He said a new Camper Van Beethoven album is in the works.

“We haven’t even really started writing songs or anything like that, at least not in a really serious way,” he said. “There are a few things floating around, though. … We wouldn’t want to start the process of that until the late fall or early winter; 2017 is when we’ll start creating new albums. There might be some surprises later this year, but we’ll have to see.”

Even when there are no new albums or recording sessions, all of the members of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker still enjoy getting together for the Campout.

“It’s definitely going to be a lot of fun for us, given we’ve had no shows this year,” Lowery said. “It’s good to have sort of a down year where we just concentrate on the Campout.”

Each night of each Campout has a different theme. For example, in 2014, there was a punk vs. new wave night.

“One year, we had cops vs. hippies. We had cowboys and Indians one year,” Lowery said. “There was also one year where everyone wore white the first night, and black the next night, which produced the best photographs. The fans kind of come up with these themes—and I don’t really know how we ordain it.”

I asked Lowery which theme was the most memorable.

“I think cops vs. hippies was really fun,” he said. “I dressed as a cop. I shaved my beard off and had a mustache. Nobody recognized me, and I was just going around and completely fooling people. It was pretty funny, actually.”

Lowery is also well-known for his academic life; he’s a college teacher, in fact. However, he wanted to make it clear that he’s not a mathematician.

“I don’t really do too much of that anymore,” Lowery said. “I teach at the University of Georgia, and it’s basically economics and finance related to the entertainment industry. That’s what I do. There is math involved in that, but it sort of underpinned my thinking about how I analyze the music business and the entertainment industry. I am interested in mathematics, but I’m not a mathematician.”

Lowery said it’s vital that all people understand the financial side of life.

“The thing is, there’s a difference between mathematics and logical thinking. Most people intuitively understand the logic,” he said. “Even though they may not understand calculus or geometry or anything like that, they have a pretty good grasp of it. I feel like people need some mathematical backing—not really in mathematics, but (in a) mathematical financial understanding of the world. I think people make really poor decisions, like paying money up front and going debt. I think people need financial knowledge. That’s the one place you get hurt if you don’t have it.”

The Campout lineup this year includes the queen of the High Desert, Jesika Von Rabbit, as well as other great bands with which Camper and Cracker fans may already be familiar. Lowery, however, did offer a suggestion for this year’s Campout attendees.

“Some fans are pretty familiar with Ike Reilly. He’s a friend of ours and a similar style songwriter,” Lowery said. “He’s had a similar career and legacy, but maybe not as popular as Camper Van Beethoven or Cracker. He’s been around for a long time, writing straight-up roots kind of rock with clever lyrics. He’s fantastic, and we cover a song of his, and I’ve appeared on his albums. I’m looking forward to bringing him to the desert and having our West Coast fans experience him performing live.”

The 12th Annual Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Campout takes place Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 25-27, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $25 for one-day passes, or $75 for a three-day pass. For tickets and more information, visit www.crackersoul.com/store.

Published in Previews

Campout 11 came to Pappy and Harriet’s for three days starting last Thursday, Aug. 27, bringing to Pioneertown the annual migration of “Campers” and “Crumbs” fanatics from all over the United States, Canada and even the United Kingdom.

Custom, of course, dictates that there are dress themes everyday. Thursday’s unofficial theme was “Pink,” in commemoration of fan Karen Pratt-Mills, aka “KPM,” who passed earlier this year due to cancer. A sea of pink demonstrated the strong bond among this family of music fans.

The Hickman-Dalton Gang was the first band to perform inside. Hickman entered stage-right, strapped on his Gibson Les Paul “Lucky Seven” guitar and said: “Lots of love for Karen.” Johnny Hickman was wearing a pink KPM sticker in the style of the ETG logo (Eurotrash Girl). Claire Wilcox, one of the Queen Crumbs, told me Nancy Wheeler produced the sticker to hand out to fans with the help of Jan Switzer and Steve Rizzari. This example of friendship among Campout fans is the type of bond that keeps this mini-festival going.

The Hickman-Dalton Gang played the first song they wrote together: “Mexican Jail.” Later, Dalton noted: “This song is not on the list, but a pretty girl asked for this song,” as he introduced “My Name Is Dalton.”

With the audience warmed up, bluegrass came to the Campout thanks to Whiskey Gentry, formed by wife and husband Lauren Staley and Jason Morrow. Staley’s voice was impeccable, and Whiskey Gentry hooked me with “Martha”—a song the duo reportedly wrote about a week ago.

The Cracker duo, Johnny Hickman and David Lowery, shut things down Thursday night. Lowery greeted the crowd: “Hello, everybody. Welcome to Campout 11,” before starting with “Torches and Pitchforks,” off of Berkeley to Bakersfield; the lyrics powerfully echo the activism Lowery famously exhibits on behalf of artists’ rights: “We will fight you from the mountains, and we will fight you in the streets, and we will fight you in the valleys; you cannot take what isn’t yours.” The duo also played “Low” in addition to “Eurotrash Girl” and “Duty Free.” Hickman took the lead on vocals for “Wedding Day,” leaving his admirers content.

Friday night’s outdoor stage featured Jonathan Segel on guitar, with Victor Krummenacher on bass, playing cool jams showcasing their instrumental skills. Whiskey Gentry offered a set that was expanded from the night before. Lauren Staley said this was her first time in California; it seemed she might have been hooked on the high desert scene.

Camper Van Beethoven headlined on Friday. The theme: classy dames and able gents. Of course, lead vocalist David Lowery wore a tuxedo. Listening to Lowery sing “Eye of Fatima (Part 1)” was worth the price of admission alone. Segel and Krummenacher shredded and grooved, making people want to dance—with the bonus of hearing Camper Van Beethoven’s cover of Status Quo’s “Matchstick Men.”

Thayer Sarrano, from Athens, Ga., opened on the outdoor stage on Saturday. Her honeyed voice grabbed me, and her song “Shaky,” from her album of the same name, blew me away.

The Queen of Joshua Tree, Jesika Von Rabbit, was up next. Jesika showcased favorites like “You Drive Me Ape,” “Devils Playground,” “Dirty Horse” and “Glamorous Misery,” whose video is astonishing but very NSFW. Jesika ended with “Din Ho,” a fast-paced song about a defunct Yucca Valley Chinese restaurant that gets you wanting to square dance.

Cracker headlined the outdoor show, and many fans wore Bakersfield or Berkeley garb. Cracker played the hits including “The World Is Mine,” “Low” and “Teenage Angst.” Cracker also played the very melancholy but flawless “Almond Grove,” from the group’s latest, Berkeley to Bakersfield: “Yeah, I’m going back home, to the cotton fields to the almond groves, to the old homestead, see my Ma and Pa, see my big brother Jack, he went to Kandahar, but he never came back.”

Cracker does not normally play encores, but the band came back with “You Got Yourself Into This,” also from the latest release. Lowery handed the baton to Hickman to close the outdoor show with “San Bernardino Boy,” a non-autobiographical tune about a young Inland Empire lad who sounds like someone you might run into in this part of the desert.

For those with endless endurance, Frank Funaro played a great Lou Reed set to end Campout 11.

Published in Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Previews

It’s September, so that means it’s time for the Campout at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

The ninth annual Campout will be on Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 12-14, and will feature good barbecue, good music and good times.

The history of the Campout begins with Camper Van Beethoven. The members of the band started playing together in Redlands, Calif., in the early 80s, under the name Camper Van Beethoven and the Border Patrol.

“There were a lot of great musicians who came out of Redlands, but there just weren’t a lot of places for us to play,” lead singer David Lowery said during a recent phone interview. “We never really played in Redlands. We played in Los Angeles and sometimes in Riverside. Backyard parties in Riverside were actually all you could do: People would have a big backyard party, have a band over, and invite the neighbors over. We played at some sort of biker party in Muscoy in San Bernardino County, and things like that.” 

In 1985, the band shortened their name to just Camper Van Beethoven, with the original lineup of David Lowery (vocals), Chris Molla (guitar), Jonathan Segel (violin, keyboards, and guitars), Victor Krummenacher (bass) and Anthony Guess (drums). Chris Pedersen eventually replaced Guess.

The band released their debut album Telephone Free Landside Victory the same year, which featured the hit single “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” along with a folk-style cover of Black Flag’s “Wasted.” The band’s mix of folk with ska, pop and several different types of world music has gained them a diverse audience, along with the acclaim of music critics.

Lowery said the eclectic style is both a blessing and a curse.

“It makes it easier that we don’t really have a specific sound, and it’s actually kind of helpful,” he said. “In another way, it’s kind of hard, because it’s not necessarily easy to make a wild, eclectic collection of songs. When we make an album, we’ll record a lot of songs, and we’ll pull out a couple of songs that don’t work with the rest of the batch. Ultimately, I think it makes it a little easier for us.”

In 1990, Camper Van Beethoven went on hiatus, and Lowery went on to form Cracker with his childhood friend Johnny Hickman. Cracker released their debut self-titled record in 1992, which featured the single “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now).”

“(Camper Van Beethoven) had the usual creative differences,” Lowery explained. “Victor Krummenacher, Greg Lisher and Chris Pedersen went off to do Monks of Doom, and I started doing Cracker. We ended up basically taking about a decade break, and we didn’t make an album for another three years after we got back together. We just kind of went our separate ways for a while, and then eventually came back together.”

Lowery said the band now has a different approach.

“To this day, there’s something about the pace of the band that makes us work in a part-time fashion,” Lowery said. “We’ll get together and write some songs; we’ll go off and do other stuff; then we’ll get together and write more songs, and then put out an album. It’s not like we go out and do a big world tour. We play a few shows here and there; we don’t burn ourselves out. It’s generally been a good thing for the band. It’s not good to treat a band like a full-time job.”

What would go on to become the Campout was not intended to be an annual event. David Lowery and Camper Van Beethoven have ties to the Pioneertown area and the high desert. In fact, Cracker recorded an album in one of the buildings located on the Western movie set in Pioneertown.

“The original intention behind it was that (it was during) my birthday, and a few people who work for us have birthdays around that weekend. We were going to have a combination of a show and birthday party in Pioneertown,” Lowery said. “We have a long history with Pioneertown. We’d rehearse there; we went there to hang out and write songs. It started out in 2005 as this idea that it’d be a birthday party for all of us, but there was also the strategic reason that there was never really a great venue for Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven to play in, in L.A., and we always got shoved into venues we didn’t like. We thought we’d play in what we considered our ‘home turf’ in Southern California and basically have people come to us.

“It just started out by accident and then turned out to be a regular festival event. We didn’t really expect it to become a tradition, but it did.”

While Pappy and Harriet’s is a small venue, Lowery said it’s a great place for this type of event.

“I think it’s a very beautiful spot. It’s the high desert, so it tends not to be as hot as it would be if we played down in the Coachella Valley,” said Lowery. “I don’t really want to play down there in September. With the high desert—the climate, the terrain—the place has a cool vibe. I hope it continues, because it’s a lot of fun.”

Lowery explained what sets the Campout apart from other festivals.

“It’s based on friends and family. It’s either people who have played with us, people who are friends of us, and it’s the side bands that have come out of Camper Van Beethoven,” said Lowery.

The lineup for the three-day event includes some great names, including Gram Rabbit; Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett and his band, the Dead Peasants; Jackshit, featuring members of Elvis Costello’s backing band; and, of course, Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, and the Victor Krummenacher Band.

The ninth annual Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Campout takes place Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 12-14, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $27 for one-day passes, or $68 for a three-day pass. For tickets and more information, visit www.crackersoul.com/fr_home.cfm.

Published in Previews