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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

A round of applause, please, for all of the small-business owners out there.

The unfortunate struggles of small-business owners are at the center of at least two of our recent stories. The piece that serves as the cover story in our March print edition discloses some terrible news: At the end of March, Schmidy’s Tavern—a Palm Desert bar and restaurant that has been a haven for local musicians and craft-beer lovers—will close, barring some sort of miracle. Owner Dennis Ford told Brian Blueskye the main reason for the closure is the fact that Schmidy’s landlord, Realty Trust Group, wants to raise the rent 112 percent.

“I can’t sell enough beer to justify a 112 percent rent increase,” Ford said, explaining that when be bought Schmidy’s, the lease he inherited was a relic of the Great Recession—and now that the economy is better, his landlords think they can jack up the rent.

Improving economies giveth, and improving economies taketh away.

Government red tape can also cause small businesses problems. For such an example, turn to our newest Restaurant News Bites column, which explains the move of Bernie’s Supper Club—which burned down on Christmas Day 2014—from Palm Springs to Rancho Mirage.

For the better part of a year, the owners of Bernie’s tried to get construction going on a new building in the same location as the original Bernie’s, on East Palm Canyon drive just south of downtown. However, due in part to problems with city government, the owners finally gave up—and headed southeast to Rancho Mirage, moving to an existing building on Highway 111. Keep your fingers crossed for a late-spring opening.

It’s a proven fact that the more people spend at local businesses, the better it is for the local economy. Multiple studies and analyses have proven that far more money stays in town when said money is spent at a locally owned business instead of a chain or big-box store. While exact numbers vary from study to story, around 68 cents per dollar spent at an independent business stays locally—whereas only 48 cents stays in town when spent at a chain.

The message in all of this: Support and savor local businesses. You never know when a money-hungry landlord or an electrical fire will take away your favorite business—and you’re making the whole local economy better when you spend your hard-earned dollars at an independent business as opposed to a chain.

Thanks, as always, for reading. By the way, the March 2016 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent is now on newsstands valley-wide.

Published in Editor's Note

On April 1, Dennis and Kathleen Ford will celebrate the third anniversary of their purchase of Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert.

Under the Fords, Schmidy’s has become one of the Coachella Valley’s most welcoming local-music venues, and has developed a great reputation among beer-lovers thanks to its impressive selection of craft beers and good food.

That’s why it’s heartbreaking to many that on that third anniversary—barring a miracle or sudden change of plans—Schmidy’s Tavern will close.

“As of April 1, 2016, Schmidy’s Tavern will be closing our doors for good,” Dennis Ford said in a Feb. 8 statement on Facebook. “We do not have a lease and have not had one for a year now. Our landlord wants to raise the rent 112 percent, and we simply cannot afford that. We have been paying 50 percent more for the past year, and it has taken its toll.

“We cannot continue like this.”


Several days after the announcement, Dennis and Kathleen Ford sat on the patio of Schmidy’s and discussed the anguish they were feeling—anguish they largely blamed on the landlord, Realty Trust Group of Wildomar, Calif.

“Our original lease expired a year ago this month. We’ve been month to month ever since,” Dennis Ford said. “I tried to negotiate a new lease with them back in December 2014, and they weren’t responsive. When they finally did respond, there was a 112 percent increase. I sent them the counteroffer that December, and didn’t hear back until March 2015, after the lease expired. They’ve been stuck on this number, and that’s something as a small business we just can’t absorb. I can’t sell enough beer to justify a 112 percent rent increase.

“For the last year, we’ve been paying 50 percent more. Anytime you’re month to month, you pay a higher rate. It’s to the point where it’s not worth it anymore. We have to do something before we die a slow and painful death and become completely broke.”

Dennis Ford said the problems with the lease have roots in the Great Recession.

“The original owner opened this place in 2009 and had an original lease in place,” he said. “In 2010 or 2011, during the heart of the recession, everyone was struggling, and they renegotiated their lease down to a certain dollar amount for the balance of the lease. When we came in and bought the place, we assumed that was the lease (with) the dollar amount that was renegotiated.

“When the lease expired, they went back to what they were getting at the end of the lease, before it was renegotiated. They’re trying to make up the money they lost when they renegotiated, and from what I see around here, that (lower) renegotiated rent amount should be the rent.”

Dennis Ford explained how they came to own the bar.

“We lived in Carlsbad for 25 years, and I worked in a manufacturing company. (The company) relocated to Dallas, and we moved to Dallas and lived there for about four years,” he said. “I ended up actually leaving the company after 20-something years, and we wanted to move back to California. We talked about buying a bar for years and always wanted to do that. We decided to move here, and instead of looking for jobs, we looked for a place to buy, and found this on a business-for-sale website. We’ve always liked it out here, and when we lived in Carlsbad, we would come out here whenever we could.

“We saw this place. The price was right. It wasn’t doing a lot of business at the time, but we saw the potential in it, and we thought, ‘What the hell? Let’s give it a shot!’ On April 1, 2013, we took over. Three years to the day we took over, we’ll be closing.”

The Fords didn’t originally intend for Schmidy’s to become a music venue; they just wanted it to be a regular neighborhood bar, and had no plans to have live music at all. However, in time, Schmidy’s became one of the most-welcoming music venues for local bands.

“About a month and a half after we took over, we had Caxton and Burning Bettie play here,” Dennis Ford remembered. “One of my old bartenders who was here after we just bought it was friends with Caxton. He had arranged it and left. Christina (Reyes) from Caxton got hold of me and asked, ‘Are we still doing the show?’ And I said, ‘Why not?’

“They came in and did it on a Saturday night—and the place was packed. I thought, ‘Wow, this might be something.’ Being as naïve as I was at the time, I thought if you brought any band in here, this place would be packed. I’d bring in cover bands, and there would be 10 people, and I realized that wasn’t working. I don’t know how, but somehow, it just evolved, using original bands. That’s when I realized that was the key to this place: You get three local bands a night, and that’s three fan bases. Cover bands don’t have a fan base. We had no idea that it’d turn into what it did.”

The Fords also had no idea Schmidy’s would become one of the valley’s most-liked craft-beer purveyors.

“I knew nothing about craft beer when I took over this place, and I’m still not a craft-beer drinker. I don’t care for it myself, and I drink Coors Light,” Dennis Ford said with a laugh. “We have it because of a bartender we had, and he knew craft beer. When he left five weeks into us owning it, it was basically up to me to decide what beers to bring in. … That was tough, because I knew nothing about it. I’ve learned a lot about it over the past three years.

“I don’t like (craft beer), but I know a lot about it.”


Many local bands have a love for Schmidy’s; the bar was the site of the first public shows for more than a handful of them. Jack Kohler, of War Drum, also runs his own promotion company, named Fortune Finder Music Group. He recently started booking shows at Schmidy’s after leaving The Hood Bar and Pizza.

“I think Dennis and Kathy are really genuine toward local bands,” Kohler said. “We do local acts most of the time—and it’s tough to do all local all the time. Dennis and Kathleen have always been about equal-opportunity toward bands and letting them play: rock, rap and hip hop, whatever—everyone has a chance

“Now with this venue closing, it’s a very critical wound to the scene, because this is another original local music venue being thrown under the bus. I know that there are other venues such as The Hood Bar and Pizza and Bart Lounge, and (local promoter) BB Ingle is going to open up something where he does live and local entertainment, but Schmidy’s was crucial for bands to play at, and there’s a lot of history there. A lot of bands have cut their teeth at Schmidy’s, for sure, and it’s going to be very damaging when it closes.”

Dennis Ford said his reputation in the local-music community is a great source of pride.

“That’s the one thing I’m most proud of with this place: I’ll give anyone a chance,” he said. “You don’t have to be an established name to play here. It doesn’t matter to me, and we do all genres. We’re the only place that did that. We had a Motown show here where the average age was 65, and it was so full in here at $20 a head that we had to turn people away. We had metal, country music and whatever else.”


Schmidy’s has also been willing to open its doors to good causes. During a recent open-mic night at Schmidy’s that Blasting Echo frontman Josh Heinz hosts on a weekly basis, he talked about the support Schmidy’s offered him for his annual Concert for Autism.

“Schmidy’s, to me, is Dennis and Kathy, and their role and their warmth toward the music community,” Heinz said. “They provide a place to play for a lot of bands that some of the other places wouldn’t let in—not because the bands are bad bands, but because they’re young. They did underage shows and would let them play in the afternoons and early evenings. No other place would do that.

“Dennis and Kathy were 100 percent supportive of the autism benefit and me doing it. They let us come in here and would donate some of their receipts at the end of the night to the cause. It’s very nice to have owners of a bar like that, because not a lot of venues are that nice. That comes from experience of more than 20 years of my playing in Memphis and playing here.”

It wasn’t just Heinz’s autism cause that Schmidy’s helped out; many other local charities and people who had fallen on hard times found a helping hand at Schmidy’s. Just one example: When Musicians Outlet in Palm Desert burned down last year, the Fords hosted a benefit show.

“When we saw what happened to Musicians Outlet, we were like, ‘Oh my god! I can’t believe that happened!’” Kathleen Ford said. “We’re a small business, and that would crush us if that happened to us. That’s why we did that.

“We also did one benefit where we helped a young kid with leukemia.”

While the Fords didn’t originally intend for Schmidy’s to become a local music venue, Dennis Ford said it was never a question whether Schmidy’s would give back to the community.

“To me, that’s something that needs to happen. People come here and spend their money, and if someone needs something, we give back,” he said. “Pretty much all of the benefits we’ve done, we’ve donated anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the bar sales that night to that particular cause. For one, it makes you feel good, and two, you get publicity out of it—and you can’t buy that kind of publicity.

“A local musician named Rob Lawrence is putting together a benefit we’re doing in March for abused and abandoned animals. Kathy and I love animals, and it’s something I wanted to do. When I made the decision to shut down, I didn’t want to look like we were raising money and keeping it for ourselves before closing down and leaving. I don’t want to touch the money, because I don’t want anyone saying anything. But I enjoy doing benefits for genuine causes.”

When the subject of retirement came up, Dennis and Kathleen Ford laughed. “In your dreams,” Kathleen said to Dennis, laughing.

That laughter temporarily masked the fact they’d just endured one of the toughest weeks of their life, and that Schmidy’s closing has taken a financial toll on the family. The Fords said they had already decided what to do after they close Schmidy’s doors on April 1 (barring a miracle).

“Three months ago, we knew we had to pick a date. April is our worst month, because everyone is going to Coachella and Stagecoach,” Dennis Ford said. “There might be a small glimmer of hope that we’ll be able to stay open or find somewhere else, but I’ve been telling everyone, ‘I hope for the best, but expect the worst.’

“We own a house in Dallas, Texas, and we’re moving back. We have grandkids down there in Houston, and Kathy wants to be closer to them, and we’re a little closer to my family in Illinois—and my parents aren’t getting any younger. It just seems like the right thing to do to go back there. Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to find jobs, and there are no jobs out here. My experience is in manufacturing, and there’s not any of that here—and tons of it down there. I would love to open up another bar, because it’s so much cheaper to do business down there. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. because of the amount of money we’re losing here by closing up.

“People ask, ‘Why don’t you sell it?’ No one is going to buy this place without a lease.”

The Independent left several messages with the Realty Trust Group requesting to talk to somebody for this story, but received no response.


In Schmidy’s Tavern’s final days, the Fords plan to thank the local bands that have played there by bringing them in for a marathon series of events.

“We’ve just been so immersed in the music scene here, and I feel like we’re letting these local bands down,” Dennis Ford said. “I can’t help but feel it’s my fault, and at the same time, I have to look out for what’s best for Kathy and me. We put our retirement into this place.

“The day that I made the announcement we were closing, I went home at 2 in the afternoon. I couldn’t be here. I jumped on my bike and went for a ride, and I thought, ‘I want to have a blowout month of March.’ I want to get all the bands who have ever played here back in here during the month of March. I stopped, and I sent Jack (Kohler) a text to try to get every band that ever played here.”

For more information on Schmidy’s Tavern, located at 72286 Highway 111, Suite J3, in Palm Desert, call 760-837-3800, or visit the Schmidy’s Tavern Facebook page. Schmidy’s will host the End of the World Festival from Thursday, March 24, through Sunday, March 27, to celebrate Schmidy’s brief but powerful local-music legacy, and to support the Fords. Watch the event’s Facebook page for details.

The first Coachella Valley Beer Week—which I helped create—recently wrapped up after 10 days of craft-beer events all over the valley. On Nov. 14, the Indio BBQ and Beer Competition took place, and on that same day, La Quinta Brewing celebrated its second anniversary.

Now that these excellent events are over, where in the Coachella Valley can you go to enjoy the ever-expanding craft-beer revolution?

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club keeps up with trends in music, art, food and drink, and the folks in charge have updated the Amigo Room to carry more craft beer again. You can enjoy them in the dim, cavernous space, or brighten up by the pool.

In the northernmost reaches of Palm Desert, you’ll find the beloved La Quinta Brewing Co. and its taproom. On any given evening, you may find a local band playing, or women enjoying Koffi Porter ice cream floats during Ladies Night. The Heat Wave Amber and Tan Line Brown Ale beers recently returned, and the Napoleon barrel-aged beer was released for the brewery’s second anniversary. The biggest news of all: La Quinta Brewing just opened a taproom in Old Town La Quinta!

In Rancho Mirage, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse has been serving up barbecue (just voted as the valley’s best by Independent readers) and craft beer since 2002. Try the award-winning Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale, brewed with raisins and whole Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. Babe’s also offers new, seasonal brews and a nice selection of other Southern California beers in the restaurant bar. Keep an eye out for the recently released DIPA, a hoppy pilsner, as well as an apricot tripel.

Babe’s neighbor at The River, the Yard House features 155 beers on tap. I’ve recently met knowledgeable bartenders there who will guide you in the right sudsy direction.

Schmidy’s Tavern is a favorite in Palm Desert among the younger crowd. Live music is a constant, and the pool tables are typically full. Enjoy beers on tap like Bell’s Midwestern Pale Ale, Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale and Ironfire Outcast Dead Barrel Aged Imperial Red Ale.

Up Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs is a restaurant offering a farm-to-concrete-table dining experience that’s industrial chic and progressive. While the menu at Workshop Kitchen + Bar is heavy with cocktails and duck fat, the spot also offers a nice selection of beer. With a 34-foot-long concrete communal table and lofty wood-trussed cathedral ceiling, you may feel as if you’re sharing beer steins in Bavaria.

A little closer to the heart of downtown Palm Springs is Bar. The street-art-friendly, chalet-inspired watering hole serves classic cocktails and a nice sampling of Southern California craft beers. Try the Picnic Eggs—deviled eggs with Sriracha and wasabi—with the War Gin beer cocktail, with gin and lemon honey pale ale.

The spirit of Sinatra is alive at the Purple Room Restaurant and Stage—but unlike hangouts of the ’60s, this swanky supper club offers a great selection of craft beers. In bottles, you can enjoy San Diego beers like Ballast Point Longfin Lager and Stone Pale Ale. On tap, enjoy CVB’s Desert Swarm, Babe’s Blackfin Lager, La Quinta’s Poolside Blonde and many other brews

Fame Lounge is an upscale cigar, wine and microbrew lounge located in the heart of downtown Palm Springs. At the bar, you’ll find a rotation of beers on tap. Recent finds: Stone Wootstout 2.0 and North Coast Indica IPA.

On Indian Canyon Drive, check out the progressive Vietnamese-American beer bar Rooster and the Pig. Try the banh mi burger with one of the California craft beers on draft. Chef/owner Tai Spendley also has a nice variety of Vietnamese beers in bottles.

What happens when you combine traditional Tokyo cuisine with American and Japanese craft beer? You get the upscale-casual Gyoro Gyoro, at Tahquitz Canyon Way and Palm Canyon Drive. The spot offers a nice selection of craft beers from the states and Japan, along with a variety of fantastic sake.

Beloved farm-to-table brewery Coachella Valley Brewing Co. also celebrated its second anniversary recently. Sustainability, creativity and passion are key ingredients in these exceptional beers. Be sure to check out head brewer Chris Anderson’s sour program, as well as the brewery’s Profligate Society, which features rare beers. Palms to Pines, the ever-popular Triple IPA brewed with locally foraged spruce tips and coconut palm sugar, will be released around mid-December.

On Highway 111 in Indian Wells, you’ll find So Cal chain Eureka! Currently, Eureka! boasts 20 impressive taps ranging from Stone’s Barrel Aged Brown Ale with Balaton Sour Cherries to Mother Earth’s Imagination Land. Watch for great beer-pairing events.

The Stuft Pizza locations in Palm Desert and La Quinta have become hot spots for watching the game and sipping your favorite suds. The “not just pizza” joint in Palm Desert has 15 taps, two of which rotate with the latest craft seasonals. There’s a reason why pizza and beer are a match made in heaven: The acids and tannins in wine tend to amplify the acidity of tomato dishes.

Wherever you go … take time to savor your beer and enjoy the craft-beer revolution! 

Published in Beer

On Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16 and 17, Schmidy’s Tavern will host the Eighth Annual Concert for Autism—a benefit that is very near and dear to my heart.

The event is spearheaded by Josh Heinz, a musician rooted in the desert-rock community, and the parent of an autistic child. Each year, the best of the best in desert rock, punk, metal and pop come together to support the cause—and put on one hell of a show!

This year’s headliners include The Pedestrians, featuring vocalist Mike Lewis, percussionist Rob Peterson, drummer Tim McMullen, bassist Armando Flores, trumpet-player Cesar Hernandez, trombonist Morgan Finch and Latin-rock guitarist David Macias. This group is where punk rock meets rap, and two generations of desert-rock icons come together in one epic local band that brings down the house.

Peterson and Flores will also debut Sun(D)rug, a new hard-rock project featuring guitar wizard Bobby Nichols; and Macias’ renowned “Spanglish jive” group Machin’. Heinz and his wife, Linda, will be doing a set with their punk-pop group Blasting Echo. Desert punk-rock faves Mighty Jack, Waxy, The Hellions, Bridger and Long Duk Dong all promise to make this a memorable two-night event.

Autism affects so many families, and recent government cutbacks have decreased vital services to many families living with this disability. Several of the performing artists have a child or children with autism, including Heinz, Flores and Nichols, making this a very personal affair.

“The most memorable moments are always seeing the faces and smiles of everyone, from the musicians, to the volunteers, to the attendees, during the event,” Heinz said. “Everyone seems to really enjoy being a part of doing something good for the community.”

Autism became real for me when I fell in love with gifted guitar-aficionado Bobby Nichols, a musician of whom I had been in awe for more than a decade. When our lives merged, his son Sean became an integral part of my life—and I had no idea about the challenges and heartaches I would come to experience.

Over five-plus years, I have watched Sean, now 23, suffer unspeakable side affects from Risperdal, adrug doctors have prescribed to him since he was 10 years old. I also watched the magic affects on Sean of CBD oil—a non-narcotic, non-addictive, non-psychoactive drug extracted from the cannabis plant. Even though it is free of THC (the chemical in marijuana that is intoxicating), it is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. government; in fact, the Food and Drug Administration’s new head officer has gone on the record as saying it will remain a Schedule 1 drug as long as he is in charge. How does an agency that is charged with protecting consumers from dangerous food and drug products justify allowing companies like Johnson and Johnson to produce toxic drugs that cause debilitating and permanent disabilities, while refusing to make available by prescription an oil that is nontoxic, has no side affects, and has some medical researchers believing we could finally see an end to breast cancer in the next decade?

Forgive the long aside; this is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. Anyway, back to the issue at hand: The Concert for Autism takes place starting at 6:45 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16 and 17, at Schmidy’s Tavern, 72886 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. A $5 donation is suggested at the door. The event also will feature raffles and silent auctions; all proceeds will go to the Lumpy’s Foundation for Autism. For more information or to donate, visit concertforautism.com.

Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at www.desertrockchronicles.com.

Published in Previews

Ehren Groban is known for being both the guitarist of War Drum and a member of former Kyuss frontman John Garcia’s band; Groban has played shows around the world with both bands. War Drum will be playing with Jesika Von Rabbit and Ideation at 9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 28 at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert. For more information on War Drum, visit the band's Facebook page. Here are Ehren’s answers to the Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

I saw Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, Calif., when I was around 10. David Lee Roth came out and did his thing, followed by a Cabo Wabo-endorsed Hagar set, complete with half-naked women dancing on the jumbo screens. I’m now a Cabo Wabo fan for life!

What was the first album you owned?

A Cream bootleg given to me by my dad, which I still have to this day, roughly 20 years later.

What bands are you listening to right now?

The new Tame Impala record, the new Wilco record, Robbie Basho, Baby Grandmothers, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Claude Debussy have all been on steady rotation recently.

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

Justin Bieber. Do I sense Illuminati influence?

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

Jimi Hendrix, Robbie Basho and Tame Impala at the Hollywood Cemetery—and, of course, Boy George.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Playing guitar and eating a Sub King sandwich at the same time. The sandwich wins every time.

What’s your favorite music venue?

That’s easy: Pappy and Harriet’s.

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

“Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Robbie Basho. He turned me on to a whole new style of finger-picking and arranging.

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

Mick Jagger: “What’s up with you and Freddie Mercury?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Definitely something by R. Kelly, followed swiftly by War Drum’s new single.

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

Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma or Robbie Basho’s Visions of the Country or Do Make Say Think’s You, You’re a History in Rust … or a figurative gunshot, and now I’m dead.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

George Michael, “Careless Whisper.” (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

The Classy Motherfu?kers of Desert Hot Springs are becoming known for more than the profane name: Frontman Joseph Vaughan plays a mean guitar—and the rest of the band is pretty damn good, too.

During a recent interview, Vaughan—along with Jasyn Smith (drums) and new member Tanner Mahaffey (rhythm guitar)—discussed the band’s origins.

“About four or five years ago, Jasyn and I started playing together,” Vaughan said. “We made our demo in August of last year, and that’s when we started to call ourselves the Classy Motherfu?ckers. We weren’t really a band until last year.”

The members’ influences are all across the board.

“I listen to classic rock—’50s ’60s and ’70s music,” Vaughan said.

Smith, however, said he listens to Motorhead and Black Sabbath. “I was listening to a lot of thrash metal and stuff, but when I met Joe, his classic-rock stuff started growing on me. Our influences only influence us to play, not what we sound like. We play whatever sound comes out of it that we like.”

Of course, one has to wonder how in the world the band came up with its name.

“Jasyn got a (used) computer so we could do our recordings,” Vaughan said. “And on that computer, (the old owner had a user handle) that said ‘Classy Motherfu?kers.’ When we recorded our songs and put it on iTunes … we kept it.”

However, the name has led to some problems.

“People say, ‘You can’t say your name onstage’ or something like that, or we have to change it to the CMFs and manipulate it a little bit,” Smith explained. “Venues or contests will do that thinking you’re giving the wrong impression to kids or something like that. … We had to change it for the Schmidy’s open mic and for the Date Festival’s Battle of the Bands. It wasn’t really the owners of Schmidy’s; it was more of the hosts. It’s a family event rather than just a gig.”

None of the members of the Classy Motherfu?kers are 21 yet, which creates problems getting gigs in venues that only cater to the 21-and-older crowd.

“Usually, we only get booked at places that sell food, too, like Schmidy’s and The Hood,” Smith said. “They usually make us play at 9 p.m., and then we have to be off and out of the venue.”

Name and age issues aside, these guys can play. Vaughan is a stand-out guitarist in the Coachella Valley with incredible technique. You can see this in a video the band members posted of themselves covering Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.” The band’s originals have a lot of mind-blowing guitar solos from Vaughan as well.

“I’ve been playing for about nine years in December. I’d just call it sloppiness, but it goes together, I guess,” Vaughan said about his technique, with a laugh.

The band’s performance at the Date Festival’s Battle of the Bands was excellent; however, an issue prevented them from getting the number of points they should have gotten.

“They were really strict on the rules,” Smith said. “When we went in there, they ended up deducting more than half of our points because we were an hour and a half late. We didn’t even get to play until five hours after that. We got lost on the way there because they blocked off Highway 111 … because of all the people walking to get in there. We had to go around and find our way in around Highway 111, and it took us awhile. It was very frustrating, to say the least.”

The Classy Motherfu?kers have had issues keeping a bass-player. Trillion Drummond recently became the band’s third different bassist.

“The problem we have with bass players is practicing,” Smith said. “We like to practice a lot, and they didn’t want to practice as much. … I guess they just can’t handle the amount of practice.”

The members said they are hoping to add more members as time goes along. Newest member Mahaffey has been a friend of Vaughan and Smith since high school.

“During my freshman year of high school, I met these guys. I was hanging out with them, and I started learning guitar about two years ago,” Mahaffey said. “I had a guitar years ago but never really played it too much, but hanging around these guys made me really want to play more.”

The band’s beginning to record more music—and the members would love to find a place to record that they can afford.

“Recording at home is tough,” Smith said. “The sound quality sucks, unless you buy a bunch of stuff and make a room into a studio and soundproof it.”

Vaughan agrees. “We’re working off a shitty MacBook and a $150 interface, and that’s really about it.”

Another challenge: Smith recently had to buy an electronic drum set to play at lower volumes in his garage.

“Older people live around here. For the first part of me living here, they didn’t like me playing the drums at all, so I had to buy an electric set,” he explained. “Now we play almost every day in the garage, and they don’t care. I really like practicing with loud music because you can get into it and really feel it. Electronic drums are so much more compact, too, and when I go to my acoustic set, I play a lot better, because my area of hitting is precise.

The Classy Motherfu?kers will perform as part of Schmidy’s Tavern’s Open-Mic Finals at 9 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 11, at Schmidy’s Tavern, 72286 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-837-3800, or visit the band’s Facebook page.

Published in Previews

John Robbins is best known as a drummer for the local band Sunday Funeral, although he’s actually a talented multi-instrumentalist.

The musician has accomplished much despite his eyesight: He’s completely blind in one eye, and only has a small percentage of his vision left the other. He recently wrote a book about his journey, Echo of Sight. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27, he’ll host a release party and book-signing at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert. The party will feature performances from Burning Bettie, Bridger, Blasting Echo and Boycott Radio.

Robbins is originally from the San Francisco area and has lived in the Coachella Valley since 2001. He plays the guitar, ukulele, piano and drums, but his main passion these days is writing.

“I’m always writing,” Robbins said during a recent interview. “Even when I’m out, I’m always writing on my cell phone. … I have an idea; I write it down, and when I get home, I expand upon the idea, and it just goes from there. … A lot of my inspirations come from my relationships here in the valley—and the music I listen to out here has such an impact on everything that I write.”

Robbins has had vision troubles his entire life.

“It’s a congenital condition,” Robbins said. “My mother has vision problems as well, and unfortunately, for her, while she was growing up, she didn’t know she had vision problems. When I was born, we figured out that I was blind in my left eye. With technological advances in the medical world, optometry and ophthalmology are more advanced. We figured out that I had these same exact problems my mom has, but on a more grand scale. We always thought my right eye would be my good eye, and I had no vision problems (in that eye) from the time I was born up until I was 22.”

He noticed his vision was starting to decline while working one day. When he told his parents, they all went to LensCrafters to determine whether or not he needed a new prescription.

“It turned out it was a worse case than we thought,” Robbins said. “The optometrist there referred me to the Retina Institute of California, and I was told a blood vessel was expanding, and it was leaking, which was causing my retina to detach. Luckily we went when we did, because I needed to have immediate surgery, or I was going to go completely blind.

“The surgery happened three days later, and it was successful. Now, my vision is more stable, and I can do the things I love.”

He demonstrated his vision problems by explaining what he had to do just to see my face while I was seated directly in front of him.

“I’ve lost a major percentage of my vision. I have absolutely no peripheral vision any more,” he said “About 50 percent to 60 percent of my central vision is blocked. Basically, I’m using the lower half of my right eye to see.”

Aside from writing, music has been his escape.

“I remember hearing one of my cousins playing piano one day, and I sat down next to her, and I asked her, ‘Hey, can you teach me how to play what you’re playing?’” he said. Fifteen minutes later, I learned how to play that same song she was playing, with both hands. That’s how I knew I liked playing music. From then on, my dad took it upon himself to teach me piano, and introduced me to all the contemporary artists he liked at the time. He also showed me Led Zeppelin and The Doors. The first instrument I took a major interest in was the guitar around the age of 8.”

Robbins used fictional characters and situations to write about his personal journey while being visually impaired in Echo of Sight, which is being touted as a young-adult novel.

“The book means a lot to me in the sense that it shows what it means to be visually impaired, and the steps that you have to go through to adapt to life,” Robbins said. “I was in a bad place when I first started writing the book. I thought that I had no direction, and I didn’t know if my life would get any better, despite going to the Braille Institute for a couple of years. There was still something I needed to get out into the open. …  I wanted everybody to see how a blind person lives and to understand what they’re going through, and for people to have empathy.”

Robbins said he is happy with how the book turned out. “I feel that it’s my masterpiece, and I’m really proud of the book, and I really hope a lot of people read it and enjoy it.”

He also has a positive perspective regarding his vision issues.

“I’ve always said I view being visually impaired as a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it didn’t happen.”

Echo of Sight: The Release Party takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27, at Schmidy’s Tavern, 72286 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is free; copies of the book will be available for $8. The event will include performances by Burning Bettie, Boycott Radio, Bridger and Blastic Echo. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/echoofsight.

Published in Previews

The weather is starting to cool down in the Coachella Valley—so it’s a perfect time to explore what the craft-beer industry has to offer at local beer festivals. They are the perfect place to experiment, meet fellow craft-beer enthusiasts and even get involved in the community!

For the third year, the Palm Springs Air Museum is combining two things that you may not normally think go together: flying and beer. The Props and Hops Craft Beer Festival commences on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Air Museum, a picturesque venue with gorgeous views. General admission costs $35.

I am on the festival’s board, and this year, the beers on offer will range from one-off seasonals to perennial favorites.

All three local breweries will be pouring their award-winning beers. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse will be pouring its Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale, which just took home a silver medal from the granddaddy of all beer events, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. will likely be pouring its newest seasonal offering, Condition Black. It’s an imperial black IPA offered every Veterans Day. Another possible offering is the new Saison L'Automne, a fall farmhouse ale with yams, pumpkins and spices.

La Quinta Brewing Co. will have on hand the popular Indian Canyon IPA, the Poolside Blonde and the brewery’s fall/early winter seasonal, the Tan Line Brown. The brewery will also bring either its new barrel-aged porter, or the Sand Storm Double IPA.

Of course, other breweries from Southern California will be on hand, including Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, Stone Brewing, Hangar 24, Lagunitas, Ballast Point, Firestone Walker, Black Market, Refuge Brewery and Golden Road Brewing.

Homebrewers are making an ever-increasing mark on the industry, and the festival will highlight these beer-making champions with the third annual homebrewers' competition. Led by local Coachella Valley Homebrew Club president Brett Newton, the Beer Judge Certification Program-certified competition will only be limited by imagination. Bring your tasty concoction, and get some expert feedback from certified beer judges! Entries must be received at either Coachella Valley Brewing in Thousand Palms, or MoreBeer in Riverside, by Nov. 8. Brewers must bring three unmarked, unlabeled 12-ounce bottles, and the winners will be announced at the festival. Prizes include gift cards, a 70-liter Speidel fermenter from MoreBeer, and, of course, mad respect from fellow craft-beer drinkers.

This year, the festival is offering beer-lovers a chance to literally combine flying and beer: For an extra $175, experience a Cicerone-guided tour of beers while in the sky above the Coachella Valley. This rare beer-tasting will be held aboard a vintage DC3!

The festival will include more live music than last year, with performances by The Anonymous Five, the Independent´s own All Night Shoes, and Long Duk Dong.

The big brain behind the event is an ale-loving, craft beer advocate, Brent Schmidman. He’s the man responsible for making Schmidy’s Tavern into the loved craft-beer spot that it is today.

“We’re always trying to push the envelope with the event and to bring something new,” he said.

Schmidman said he’s excited about some breweries who are new to the festival this year.

“The first two that come to mind are Avery and Three Weavers. Avery is an amazing brewery and makes some insane beers—crazy wild sours and barrel-aged beers that are hard to get. I'm also excited about Three Weavers Brewing, a new brewery from Inglewood. They’re already making a big buzz in the beer scene.”

Yours truly will be hosting a special beer dinner on the night before the festival at the Purple Room in Palm Springs. Join me on Friday, Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m. for an intimate dinner featuring several Southern California beers. Executive chef Jen Town will be preparing the menu, and together, we’ll pair the food with the perfect beers. Tickets are $55, and capacity is limited to 100 people. Don’t miss out!

Whatever you do, don’t be intimidated if you’re a beer novice. Volunteers, brewers and other festival attendees will be happy to guide you toward amazing beers with which you may not be familiar.

The craft-beer revolution continues to gain momentum, and festivals like Props and Hops are a perfect way to experiment with new and trending California beers. Who knows? You may just find a new favorite.

Get tickets and more information at www.PropsandHopsFestival.com.

Published in Beer

If you want proof that an indie band can make it increasingly big in today’s music world, look no further than Chicano Batman, the Los Angeles outfit that will be playing at Schmidy’s Tavern on Monday, Oct. 20.

Chicano Batman originally came together as a trio, put together by Bardo Martinez (guitar, vocals and keyboard), Eduardo Arenas (bass, guitar) and Gabriel Villa (drums) in 2008, The band fused Latin music styles, as well as space-psychedelia, American soul and even electric-jazz instrumentals. The group gained attention first in Los Angeles, and later in other markets throughout the Southwest.

In 2011, the band became a four-piece, adding Carlos Arévalo (guitar).

“I’ve known Bardo (Martinez) since I was 20 years old,” Arévalo said during a recent phone interview. “He had been a fan of a band that I was in, and we always talked about playing music together. What prevented us from doing that was I was living in the Inland Empire at the time, and he was living in West Los Angeles and going to UCLA. The group as a three-piece cut a record, and it was well received. Shortly after that, I moved closer to Los Angeles, and Bardo called me up and said that he wanted to play more of the organ, and he wanted me to play guitar. I joined in 2011.”

When it comes to Chicano Batman’s sound, there’s something for everyone.

“We’re just big fans of music in general,” Arévalo said. “A lot of the references you hear are because we’re fans of that music. For example, we love the music of David Axelrod, who is a composer, but he scored film music, and (his music) would be pretty funny, psychedelic and something like a hip-hop producer would sample. We really like that kind of sound—those funky instrumentals.

“The group is into Brazilian music and Cumbia music, and we’re also fans of soul music in general—American soul and Latin American soul. It has great bass lines and great breakbeats. We draw a lot of inspiration from that.”

Chicano Batman has built a huge fan base through exposure gained by touring. The members have also managed to build a following through self-promotion of their music, as well as word of mouth. They’ve appeared in festivals put together by major promoters, including the Viva Pomona! event back in July.

In other words, Chicano Batman is very good at marketing.

“We get emails from a lot of fans, and they want us to come through their city,” Arévalo said. “We know where there’s demand, and we sell a lot of our music online. We’re independent, so we see where a lot of our records are being sold. Obviously, we have a huge fan base in the Southwest. … We also played in New York this past July as part of an East Coast tour. … We also played in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., and the fan base was (made up of people from) all different kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities. We also toured in Japan last November; we did the whole island and played about seven shows.

“People feel that we’re doing something genuine, and that it’s from our soul, and they appreciate it.”

When the group plays at Schmidy’s, Desert Hot Springs’ Slipping Into Darkness will joining them for the show. It won’t be the first time the two bands have shared the same stage.

“We love them, and we think they’re an amazing band,” Arévalo said. “Every time we have the opportunity to pass through the desert, we always ask them, ‘Can we play a show together?’ They’re just such a great group, and they’re all amazing musicians. It’s all about the songwriting—and they have great songwriting. It’s just a sound I feel that you can only get out there in the desert, and I’m not talking Queens of the Stone Age. I feel they’re carrying that tradition of really original music that can only be made in that area.”

Chicano Batman will perform with Slipping Into Darkness and Fever Dog at 8:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 20, at Schmidy’s Tavern, 72286 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is $7. For more information, call 760-837-3800, or check out the event’s Facebook page.

Published in Previews

Justin Ledesma (vocals, guitar) is the main creative force behind the blues-rock band Sunday Funeral, which has been entertaining local crowds since 2007. Learn more about Sunday Funeral by visiting the band's website at www.sundayfuneral.com, or head to Schmidy’s Tavern on Friday, Sept. 26, to watch them play a free show with Burning Bettie and Cosmic Jellyfish. Ledesma—who also plays in a Dresden Dolls tribute band, The Caesareans—was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

My very first concert was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Coming Out of Their Shells Tour. It was essentially a ninja-turtle boy band. It was held at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center in 1990, and I went three times. It’s pretty dorky, but some of the songs were catchy enough that they still reverberate in my memories and my ears from time to time.

What was the first album you owned?

Album? As in vinyl? My first vinyl record was Frank Zappa's Apostrophe. I was about 10 years old. First cassette album was The Ghostbusters soundtrack. First CD albums were Jimmy Page's Outrider, and Queen’s A Night at the Opera—all of which I still love.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I just recently got way into Watsky. Besides that, I’ve loved My Chemical Romance since they hit the scene. You can hear their influence in Sunday Funeral’s song “FVD!” My other standard favorites over the years have been Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Megadeth, Shinedown, Faith No More, The Black Crowes, Epic Rap Battles of History, The Human Failure Rate … and Burning Bettie. My all-time-favorite band is Cry of Love; you can really hear the influence they had on my singing. We used to cover a song of theirs call “Hand Me Down," which was always fun to perform.

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

I like most music. I’m not a fan of most current pop music. I’m not a fan of most rap, but there are always exceptions. I’ve recently gotten really into Watsky, and it’s made me more open to other rap. Also, I’m not a country guy. Once again, there are always exceptions, like Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol.” That may be solely because he says the name of my hometown (Milwaukee) repeatedly, though.

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

Iron Maiden. The other guitarist, Brian (Frang), and I missed seeing them when our “Alloy Stars” music video shoot coincided with Maiden’s most recent show near us. I stupidly set the date not realizing what we’d be missing.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

The Real Ghostbusters cartoon score. I still love those instrumentals. (Haim) Saban was clearly asked to capture the feel of the movie soundtrack for the cartoon and succeeded with flying colors. I even use one of those instrumentals during the intro for Sunday Funeral’s song “Hell.”

What’s your favorite music venue?

Wherever I’m performing my original songs. It could be anywhere, as long as I’m doing what I love and entertaining people.

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

“I’m in my room making cardboard castles with shoestring rope. Soup spoon drawbridge, tinfoil moat. I’m still dreamin’ after all these years,” Watsky, “Cardboard Castles.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

The Black Crowes. When I heard The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, it came to me at just the right time in my life. I was 16 years old and full of angst. That particular album got me through what seemed like rough times in 1998. Also Aerosmith’s Nine Lives.

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

Kurt Cobain: “Be honest: Did Courtney have you murdered?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Cry of Love, “Saving Grace.”

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

Judas Priest, Painkiller.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

Sunday Funeral, “Alloy Stars.” (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

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