CVIndependent

Thu09192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The 15th and apparently final Campout came early to Pappy and Harriet’s, July 31 through Aug. 3. Yeah, the July 31 gig was technically a solo David Lowery show—but don’t tell that to all the Campout fans who came out.

The Campout started when Cracker recorded the record Kerosene Hat in Pioneertown. Lead guitarist Johnny Hickman shared via social media: “Memories of the morning that Pappy and I were making go-bos (sound walls) to use in the soundstage/barn where we recorded Kerosene Hat. Our producer, the late Don Smith, came in and yelled, ‘Johnny … get your guitar-playing fingers away from that skill (sic) saw.’” The gold record for Kerosene Hat hangs on the Wall of Fame at Pappy and Harriet’s.

Wednesday night featured Peter Case, who had a short but incredible set that was briefly interrupted by a young lady who was asked to leave. That was followed was a very intimate set by the ringleader himself, David Lowery, who performed songs from an autobiographical record he recorded on a four-track in his bedroom titled In the Shadow of the Bull. Lowery sat on a stool and said, “Good evening, this is the first time we’ve tried a pre-Campout Campout.”

His show was, for me, the highlight of the four days of music. The songs included one about the time he remembered his father, who was in Korea—but Lowery used artistic license and changed the location to Vietnam, because it rhymed with the verse. He also sang about growing up in Southern California, via the song titled “Superbloom.” The personal solo appearance helped solidify the bond Lowery has with fans.

Thursday night featured the Trippy Trio (David Lowery, Johnny Hickman and Matt “Pistol” Stoessel), Monks of Doom, Ike Reilly, The Hula Girls, and the Suffragettes, all officially starting off the yearly family reunion—this time with some sadness, because this would be the last Campout. Johnny Hickman could easily be found—just look for legion of female fans who normally surround him. He always takes the time to talk and mingle with his Crumb family.

David Lowery introduced the Monks of Doom, who engaged in some epic shredding. Ike Reilly, a true charmer and Campout regular, had the audience come onstage during “Put a Little Love in It,” and also had Johnny Hickman join him during his performance.

The Trippy Trio was a great, stripped-down version of Cracker, with the band wearing their liberal interpretation of ponchos. The group opened with “Teen Angst,” and the set also included “Dr. Bernice.” Ike Reilly came out to help with “Duty Free.”

The indoor set on Thursday is usually a highlight, but the Suffragettes fell short with a redundant instrumental performance. The Hula Girls were fun, but the tiki-themed surf music did not mix well with the Americana being served outside.

Friday night brought back Jesika Von Rabbit. She is such a regular at the festival that fans bring their own ears—a tradition going back to her original band Gram Rabbit, whose members referred to themselves as the Royal Order of Rabbits. Jesika, too, went way back to the Gram Rabbit days, playing “Devil’s Playground.” Her new record Dessert Rock, is a must listen.

Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven played on both Friday and Saturday, as did many of the members’ various solo projects—perfect for Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven fans, because they get to see the talents of each member.

On Saturday, as I sat outside on a bench, I saw Peter Buck of R.E.M. walking around, admiring the 80-plus-year-old building. I spotted another quarter of R.E.M., Mike Mills, taking photos with fans.

I ran into super-fan Ben Wariner, who informed me that Peter Buck plays with Saturday performing band the Minus 5, and Mike Mills sometimes joins in. This was news to me, and I was elated. The lead singer of the Minus 5, Scott McCaughey, summed up the festival by saying this: “This is a great place to be. Lots of great bands with the same people, and then there is us.”

I was disappointed that this was supposed to be the final Campout. There are no greater fans than Cracker and Camper fans; their intensity is a little strong, but it comes from their connection to these two bands lead by one man. Crumbs and Campers were full of speculation and gossip, with lots of hopes that the tradition would continue via a stripped-down version of the Campout under another name. David Lowery gave hope for a return when he shared this: “It’s been a great run … plenty of opportunities to play in the future, including here.”

Until next time, Mr. Lowery.

Published in Reviews

Campout 14 came to Pappy and Harriet’s over Labor Day Weekend—with a new and well-received format.

Thursday night featured Jim Dalton, Johnny Hickman and the Hickman-Dalton Gang. Prior to the start, Hickman was being his genuine self, talking to longtime fans who have now become friends. A constant at Campout is the level of inclusion: The Crumbs (Cracker fans) and Campers (Camper Van Beethoven fans) make you part of the family.

Hickman spoke with pride about his teenage son, a young entrepreneur selling used shoes online. He pointed to a pristine pair of Timberlands his son sold him at a discount, because he grew out of them.

The song “In My Head,” by Dalton, is fun: “Today’s my birthday; I’m turning 30. I’m perfectly healthy, independently wealthy, in my head—and that’s Bill Murphy; I’m his best friend. He’s at my party pouring shots again; we’re having a good time in my head.”

In reality, everyone was having a blast. The evening progressed with a hilarious song about falling in love with a serial killer, and “Dick Bird” about a bird going No. 2 on a shoulder. “Pantalones,” a song about the loss of pants while in Mexico, is a cautionary tale about pacing yourself when drinking tequila south of the border.

“Papa Johnny’s Arms,” sung by Hickman, is the reason most music venues have security barriers—to keep swooning fans off the stage. However, attendees maintained their composure.

Hickman introduced the unreleased “Poor Life Choices”: “It’s a new song, and it’s a sing-along.” However, it was already in the memory of fans—since it was a hit at last year’s Campout 13.

The theme for Thursday was “Bad Tattoos,” and Hickman shared a story about a bad cover-up tattoo a few relationships ago. Dalton, not to be undone, talked about the alleged tattoo he has on his penis; he said he got it because he use to be a big Pearl Jam fan.

Super fan Jennifer Smyth shouted out a request for a cover of “She Wore Red Dresses,” and Hickman obliged. The Hickman-Dalton Gang worked in a cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”, and the cliché concert heckle from the crowd of “Free Bird” was met with an acoustic jam of the song. Thursday night at Campout is always a highlight, because it showcases the intimacy of Pappy’s indoor stage.

Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven played both Friday and Saturday nights, with David Lowery the lead vocalist of both. Cracker celebrated the 20th anniversary of the album Gentleman’s Blues by performing one half of the album one night, and the other half on Saturday.

The dress-up theme for Friday night was “Night of the Living Dead v. Big Lebowski.” I should have re-watched the movies in advance so I could better identify all of the characters beyond the Dudes and a whole bunch of Liams; for example, CVB fan Kit Hickman was dressed as an Irish Monk. Kudos to Kit for his originality.

Crumb chatter centered on the retirement of a longtime male member of Cracker, and his replacement, a much younger, slimmer woman. Would this lead to a change in sound? The change was not human: Johnny Hickman’s No. 7 1977 Les Paul Standard was replaced by what Hickman described on Facebook as “his (female!) replacement ... this BEAUTIFUL girl of a Fender Stratocaster. … She is a bit more temperamental, yet SO very glorious in tone.” Frankly, I could not tell the difference; the new band member was well-received.

Cracker played the hits both nights including “Low,” “Eurotrash Girl” and the lovely “Almond Grove.”

Camper Van Beethoven headlined Friday and then opened for Cracker on Saturday. CVB once again played the hits over the two nights, including theh cover of “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” “Northern California Girls” and “Take The Skin Heads Bowling.” Ben and Jenny Wariner from Utah went a little crazy when CVB went off the set list and added “History of Utah.”

Saturday’s dress theme was “Monochromatic Colors” and Cracker/CVB songs. David Lowery was in all-white denim. Johnny Hickman later commented on Facebook in response to a photograph I posted of the show: “David looks resplendent in his all white denim … a throwback salute to the ‘Eurotrash Girl’ video … magnificently filmed and directed by Carlos Grasso decades ago about 100 yards from this very spot.”

Jesika Von Rabbit, the Queen of High Desert Rock, returned to the Campout on Saturday with a new band and a new record, Dessert Rock, through Dionysus Records. Her new music was well-received, and she was a joy to hear.

Traditions are sacred at Campout—and this means Victor Krummenacher and Jonathan Segel jammed together Saturday on the indoor stage.

Ike Reilly closed out Saturday; he’s a prior performer at Campout who was splendid with his stripped-down acoustic set.

As Saturday ended and became Sunday morning, long goodbyes changed into planning for the next Campout, and the next Camp In, back East in Georgia in January.

If you are not a Crumb or a Camper or perhaps a secret member of the Royal Order of Rabbits, you may not understand the longevity of this dusty little music festival … but that’s OK. A family reunion is held every year.

Lastly, Margaret Lowery, you would have been proud of your son at this year’s Campout. The joy he brings to Campers and Crumbs every year is immense. I toast you with Tetley Tea; rest in peace.

Published in Reviews

“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

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

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

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