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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The 13th annual fall Joshua Tree Music Festival had a fine four-day run.

Located at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground, the festival features some local regulars, like Gene Evaro Jr. and the Desert Rhythm Project. New this year was a solo appearance by Jesika Von Rabbit, who previously appeared with Gram Rabbit, which is on hiatus.

Beyond the locals: Festival-goers are treated to bands from all over the world—and every year, I wonder if I am in a musical bubble, since most of the bands are completely new to me. Perhaps Barnett English, the founder of the festival, is just better at keeping up with the best new music in the world. I suspect the latter is true, and I’m grateful for the musical education Mr. English provides me twice a year.

I was able to catch most of Gene Evaro Jr.’s show on Thursday; he had fans swooning … or was it Piper Robinson, the bass player, who had fans mesmerized? Evaro always delivers an incredible performance, and it is only a matter of time before he receives wider acclaim. He played a favorite, “Hold Onto Nothing,” a song he wrote after quitting his old day job.

Raul Del Moral was up next on the Boogaloo Stage, bringing his soulful tunes to a receptive audience. The night was a mish-mash, with Afrolicious joining Mustafa Akbar, and then Raul Del Moral returned later, creating a medley of slamming soul funk. Songs about rising up and living in the moment were the theme of the night … possibly a deliberation on our times.

Friday brought Evanoff to the Indian Cove Stage, pounding the best of electronic dance music supported by real musicians. This band would fit well at a pool party in Palm Springs, with groovy joy and melodic beats.

Monophonics was jubilant. Lead singer Kelly Finnigan asked, “Joshua Tree, are you feeling great? Are you feeling magnificent?” The response: a cheer from fans.

Matador! Soul Sounds vocalist Adryon De Leon announced, “We are the real fucking deal,” making sure the attendees knew she was not part of a cover band. No, she’s part of a badass band with a badass sound.

Jesika Von Rabbit came to Joshua Tree Festival for the first time with her new band. She greeted familiar faces: “Hi JT Fest!” A recorded backing track blurted, “Today we see our phones every two minutes. Did the world change?” As I notice many millies staring at their phones as Jesika Von Rabbit started her set with the acoustic “Devil’s Playground,” a Gram Rabbit song—tipping her rabbit ears to her first appearance at this festival many years ago. The audience went crazy and danced away during her impeccable 75-minute set.

At one point, Jesika said, “I love the rabbit ears, the Royal Order of Rabbits.” It was evocative nod to the happy cult that has followed Von Rabbit through the years in various reincarnations. I spied Travis Cline, a member of the original Gram Rabbit band, working in production at the festival and watching his old band mate. “Olde October Moon,” another song from her old band, was perfect for the season. Another old band mate, Brandon Henderson handled the lighting and projection duties that conveyed a psychedelic vibe.

Beyond the music, at the Joshua Tree Music Festival, you are surrounded by art everywhere you walk. Lali Whisper is an incredible artist who works with mirrors; she previously contributed a piece in May. As a backdrop to the natural mirror of the small pond at the campground, she assembled mirrors that were unmarked and pristine. She left felt markers so festival-goers could write their feelings and thoughts.

Sunday’s stand out was the Kolars. I have seen the Kolars several times, since the duo performs in the desert on a regular basis, but it was a treat to see a 90-minute set, which pushed Lauren Brown to her limits as she tap-danced on a kick drum while providing half of the sound. Rob Kolar is the other half of this big-sound band that would be home at a rockabilly festival or a desert generator party.

As the show ended, Brown limped over to the merch table in front of the Copper Mountain stage to greet fans. What a trooper.

With another festival in the can, you really must come to the next festival in May. You’ll experience the best music in the world you have never heard of. This is a rare festival which has 60- to 90-minute sets, allowing the listener to appreciate deeper cuts.

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