Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Matt King

To say that I miss live music is a gross understatement.

I write about music. I play music, with two bands and as a solo artist—and, of course, I enjoy going to concerts. One of the biggest parts of my life has been pretty much nonexistent for almost six months, and I’m hurting.

So, too, are the country’s music venues.

The Save Our Stages movement is an online petition by more than 2,000 independent venues—including Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace and The Alibi—calling for support from Congress. The movement is led by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), whose mission is to “preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States.” The goals are for Congress to provide long-term assistance to shuttered businesses, offer relief through tax credits, and continue unemployment-insurance benefits.

While the desert is home to a variety of music venues, none of them are more stored than Pappy and Harriet’s, a small and not-so-secret restaurant and live-music venue located in Pioneertown. What was once a cantina set on Pioneertown’s Western movie lot is now a mecca for music and mystique. Some of the biggest acts in music have played Pappy’s, including Paul McCartney, Leon Russell, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys and many others.

I reached out to Robyn Celia, the owner/talent buyer at Pappy and Harriet’s, to talk about Pappy’s and the Save Our Stages movement. While Pappy’s is not currently hosting shows, the restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday for outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. She agreed to answer my questions via email rather than the telephone, due to a lack of cell service.

“We are hanging in there,” Celia said. “Very lucky that we have lots of outdoor seating. We put up shade covering and installed two mister systems in our beer garden and the outdoor show space.

“The future is unknown! We are taking it one day at a time.”

Gone for the time being is the revenue from live performances, which due to high demand are booked well in advance—and often sell out.

“We are now booking and rescheduling shows for 2021 and hoping for the best,” Celia said.

Bands and venues all over the U.S. have found innovative ways to continue offering some form of live music, including live streams and drive-in shows. Pappy and Harriet’s is tapping into this trend, recently launching Pappy and Harriet's: A Distanced Concert Series on YouTube, which features local bands performing at an empty Pappy’s.

“Mario Lalli, an amazing musician and lifelong local, wanted to help keep Pappy's name out there in the music community and help local artists keep their creative hearts beating,” Celia said about the YouTube series.

Celia and her team at Pappy and Harriet’s are doing their best to spread the word about the Save Our Stages movement.

“NIVA has been tireless in their approach to get Congress to see how important independent venues are to all of our lives,” she said. “We have been trying to help raise awareness through our social media.

While the future of live music is uncertain—there’s another gross understatement—Celia expressed hope that concerts, in some form, will return to Pioneertown soon.

“I think we are very open to seeing how we can host a very small show outside,” Celia said. “The safety of our staff and customers are more important than anything else, so it really is a day-by-day situation. We are all making the best of it up here and hoping for better days. Come out for lunch and dinner!”

For more information on Save Our Stages, visit For more information on Pappy and Harriet’s, visit

During normal times, backyard shows throughout the Coachella Valley are packed with younger people enjoying hidden musical gems—such as the band Koka.

Koka is a four-piece consisting of Edith Aldaz on vocals, Sebastian Camacho on bass, Ricardo “Ricky” Saavedra on drums, and Ubaldo “Uba” Norzagaray on guitar and synthesizer. The band’s indie-pop music is rather unique, mixing vibes from Clairo, Soccer Mommy, and Crumb into their own sound.

Koka just released a new single, “Did You Fall Asleep Yet.” It’s a three-minute dance-along that features a pulsating, Blondie-esque beat and vocals. I recently spoke with the band members about Koka’s genesis.

“During my senior year of high school, my plan was to just go to college and live a boring life,” Camacho said. “It wasn’t until my English teacher, Mr. Jonathan Adler at La Quinta High School, had a conversation with the class about doing what you love. That was really the point when I decided to take Koka seriously. It wasn’t even Koka at this point; it was just a friendship between me and Edith, who was, at the time, just a girl I knew who could sing. We met Uba through some mutual friends, and some months later, he posted that he got a guitar. I invited him to come write some music with us.

“We started searching for a drummer for our live shows about a month after we released our first song, and that’s when we met Ricky. Originally, Edith was singing and playing drums, which I thought was cool as fuck and unique. After a while, she preferred getting someone with more experience, so we were super-lucky to find Ricky—and more importantly, get along with him.”

The first song the band released was “Tissue,” a lo-fi, slow-tempo groove track. It wasn’t until the song was finished that the members of Koka began to view themselves as a band.

“We were just writing music for us,” said Camacho. “Once we finished and decided to release our first song, we all agreed to start doing more band-related stuff. Uba had the idea to do a photo shoot, so once we released the song, there’d be a photo of us to go along with it.”

Added Norzagaray: “We were focused on releasing good music before we began to think of a name. After we finished ‘Tissue,’ we all brainstormed names, and Koka was one of the ones I wrote down. We wanted something that sounded catchy and was easy.”

Added Camacho: “Some of the other names we thought of were ‘Cheque,’ but we thought that most of our Spanish speaking listeners would pronounce it ‘che-kay,’ so we didn’t go with that. There was also a time when Edith was obsessed with apples, and there was a type called ‘Gala’ that I thought was cool, but we eventually went with Koka. We wanted to make sure we had a name that we all agreed on.”

“Tissue” found success on SoundCloud, and is currently sitting at nearly 12,000 streams.

“We really had no plan in the beginning, and not much of an idea of what we were doing,” Norzagaray said. “We just uploaded it to SoundCloud and shared it on Twitter and Instagram. The initial success it had made us freak out, as we got 1,000 listeners in a week! We immediately got to work on releasing another song.”

The band followed up with two more tracks, “An Inside Stay” and “Baby’s Breath.” “Baby’s Breath” has 43,000 streams on SoundCloud, and 12,000 on Spotify. The quality of the band’s recordings has improved with each release.

“Our idea of mixing and mastering was panning tracks and changing audio levels,” Camacho said. “There are a lot of issues with them, but I actually like them. They were perfect for the time being, and those are the songs that created our audience. Our newest two songs are produced by Brian Harrington, and if you listen back to our original tracks in comparison to our newer songs, you’ll hear a huge difference in quality.”

As for those two newest songs, “With Time” came in April, and “Did You Fall Asleep Yet” was released Aug. 1.

“The idea is to work toward a full-length album soon, but as of right now, our main focus is creating good music,” Norzagaray said.

Aldaz added: “We have a lot of different ideas recorded right now, and we have three songs, plus a cover, that we are currently working on completing.”

A recurring theme with local bands is an increase in productivity during the pandemic—and Koka’s latest two releases are their first since 2018. The band has made a point to get together, as safely as possible, during the pandemic.

“We try to meet up at least twice a week, but sometimes, schedules conflict,” Aldaz said.

Added Saavedra: “It’s been super-hard to continue meeting during this time. We are doing our best, though, and are doing all that we can to continue to meet.”

On top of working on more music, the band has started creating a playlist for Spotify listeners. You can find the first one here.

“Each of us will pick five songs we like for that month, and we’ll put them all in a playlist called Koka Radio,” Camacho said.

While the band remains productive, the members of Koka are missing the tight-knit backyard shows that they used to pack with fans.

“People are still throwing shows, but they aren’t approved, and it’s really dumb for them to be doing that right now,” Camacho said. “We are going have to wait awhile until we can have approved shows again.”

For more information, visit or

Our music scene is rather tight knit in part because so many bands share members; it can feel like a big family when you catch a show featuring a few people pulling double duty. Nick Willman is a young drummer who actually pulls triple duty, as his chops are spread among Silver Sky, Pescaterritory, and Instigator. He is the latest to take the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

KISS at the Soboba Casino in 2007. This was the only KISS show that Paul Stanley ever missed, so Gene Simmons sang all the songs, and KISS was a three-piece that night.

What was the first album you owned?

My dad already had all the CDs of most of the stuff that I grew up listening to—mainly classic and hard-rock/heavy-metal stuff. But the first CD I remember getting physically was Apocalyptic Love by Slash.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Ozzy Osbourne, KISS, and Guns N’ Roses.

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

A lot of rap and new pop music does not interest me. There is nothing really special about it, and it doesn’t seem authentic.

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

Led Zeppelin in 1973 at Madison Square Garden.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

“Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus.

What’s your favorite music venue?

My favorite local venue is the Date Shed, but the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino is my favorite venue ever. It’s one of my dreams to play there.

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

“Generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses, evil minds that plot destruction, sorcerers of death's construction,” “War Pigs,” Black Sabbath.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

A lot of music has impacted my life, but the most significant influence on me was KISS. That’s what got me started, and without them, I wouldn’t be a musician. When I was just learning to play drums, my dad and I would jam out to “Deuce” by KISS. I’m pretty sure that was the first song I learned on drums.

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

I’m asking Dave Grohl if he wants to start a new band.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Home Sweet Home” by Mötley Crüe.

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

Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Sick as a Dog” by Aerosmith. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Many patrons of the Guitar Center in Palm Desert have been helped by a tall dude with a blonde ponytail. As soon as that dude clocks out, he’ll be rocking with his band, Cody White and the Easy Ride. The group’s music is available on SoundCloud, and it offers a nice blend of twangy rock along with White’s Neil Young-esque vocal delivery. He is the latest to take the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Huey Lewis and the News.

What was the first album you owned?

Michael Jackson’s Bad.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Mark Lanegan Band, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Tom Petty.

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


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

The Flying Burrito Brothers.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Yacht rock.

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

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

“Well now everything dies baby that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back. Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty and meet me tonight in Atlantic City,” Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Israel Nash took me back to my roots and brought me back on track to play music with passion.

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

To Frank Zappa: “Your opinion on the current state of the world?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

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

Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, “Ohio,” about a much different time, but a very similar situation to what we're going through at this moment. (Scroll down to hear it.)

In some ways, the pandemic has driven us toward technology, like Zoom meetings, which allow us to meet when we can’t be physically together. In other ways, it’s driven us toward old-school vibes, including the return of the drive-in movie theater.

And now, here comes El Toro Flicks—an old-school-style drive-in movie theater using new technology. El Toro Flicks is a “Carpool Cinema” experience, and it’s making its Coachella Valley debut this weekend at the top level of the Westfield Palm Desert’s parking garage.

“The company was born in Arizona, where we have two locations that have been fully operational since the end of April,” said Justin Finn, producer of El Toro Flicks, during a recent phone interview. “With everything that’s going on with COVID, we are able to go back into the future, and revitalize this drive-through concept. One thing that we’ve done with newer technology is have our screens be LED walls. They’re not your typical projection; they provide for better visibility and clarity, as well as being able to withstand our climate. We don’t want things to be overheating or shutting off.

“We decided to bring this out to Palm Desert, where I live now. We began a partnership with the Westfield mall and are going to be hosting it on top of the parking structure outside of Macy’s.”

A peek at this weekend’s movies reveals two classics (Jurassic Park for Friday’s sold-out show, and The Goonies on Sunday) and the more-recent Toy Story 4 on Saturday. I was curious about the movie-selection process.

“It’s a combination of a few different things,” Finn said. “First of all, we do market research. We take movies that are in high demand and put them out over the course of the week. We’ll (eventually) be operating Tuesday through Sunday, and we’ll be showing a variety of different movies. We do take requests, so anyone can let us know, and it’ll take us about a week to get approval.

“We also are going to try to incorporate different events at the space. Drive-in concerts are something we are looking into, and they have been successful at our Arizona locations. California has some different laws than Arizona, but once we get the movie element up and rolling, we are definitely going to do what we need to do to try to host different events like concerts and private events. There’s a lot of community involvement that we want to inject into this.”

Finn said this team is even looking into the possibility of broadcasting sporting events.

“We’re actually broadcasting a soccer game in Arizona this week,” he said. “The licensing for sports is a little bit different than general movies. We’d love to be able to show some football or some basketball games if it fits and if we can do it safely.”

Hosting any real event during this era of SARS-CoV-2 can be a challenge. However, Finn said El Toro Flicks’ biggest problems at the two Tucson-area theaters have not involved the coronavirus; they’ve involved weather.

“My team and I have a background in producing events, so we had some knowledge as to what was needed as far as logistics go,” Finn said. “One of the most difficult issues we faced in Arizona was dealing with the monsoon season. The weather has been the toughest element; there was even a flood in one of the areas. The things that you can’t control, like Mother Nature, have led to some cancellations. Our main priority has been to keep everyone safe at the venue. If there’s anything that will put anyone in danger, then we will cancel the show for that day.”

The safety efforts even extend to the ticketing process.

“One of the main things we wanted to do was keep it innovative,” Finn said. “We’re going 100 percent contactless: Ticket purchasing and arriving at the venue will all be contactless. We wanted to abide by CDC guidelines and social distancing as much as we possibly can. Another thing we are trying to incorporate here is keeping a similar element to a family-fun night. On Tuesdays, we’re going to try to bring in a taco truck, if the Department of Health will allow it, and do Taco Tuesdays. On Thursdays, we’ll do Flashback Thursdays, and even have some Chick Flick nights. There’s a lot of things we’re trying to incorporate into our weekly programming.”

On top of creating fun, Finn and his team are hoping to create jobs.

“We are fully staffed at the moment, but we will probably always have job availability posted,” he said. “We’re aiming to create 10 to 15 jobs within the community until the end of the year. If anyone is interested in getting some work, just let us know, and we will look into it.”

El Toro Flicks currently takes place Thursday through Sunday at the top of the Westfield Palm Desert parking garage, 72840 Highway 111. Gates open at 6:45, and parking is first-come, first-serve; movies start at 7:45 p.m. Car passes start at $26.99. For tickets or more information, including a complete schedule, visit

Backyard shows—put on by teens, for teens—have been taking place for decades in the Coachella Valley. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions have silenced the backyard show scene for now—but that doesn’t mean local youth have let their creative voices be silenced.

Take, for example, the Coachella Valley Youth Music Fest, a two-day livestream charity showcase of nearly 20 local acts. From 3 to 5 p.m., Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, tune in to to watch performances by Koka, Israel’s Arcade, Screams on Silent and others—including a live set from yours truly. Donations made during the event will go to Yemen Crisis Relief, Al Otro Lado, Campaign Zero, COVID-19 Relief, SNaP4Freedom and the NAACP.

“I got the idea for it about three weeks ago; it was literally a shower thought,” said Anthony Noriega, 17, creator of the Coachella Valley Youth Music Fest, during a recent phone interview. “I saw that the Stonewall Inn did a livestream charity fundraiser, so I wanted to create something along those same lines. This thing will be more festival-oriented, though, as some artists will have longer sets, and people will be performing at different times. The same day I got the idea, I contacted everyone.”

Noriega was able to lock in the 19-band lineup in a matter of days.

“I’m a pretty reserved person, but I have a few friends from school that do music, so I was just going to try to ask them,” Noriega said. “I was hoping that I could get some more well-known acts in the desert, like Israel’s Arcade and Koka, and luckily, they agreed right away. I just went out and contacted as many people as possible, because I’d rather have to whittle down sets than try to ask artists to play more songs. I wasn’t sure if a lot of people would even agree to performing.”

The restrictions due to the coronavirus have caused artists all over the world to come up with new ideas for performances. Livestreams in various forms have appeared everywhere, and Noriega is taking in various influences.

“My friend Kiara Thomas is going to be hosting with me, and we’re going to run some test live streams and make sure everything will run smoothly,” Noriega said. “I also have a musician friend from New York named KISOS. He does a livestream every Sunday called Queer-antine, and gives a platform for LGBT artists. I also drew inspiration from him in creating a collective-of-artists livestream. He also helped me out and gave me some advice.”

When Noriega announced the festival and the beneficiary charities, he faced some backlash.

“It’s weird to feel like you chose the wrong charity—when it’s a charity,” Noriega said. “There are foundations that do good things, and it sucks to feel like one is better or worse than the other. I wanted to dwindle down the amount of charities so that when I split up the money, there’s a good money amount going to each charity.

“When I announced the event, there were a handful of musicians who were interested (but not included in the lineup), and I wish I could’ve added them to the set. If I get enough interest among other people, I might try to do a second show and have different charities. It would be so great to wrangle up as much money as possible—because I don’t have a job, so I am not able to donate. I wanted to be able to contribute on a bigger scale and help wrangle up everybody’s few bucks that they have. I feel like this event will really bring people together, and make it feel like we’re all making a difference.”

Some self-doubt came into play when it was time for Noriega to reach out to local acts.

“When I contacted all the performers, I was fully ready for all of them to say no,” he said. “This could’ve been a pop-up idea that just fizzled out. I used my Instagram account that had more followers to message the artists, because people are always getting spam messages on Instagram. If I do this again, I feel like I will have some credibility and be able to have this event under my belt.

“It’s also just my own social fears: I don’t really talk to too many people outside of my small friend group. To be able to put myself out there to a bunch of people I’ve never met before made me worry about what the outcome would be.”

Leading up to the event, social fears aren’t the only thing holding Noriega back.

“I actually tested positive for the coronavirus recently,” Noriega said. “I’m on my better days now, but I’ve been feeling body aches and extreme headaches.

“I’m performing in as well as co-hosting the event, so I’m going to try my best to make it as entertaining as possible. I also hope this will be a good showcase of local talent, and that people will watch. I’m not announcing the times for each band, so hopefully people will stay for the whole show to create a balanced event.”

Hammer of the Ozz is one of the heaviest bands to come out of the Coachella Valley in recent years. What started as a Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath cover band has evolved into a four-piece hard-rock group with a blistering debut album, Hot as the Sun, available at, that was released earlier this year. The band features Paul Forrester on bass; he is the latest to take The Lucky 13, and here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. John Cougar (Mellencamp) and Randy Hansen doing his Jimi Hendrix impersonation opened.

What was the first album you owned?

Sly and the Family Stone, Fresh.

What bands are you listening to right now?

UFO, Judas Priest (pre-British Steel), Gary Moore (rock), Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Queensrÿche, Black Sabbath, Sex Pistols, Corrosion of Conformity, and Scorpions (Uli Jon Roth era).

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


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

Led Zeppelin.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Jesus Christ Superstar with Ian Gillan as Jesus.

What’s your favorite music venue?

I’d have to say Furstworld and Pappy and Harriet's; it’s a tossup.

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

It’s usually one of ours, “Ashes and Resin” or “Motorgrinder.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

When I heard “Rock the Nation” by Montrose, I stopped suffering and started playing guitar. I had the pleasure of meeting Ronnie Montrose, and I told him he was the reason I play guitar. Great guy; R.I.P.

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

I’d ask Geezer Butler if it was really blown speakers that gave him that great tone and sound during the recording of the first Black Sabbath record.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“The End,” The Doors.

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

Operation: Mindcrime, Queensrÿche.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Ashes and Resin” by Hammer of the Ozz. (Scroll down to hear it!) 

Every year, the McCallum Theatre showcases local performers via its Open Call Talent Project—but the series of April shows, like so many other events, was a casualty of the coronavirus epidemic.

However, the show must go on—so Open Call 2020 has moved from the stage to the screen: At 6:30 p.m., Saturday, July 18, KESQ Channel 3 will air a special half-hour video, produced by the McCallum and hosted by Patrick Evans, showcasing the Open Call finalists. The video was filmed in the desert adjacent to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.

Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, the vice president of education at the McCallum, explained how Open Call normally works, during a recent phone interview.

“It’s a competition where people submit, and then we have callbacks; then we get to about 18 to 20 finalists,” Thuresson-Frary said. “The whole thing is a learning process, but there’s also an added competition element. What we always do with our cast is have all of them participate in a big finale number that is inspired by the finalists every year. A big part of the rehearsals for the show is practicing that finale number. That’s a big learning experience, too, because if you’re a vocalist, you’ll get to dance; if you’re a dancer, you’ll get to sing; and if you’re a musician, you’ll get to do both: Every cast member participates in a choreographed experience. It’s created to be an inspiration for the audience members, who hopefully go home and begin some risk-taking of their own.”

Thuresson-Frary said the McCallum announced this year’s Open Call finalists shortly before the theater shut down in March.

“Had it not been for us already announcing our finalists, we probably wouldn’t have done anything this year,” she said. “We had a few cast members this year who have tried out for several years and finally made it, and I really wanted to figure out a way that we could continue to do the show. We also already had the finale number written.

“We started trying to figure out how to do it this year and thought that we couldn’t really include the competition element. We have several large groups and dance companies, and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to practice anywhere. We have a pretty high standard for the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call project, so if we were to put anything out there that wasn’t at a certain level, it wouldn’t feel like a good alternative. We also were looking at how to perform the finale number—while following the (social-distancing) mandates. We really wanted to try to do something a lot more exciting than all the videos that have been appearing of people that are stuck at home.”

Thuresson-Frary and her team started the process by having the finalists record themselves.

“We met with everyone over Zoom and gave them the music and their parts,” she said. “They worked back and forth with Paul (Cracchiolo), our music director, and worked out a good-quality product to send in. While we were doing this, mandates started to be lifted, and we eventually arrived at a time where we felt it was safe to record a good-quality video that we would feel comfortable putting the McCallum name on. We collaborated with Tracker Studios’ Doug VanSant, and A. Wolf Mearns, who are also musicians. All of us brainstormed a way to complete this project in a way that is safe and good-quality.”

Filming inside the McCallum wasn’t an option; Thuresson-Frary and her team wanted a safe, outside location where mask-wearing and social distancing could take place.

“That’s where The Living Desert came into play,” she said. “We wanted to have a wild desert feel, especially under the circumstances, to be able to pay tribute to Mother Nature and the conditions we live in. We reached out to Judy Esterbrook, who is the sales manager of The Living Desert, and she just so happened to be at Open Call last year and was fully on board for helping us out. They were generous enough to let us use the wild desert area behind their zoo and gardens and provided us with shuttle service that transported our artists individually. There were a lot of logistics to work out, and The Living Desert was very generous and became a very lovely partner. That was the same week that the zoo was allowed to re-open, so everything worked out.”

After she saw the first video cut, Thuresson-Frary said she knew they had made something special.

“It’s now been a month of post-production and a lot of back and forth between Tracker Studios and us,” Thuresson-Frary said. “I didn’t really want to reach out to KESQ (too early), because there were so many variables that could’ve easily put a stop to this project at any point in time. Once I felt confident that we had something that was Open Call-quality, I called over to KESQ and asked for them to partner with us. We feel we have something really special that the community will enjoy. I naively thought that they had a little program that they could stick our (seven-minute) music video into, but they actually asked us to provide them with a whole half-hour. That’s mainly what we’ve been working on, and we’re almost ready to hand it over.”

However, transforming a seven-minute video into a half-hour show was not necessarily easy.

“We were able to already film our usual artist vignettes, so we decided to include those,” she said. “… Each performer will be introduced and have their vignette aired. We also had an intern, an aspiring filmmaker, who created a behind-the-scenes movie for us. I thought that many people wouldn’t believe that all of these performers were in the same place at the same time, so he has some behind-the-scenes footage. The music video is the ending of the 30 minutes.”

While Thuresson-Frary said she’s disappointed that the Open Call shows had to be cancelled, she’s proud that the video will give the talented performers their moment in the spotlight.

“We usually sell out our Open Call series, and we put on four shows, so I know there are a lot of people who really love this project,” Thuresson-Frary said. “There are some people who only come to the McCallum Theatre for our show. This music video can be a testament to the kind of work that we’re able to do for the community, as we’ve been doing Open Call for about 20 years now. … It’s designed to showcase all of the art this valley has to offer. All of these artists didn’t really get to work together, but we’re hoping that this will provide them a sense of community across this divide of distancing.”

For more information, visit

On the surface, Saints and Rebels may seem like a typical punk band—but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the group combines various subgenres under the punk umbrella, including comedy punk, hardcore and even ska.

The band is made up of Austin Lawrence on vocals and bass; Cristian Alvarez on vocals and drums; Sam Codero on “screams”; Chris Hernandez on lead guitar; and Benji Gallardo on rhythm guitar. From January up until the closure of bars, the band played almost every Saturday at local haunts, sometimes pulling double or triple duty within a weekend. The group just released its debut self-titled EP, available on SoundCloud and BandCamp—and it is three tracks of fine punk fusion with a lo-fi mix.

I spoke to the band over the phone recently, and I learned the history behind the name.

“I had been wanting to start a band for a year,” Gallardo said. “I tried in 2018 with a buddy, and it just didn’t happen. Then one day, Cristian messaged me out of the blue; I didn’t even know him at the time. He asked me if I wanted to jam out, and we really clicked. Weeks went by, and the other guys joined.

“The name came from my grandparents, when they told me a story about the ‘Cristeros.’ When they were growing up, the government wanted to restrict religion, and they started off by closing churches and removing statues that represented any saint or holy trinity. After a while, the people started to protest peacefully, which caused the government to become furious and issue an order to execute protesters—hence the ‘Rebels.’ Later, the people had had enough of that and started rising up and taking matters into their own hands and protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves, later to be viewed as ‘Saints.’ We wanted a name that had that same energy of living like a saint but fighting like a rebel.”

A sense of comedic intent is noticeable throughout the band’s music; take “Budlight Chelada,” for example, which offers an overly expressive vocal delivery from Lawrence.

“That just comes from us being goofs,” Lawrence said. “All we really do is just goof around. Growing up, I listened to a lot of Weird Al and Richard Cheese parody music, so I enjoy adding that to our music.”

Added Alvarez added, half-jokingly: “I just mess up a lot, so that’s why it sounds funny. We all have a great time playing music, so that adds an element of fun to it. We don’t treat it like it’s a job; we just go out and have fun.”

Given the band’s happy-go-lucky attitude, I figured the guys would have some interesting performance stories.

“We played a spot in Joshua Tree with local band Daytime Moon, and the energy we brought, combined with the crowd that actually enjoyed our music, made us have a lot of fun,” Alvarez said. “We did play horribly, though, and by the end of the night, we were all drunk and exhausted.”

Hernandez said the band played one of the last pre-shutdown shows in the valley back in March.

“It was St. Patrick’s Day at Plan B Live Entertainment and Cocktails in Thousand Palms, right before the mandated closing,” he said. “It was the last hurrah, and it was jam-packed with people just wanting to party hard. We had to do three different sets, because the other bands for the night had cancelled. We only had about 10 songs that were performance-ready at the time. It was a super-fun and memorable experience.”

The three-track EP is a solid debut—even if the recording process was less than refined.

“We recorded this EP with Nick Mund from the local band Blue Sun,” Alvarez said. “We did it at his house, and he was very new to the program we used to record. It was such a good time, and we had so much fun shooting some skits and goofing off while we tracked the songs. No one knew what they were doing, but we’re still proud of the finished product.”

Hernandez added: “On top of the inexperience, I actually went in with a broken hand. I had to record all of my solos on a broken hand, and if you listen to the recording, you’ll hear me struggling to keep up with all of the songs.”

The band members talked a bit about their writing sessions—and it’s apparent they bring the same free-spirited energy from their performances to their song-crafting.

“The titles and lyrics are inside jokes within the band, or based on some funny events that happen,” Alvarez said. “We add the layers to the song one at a time—drums, bass, guitar—and leave the lyrics for last. We’re always drinking Bud Light cheladas, so there’s that title, or we’ll say something stupid, and that will end up as a song name.”

Lawrence added: “I’ll usually come up with a line or two to start the song vocally, and then Cristian will come up with the rest on the spot or the next day. He’s been doing all the lyrics for our newest songs. We are completely open to anything anyone in the band wants to add, however. Usually, Cristian and I lead the songs, but we’re very democratic in our decision-making. We all work together.”

Alvarez said most of the stuff he’s been writing involves breakups, skateboarding or having fun.

“It’s been a tough challenge, but I feel that I’ve been getting better at it,” Alvarez said. “Austin has also been helping me in terms of vocal melodies and how to sing. I’m comfortable just being behind the drums, but now I am starting to feel better about singing and leading songs.”

As the pandemic rages on, Saints and Rebels continues to create.

“We’re making new songs right now, and looking toward the end of the year to think about recording them,” Lawrence said. “Hopefully, in the near future, we can play some shows and truly showcase them. There’s nothing else to do right now, so we’re practicing and writing as much as we can.”

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Many Coachella Valley musicians pull double, triple or even quadruple duty—and a prime example of this is Josh Heinz. He plays for both Blasting Echo and 5th Town; he’s an in-demand solo performer; and he regularly plans shows, most notably his annual Concert for Autism, a two-day festival raising money for the Desert Autism Foundation.

On top of being a local-music machine, Heinz is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. When I first started playing, he was the host of Open Mic Night at The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert. He was extremely accommodating and answered every question I had; since then, he has been a great friend, and has always reached out to invite my bands to share gigs.

Heinz just released his first solo album, Made in Memphis 2003, on every major streaming platform. The record is a post-grunge burner featuring 10 songs with Heinz’s heavy guitar and emphatic vocal deliveries. While the release is new, the album is not: As the title suggests, this album is 17 years old.

“I moved to the valley in 2001, and I didn’t know anyone,” Heinz said during a recent interview. “I was a stay-at-home dad, and I was just writing a bunch of songs. My band in Memphis, Wyndom Earle, ended, and my ex-wife and I didn’t want to raise her daughter in Memphis, so we moved here. In 2002, I went back to Memphis for a wedding, and talked to Robert Pickens (Picon), who produced and recorded Wyndom Earle. I talked to him about all the songs I had written, but I didn’t have a place to record them since I didn’t know anyone in the valley. He offered to record me in Memphis and cut me a deal—so in February of 2003, I drove cross-country to record.

“We recorded all those songs in 64 hours. I hired the drummer who was in Robert’s band to play drums, and he tracked those in 16 hours, after only hearing four of the songs prior to being in the studio. I played all the songs to a click, so we would both talk and figure out the drum parts in the studio. I talked to him through his headphones as to when to hit the ride or crash, and he nailed all those within three or four takes. I was very fortunate to have him onboard.”

The songs feature highly emotional lyrics, with “You’re Afraid Too” hosting a fearless Heinz projecting on the loss of patience and deceit within a relationship. The final track, “Distance,” is a slower song about the past, specifically the struggles of breaking free of things one would rather not keep around.

“A lot of the songs are about my experiences leaving Memphis and my band, Wyndom Earle, ending on a sour note,” Heinz said. “I started writing when I moved here in May of 2001, and when Sept. 11 happened, I felt like I couldn’t write—3,000 people had just lost their lives, and I felt I was in no place to be whining about my life, because I was still alive. The first song I worked on after that is called ‘Closure,’ the fifth song on the record. The lyrics are: ‘So many left alone; so many still unknown.’ It was me trying to put myself in the position of someone who lost a family member, and who might have not had closure with them. Maybe they got in an argument that day, or needed to say something to their loved one that they didn’t get to.”

Heinz said his songwriting approach has changed in the almost-two decades since he wrote Made in Memphis 2003.

“My approach when I was younger was carrying around a journal with me everywhere,” he said. “I would write down lyrics or poems whenever I had ideas, and would apply them to music later. My primary way is music first, though, because it really sets the tone for the song. Aggressive guitar tones can make for a heavier song, and lighter tones can make for something sweeter. There is no one right way; that’s just what I lean towards more.

“Back in 2003, I had no band. I wrote all my music how I heard it, and didn’t consult people for their take or ideas. It was very singular, and that’s how we recorded it so quickly. Robert and some others in the studio would give me a few ideas, but I really had everything in my head already. When I was younger, I was more apt to do that—just show up with the full idea for the song, whereas now things are more collaborative. Some songs with Blasting Echo will be all done by me, but the majority of our songs consist of all of our efforts poured into a song, starting with just a riff. I’ve grown more to asking others for their input, but it’s still good to have that vision and be set on it. As long as you are in a healthy relationship with your bandmates, you can all work together to believe in your vision and trust their thoughts on your idea.”

Why did Heinz sit on the recordings for as long as he did?

“The main idea behind recording this album was to have a calling card,” Heinz said. “When I finally met other musicians, I would show them a track or two, not the full thing. Initially, I wanted to find a band to play these live, and have it be our first album. It didn’t happen that way—and I’m glad it didn’t. I’ve been playing these songs for years, but only as acoustic performances.

“I never thought about releasing something with nothing to show for it live, but recently, I talked to my friends in Wyndom Earle about remastering and releasing some of our old songs. That conversation and also the restrictions of COVID-19 got me thinking about these songs again, and I just thought: Why not? Nobody is playing right now, and my other bands haven’t been able to meet, so I just wanted to get this stuff out.

“The one positive of COVID was being able to work with Michael (Spann) on the mastering, the artwork, and getting it on streaming services. Without COVID, I probably would not have had time to do all that.”

COVID-19 and the restrictions that have come with it have led many artists to reinvent themselves. I asked Heinz how the coronavirus is affecting him beyond Made in Memphis 2003.

“More than likely, the Concert for Autism will not happen, because safety is more important,” Heinz said. “Our dates have been changing with Goldenvoice’s Coachella plans, but the reality of it is that it’s not going to happen. Many of the businesses that support us are hurting as well, so it’d be hard to ask them for donations. We may try to do a virtual performance in place of it.

“I miss Blasting Echo and 5th Town, and I really miss cranking up my amp and jumping around. Our family has to be really careful, however. My wife, Linda, and I have four kids in the house, and one is severely autistic. We have to be conscious of that risk, because if someone were to get sick, it could affect our family in a major way.

“Linda and I have begun streaming every Sunday at 5 p.m. on the Blasting Echo Facebook page (, and we are lucky to be doing that. It’s been our only creative outlet during these times. We’ve had the tools to stream forever, but never thought to do it until now. It’s been a lot of fun, and great getting to connect with family all over the world, and also people in the desert.”

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