“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.