A couple of weeks ago, I went to my barber in Yucca Valley, and as I was getting my hair cut, he asked: Did you hear Pappy and Harriet’s was sold?

At first, I chalked the question up to the local rumors that have circulated every few months for the last 10 years about Pappy and Harriet’s. But another customer piped in and said she’d heard the same rumor. So, when I got home, I checked the local social-media sites  … and I noticed more chatter. Later on, that night I get a text from a Coachella Valley entertainment reporter asking if I’d heard anything.

If Pappy and Harriet’s was indeed being sold, this would be hugely significant to the desert music scene—and beyond, given Pappy’s stature among independent music venues in the United States, which have faced COVID-19 and consolidation after being absorbed by the likes of AEG and Live Nation.

Then I received conformation that the rumors were true: Beth Clifford, the long term “Chief Doorologist” at Pappy and Harriet’s, was inviting me to an intimate gathering, closed to the general public, on April 12. The invite was scarce with details, but I was told to bring my camera, which usually means a big surprise.

As I walked up to a folding table outside the entrance, Clifford greeted a group of 20-something tourists wearing cliché desert wear, who wanted to have dinner at Pappy’s; Beth advised them that Pappy’s was closed for a private event. The spokesperson for the group responded with a line delivery that wasn’t worthy of community theater: “Well, we are on Bob’s guest list.”

In a friendly, professional manner, Beth replied, “Well, there is not a Bob here.” Having witnessed similar interactions many times before, I wondered if this would be the last time I’d see Beth work her diplomacy at the door.

As I entered, I was told that members of Queens of the Stone Age were present, and they were going to play a few songs. I ran into Big Dave, Beth’s boyfriend and the longtime bouncer at Pappy’s. I then ran into Benny the Bartender, the brother of Shea Cline, who painted the famous backdrop that covers the back of the indoor stage. Pappy’s is a family affair.  

Heading to the outdoor stage, I ran into Dave Catching, of the Eagles of Death Metal, and Sean Wheeler, the long time desert musician who founded Throw Rag.

On the stage was the Thrift Store All Stars, a high desert band you may know if you’d visited Pappy and Harriet’s before—especially if you were lucky enough to see them perform as the backing band for Robert Plant when he showed up to play some songs. But tonight, the Thrift Store All Stars had center stage, with the co-hosts being Travis Cline (Shea’s husband and Benny’s brother-in-law) and Bingo Richey, also of the Mojave Lords.  

Stage right, the members of Queens of the Stone Age had a table. Robyn Celia, Pappy’s co-owner and talent-buyer, was busing the table; Josh Homme waved her off in a gesture that looked like: Don’t worry about the dishes; it’s your last night. Relax. But this is Robyn Celia in a nutshell: I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen her fully relaxed and just being a music fan; she always appeared to busy greasing the gears that kept things going. (One time was during Paul McCartney show, when I saw her dancing on the bar; another was when I overheard her and Helen Mirren discussing online shoe shopping.)

Linda Krantz, the other co-owner, was handing out meal tickets that said “R&L’s Last Supper.” Good for them, I thought; for 17 years, they’ve created one of the best independent music venues in the country—with incredible food to boot.

Bingo Richey introduced himself to the crowd: “We are the Thrift Store All Stars—or what’s left of them.” He then sang “In the Sweet By-and-By,” a beautiful hymn. After the song, Bingo shared, “I am high as shit,” before the Thrift Store All Stars performed Marty Robbins’ “Red River Valley.” The just-perfect lyrics: “Just remember the Red River Valley and the cowboy that loved you so true.”

Nikki Lane, a Pappy and Harriet’s alum who has performed at Stagecoach on multiple occasions, joined the Thrift Store All Stars for a few songs. As she took the mic, she introduced herself with a smile: “I am Josh Homme.” She fooled no one.

Lane later joined the real Josh Homme, as he recalled his first impression of Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz: “Who the fuck are these people from New York who bought Pappy and Harriet’s?” Homme is a regular at Pappy and Harriet’s, who famously showed off the place to Anthony Bourdain.

Homme dedicated the set to Robyn and Linda, those two New Yorkers who changed the music scene in the high desert. His set included a “Long Slow Goodbye”—which perfectly summed up “R&L’s Last Supper.”

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Guillermo Prieto

Guillermo Prieto is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine. That also happens to be the location of his first concert—which cemented his love of live music. A desert dweller for a quarter-century,...