During the height of the pandemic, musicians did what they could to keep performing. First, there were shows on Zoom. Then there were drive-in shows. Now, as restrictions are eased, we’re starting to see concerts returning to their natural habitat.
But in the case of the Beneath the Desert Sky Summer Concert Series, “natural habitat” has another meaning entirely.
Two shows are currently scheduled for the series, which is taking place at the Indian Cove Amphitheater inside Joshua Tree National Park. Mojave Lords, eARTHLINGS? and Alain Johannes are set to perform this Friday, June 18; on Saturday, July 17, Yawning Man and Sean Wheeler (performing Dry Heat) will be featured, along with a short film by Kate McCabe called Known Unknowns. The June 18 show is sold out, while tickets for the July 17 show had not yet gone on sale as of our press deadline; watch www.eventbrite.com. Both shows are fundraisers for the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park;
Local icons David Catching (Mojave Lords, eARTHLINGS?, Eagles of Death Metal; he also owns Rancho de la Luna studio) and Mario Lalli (Yawning Man, Fatso Jetson) curated the June and July nights, respectively, with Lalli taking a role in facilitating the whole series.
“The coordinators for the Joshua Tree National Park Association had posted a picture of the amphitheater and said, ‘It’s been 10 years since we’ve done anything here, and we’re excited to get it going again; what should be our first event?’” Lalli said during a recent interview. “I traced down who I could get ahold of and sent them an email with some information and a basic idea of what I could do. It turns out that the woman who is the one of the event coordinators is a friend of mine; we both worked at Pappy and Harriet’s together, and she is really good friends with some other musicians from the High Desert who I know, like Dave Catching and the Mojave Lords guys, the eARTHLINGS? guys and the crew from Rancho de la Luna studios. It was the perfect thing, and she was excited about my idea to curate an evening. She had already worked with Dave on curating an evening for June.”
It must be emphasized that the Indian Cove Amphitheater is not a typical music venue.
“We’re doing an event at a national park,” Lalli said. “There are lots of concerns about treading on the park environment, and how to do that lightly and delicately and conscientiously. … If you’re doing anything out in nature, you clean up your mess, and you take care of it. It was very serendipitous how it all turned out.”
Lalli explained that the conscientious approach goes beyond just cleaning up messes.
“The event has a very limited capacity—only about 100 people, so it’s almost like a backyard party or wedding as opposed to a rock ’n’ roll show,” Lalli said. “As far as the production of the event, it’s low volume; it has a very small footprint; and all the equipment is small and minimal. There’s no staging; the venue itself is so visually stunning that you don’t want to interfere with that at all. You want to have people feel that they’re in the environment.
“In our (July) show, only half of it is music. The other half is visual and spoken word—poetry, stories … and a short film by Kate McCabe called Known Unknowns. We are limiting the access of vehicles, so there’s only going to be one small vehicle that gets within load shot of the stage; we’re going to have to carry gear over the area between the road and the stage area.”
Despite the precautions, some locals and environmentalists have raised concerns.
“The whole idea is not to rock out in the desert and blast everybody away, but to curate a beautiful, fitting piece of art and music that suits the environment and works within the environment,” Lalli said. “The attention to managing the event as it’s happening will be above and beyond. We’re doing this to raise money for awareness for educational programs that are presented by the national park, so there’s no way that we could go in the opposite direction. It’s going to be quite beautiful.
“I appreciate the concerns of the residents and supporters of the park. I really respect that people voiced their concerns, and I just want to let those people know that your concerns are heard, and were already considered before your voices were even raised. The people that are producing this event have nothing but the park’s interests in mind.”
David Catching, who is curating the June show, is treating the event as his love letter to the desert.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Indian Cove Amphitheater, but it’s a huge honor to be asked to play in the park,” Catching said. “It’s been a dream of all of ours forever, since we’ve been up here. When they asked, we jumped on it. We’re out here because we all fell in love with it.
“My first trip through the park was in 1983. I was on my way to L.A. to play a show, and we had a little extra time and saw the entrance. We went through the whole park, and I kind of fell in love with it. I wasn’t able to get back here until probably ’86 or so, and then I started coming out here quite a bit on weekends or whenever I had a day off. Back in the ’80s, you could get out here in an hour and 40 minutes.”
Catching said the benefit show will be his first big performance since the pandemic started.
“It’s a win-win anytime we can help the community in any way possible, especially in the park,” Catching said. “We’ve hosted a few little events here and there, but this is going to be one of the coolest ways to do it, because it helps us more than them. It really gets us back into easing into playing shows. Honestly, we’ve all been really itching to get back out there.”
Catching’s desire to create a respectful and safe event played a part in his curation.
“We’re all great friends, and we’ve all gotten together for a couple of sessions,” said Catching. “I asked our friend Alain Johannes, who’s an amazing multi-instrumentalist who has played with so many amazing bands. It’s always a pleasure to have him join, because he’s one of the most talented people I know. He has really, really beautiful songs, and his music is incredible. I asked him if he would like to join us for the experience, and he jumped right in. We just surrounded ourselves with people I know are very kind, considerate and cool, who would want to jump in and do something for the park, because we all love it out here.”
Lalli said he’s honored to earn the trust of the Joshua Tree National Park.
“That’s a big deal,” said Lalli. “I’ve done events at the McCallum Theatre, the Palm Springs Art Museum, and the Annenberg Theater. These things aren’t rock ’n’ roll clubs; these aren’t bars. These are places of art and culture that require the respect of the performers and producers. You have to understand the venue that you’re in and what that means.”
Lalli said he’s also honored to be able to help out Joshua Tree National Park.
“The park has suffered so much because of what’s happened over the last year, with the lockdowns and quarantines,” Lalli said. “I’m not just talking about the park losing funding or losing opportunities to make money. People couldn’t go and do and see and experience. … We get to usher into this new time with a really cool celebration that welcomes people back to the park, so it’s super-groovy.
“The concerns that popped up kind of hurt my feelings. I feel like I’ve got to call every one of them and explain what we’re doing so they get it and want to come. I realized that I can’t control what people are concerned about, and I just have to respect where it’s coming from. It’s coming from a good place … so the best thing I can do is take that and go make sure that this is done really, really right.”
Catching said people can trust the vision that he and Lalli have.
“The people who are showing the most concern are people who are busybodies who just try to make problems for people,” Catching said. “We all love the desert, and we would never do anything that would hurt the desert. There is an amphitheater in there, because music is a beautiful, healing source of inspiration for people and animals. We’re not planning on doing anything that would harm any person or plant or animal; we’re here to help in any way possible.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/joshuatreenationalparkassociation.