I recently went to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace to cover my first show since the change of ownership to Lisa Elin and J.B. Moresco.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the sale, so I was curious to see if there were any noticeable changes. I always arrive early for a Saturday show, since Pappy and Harriet’s is normally packed on the weekends, and I was lucky enough to catch a seat at the bar. I was greeted by Stacy the bartender, who has been there for 30 years. She brought me my usual—an extra-large Diet Pepsi, with some chips and guacamole. I also ordered the grilled salmon with a double order of broccoli. (I’m still trying to lose that shelter-in-place weight.) My taste buds were happy; all is great regarding the food and service at Pappy’s.

To the left of me at the bar was a couple from Idaho who’d decided to visit Pioneertown and needed directions to a grocery store. Next to them was Robert Warner, a custom leather-clothing designer who has a boutique in Joshua Tree; he’s made clothing for Wynonna Judd (who performed at Pappy’s two nights before) and Lenny Kravitz, just to name a few. To the right of me was a restaurant publicist from Los Angeles who was catching the show.

I went around back to get my wristband for the outdoor show. I was greeted by Christi McGrorty, a long time door person at Pappy’s; she and her niece were working the door, both wearing “Cocaine Country Dancing” T-shirts, a plug for merch advertising one of Paul Cauthen’s best-known songs.

Before one can go to the show, one must adhere to the reasonable COVID guidelines. Pappy’s has a “COVID Safety Pledge,” requiring full vaccination or a negative PCR test within 72 hours of a show; you are required to wear a mask if not fully vaccinated. Some performers have stricter guidelines, putting on vaccinated-only shows.

I walked around the outside stage grounds; there is a new elevated platform for the sound board, and a security barrier between the crowd and the stage, which will come in handy during punk-rock shows.

Kirby Brown opened for Paul Cauthen’s for the second sold-out night in a row at Pappy and Harriet’s. He walked onstage wearing a lavender wig and jokingly introduced himself: “You thought you would get Kirby Brown for two nights, but tonight you get Little Lavender.” He ditched the wig after a few laughs and demanded: “On the count of three, yell your name. … Great to be here for the second night. I will not be signing autographs. Paul is a good friend of mine, and I agreed not to sign autographs.”

Brown opened with the delightful song “Spiders,” which he claimed is not about spiders, even though he sings: “Spiders make homes in old guitars.” He then followed up with entertaining song “Little Red Hen,” which he claims is not about little red hens; it’s really about a freckled-face girl trying to play nice in a challenging world. My favorite song was “Joni,” a love song about pursing a woman who is “making a fool out me.”

Before ending his set, he reminded everyone to buy some merch and to purchase his new record, Break Into Blossom, officially out Sept. 17. Brown also mentioned a litmus test for singer-songwriters: “If you get fan mail from prison, you are a successful performer.” I highly recommend Kirby Brown’s shows; he mixes love and humor into every song.

Paul Cauthen took the stage, stating: “Tonight’s going to be one of those nights. What do you thing of my boy Kirby Brown?” He then opened with “Freak,” about getting caught with the “devil’s lettuce” and being sent to jail. Perhaps it’s a semi-biographical song about Cauthen’s prior outlaw days before becoming a singer?

Cauthen pivoted to passion with the song “Saddle,” about riding his horse and coming across a dark-haired woman next to a cabin. “Holy Ghost Fire” is plea for lovin’: “Got the Holy Ghost fire, and I’m burning down these streets. … I’ve got a whole lotta Prada for my Holy Ghost mama, and she’s making sweet eyes at me. Don’t let me down, sweet mama.” 

The audience was glued to Cauthen’s richly hued baritone voice; he’s part Johnny Cash and part bearded Elvis. He worked the audience with humor, backed by a great band that seemed to enjoy every moment under the desert stars. With a tour schedule that is packed with dates crisscrossing the country, he put out an amazing amount of stage energy.

Halfway through the set, he checked in with the audience: “Everybody doing all right tonight?” He then segued smoothly into the next new song, “Caught Me at a Good Time.” After working through a few more songs, Cauthen teased the audience about playing the fan favorite—before finally relenting and closing with “Cocaine Country Dancing,” a tune fueled by that infamous plant.

When the song concluded, he said: “Thanks so much. Be kind to one another. Peace out!”

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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,...