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Sat08192017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

During Coachella, I tasted a lot of delicious craft beer, both in the Craft Beer Barn and at the Rare Beer Bar, the latter headed by Jimmy Han, owner of Los Angeles’ Beer Belly. One of my favorite discoveries: Wicked Weed Marina, a blonde sour ale that is aged in wine barrels—with more than one pound per gallon of peaches and apricots.

Just days later came the announcement that Anheuser-Busch InBev had bought the Asheville, N.C.-based Wicked Weed. It became the latest of 20-plus former craft breweries that are now owned by corporate brewers. I say “former,” because the Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as small, independent and traditional—with less than 25 percent ownership by a non-craft brewer.

What does this all mean? I spoke to Julia Herz, the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Program director, and Mitch Steele, the former brewmaster of Stone Brewing who is now the founder, brewmaster and COO of New Realm Brewing, coming soon to Atlanta.

There are a lot of feelings on both sides as far as craft breweries “selling out.” What are your thoughts?

JH: … It’s not happening in mass, right? Ninety nine percent of the 5,300-plus breweries are still independent and small. But as the purchases continue to happen … the Department of Justice issued a consent degree over (AB InBev’s) purchases in 2015 and 2016—Devil’s Backbone being a key one, which was approved, with some changes made, by the DOJ. … The more that the large, global brewers become a one-stop shop for brands and beer styles, the harder it is to make the marketplace fair, and for beer lovers to really get the choices that many beer-lovers desire.

MS: I think it’s really dangerous what’s going on right now, honestly. The problem is that the majority of the beer-drinking public doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the business practices of large brewers, and how it impacts small brewers. … When a brewery is buying tap space, which is technically illegal, small breweries can’t. Most small breweries won’t do it because they don’t want to do something that’s against the law, and they can’t afford to play that game, either. … When somebody who’s kind of a casual craft-beer fan walks into a bar, and sees all these beers that are “craft,” yet they’re all brewed at Anheuser-Busch, most of the time, (customers are) not going to register it’s not a small, independent brewer. When these brewers can potentially come in and sell a keg of beer for 50 to 60 percent of what a small craft brewer can, it really is damaging the ability of the craft brewers to sell their beer.

Were you surprised by the Wicked Weed buyout?

JH: … (In some respects), I am not surprised, because they (AB InBev) continue to make regional purchases in key beer markets of the country: Four Peaks in Arizona, Blue Point in New York, Los Angeles for Golden Road. These are very geographically, strategically made procurements. … Also, (as of now, the Wicked Weed) deal has not gone through. It’s an announcement from AB InBev that they are moving to make a partnership and bringing Wicked Weed into their brand portfolio. It’s still subject to review.

MS: Well, that surprised me. I’d go so far as to say that it shocked me. I thought they were in it for the long haul. I know (co-owners) Luke and Walt (Dickinson) pretty well, and I’ve brewed with them before, and we’ve hung out a lot. … I know Luke and Walt are part owners, but I don’t know what percentage they own. I know they had some big-time investors in that brewery, and it could have been mostly their decision, but who knows? But, yeah, it shocked me and disappointed me. Some of these are not a big surprise: You hear through the grapevine that some of these newer breweries are building themselves to sell … and they’re just trying to get their business to a point to where they’re attractive to a large brewer. … You know, when somebody comes and offers you a ridiculous amount of money, who’s to say you’re wrong for taking that and setting up your family for generations? You can’t really fault it. I just wish it didn’t happen.

Do you sympathize with any of these craft breweries after they explain themselves on social media? They say: “We had to do this because of distribution. The beer will stay the same.”

MS: Yeah. I worked with Budweiser for 14 years. This was back in the 1990s. People looked at Budweiser as the evil empire, but I dealt with the reaction from craft brewers all the time: “It’s lousy beer.” I’d get on my soap box and say, “Ya know, you may not like it, but don’t ever talk negative about the quality, because the people who brew this beer are as passionate about it as you are about yours.” But it’s a different company now. I certainly understand the backlash. I can relate to it because I dealt with it for a long time myself. … I think it’s a very uncomfortable feeling for most of them, because the craft-brewing business is so built on community and comradery. Now, all of sudden, you’re not in the club anymore. That’s a hard thing to swallow, especially when you’ve got so many friends in the business. … People who don’t have ownership in the brewery, and have no say in it—they’re just kind of there when it happens. Those are the people who I feel really bad for, because they had no say.

Do distribution laws and better access have anything to do with why they are selling?

MS: The whole access-to-ingredients thing, I think, is a little bit overplayed. If you’re a growing craft brewer, there are enough suppliers out there. If you work it hard enough, you can get what you need, with a few exceptions. For example, Galaxy hops—nobody can get Galaxy hops right now. Can a big brewer go in and get Galaxy hops? I don’t know if they can. … I think really the big advantage for a small brewer joining forces with a big brewer is the access to the technical resources, so they can understand what’s happening in the brewing process—be it really complex lab equipment or whatever. And then distribution access is huge. … Those are the things that really matter.

JH: Yes. As soon as you sell, you get instant access to things that those 99 percent of the 5,300 breweries don’t have. You get into a system in the network for better economies of scale, for purchasing raw materials and ingredients. You get instant distribution that cannot be matched. … The number of distributors over time continues to wane. Even though we have 5,300-plus breweries today, there are only 1,000-plus active distributors, and 500-plus of those are controlled by AB InBev. MillerCoors has several hundred as well. Distributors are amazing partners to beer, but it’s a matter of priority. How do they decide what they’re going to sell? When you’re an AB house … their first priority is likely those AB brands.

Published in The Beer Goddess

Pappy and Harriet’s, per usual, was the place to be for people who wanted to catch Coachella 2017 acts without having to battle large crowds and traffic.

Last Thursday, Pappy’s hosted a Coachella act doubleheader, and staffers had their hands full ushering the outdoor Future Islands fans out of Pappy’s while clearing the indoor saloon to get ready for the Crash Seat Headrest show, which started a few minutes after midnight (technically making it a Friday show). Lead Singer Will Toledo was short on chitchat; instead, he let his music talk for him.

“Vincent” stirred the initial of many riotous sing-alongs, and was the first of three consecutive Teens of Denial tracks, including “Fill in the Blank” and “1937 State Park.”

The concert also included "(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't a Problem)" and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.” The tunes inspired many attendees, apparently high on life, to take part in a new form of moshing that was polite and featured arm movements that mimicked mating swans.

Car Seat Headrest was top-notch, shredding through intense indie hymns, like the distraught bounce of “Maud Gone,” a tune that tries to understand the emotional feelings of a confused lover: “And when I’m in bed, I’m dead, no one to check my pulse, and so instead, my head, begs not to be so full, and when I fall asleep, which part of me writes the dream and which part falls asleep? Who’s running the machine?”

The show closed with “Beast Monster Thing.”

Car Seat Headrest is concentrated self-absorption mixed with helplessness, liberation and happiness—making it one of the finest indie bands around.

Published in Reviews

It’s become a fantastic tradition for local bands to perform at Coachella, and this year, three local groups got their moment in the spotlight—or, rather, moments in the Gobi Tent.

Kayves, a Tachevah finalist, played on Friday. The Yip Yops, which played a set to a packed house at The Hood Bar and Pizza with the Flusters in between the two Coachella weekends, performed on Saturday. And Ocho Ojos, a psychedelic cumbia band hailing from the East Valley, played on Sunday.

There are numerous benefits for a local band to play at Coachella. Some members of the local bands who have played Coachella in the past have told me about the ability to engage with the bigger names and get advice, or be put in touch with producers or people who they should work with. The exposure alone can help newer bands.

To some Kayves members, this year actually marked a return to Coachella. Nick Hernandez (vocals, guitar) is the former front man of CIVX, a 2014 selection, while Danny Gonzalez (guitar) played at the festival in 2015 with Alchemy. After their Weekend 2 performance on Friday, Hernandez, guitarist Oscar Rico and drummer Adrian Romero stopped by the press tent.

“It still felt like the first time,” Hernandez said about Kayves’ 2017 Coachella shows. “It’s a big stage, and we’re used to playing smaller venues. The thing that was better this time around is that we got to play it twice. … When we played the whole set live (on Weekend 1), we knew about the adjustments we were going to do for the second weekend. That’s why the second weekend was better.”‘

Unlike CIVX in 2014, Kayves has songs on some streaming services—and the band definitely saw a Coachella bump.

“We got 100 more followers in a day or two,” Romero said.

Still, Kayves only has self-recorded material out—something Rico said the band plans to change soon.

“We’re going to go back into the studio and do everything properly and go from there,” he said.

Given Kayves includes members from both the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles, the Coachella gigs meant some early mornings for the band.

“It’s really hard for us to get together, Romero said. “Today, we had to practice at 5 in the morning, because we came from Los Angeles, and it’s been a long day.”‘


For the Yip Yops, a Coachella appearance seemed long overdue. After the band’s Saturday performance in the Gobi Tent, the members said they felt as if they weren’t a “young band playing Coachella” or the “local band playing Coachella,” but simply a band playing Coachella.

“We don’t feel this is the last time we’ll be playing Coachella,” keyboardist/guitarist Mari Brossfield said.

Yip Yops front man Ison Van Winkle said playing at Coachella has always been a goal for the band.

“Especially living here, it makes it that much more substantial,” he said. “But it’s not a peak, and it’s not the end. We’re not just going to break up after this.

Bassist Jacob Gutierrez told me the Coachella appearances have given the band chances to network behind the scenes. In fact, during Weekend 1, Van Winkle’s father, Tony, sent me a text message saying the band was hobnobbing with musicians such as the members of Local Natives and Father John Misty.

“We had a lot of things in the works, but this really helps to solidify us as musicians, and it gives us a platform to reach out to as many people as possible,” Gutierrez said. “It’s going to open a lot of doors for us.”

Brossfield agreed.

“During these two weekends, we’re not just partying it up,” Brossfield said. “We’re taking ourselves seriously, and we’re on the job. This is a huge platform to use to launch yourself with.”


Ocho Ojos is a new band—one that had not yet really made my radar screen before Coachella. On Sunday, when they stopped by the press tent, guitarist Cesar Flores and keyboardist Danny Torres told me the history of their band.

“We’ve been around since October 2016,” Flores said. “We formed when I was asked to play this cumbia dance party. One of my friends was organizing the event and asked me if I could play. I agreed, and at that time through social media—I wanted to have a jam at my house—I asked if anyone was willing to jam, and Danny hit me up. He was very good at communicating, so we clicked right away. It was easy to get together and write music.”

Torres said he and Flores didn’t set out to start a band right away.

“We have good chemistry,” Torres said. “It very natural, and it wasn’t like we set out to start a band. We continued to play together and liked what was coming out.”

They didn’t think that a Coachella appearance would happen so soon.

“We envisioned it at one point,” Flores said. “We thought that maybe it would happen if we wrote and really worked hard. We knew that Coachella has had local bands for opening slots, and we didn’t think it would happen this quickly. We were excited and super happy.”

The style of music Ocho Ojos plays is not heard a lot in the valley. Torres said they feel that’s a good thing—because it helps them stand out.

“Our style, psychedelic cumbia, it is really what set us apart from the beginning,” he said. “As soon as we came into the music scene, playing backyard shows and venues here in the valley—and our scene is mostly rock and punk bands—I guess we’re very different in comparison.

Thanks to Coachella, people in the rest of the Coachella Valley music world—and beyond—now know about Ocho Ojos.

“It definitely put us on a platform and got us a whole lot more exposure,” Flores said. “We’re going to get more serious and publish some of our music, so we can solidify the sound we have. We’re definitely going to work on new material as well.”

The Glass Animals played through the pain to turn in a wonderful in-between-Coachella-weekends show at Pappy and Harriet’s on Wednesday, April 19.

Jagwar Ma warmed things up with a well-received set, highlighted by the song “Come Save Me.” Jagwar Ma is a blended swirl of delight, mixing EDM with live instruments, resulting in a sound that pleases purists like myself with fab and far-out tracks.

A non-clinical observation: There appeared to be plenty of attendees with mushroom eyes from the hallucinating fungus that is all the rage with the younglings, as hazy clouds of smoke floated above.

Glass Animals took the stage with front man Dave Bayley walking up to the microphone and saying, “This place is beautiful.” Early on, he felt the need to set the appropriate expectation level among the crowd: “So about a week and a half ago, I broke my ankle.” Wearing an orthopedic boot on his right leg, Bayley might be be slowed by this Velcro and plastic cage, so I thought—but he had no challenges spinning and dancing like a mad man, only using the stool occasionally to rest.

The band kicked things off with “Life Itself,” off sophomore release How to Be a Human Being, sparking joy among the fans who alternated between screaming and capturing photos for their Instagram accounts.

Bayley later shared: “We actually filmed a lot of music videos here,” apparently referring to the High Desert. The members of the Glass Animals clearly were having a great time.

The show featured the well-received “Gooey,” “Black Mambo” and “Hazey.” Glass Animals intertwined new material and old material from debut release Zaba.

As Bayley sang “Season 2 Episode 3,” my girl eats mayonnaise from a jar when she’s getting blazed, I witnessed a collision between a tall blonde—in 4-inch wedge heels with periwinkle toenails, awkwardly walking in the sand—and a dancing blonde, who apparently preferred dancing instead of mayonnaise when having herbal fun.

Glass Animals closed out the show with an encore featuring fan favorites “Pork Soda” and “Pools.”

Published in Reviews

Since its inception in 1999, Coachella has continued to evolve—to the point where it’s now one of the most well-known festivals in the world.

This year, it went through a large evolutionary step: The capacity went from 99,000 people to 125,000. The site was also reorganized, with the Outdoor Stage and the Mojave and Gobi tents pulled all the way back against Monroe Street. The Sahara Tent is a permanent fixture on the site, but the interior got all sorts of new effects. There is also a new tent, too: the daytime/early evening-only Sonora Tent. It offered an air-conditioned, club-like atmosphere and hosted a lot of punk-rock acts, like as T.S.O.L., The Interrupters, Shannon and the Clams and others.

Many Weekend 1 attendees took to social media to complain about crowding in the general admission areas. There was some truth to those complaints, as I learned during Weekend 2.

Still, I found it pretty easy to move around the festival with only a general-admission-wristband. I did notice longer lines for the restrooms, and thanks to an increase in the number of disabled patrons attending Coachella, the ADA platforms at all the stages got full early.

Another issue: The lobby area after the security checkpoints got overly crowded throughout the mid-afternoon to late evening. On Sunday night, I at one point found myself in a human traffic jam, in the middle of a large crowd of people trying to push through a bottleneck.

Yes, these are serious issues that need to be addressed for Coachella 2018. Still, I found the festival rather navigable overall.

Some Sunday highlights

• Ezra Furman, the first act on the Outdoor Stage on Sunday afternoon, opened his set with a cover of the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare.” His set had a lot of highlights; it was as if Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the Ramones had a love child. The mixture of piano, a bit of harmony and a punk-rock sound was fascinating.

• Lee Fields and the Expressions was the first act to perform on the Main Stage. Fields has a very powerful voice, even by old R&B/soul standards, and his songs got the crowd going—singing along, clapping and slowly waving hands in the air as Fields sang slow, ballad-like songs about love or changing the world for the better.

• Future Islands’ early-evening set on the Outdoor Stage was just as impressive as the set I witnessed in 2013 when the band performed in the Gobi Tent. Front man Samuel Herring is well-known for his high-energy dance moves, and on Sunday, he pulled them off quite well. After 11 years together, the band is still climbing the ladder of indie-rock success, and doing so without many stage effects or crazy gimmicks. Who knows what we’ll see from them in the future?

• TSOL closed out the Sonora Tent on Sunday night with a fun performance—complete with old-school Los Angeles punk attitude, mosh pits, circle pits and Jack Grisham’s wild banter. He explained that while the band was recording the recent record, the members were one studio over from Snoop Dogg. At one point, the crew joined Snoop for a game of basketball—when John Fogerty drove his Corvette onto the tennis court. Grisham said he politely asked him to move it, and Fogerty simply walked away. Grisham’s response: He pulled up the door handle and put it between his butt cheeks. When Snoop and his crew said that Jack’s actions were “pretty fucked up,” Grisham responded that they didn’t know what punk was about. Oh, and Grisham said he also rubbed his scrotum all over Fogerty’s hood, too. In other news: Grisham pointed out that keyboardist Greg Kuehn’s son, Max Kuehn (who plays in the band FIDLAR), was filling in on drums.

• New Order put on a tremendous headlining performance in the Mojave Tent on Sunday night; it was one of the best shows I saw. The performance was upbeat, included more of a dance music element, and filled up the entire tent, with overflows onto the lawn area. The band played two Joy Division songs for the encore: “Decades” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” both of which paid tribute to friend and Joy Division front man Ian Curtis. 

Photo credits (below): Aerial shot, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; Ezra Furman, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Future Islands, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Lee Fields and the Expressions, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; New Order, by Charles Reagan Hackleman/Goldenvoice.

Coachella attendees who braved Saturday’s hot temperatures got some great music to enjoy, including the day’s headliner, Lady Gaga.

I must admit that I am not a big fan of pop divas, but I promised myself I would keep an open mind as I took in Gaga’s performance, rather than doing my usual full embrace of the “music snob” title that some have bestowed upon me.

As for that performance: After Bon Iver’s Main Stage set finished a little before 10 p.m., most of the area was dead, as attendees crammed the Outdoor Stage area to take in DJ Snake’s performance. That let Gaga’s die-hard fans grab spots close to the stage.

Gaga was scheduled for 11:10 p.m., and even though the stage seemed set well before that, she did not take the stage until after 11:30.

I watched parts of last weekend’s Gaga show on the live YouTube stream. While it was an impressive spectacle, some moments fell flat (a sentiment I heard from people who were there, too). The costume changes were over-long, meaning her backing musicians had to play lengthy solos before she would finally reappear.

This week, she tightened things up. Her default costume appeared to be a pair of decorated Spandex shorts over a leotard, with stars next to her eyes and on her temples. While her appearance may have changed a bit, the set list was rather similar. Her banter with the audience at times seemed to fall flat—although she admitted to the audience that she felt a little nervous, in part because her parents were in attendance.

She also told a story about how she arrived in Los Angeles from New York wearing all leather, and was told that it was too hot to wear leather. She added that she still loves leather and that she was bringing leather to the desert. I’m sure the small group of bears I saw earlier in the evening walking around with leather harnesses and aviator sunglasses were in that sea of 100,000 people screaming, “YOU GO GIRL!”

Many of the visuals that accompanied the performance were not included all that much on the live stream last week—and in person, the visuals were indeed stunning and well-done.

Lady Gaga ain’t my cup of tea, but I appreciate the energy that her music puts out, and that she has fans from all walks of life. While the performance was a little rough around the edges for my tastes, her appearance will be remembered fondly by most.

Other Saturday highlights

• Local band the Yip Yops were an early afternoon delight in the Gobi Tent, with many people coming through to check them out. Their evolving and futuristic sound definitely made them stand out. Of course, the Yip Yops were ready for the Coachella stage two years ago.

• Chicano Batman performed to a large and fantastically diverse crowd at the Outdoor Stage on Saturday afternoon. Despite temperatures at almost 100 degrees, the band still played in ruffled shirts and new navy suits. This band is truly on the rise and drew a much larger crowd than they did when they played in 2015.

• The Heineken House was the place to be on Saturday, thanks to the air conditioning and the never-ending flowing of cold, delicious beer. Late in the afternoon, the protopunk band Death, the subject of a documentary titled A Band Called Death, performed in the tent. While it may have annoyed the typical Heineken House audience of people who like house and trap music, the rock crowd that turned out to hear them play—myself included—loved every minute of it. One has to wonder why they were not put in the Sonora Tent instead.

• Bon Iver’s co-headlining Main Stage performance was nothing short of fantastic. The band’s indie-folk sound has evolved in a big way, and the show was nothing like the group’s Coachella 2012 performance. There was a lot of live sampling and layering during the performance, along with some pretty trippy visuals. Also, Bruce Hornsby and Jenny Lewis appeared with front man Justin Vernon at the end of his set. Vernon, wearing a T-shirt that said “PEOPLE” across the front of it, declared toward the end of his set: “If you don’t have close friends, you don’t have shit.”

Photo credits (below): Death, by Brian Blueskye; Bon Iver, by Julian Bajsel/Goldenvoice; Chicano Batman, by Erik Voake/Goldenvoice; Yip Yops, by Quinn Tucker/Goldenvoice

Camping accommodations at Coachella are pretty sweet—if you like to party.

But what if you aren’t into partying, are Jewish, and are attending Coachella? Shabbat Tent has you covered.

Coachella and Passover tend to overlap at times—as was the case last weekend. This weekend, on Saturday morning—during the Sabbath—I noticed Shabbat Tent and decided to stop in. There, I met Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.

Before the service, Rabbi Bookstein’s volunteers offered attendees grape juice, wine or whiskey to drink during the service. One of the attendees raised his hand and said, “WHISKEY PLEASE!” He then added: “I LOVE JUDAISM!”

During the brief Sabbath service, Rabbi Bookstein discussed giving freely to others without expecting anything in return, as well as the meaning of establishing healthy boundaries.

Shabbat Tent doesn’t only show up at Coachella. When you look at the Shabbat Tent website, you’ll see it has appeared at numerous U.S. music festivals, both small and large. The tent is not only a place observe together; it’s also a place where people can get hot meals, water and even some entertainment.

“The idea of Shabbat Tent started in 1999,” Rabbi Bookstein told me after he finished the service. “A couple friends of mine noticed a lot of people of Jewish background going to these festivals. They want to observe some of their Jewish rituals together. They wanted to have a themed tent where they could get together. That was the original idea. They’re going to be there on Friday night during Shabbat, ‘So let’s do Shabbat together.’”

Bookstein told me that everyone is welcome in the tent. His wife, Rachel, and all the volunteers are very hospitable toward all.

Bookstein said Shabbat Tent organizers quickly learned they were on to something. “There are the people who want to come together. But then there are hundreds (of people), or at some festivals even thousands, who also want to benefit and participate. Maybe they have a Jewish background; maybe they want to do Shabbat.

“Then there’s another element, which is opening a hospitality tent. You can’t just make it for Jewish people; you have to make it for everybody. It’s got to be universal. Shabbat Tent became a universal tent to create a place of chill and community in the middle of the craziness of a music festival.

“Coachella is more of a party scene than any of the other festivals that I can think of. Some people have asked us, ‘Why would you go to Coachella? It’s nothing but a big party.’ Actually, that’s why we need to be here more than ever. Because Coachella is such a party atmosphere, there are not a lot of places for people to chill and relax. Here, I feel we’re a necessity as to what’s going on, to provide people with a safe and chill area.”

The Shabbat Tent was of great service to Coachella attendees who found themselves in distress this weekend, as a rash of robberies hit the festival.

“People here get robbed. Who else is going to give them water and food?” Bookstein said. “They just can’t walk over to any of those vendors and say, ‘Hey, my wallet got stolen. Can I have a burger?’ They can come to Shabbat Tent, and we’ll give them water and food. We had a few people sleeping here last night who had their tent stolen, and a couple of people had their friends leave and abandon them. They had no place to sleep and no food, so they slept here at the Shabbat Tent.

“There’s another element, which we never planned for, which is Coachella not serving Kosher food. We have a Kosher kitchen here.”

Is Rabbi Bookstein excited to see any of the acts at Coachella? He laughed when I asked him and he described himself as more of a bluegrass fan.

“This is not my kind of music,” he said. “I appreciate the people, and there are some really talented people here. There is somebody playing on Sunday who I want to see: Toots and the Maytals. But this is not my lineup. A couple of years ago, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers played, my wife and I went and saw them a little bit, which is was fun. I grew up a few decades ago, so that was the music I remembered from high school.”

Radiohead’s Weekend 1 Coachella performance was, by all accounts, a disaster.

That was on everybody’s mind as the Friday headliner prepared to take the stage for Weekend 2.

I wasn’t at Coachella last weekend, but I certainly heard about the sound issues, intense audio feedback and other problems that forced the band off stage twice during the set.

Also … the band played “Creep” last weekend—a song the group almost never plays. Was it planned for the set list, or was it added as a consolation for fans who braved the technical difficulties?

I may never get the answer to that last question, but all of my other queries and concerns were washed away: Radiohead’s Weekend 2 performance was fantastic.

Ambient and atmospheric sounds emanated from giant poles, with speakers positioned throughout the Main Stage crowd area, before the band took the stage; it reminded me of Roger Waters’ Desert Trip performance. Speakers like this can really complement sound effects—or make a band’s sound schizophrenic.

Radiohead took the stage with a surprising lack of visuals: The video walls to the left and were not on, and a large round oval—visible as a non-operational backdrop throughout the entire day—remained non-operational. (This is called foreshadowing, kids!) During the first two songs—“Daydreaming” and “Desert Island Disk”—the only visual effects were lights shining upward on the stage.

Then came “Ful Stop,” the third song—where all the problems started last week. Suddenly, visuals on the sides of the stage started—and the aforementioned large, round oval in the background came to life.

It was like a cosmic blast.

The speakers throughout the field in the Main Stage area began to add layers and little noises to Radiohead’s music. Thom Yorke was energetic, although he avoided conversation with the audience, other than quipping that Radiohead was ready for a residency in Las Vegas.

While the Weekend 2 crowd didn’t get to hear “Creep,” we were treated to “Fake Plastic Trees,” another song the band almost never plays live.

Radiohead’s Friday night set was indeed a beautiful thing, and Weekend 2 attendees—who tend to be more of a music-aficionado crowd than the Weekend 1 group—left the Empire Polo Club on Friday night quite happy.

Other Friday highlights

• Local band Kayves absolutely rocked the Gobi tent. A nice crowd came to catch a glimpse of the band, which was received well. I had to laugh when Nick Hernandez explained that Kayves was on Spotify; this led a man to scream, “WHERE ARE YOU FROM!?” Alas, his shout went unheard by the band.

• The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s second appearance at Coachella was also well-received—which, considering the group was performing traditional jazz, was a beautiful thing. The group played some material from its new album, So It Is, and praised the crowd for “getting (their) asses out of bed early” to see them—even though it was after 3 p.m.

• King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (say that 10 times fast!) is a psychedelic rock band that includes elements of garage rock and metal. Also … I swear there’s a touch of Indian music for which Ravi Shankar was so famous—even though nobody plays sitar in that band. Anyway, the band turned in a fantastic afternoon set, while saying that the band’s Weekend 2 crowd was better than last week’s group. Pretty far out, man.

• The Interrupters performed an energetic, upbeat and wildly fun performance in the new, punk-and-garage-leaning Sonora Tent during the early evening—one of several new additions to Coachella this year that boosted capacity to a whopping 125,000 people. (Good news: The tent’s air-conditioned. Bad news: It looks like Nickelodeon threw up in there.) The Interrupters gained a huge mosh pit and knowledgeable fans who knew the lyrics to the songs—screaming along with Aimee Interrupter. At the end of the performance, guitarist Kevin Bivona told the crowd he wanted some audience participation, and asked if anyone knew how to play guitar. In response, a guy got up onstage; when asked what his name was, he replied “Tim” in a gruff voice, before a crew member handed him a worn-down black Gretsch guitar. That not-so-random audience member: Tim Armstrong of Rancid, who played two songs with the group and then went back into the crowd, where he took selfies with attendees who couldn’t believe what had just happened.

Photo credits (below): Kayves, by Julian Bajsel/Goldenvoice; King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, by Charles Reagan Hackleman/Goldenvoice; The Interrupters, by Everett Fitzpatrick/Goldenvoice.

You’ve probably never heard of Klangstof. If that’s indeed the case … you really need to change that.

From Amsterdam, the group has been performing together since 2015, and is now signed with Warner Bros. This year, Klangstof became the first Dutch group to ever play at Coachella.

Front man Koen van de Wardt stopped by the media tent on Friday, April 21, and chatted with me about his Coachella experience.

“It’s been amazing,” van de Wardt said, beaming with a smile. “It’s been everything I expected and a little bit more. It’s our first United States festival date, and it’s a very cool one as a first experience. Everything has been so overwhelming. All these people are walking around. Obviously, the heat is horrible, but you try to deal with it.”

Van de Wardt said the band has played at festivals in Europe—but the experience here is rather different.

“American crowds are very honest,” he said. “If they don’t like anything, they’ll (complain) right away. If they love it, they’ll be screaming. In Europe, it’s like people wear a mask. You can’t really read them as you would American people. I really love playing Coachella—because whenever you play a good song, people notice it right away. You can really feel the vibe of the audience right away.”

Klangstof’s indie sound may be a tough sell in America, but van de Wardt said he hopes people will keep an open mind.

“I wouldn’t call it a struggle, but we definitely need to work a lot harder playing in America,” he said. “We have to take way more extra steps to get going here. But I think if we work hard to get that done, people will understand at last. We’ll get there.”

Klangstof will soon go on tour with the Flaming Lips—one of the craziest live psychedelic-rock bands in the world. A look of excitement came over van de Wardt’s face when I asked him about it.

“I’ve never seen them live before, so that’s going to be a first for me. I really can’t wait to see the unicorns, the confetti and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “I also like to tour with a band that inspires me—the bands you watch and say, ‘Now I’m inspired to write new music.’ I think the Flaming Lips are the perfect band to go on tour with, because they’re so different. They really do their own thing, and I’m looking forward to asking them how they do it and how they record their music. For me, it’s going to be a great learning process.”

Van de Wardt also talked about Radiohead’s glitch-filled performance last week.

“I really enjoyed Radiohead last week, even though they had all those sound problems,” he said. “I’ve seen a perfect Radiohead show before so many times, and I was curious to see how they coped with such a big problem. It was inspiring and very cool to watch a band cope with such a problem.”

I asked him what he thought about the cult of Lady Gaga, which is most definitely present at Coachella this year. He said he understood it—even if he doesn’t share warm feelings for the Saturday headliner’s music.

“I actually fell asleep during Lady Gaga because I was so tired,” he said. “That's definitely some kind of music I don’t understand myself, but I do understand it’s poppy and catchy, and people love it. But I always find it hard to trigger me. I do understand why she’s popular. I was awake for it for about 15 minutes, and I understand that it really works—how she does it onstage, and every move she makes. It’s very well-thought through, and it works great.”

Klangstof said the band is already booked through December.

“We’re doing the Flaming Lips tour first, going through the United States as well, and then we’re going to run through some festivals in Europe. After that, I want to rent a cabin in Norway, get the band in, set up our equipment and be there for three months.”

Coachella finally caught on to the craft-beer revolution with the birth of the Craft Beer Barn in 2014. When it comes to weed, however, the festival seems to be further ahead of the game, thanks to this year’s introduction of a WeedMaps-sponsored cannabis lounge for VIP ticket holders—just a few months after legalization was approved by California voters.

Meanwhile, another marijuana event, located just a couple of miles from Empire Polo Club at the corner of 50th Avenue and Calhoun Street in Coachella, could not get off the figurative ground.

Kushella Life was a cannabis festival open to the public, with free admission for Coachella Valley residents, slated for both Coachella weekends and Stagecoach weekend. Organizers worked with the city of Coachella to secure all permits required to enable the legal consumption of marijuana on the festival site. Produced by the Coachella Grow Association and Coachella Ventures, Inc., the festival was a place to purchase and consume cannabis for Coachella attendees and valley residents alike.

However, typical bureaucratic delays prevented permits from being issued until the event date was a mere three weeks away, which left organizers with an unfortunately short amount of time to recruit vendors, promote the event and book musical acts.

“We agreed to meet with the sheriff and a contingent of residents, and we did. Everyone was agreeable to the plan we laid out,” said executive producer Freddie Wyatt via phone from Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 17, after Kushella’s opening weekend. He had already traveled to another event to help Kushella Life organizers cut their losses. “Everyone with the city of Coachella, from the fire marshal right on up to the mayor, was an absolute pleasure to work with. They were on board. They wanted to do it, and they wanted to do it right, which we appreciated.”

Alas, the cooperation was too little, and way too late. Attendance was estimated at around 1,000 on Saturday, April 15, the festival’s biggest day.

“Peak time was Saturday, and next weekend should be bigger. With three weeks to promote, that’s about what we expected,” Wyatt said during that Monday, April 17, phone call.

There were high hopes for the second weekend of the festival, which was slated to start a day early in celebration of 4/20—but it was not meant to be. On Wednesday, April 19, organizers decided to pull the plug and cut their losses.

“Our sincere thanks to the city of Coachella, its mayor, councilmembers and management,” said an announcement on the Kushella Life Facebook page. “Thank you all for your support! Due to circumstances beyond our control, Kushella Life will not move forward as planned, and has been cancelled. We are hopeful that the event will return in late 2017. Once again, thank you, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

Wyatt remained optimistic when I texted him on the day of the cancellation. “Yes, we will retool and be back for next year, for sure!” he said. “We were obviously over-equipped this year, but that’s the plan.”<hr


Canada Moves Toward National Legalization

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation on Thursday, April 13, that would legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The proposed change would take effect in July 2018. Canadians would then be able to purchase flower, extracts and edibles from licensed shops, and grow up to four plants. While the change would allow Canadians 18 and older to possess up to 30 grams of dried flower, provinces, territories and cities could pass more-restrictive laws, if desired.

If passed, Canada would join Uruguay as the only countries to completely legalize cannabis for recreational use.

The bill’s introduction was the fruition of a campaign promise Trudeau made in 2015 to end the Canadian prohibition of cannabis. In the announcement, the Canadian government said ending prohibition “would mean that possession of small amounts of cannabis would no longer be a criminal offense and would prevent profits from going into the pockets of criminal organizations and street gangs.”

Down here in the United States, cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning cannabis-industry finances are excluded from Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protection. This has made investors wary, meaning that billions of dollars could go to Canada and its more-cannabis-friendly banking environment rather than being spent in the U.S.

It remains to be seen if this will happen. We may find out over the next year ...


U.S. Senate Considering ‘Path to Marijuana Reform’ Package of Bills

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be increasingly alone in his quixotic anti-pot crusade.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently went on Meet the Press and said, “Marijuana is not a factor in the Drug War,” and in late March, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, unveiled the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” a bipartisan package of bills to address banking, taxation, civil forfeiture, decriminalization, descheduling, research and regulation of the booming cannabis industry.

The package includes the Small Business Tax Equity Act, which would create “an exception to IRC section 280E to allow businesses operating in compliance with state law to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana like any other legal business.” Section 280E is a 1982 law meant to prevent illicit drug-dealers from claiming deductions related to the sale of narcotics. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is a co-sponsor of Wyden’s bill in the Senate, while Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

The Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act would remove federal penalties and civil-asset forfeiture from individuals and businesses that are in compliance with state marijuana laws. The law would ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection and advertising for marijuana businesses; expunge criminal records for select marijuana-related offenses; and ease barriers for medical-marijuana research. It would also end drug-testing requirements for federal civil service jobs in states where marijuana has been legalized.

The third bill, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It would impose a federal tax structure on pot products, define permitting for marijuana businesses, and regulate cannabis much like alcohol has been regulated for decades.

“This is common-sense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement on the organization’s website. “Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it’s time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it.”

Published in Cannabis in the CV

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