Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Matt King

I play in a couple of bands, and whenever I get recognized on the street, it’s a humbling experience. I feel honored that all of the hard work I’ve put into my music is paying off—especially when people tell me they love my band.

But a few of those encounters have started with the person saying: “You’re from Instigator, right?”

I am not—but I take the confusion as a compliment. In only a short few years, the local band has grown from a high school garage band into a full-fledged force. The group’s thrash-metal stylings and shared vocal duties create an electrifying mix, and are available to blow out your speakers anytime via 2018 EP Built to Defy. Listen to tracks like “Power” and “Tied Up” for some heavy vocals, head-banging instruments and piercing guitar-solo sandwiches. The release of the music launched them into local stardom; the band has graced seemingly every valley stage at least once, and has even been catapulted into out-of-town shows.

And, yes, you can count on there being a mosh pit.

Instigator is Mark Wadlund on vocals and guitar; Jaxon Fischer on vocals and guitar; and Garrison Calkins on bass. Original drummer Joe Boomer recently departed; the new drummer is Nick Willman, of Pescaterritory and Silver Sky.

“We all met at school—La Quinta High School,” Wadlund said during a recent sit-down with the band. “A girl had introduced me to Jaxon, saying that he liked metal—and being that I liked metal, I had to say what’s up. We sang the riff to Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare” for five minutes, and then we became best friends.

“We saw Garrison around school wearing (Metallica album) Ride the Lightning shirts and saw that he played bass, so we decided to get together and jam. We then found Joe from the drumline a few months later. This all happened about four years ago.”

At that time, Wadlund and Fischer were sophomores, while Calkins and Boomer were freshmen. Little did they know what they’d become.

The band members talked about the favorite show they’ve played.

“The FACELIFT shows are pretty fun,” said Fischer, referring to the local punk band. “They’re crazy, gnarly backyard shows. It’s a mosh pit going on the whole time, and all the kids are just going wild.”

Added Wadlund: “Yeah, we opened up for Doyle, guitarist of the Misfits, at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. It was the second time we played there, and we even got to meet Doyle before the show. He’s 7 feet tall, very vegan, and very buff. Garrison and I both could’ve squeezed inside of his body.”

Now that the band members are post-high school adults (sans new addition Willman), they have to face the music … literally.

“There’s less time for practice, because we have to pay rent and go to our (college) classes,” Wadlund said. “Being an adult forces you to be out of the band for a little bit, but we all try our very best to still meet.”

Fischer added: “Our schedules are a little more flexible now, because we don’t have to go to school in the morning, so we can always practice in the morning and still be able to go to work and pay our rent.”

Has the addition of high-schooler Willman thrown a wrench in any plans?

“Nick’s a good kid and has passed all his classes so that during his senior year, which is this year, he gets out at (noon),” Wadlund said. “More often than not, that’s when we are just waking up.”

That is a true fact: I met with the boys for the interview at 1 p.m. at Starbucks, where they had their “morning coffee.”

I was curious when the members realized the true potential of the band.

“Honestly, at our very first show,” Fischer said.

Added Wadlund: “We were playing for over a year just practicing and writing songs, so our first-ever show, at The Date Shed, went really, really well. We were also very nervous, but we pulled through and had an amazing set.”

Fischer said: “We did a cover of ‘The Conjuring’ by Megadeth and ‘Black Magic’ by Slayer. I thought we played a lot of the songs horribly, but everyone thought we were really good, so it made us think, ‘We could do this.’”

Wadlund conceded that their egos may have been a little over-inflated in their early days.

“People think that you’re much better than you really are when you’re younger,” he said. “We started when we were 16 and 17, and had our parents drive us around to all of the shows. Now we’ve grown past that, and we’re good because we practice. Yeah, we were good when we were young, but the real turning point is being older and still being really good and impressing people. When you’re an adult, you get the most authenticity (in terms of feedback). People aren’t authentic with kids.”

A new album is coming soon. The members have returned to Brian “Puke” Parnell of Throw the Goat, who produced their Built to Defy EP.

“Our producer is the busiest guy in the world; he doesn’t have a day where he’s not doing anything,” he said. “We’re on the very last inches of the mastering process. Compared to our first album, this album is going to be unbelievable. This new album is so fucking good that it will blow away what you think anybody in this valley can do. I want this to be something that the Coachella Valley can be proud of. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it.”

When the Independent last featured Instigator, about a year and a half ago, Wadlund said he wanted to instigate a movement within the valley through music. So far, so good.

“My mom used to work at La Quinta High School,” Wadlund said. “She would speak to admins and teachers, who would talk to troubled kids and tell them about Instigator. They’d tell them a story about these kids in high school that started this band to get their frustrations out into music. We played at the high school at a bunch for rallies, and we’ve definitely inspired kids there. … We exposed everyone to this extreme thrash metal that most of them didn’t even know existed. Just having it in front of their face with the double-bass drum kit and the Marshall stacks changed their lives.”

Yeah, Instigator is indeed instigating something in this valley … hence my occasional encounter with someone asking me if I am part of the band.

“It’s so easy for people our age to have this big ego and think that we are the shit, but that’s not the truth behind us and who we are,” Wadlund said. “We are excited to be doing this—not because no one else is, but because it’s something that we want to do, and we know it’s bettering the community. It’s getting people together that would not normally be together at all, for the sake of music and happiness.”

Instigator will perform with Pescaterritory and Israel’s Arcade at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, at The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St, in Indio, Tickets are $10. For more information or tickets, visit For more information on Instigator, visit

Few bands in the history of music have had a huge lasting impact, yet remained out of the spotlight, like the Melvins have.

There’s no denying that the Melvins’ music has influenced many different genres—in part because the band never stuck to one sound. Sludge, metal, grunge, punk and thrash, all combined into one concoction—that’s the Melvins.

After more than 35 years and close to 30 albums, the Melvins are still here, piercing ears, blowing speakers and screaming at the top of their lungs—and the band has no plans to stop anytime soon. They’ll return to Pappy and Harriet’s for a sweaty, loud show on Thursday, Feb. 6.

“We’ve played there a bunch, I think maybe four or five times, inside and outside,” said legendary drummer Dale Crover during a recent interview. “I like inside more. Outside is a bit dusty. Pappy’s is always fun, though. We could easily play it once or twice a year. Every time we’ve played, it’s been sold out. The outdoor show we did was a part of the Stoned and Dusted festival with Fu Manchu and Brant Bjork—all that desert rock.”

The Melvins are one of the hardest-working bands in music. If the 27-album discography on Wikipedia doesn’t express that enough, here’s more: In 2012, the band did 51 shows, in 51 states, in 51 days. (They made a really cool documentary about it, available on Amazon.) I spoke to Crover about the challenge of translating multiple decades of music into setlists across such frequent shows.

“We never really look at our old records and say, ‘Let’s play this one!’ It’s more that we just remember old songs and bring them out,” Crover said. “We always try to have structure to the set: A third of it will be old material; a third will be the middle period, the last 20 years; and a third that’s somewhat new, maybe the last 10 years. Of course, we’ve always played cover songs. It’s just whatever we feel like playing. Sometimes we make setlists too long and have to cut songs. We’re starting fresh this year, so we’ll be concocting a new setlist, and it’ll be fun.”

Crover said that with the Melvins, he’s been able to do many things he never dreamed of doing.

“Once, we got to jam with Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon at the Roxy,” Crover said. “They actually invited us to the show to play with them, because Sean was really in to the record we had out at the time, Stoner Witch. They even had a song that was Melvins-influenced. It was very surreal but very cool at the same time.”

Crover’s “legendary” title is much-deserved simply based on his Melvins work, but it’s important to note his other drumming duties: He has been a part time drummer for Nirvana, OFF! and Redd Kross—and has done two sets a night when the Melvins and Redd Kross toured together.

“Redd Kross is different,” Crover said. “It’s definitely not as complicated as Melvins stuff—not as pounding, Neanderthal-style drumming. They’re almost a punk-rock band influenced by the Beatles. It’s Ringo, Keith Moon, Charlie Watts-style drumming, classic ’60s-type drumming. I’ve always been influenced by that stuff, though, so it’s not a new thing. I’ve been into those drummers for a long time. When I started, it was Peter Criss, because I was really into KISS, but the Beatles and the Monkees were the first bands I really got into. You can blame Ringo and Micky Dolenz.”

The Melvins, unlike most other acclaimed bands, have refused to “sell out.” They have remained humble despite the gigantic footsteps they have left.

“Certainly, if the Melvins hadn’t existed, you wouldn’t have one of the biggest bands that the grunge genre had,” said Crover. “We all came from this super-small, isolated area, and we definitely influenced all of those guys for sure. Soundgarden and a bunch of those other bands will cite us as influences, and it’s really cool. It’s weird to think about, and we try to keep our egos in check about it, but we definitely influenced a whole new genre of music.”

As for the future, Crover promised this will be a great year for Melvins fans.

“Usually, this time of year is when we’re working on recording,” Crover said. “We’re doing a bunch of that, and we have some stuff in the can. We’ve been doing some projects where we have bands we’re friends of, or that we’re fans of, come into the studio, and we’ll record each other’s songs. Not too long ago, we had the band Flipper come in, who were an influence on us for sure. We wrote a new song with them, and we covered some Flipper songs. We just had this band called Helms Alee, from Washington state, come in. We covered one of their songs; they covered one of our songs; we did a new one, and covered a Scorpions song.

“We’re also working on putting together a podcast; hopefully that’ll be out very soon. I’m touring with Red Kross soon, and Buzz (Osborne) has a new acoustic record coming out soon, with Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle on upright bass.”

Melvins will perform with Hepa.Titus and Cunts at 8 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 6, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. The show is currently listed as sold out. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit

Local music fans should be no stranger to Throw the Goat.

The semi-local band—it’s based in Idyllwild—has been a dominant force in the music scene since 2011. Its brand of punk and thrash melds well with quirky lyrics on standout tracks like “Havin’ a Beer” and “Beef,” while more-political lyrics on “Melt Away” blend with pounding punk to create a sense of anger.

The band went through a major lineup change last year, with the addition of Derek Timmons—of Sleazy Cortez and Death Pretty Wrapping—on bass, and the departure of lead vocalist/bassist Mike Schnalzer. Brian “Puke” Parnell remains the guitarist, and is now taking on lead-vocal duties, while Troy Whitford remains the drummer.

The band has now performed a handful of shows with the new lineup, and I recently sat down with the Goat bros right before one of their practice sessions, which I was intrigued to learn are actually rather busy sessions—that sometimes result in recordings.

“We’re working on a new album right now, so we’ve been writing and also going through the old Throw the Goat repertoire that Derek still has to learn,” Parnell said. “It’s been a combination of learning old songs, learning new songs and rehearsing what we already know and play.”

Whitford added: “Puke’s been bringing songs in that we’ll work on and start to feel comfortable with. Then when we go up to Idyllwild, at Puke’s studio, if we feel good enough about the song, we’ll spend the whole practice tracking it.”

Clarified Parnell: “We have three new songs recorded, plus a cover so far.”

Posts on the band’s social media have hinted that a new record is coming—with the hashtag #votegoat2020 used on every post. Parnell explained what’s going on.

“We’re planning on doing our own political-ad campaign,” he said. “It’s especially good that Facebook came out and said that they’re not going to touch or censor any political ads—so we’re going to take advantage of that and make the most-fallacious ads we possibly can. We’re just trying to make fun of how ridiculous it all is.”

I was curious to ask how Timmons is adjusting to the group.

“It’s been a pretty natural adjustment,” Timmons said. “I haven’t played really punky stuff in a while, and it’s been real fun. I had to work on my right-hand speed a little bit, and it’s a more-aggressive vocal style then I’ve done before, but it’s been easy—and real fucking fun! I liked these guys before, so when they asked me to play bass for them, it was impossible to say no.”

Added Whitford with a laugh: “That’s the correct answer.”

Of course, with Parnell taking on the vocals, I had to know how he was adjusting to the more-demanding role.

“I was just doing backup vocals before, so it’s been an interesting transition,” Parnell said. “I wasn’t going to do an impersonation of how the vocals (used to) sound, so I’ve just been going with what seems right and feels comfortable. I’ve been working on improving my stamina, because I did not have very much vocal stamina in the beginning—I got very tomato-faced and squeaky-voiced quickly. But it’s been working out pretty well, and the feedback I get, albeit biased, has been good.”

As for playing and singing at the same time, Parnell admitted there have been a few bumps in the road.

“That’s been a little bit more of a challenge, because I tend to write very intricate guitar parts, so trying to remember the words, spit out the vocal lines and keep the right speed and notes going has been a little tricky,” he said. “But it’s worked out really well.”

During the time I spent with the guys, I noticed how well they all play off each other, and how much fun they seemed to be having. They shared some highlights of their run together so far.

“With this lineup, I think our best show was our Idyllwild show in early November,” Parnell said. “It had really great energy. We played for two sets, which we had never done before, with a lot of improv thrown in. I broke a string, so I had to change it while these guys were playing some jazzy number.”

Added Timmons: “Another strong contender was our Halloween show, where we dressed up as (local metal band) House of Broken Promises. It was suggested as a joke, but we thought it was too good of an idea to be a joke. It was our first show (with the new lineup) in the desert, and we were dressed up as another band.”

The guys shared some of the new recordings with me, and all I’m legally allowed to say is: They rock. If you think some of the songs mentioned in this article sound heavy, just you wait: Throw the Goat is planning big things in 2020.

“We’re thinking about doing releases throughout the year—putting out some new songs, videos, tours, etc.,” Parnell said. “Then, (we’ll do) more stuff toward election time so we can capitalize on all the weird political shit going on. For the tour, we’re negotiating for one- to two-week jaunts in the Midwest, along the coast, and more!

“VOTE GOAT 2020!”

Throw the Goat will perform with Mega Sun and Captain Ghost at 6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, at La Quinta Brewing, 77917 Wildcat Drive, in Palm Desert. Admission to the all-ages show is free. For more information, visit

Avenida Music is one of the hardest-working music groups around. The band has multiple residencies; our readers selected Avenida as the Best Local Band in 2018 in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll; and we recently covered the group’s brand-new Little Street Studio performance/teaching space in Indio. You can catch them performing at Spotlight 29 at 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17; Saturday, Feb. 1; Friday, Feb. 7; and Saturday, Feb. 22. The brothers Gonzalez (plus Sean Poe of the Hive Minds) take the music you love and put an exciting twist on it, reinventing hits from any decade. For more information, visit The lead vocalist and—depending on when see the band—the possible bassist, guitarist or drummer is Samuel Gonzalez. Here are his answers to The Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

When I was in middle school, my brothers and I went to see this Christian hardcore band called Seventh Day Slumber play at this little church. We were super into Christian rock bands at that age.

What was the first album you owned?

When I was a kid, my dad would bring me these EPs that he got at these ministry conferences from bands no one has ever heard of—good stuff, by the way—but when I was in high school, I saved up enough to buy Sound of Melodies, a Christian-rock album from my favorite band (Leeland) at the time. I played it on my brother’s Walkman 24/7 until it stopped working.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I recently have been riding on a Vulfpeck train! I’m super-obsessed with the band right now, but I’m also really stuck on Albert Hammond Jr., Bad Suns, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Colony House—and I’m forever stuck on Kings of Leon.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

I’ve never been a fan of lazy music. Whatever genre it is, you can tell when a song was made lazily, or as a cash grab—and it usually does go viral if it’s catchy enough. I just ain’t about lazy music. Put some thought into your art.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Again, I’m on a Vulfpeck train right now. I just recently watched their Madison Square Garden performance on YouTube! It’s so freaking amazing how they run around the stage and change instruments, and just have the time of their lives on up there. I’d love to see a show this year!

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Definitely One Direction. I actually think their later music is solid, and they definitely have a good writing and production team. I even saw their documentary in theaters. In fact, I think I mentioned them in an Avenida podcast episode on guilty pleasures.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Little Street Studios … just kidding. I really like the Wiltern and the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles!

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“I know that there’s a meaning to it all, a little resurrection every time I fall. You’ve got your babies; I’ve got my hearses. Every blessing comes with a set of curses. I’ve got my vices; I’ve got my vices versus. I’ve got my vice versus,” Vice Verses, Switchfoot.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

That’s an easy one: Switchfoot—some of the greatest performers and songwriters of our time, in my opinion. People sleep on them because they were a Christian “one-hit wonder” in the public eye, but their music has always spoken to me. They sing about hope and light, in a world that seems so dark, especially for people in the music industry. They may not be at the top of the charts, but they have been together, writing and touring consistently, for more than 20 years and aren’t slowing down—even starting their own label so they could have creative control. They have built a cult following (myself included) that truly feels like a family. Each live show is an experience; you have to be there to feel it. They are the essence of who I strive to be as a musician: dedicated to my craft, and honest in my music.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

“Wanna jam?,” to the next Musician I run into. My real musical “idols” are all people I know personally, and I’m always looking to jam.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“I’ll Fly Away.” It’s a classic gospel song they’ve played at all my family’s funerals. I grew up in a charismatic gospel church, and it’s a huge part of who I am as a musician. My roots will always be in gospel choir music. My faith has kept me grounded all my life, and it’ll be there when they put me in the ground.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

I’m tempted to go for the classics, like Led Zeppelin or Are You Experienced (by the Jimi Hendrix Experience), but again, it goes back to my roots. The Nu Nation Project by Kirk Franklin was one of the only albums we had in the car growing up, and we pretty much memorized all 17 tracks. It’s truly a masterpiece in my mind and a huge part of the bond my three brothers and me share.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Back Pocket” by Vulfpeck. Just do it! Now! Go Listen! You won’t be sorry! (Scroll down to hear it!)

It’s sometimes hard to keep track of all the new acts emerging onto the music scene—but in the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing shows with and attending performances by a new band called Milhan. Milhan, pronounced Milan, has performed at frequent backyard shows, bringing a unique brand of dreamy indie music to every performance. They will be playing at Little Street Studio in Indio on Thursday, Feb. 20; find out more on Instagram At the helm of the group is Hannah Mills, whose vocal delivery and reverb-soaked guitar create a dreamscape of a show.

What was the first concert you attended?

I went to a lot of concerts as a child, because my mom is a musician, and I grew up around a lot of music, but the first concert I remember being really stoked about and begging my mom to take me to was Panic! at the Disco. I had the biggest crush on Brendon Urie, and still do, if I’m honest.

What was the first album you owned?

An album released in 2002 by Joy Williams of Civil Wars. I was raised in the church, and she was a big Christian artist back in the day.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Oh my god, this is such a hard question, because the list is so long, so I’m going to break this up into genres. French electronic: La Femme, Paradis, and Agar Agar. World music: Altın Gün, Tinariwen, and Vaudou Game. Throwbacks: Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Tangerine Dream, Aphex Twin, and Oingo Boingo. New discoveries: George Clanton, Venetian Snares, The Rebels of Tijuana, A.G. Cook, and Caroline Polachek. Solid go-to’s: Tame Impala, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Wild Nothing, Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, and HOMESHAKE.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Soundcloud rappers. Sorry, not sorry.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Danny Elfman, who just so happens to be playing Coachella this year, so I’m pretty pumped about that! I’m really hoping he plays some Oingo Boingo tunes.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Not (feeling) very guilty about this, though some may think I should be: I’m a huge fan of The 1975. I have been since they first released their Facedown EP in 2012. I had the unique experience of seeing them perform in a grimy little underground club in L.A. with a good friend back in 2013.

What’s your favorite music venue?

I love the Teragram Ballroom in L.A. I just have a lot of fond memories of seeing some great bands perform there, and it’s pretty intimate, so that’s my go-to. My cousin and I call it our rat hole.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

This question triggers me. My dad has this song that he sings specifically when he wants to piss me off: “Ain’t Got No Home,” originally performed by Clarence “Frogman” Henry, made popular by The Band (prior to Bob Dylan). It’s kind of become a running joke between my dad and me, because all he has to do is sing that taunting little "doo doo do do do do do doo doo," and it’s stuck in my head for at least a week to follow. I’ve been humming that melody in my head the whole time I’ve been answering these questions.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Honestly, Tame Impala has played a huge part in my development as an artist. It’s just really inspiring to me that Kevin Parker is able to create such good songs and unique tones with his guitar and drums, and he does everything himself, from start to finish. I’m a big fan. Also, as generic as it sounds, The Beatles have also played a big role for me as well.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I’d love to talk to George Harrison about the book Be Here Now by Ram Dass. I feel like we could have some good meaty conversation on that.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“River of Happiness” by Dolly Parton.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

I guess if I had to pick one, it would be Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd; it may seem like a generic answer, but come on—that album can really take you on one hell of a journey. Tell me I’m wrong!

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“People” by The 1975! Better yet, watch the music video. Trust me: It’s not what you’re expecting. (Scroll down to watch it!)

We truly do live in the land of music festivals.

As the 2000s have progressed, the Coachella Valley has become a hotspot for music festivals, with up to 125,000 attendees flooding the streets from Palm Springs all the way to Indio and beyond for one weekend event alone. Whether it be for the extremely hip Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (best known as simply Coachella), the country-tinged of Stagecoach, or any of the one-offs like the headbanging Big 4 or the classic-rockin’ Desert Trip, there is no doubt: The Coachella Valley is one of the world’s most popular places for music festivals.

The year 2020 brings yet another festival to the fold: On Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 18 and 19, 4xFAR, presented by Land Rover, will bring a new kind of festival experience to the valley—specifically, Empire Grand Oasis in Thermal.

Some of today’s top artists are set to perform, with a little something for everyone. Saturday headliner Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals’ beautiful combination of funk and hip hop is sure to get any music fan bobbing their head. (.Paak plays the drums and raps at the same time; it’s truly a sight to see.)

Sunday’s headliner is a DJ set by acclaimed producer Mark Ronson, and A Tribe Called Quest alum Q-Tip. Both have producer credits scattered across the past 30 years, so this set should be as interesting as it will be dance-able.

Other notable acts include folk-rockers Kurt Vile and the Violators, whose music will remind attendees of some Neil Young and Tom Petty tunes; and indie group Young the Giant, which makes music that just makes you feel good.

But music isn’t the only thing 4xFAR will have to offer. It will feature an “Adventure” section alongside the musical lineup. Land Rover is bringing its brand-new 2020 Defender to Thermal for festival-goers to test-drive on a 15-acre course. Other activities include mountain-biking, rock-climbing, ax-throwing and even fly-fishing.

The festival will take place at the Empire Grand Oasis, which is one of the most beautiful locations in the valley. It includes 35 acres including date-palm groves, a freshwater lake and a waterfall!

A standard one-day ticket costs $95, with a weekend pass sitting at $185. There’s a VIP option for $349, which allows earlier entry into the festival, as well as access to a VIP-only lounge with elevated seating and premium food and beverage. Or, one can go all out and purchase the Private Palapa ticket for $3,000, which will provides a party of six with a private hangout spot for the festival, complete with a service staff and two VIP parking passes.

Garth Trinidad, a DJ and host on KCRW, is the festival’s music curator. “4XFAR is set to be the first experience of its kind in lifestyle focused entertainment—an intimate, celebratory adventure where guests can taste the cross pollinated nectar of music, art, adventure and culture in a gorgeous oasis under the desert sky,” he said, in the type of quote that could only come from a press release. “I'm elated to be in the mix as music curator!”

The 4xFar festival takes place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 18 and 19. For tickets or more information, visit

Country rock has an undeniable feel-good vibe. When you encounter it in the right situation—driving home from a long trip as the sun is setting, or simply sitting on your porch and watching life go by—it can help one appreciate the little things in life.

This brings us to Ted Z and the Wranglers. I’ve been stomping along to their brand of “outlaw country-charged rock”—and the Americana lyrics, backed by acoustic rhythms and the occasional minimalistic-yet-oh-so-great guitar solos, have made me an instant fan. Check out their Jam in the Van performance of “Rambler” to see exactly what I mean—or see the group in person on Friday, Jan. 24, at Pappy and Harriet’s.

The Wranglers are Collin Mclean on bass; Jackson Leverone playing lead/slide guitar and providing background vocals; and Jordan Lipp on drums, with Ted Z being the leader, on acoustic guitar and vocals. I got to talk to Ted Z, aka Ted Zakka, about his upbringing and the history of the Wranglers.

“When I was a kid, my mom and dad used to spin a lot of cool stuff at the house,” Zakka said. “I grew up listening to Elvis and The Beatles. It just all started as a child, listening to these iconic musicians that I still really love today.”

It’s easy to hear some of these influences in his songs. Take “Ball and Chain” for example, as Zakka’s screaming and stuttering vocal lines rival Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” phrasing, while the instruments provide a dance-y sound in a style that reminds of early Beatles tracks like “I Saw Her Standing There.”

Zakka talked about how his love for music turned into a love for playing music.

“I picked up a guitar at 16, and started playing in bands,” Zakka said. “When I first started, I was figuring out a lot of punk-rock stuff, just things that were easy to play. I actually started off playing bass for those first few bands. Then I transferred over to the acoustic guitar, and started writing songs about 12 years ago.”

Another distinguishing thing about the group is just how gosh-darn cool the name is.

“The Wranglers have come and gone since the group was started,” Zakka said. “Jackson is the one who’s been around the longest, but none of the guys in the band now were in the original lineup. The name kind of started as a joke. I wasn’t sure what to call anything, and I thought that ‘Ted Z and the Wranglers’ was kind of funny, and kind of cool. And it stuck!”

The Wranglers have been releasing music now for nearly seven years.

“The first thing we ever put out was called My Blood’s Still Red, in 2013,” he said. “After that, we did an EP called Afraid of Dying, then we did Ghost Train in 2015, but that's the first thing we have on Spotify. We have the older two on sites like ReverbNation and BandCamp.”

Listening to Ted Z and the Wranglers improve with each album—becoming more confident and popular—is a wonderful experience. The most recent album is Southland, released last October.

“The new one is awesome,” Zakka said about Southland. “It turned out spectacular, and sounds really clean and big. We recorded this one in our home studio in Costa Mesa, rather than going back to Texas where we recorded Ghost Train. It came out the way we wanted it to; we self-produced it and made our own decisions on the sound. We had a lot more fun on this record.”

Some of the Wranglers’ best online videos were recorded during Jam in the Van performances. Jam in the Van is pretty self-explanatory: It’s an entity that invites bands to come and, well, jam in a van. Jam in the Van records high-quality video and audio, and releases it on YouTube to more than 312,000 subscribers.

“That was really fun. It was so cool to play live and have it be recorded so well,” Zakka said. “They do a pretty good job of capturing the realness of the songs. I had been wanting to do that for so long, and it was cool to finally make it happen.”

Ted Z and the Wranglers’ venture into Pioneertown is one of only a handful of shows the band currently has scheduled—but that shall soon change.

“We’re doing some work as a unit, and trying to tighten up and get three hours of original stuff to go out and tour,” he said. “… And then I’m gonna start booking us more and more!”

Ted Z and the Wranglers will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit

Is there anything as cool as that good ol’ rockabilly sound? The old greats really knew what they were doing … but we haven’t heard much of that classic sound recently.

Then again, maybe we just haven’t been looking in the right places: If you’ve got the no-blues blues, check out Molly Hanmer and the Midnight Tokers. Debut record Stuck in a Daydream covers all the bases of blues essentials. “Take a Walk with Me” kicks off the record with a rockabilly jam that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Johnny Cash record, while the title track is a soft, somber, slow-burning blues song that’ll rip your heart out with a tale about a lack of confidence. Hanmer’s voice is perfect for these different scenarios; it sounds so meaningful on the slower tracks—and playful, yet sinister, on the faster ones.

The group will perform at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, Jan. 23.

“My love for music started when I was a kid,” Hanmer said during a recent phone interview. “My mom and dad were always playing music around the house. My dad listened to The Beatles, The Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead; my mom was more into Etta James and Aretha Franklin.”

I could hear bits of these inspirations sprinkled throughout the album, with a little Etta on “Outlaw Blues,” and a little Paul McCartney on “Dead Happy.” Hanmer explained how she started to be more of a music-maker, and not just a listener.

“My dad always had this guitar lying around the house,” said Hanmer, “a Lyle Dove, which was a copy of a Gibson Dove. He would play around just for fun on it, and I started to get interested in it. He showed me some basic chords—C, F, G. Then he got me lessons, but I was only 9 years old at the time, so I ended up not being able to hold enough attention. When I turned 13, though, I got my first electric guitar, and things took off from there.”

Another of Hanmer’s inspirations is Bob Dylan. You can hear this love for him on her “Mama’s in the Spirit World Now.”

“I wrote my first song when I was 17. It’s called ‘Song to Bob,’ and it was a play off of Bob Dylan’s song to Woody Guthrie,” Hanmer said. “After that, I didn’t write songs for a couple of years; I just didn’t have the self-confidence to do it. I met my friend Claudia Miles, who is my manager now, and she got me back into writing, and helped me figure out how to approach it—to just sit down and write whatever comes out. Once I tried that, I wrote a song called ‘Little Song,’ which is on my first EP.”

Hanmer went on to play and write more, steadily increasing her musicianship skills and confidence, before the inception of her current band.

“In high school, I didn’t really want to sing,” Hanmer said. “I mostly considered myself a guitar player. But then I realized: I really didn’t have anyone who could sing, so I had to start doing it myself. For a few years, I was just playing at home, but after I turned 21, I started going to open mics around San Francisco, where I lived at the time. I played mostly covers and a few originals, until I moved to L.A. and met my band.”

The move to Los Angeles shifted Hanmer’s dream into high gear.

“I was a little wary about moving to L.A., because everyone in Northern California has this negative stigma about Los Angeles; I think they’re just jealous of the sun,” Hanmer said. “My manager convinced me to move to L.A., so I did, and met John Bird, my keyboard player, and Keith Palmer, my drummer, through a friend of my dad. I met our bass player, Alex U’Ren, at a bar three years ago, and he’s been playing with us for a year. I was kind of nervous to ask them to play with me at first, because they’re older and more experienced, but they were more than happy to play with me.”

As for the name, Hanmer explained that an unintentional bit of plagiarizing proved fateful.

“When I first moved here, I was trying to figure out what a cool band name would be,” Hanmer said. “After brainstorming a few names, I came up with the Midnight Tokers. I thought it was a great name and that I was so clever, but when I presented it to the guys, they said, ‘Like the Steve Miller Band?’ and I realized I subconsciously stole that. But it really fits the vibe of the band, so we’ve stuck with it.”

Blues music has always been popular in some circles, because everyone has experienced pain—and sometimes, it helps to just sing about it.

“The blues is a very authentic and genuine genre,” Hanmer said. “You’re just laying out life and the struggles that everyone goes through, and putting it to beautiful music. That’s really what I love about it.”

Molly Hanmer and the Midnight Tokers will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan 23, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit

January is bringing a brand-new festival to the land of festivals!

4xFAR, presented by Land Rover, is a brand-new music, food and adventure festival coming to Empire Grand Oasis in Thermal on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 18 and 19. It will feature music with headliners Anderson .Paak and Mark Ronson, as well as a plethora of adventure activities, such as mountain biking, climbing, fly fishing and off-roading! General-admission tickets are $95 for one day, or $185 for both; head to to get ’em.

The illustrious McCallum Theatre is featuring wonderful events throughout January. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 10, double-trouble actor and singer Jack Jones will grace the McCallum stage. He has more than 50 years of jazz and pop performances under his belt, so it’s no wonder The New York Times said that “he is arguably the most technically accomplished male pop singer.” Tickets are $40 to $90. At 8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 14, put on your green duds, and head to the McCallum to enjoy the Derina Harvey Band. This Celtic-rock group is described in press materials as being like “a rockier version of Canada’s Great Big Sea, if fronted by Adele.” Whoa! Tickets are $25 to $55. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787;

Fantasy Springs is hosting a plethora of big acts to start off the New Year. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11, George Thorogood and the Destroyers will bring 45 years of hard rock to Indio. While the weather may be freezing you to the bone, come and get “Bad to the Bone” with bona fide rock legends. Tickets are $39 to $59. If you’ve been missing the classic sounds of the Motown era, you’re in for a real treat on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m., as both The Temptations and The Four Tops are returning to town. Both groups’ hits have been tugging on your heart strings for more than five decades. Tickets are $39 to $69. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24, the legendary Tony Bennett will bring his “I Left My Heart” Tour to the Fantasy Springs stage. He’s been performing for nearly 70 years, with more than 50 million records sold; come witness one of music’s living icons while you still can. Tickets are $49 to $109. If you don’t want to bother paying for heat in your own home, come out at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, when 98° promises to set the stage on fire. If the ’90s is what you’re longing for, both music-wise and temperature-wise, this show is for you. Tickets are $39 to $69. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000;

Spotlight 29 is showcasing a few festive events in January. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11, Mexican singer-songwriter Pancho Barraza will return to Coachella. Do you really need more of an excuse to go dance? Tickets are $65 to $85. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, Spotlight 29 is featuring a very unique event titled ¿Y Si Me Caso? This “musical wedding” promises to be as musical as it is dramatic, as one man decides which woman he should marry. Tickets are $25 to $65. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566;

Agua Caliente intends to turn the heat up on those cold winter nights.At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11, the one-and-only D-O-double G is coming to town. That’s right, Snoop Dogg, with openers O.T. Genasis and Warren G, is bringing that West Coast gangsta rap to Rancho Mirage, and you’d be a fool to miss out. Tickets are $85 to $115. If R&B is more your speed, then on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m., make sure you catch Boyz II Men. Since the ’90s, the boyz have been putting audiences in their feelings with emotional ballads and sweet harmonies, so be there! Tickets are $65 to $85. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, the Long Island Medium herself, Theresa Caputo, will return to The Show. This night will include Caputo’s stories about her experiences as a medium, and will feature interactions with some of the audience members. Tickets are $75 to $120. Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995;

At Morongo, you can catch a few fun performances this month. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 10, enjoy Baby Bash performing for Jimmy Reyes’ Birthday Bash. Come get your 2000s rap fix and celebrate a birthday at the same time! Tickets are $10. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24, Hollywood Medium Tyler Henry brings “An Evening of Hope, Healing and Closure” to Cabazon. This is a brand-new live show, that, of course, includes an audience Q&A and readings. Tickets are $69. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499;

Pappy and Harriet’s is the home of more than a few rockin’ shows this month. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11, Pappy’s will host the Americana-folk of Justin Townes Earle (below). The son of Steve Earle, who was named after the legendary Townes Van Zandt, has more than lived up to his impressive musical pedigree. Jonny Two Bags opens, and tickets are $25. At 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 16, indie surf-rock group Surf Curse will jam the night away. This is one of my favorite bands right now, offering an extremely dance-y and catchy vibe across songs that are sure to make any one with ears wanna jump around. Tickets are $16 to $18. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956;

Toucan’s has some appealing LGBT-slanted events on the January docket. At 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 4, country-music man Ty Herndon returns to Palm Springs for a night of country hits from his late ’90s heyday, with newer songs as well. Tickets are $30 to $40. At 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11, Jai Rodriguez kicks off his 2020 cabaret tour with “Tales of an Aging Twink.” He’s appeared on Broadway in Rent, and was part of the original Queer Eye cast, so it’s safe to say this night will be one to remember. Tickets are $25. And on Friday, Jan. 31, at 7:30 p.m., drag queens Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine will bring their comedy show “Best Frenemies” to Toucan’s. Tickets are $25. Toucans Tiki Lounge and Cabaret, 2100 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-416-7584;

The Purple Room promises to entertain with a packed January schedule. At 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, catch two-time 2018 Grammy nominee Clint Holmes sing both hits and originals with his jazz vocal stylings. Tickets are $60 to $65. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, Amanda McBroom will return to the Purple Room—this time performing songs from noir films! Tickets are $35 to $40. And on Friday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m., witness the Black Market Trust combine jazzy hits with Django Reinhardt-style guitar-playing into one magnificent show. Tickets are $35 to $40. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422;

If you’ve been itching to support local talent, get thee to The Date Shed at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 10, to catch local rappers Provoked Poetry, Willdabeast, Thoughts Contained and DJ ODC for Provoked Poetry’s album release. Tickets are $10. And on Saturday, Jan. 25, at 8 p.m., you can see three of the valley’s best young rock groups: Pescaterritory, Israel’s Arcade and Instigator, at Pescafest. Tickets are $10. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699;

Imagine this: You’re at a concert. It’s finally time for the curtains to roll back, and you see … four middle-age dudes, with a piano and a cello?

Yep. Before you can turn away, you’re hit with the piano melody of one of your favorite songs. One man is playing the piano while the other guys are making drum beats on the sides, or even pulling the strings of the piano, to create all the parts of that song.

The Piano Guys are doing what they do best—and you just can’t help but be amazed. See them for yourself on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 17 and 18, when they perform three shows at the McCallum Theatre.

Jon Schmidt, Steven Sharp Nelson, Paul Anderson and Al van der Beek are four Utah dads who—with a little charm, luck and what they call blessings from God—have been winning the hearts of audiences as The Piano Guys since 2010. Their unique approach to creating music—performing covers of modern hits in a classical style—as well as their astonishing filming locations, including the Great Wall of China and the Christ the Redeemer statue, have made them viral-video sensations, resulting in more than 6.6 million YouTube subscribers and close to 2 billion views.

“It’s kind of serendipity, one of those happy accidents,” Schmidt said during a recent phone interview. “God brought us together. I really don’t know how else to explain it. Paul was doing his piano store, and had an interest in videography. I was doing a solo piano act and had eight albums of my own piano compositions, with a small following. Steve was doing music, and Al had his own recording studio that he was producing stuff in.

“Steve played a song with me at a gig one day, which turned into more songs, and collaborations in the studio. Then we gave him a microphone—which was one of the greatest decisions that I ever made: He’s got a world-class sense of humor, seriously a comic genius, and that added this sort of Smothers Brothers element to our show that was really cool and unforeseen. I would act like a goofball at my shows before, but when he joined, we were just put on a whole new level, and audiences love it. My favorite thing is when someone in the audience yells something random, and he’ll turn it into something so hilarious in a flash.”

Schmidt and I discussed the mysterious ways in which musical inspiration occurs.

“I think the music chooses us,” Schmidt said. “We’ve tried to work on stuff that makes (logical) sense, but you just don’t feel it. You know within an hour that something will never work. I’ve heard it compared to sculpting, where sculptors just have to look at the marble and can tell if it will be worth it to go in that direction or not. Concepts are rarely introduced; they just kind of hit you, and you know it’s worth it just by how it feels.”

The Piano Guys’ distinct creative process helps make them unique. You probably never knew you needed to hear “Let It Go” from Frozen in the style of classical music—yet you adore it once you hear it.

“When I was a teenager, I had a brother—12 years older than me—who was always trying to find music to show me,” said Schmidt. “It didn’t matter the genre—classical, Janis Joplin or choral music. But one day, he showed me this new album from a group called Mannheim Steamroller. It wasn’t their Christmas covers; it was their early originals. They mixed classical and rock ’n’ roll, and that captivated me, because growing up, my German immigrant parents would always be playing classical music. I was immersed in classical music at home, and when I was with my friends, I’d listen to the radio—so this Mannheim Steamroller group brought both those worlds together in such a cool way. When I started writing my own original music, it was in that style. I tried to rock-ify and modernize my classical piano training. Steve, our cellist, had the same sensibility, so we sprinkle classical all over our originals and even our covers. … People are intrigued when you mash up two appealing elements into one work.”

If The Piano Guys’ music wasn’t intriguing enough, each of their videos also features a beautiful backdrop. The guys have gone everywhere from various wonders of the world to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

“Paul really has a great mind for this project,” Schmidt said. “… He has a piano store, friends with helicopters and a great can-do attitude. My favorite place to film was the Iguazu Falls in Brazil. … Pretty much everywhere you look, you’ll see waterfalls and green. It was such an amazing place to make music. Another great place was the Lincoln Memorial. It’s one of those moments when I’m glad my parents made me practice.”

The Piano Guys first found success on YouTube—but weren’t sure their songs would translate in a live, theater setting. But they’ve been taking chances their whole career, and going out on tour was just another leap of faith.

“The thing that blows me away is that booking managers will tell us that we’ve been the greatest show they’ve ever seen,” Schmidt said. “It always fills me with wonder. Steve and I will walk out onstage and think, ‘Do these people realize this is a piano and cello concert?’ I really don’t understand it; it’s not a likely scenario. We’re not shredders by any means, but we just pray that we can put on a show where people can feel the love of God—and somehow, it just works.”

The Piano Guys will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17; and 2 and 8 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 18, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $65 to $125. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787 or visit

Page 1 of 4