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07 Aug 2015

An Early Campout: The Weekend Extravaganza by Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker Moves to August This Year

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Cracker. Cracker.

Warning: The Campout, the popular Pappy and Harriet’s Labor Day Weekend staple, is being held a week early this year, Aug. 27 through Aug. 29.

However, David Lowery—the frontman of hosting bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker—promises the move is just for this year, and that the event will be as good as ever.

During a recent phone interview, Lowery discussed the fact that Cracker is often viewed as a mainstream band, thanks in part to the hit single “Low.” Cracker released a new album last year, Berkeley to Bakersfield.

“I think for Cracker in general, a lot of people seem to think of us in a more mainstream perception than an alternative-rock band from the ‘90s. In actuality, that’s a very short kind of piece of our career, which has stretched on for about 25 years now,” he explained. “We’re a fairly eclectic group; we play a lot of Americana/roots and country stuff, and we’re widely accepted in that role.”

Lowery said he never expected to do more than make a living when he teamed up with Riverside’s Johnny Hickman to form the group after the wildly successful Camper Van Beethoven disbanded in 1990. (The group would reunite in 1999.)

“We made a living, and we didn’t sell enormous amounts of records,” Lowery said about Cracker. “In fact, our first album … the fact it was more heavy on folk and the blues meant there were a lot of people at the label and other places who weren’t expecting us to garner mainstream radio play—which we managed to do with those first three albums. We weren’t really expecting it, either, but it was certainly nice. Those first two albums went gold and platinum, and the third album never really reached gold, but it was a pretty good run there.”

Two and a half decades later, the band faced some challenges while recording the critically lauded new double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, the group’s first studio effort in five years. Most notably, drummer Frank Funaro suffered a severe arm injury that continues to sideline him.

“I think it was a case where we took the situation and worked with it. … We embraced the challenges and restrictions we had,” he said. “The first one is we were working with a group of studio musicians in Athens, Ga. That’s the band that’s on the Bakersfield album. At the same time, we got back our old drummer, Michael Urbano, and worked in a studio in Berkeley just to see if we could write any songs. We ended up more or less banging out most of that album in three days up there. … We kind of just embraced the situation and came up with these two really cool discs, which at first were going to be separate albums.”

The project is similar, in some ways, to Camper Van Beethoven’s recent releases, La Costa Perdida and El Camino Real, which were about Northern and Southern California.

“We released 40-something songs in a little under two years. It’s been kind of crazy,” he said about his two bands. “Going back to 2009, it’s been like every 18 months, we’ve been putting out an album. It’s been pretty interesting. It’s been a very productive period for both bands, just to concentrate on writing songs. It’s what separates us from our peers in the alternative-rock scene in the ‘90s—we’re still writing and releasing records. Camper Van Beethoven also has two new songs coming out that are on the Sharknado 3 soundtrack. We’re always working it now.”

David Lowery has been touring with both bands over the past couple of years; Cracker played at Pappy and Harriet’s in the spring. With all of the touring, writing and recording, one has to wonder how Lowery has time to sleep.

“I think down in Southern California, you hear quite a bit of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, so it probably seems we tour more than we do, but it’s been pretty busy this year,” he explained. “We have a full schedule through Labor Day weekend; we’re doing five or six shows a week until then, and a little recording probably during the days we’re not working. Eventually, at the end of the year, we’ll go to Europe and wrap it up.”

What can attendees expect at the Campout this year? Lowery said it’s more of the same, prominently featuring the varied groups in which the members of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven are intertwined.

“We’ll be bringing the Bakersfield lineup from Athens; we’ll be bringing the full extended country band lineup,” he said. “We’ll also have a lot of the side projects happening. Victor (Krummenacher) will be playing; Jonathan (Segel) will be doing stuff, and it looks like Johnny Hickman is going to do his side project, the Hickman-Dalton Gang, with Roger Clyne of the Peacemakers. We have Jesika Von Rabbit again, and it’s, as usual, based on family and friends.

“I think it’s going to be at least as good as last year, and it’s going to be warmer this year, because we had to move it into August. With all of the other things that are going to happen up there in Yucca Valley this year on Labor Day, we were colliding on the same weekend.  So we moved into August, and we’ll move it back to September for 2016.”

Campout 11 takes place Thursday, Aug. 27, through Saturday, Aug. 29, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $25 for each individual night; three-day passes start at $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

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