Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Matt King

In some ways, the pandemic has driven us toward technology, like Zoom meetings, which allow us to meet when we can’t be physically together. In other ways, it’s driven us toward old-school vibes, including the return of the drive-in movie theater.

And now, here comes El Toro Flicks—an old-school-style drive-in movie theater using new technology. El Toro Flicks is a “Carpool Cinema” experience, and it’s making its Coachella Valley debut this weekend at the top level of the Westfield Palm Desert’s parking garage.

“The company was born in Arizona, where we have two locations that have been fully operational since the end of April,” said Justin Finn, producer of El Toro Flicks, during a recent phone interview. “With everything that’s going on with COVID, we are able to go back into the future, and revitalize this drive-through concept. One thing that we’ve done with newer technology is have our screens be LED walls. They’re not your typical projection; they provide for better visibility and clarity, as well as being able to withstand our climate. We don’t want things to be overheating or shutting off.

“We decided to bring this out to Palm Desert, where I live now. We began a partnership with the Westfield mall and are going to be hosting it on top of the parking structure outside of Macy’s.”

A peek at this weekend’s movies reveals two classics (Jurassic Park for Friday’s sold-out show, and The Goonies on Sunday) and the more-recent Toy Story 4 on Saturday. I was curious about the movie-selection process.

“It’s a combination of a few different things,” Finn said. “First of all, we do market research. We take movies that are in high demand and put them out over the course of the week. We’ll (eventually) be operating Tuesday through Sunday, and we’ll be showing a variety of different movies. We do take requests, so anyone can let us know, and it’ll take us about a week to get approval.

“We also are going to try to incorporate different events at the space. Drive-in concerts are something we are looking into, and they have been successful at our Arizona locations. California has some different laws than Arizona, but once we get the movie element up and rolling, we are definitely going to do what we need to do to try to host different events like concerts and private events. There’s a lot of community involvement that we want to inject into this.”

Finn said this team is even looking into the possibility of broadcasting sporting events.

“We’re actually broadcasting a soccer game in Arizona this week,” he said. “The licensing for sports is a little bit different than general movies. We’d love to be able to show some football or some basketball games if it fits and if we can do it safely.”

Hosting any real event during this era of SARS-CoV-2 can be a challenge. However, Finn said El Toro Flicks’ biggest problems at the two Tucson-area theaters have not involved the coronavirus; they’ve involved weather.

“My team and I have a background in producing events, so we had some knowledge as to what was needed as far as logistics go,” Finn said. “One of the most difficult issues we faced in Arizona was dealing with the monsoon season. The weather has been the toughest element; there was even a flood in one of the areas. The things that you can’t control, like Mother Nature, have led to some cancellations. Our main priority has been to keep everyone safe at the venue. If there’s anything that will put anyone in danger, then we will cancel the show for that day.”

The safety efforts even extend to the ticketing process.

“One of the main things we wanted to do was keep it innovative,” Finn said. “We’re going 100 percent contactless: Ticket purchasing and arriving at the venue will all be contactless. We wanted to abide by CDC guidelines and social distancing as much as we possibly can. Another thing we are trying to incorporate here is keeping a similar element to a family-fun night. On Tuesdays, we’re going to try to bring in a taco truck, if the Department of Health will allow it, and do Taco Tuesdays. On Thursdays, we’ll do Flashback Thursdays, and even have some Chick Flick nights. There’s a lot of things we’re trying to incorporate into our weekly programming.”

On top of creating fun, Finn and his team are hoping to create jobs.

“We are fully staffed at the moment, but we will probably always have job availability posted,” he said. “We’re aiming to create 10 to 15 jobs within the community until the end of the year. If anyone is interested in getting some work, just let us know, and we will look into it.”

El Toro Flicks currently takes place Thursday through Sunday at the top of the Westfield Palm Desert parking garage, 72840 Highway 111. Gates open at 6:45, and parking is first-come, first-serve; movies start at 7:45 p.m. Car passes start at $26.99. For tickets or more information, including a complete schedule, visit

Backyard shows—put on by teens, for teens—have been taking place for decades in the Coachella Valley. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions have silenced the backyard show scene for now—but that doesn’t mean local youth have let their creative voices be silenced.

Take, for example, the Coachella Valley Youth Music Fest, a two-day livestream charity showcase of nearly 20 local acts. From 3 to 5 p.m., Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, tune in to to watch performances by Koka, Israel’s Arcade, Screams on Silent and others—including a live set from yours truly. Donations made during the event will go to Yemen Crisis Relief, Al Otro Lado, Campaign Zero, COVID-19 Relief, SNaP4Freedom and the NAACP.

“I got the idea for it about three weeks ago; it was literally a shower thought,” said Anthony Noriega, 17, creator of the Coachella Valley Youth Music Fest, during a recent phone interview. “I saw that the Stonewall Inn did a livestream charity fundraiser, so I wanted to create something along those same lines. This thing will be more festival-oriented, though, as some artists will have longer sets, and people will be performing at different times. The same day I got the idea, I contacted everyone.”

Noriega was able to lock in the 19-band lineup in a matter of days.

“I’m a pretty reserved person, but I have a few friends from school that do music, so I was just going to try to ask them,” Noriega said. “I was hoping that I could get some more well-known acts in the desert, like Israel’s Arcade and Koka, and luckily, they agreed right away. I just went out and contacted as many people as possible, because I’d rather have to whittle down sets than try to ask artists to play more songs. I wasn’t sure if a lot of people would even agree to performing.”

The restrictions due to the coronavirus have caused artists all over the world to come up with new ideas for performances. Livestreams in various forms have appeared everywhere, and Noriega is taking in various influences.

“My friend Kiara Thomas is going to be hosting with me, and we’re going to run some test live streams and make sure everything will run smoothly,” Noriega said. “I also have a musician friend from New York named KISOS. He does a livestream every Sunday called Queer-antine, and gives a platform for LGBT artists. I also drew inspiration from him in creating a collective-of-artists livestream. He also helped me out and gave me some advice.”

When Noriega announced the festival and the beneficiary charities, he faced some backlash.

“It’s weird to feel like you chose the wrong charity—when it’s a charity,” Noriega said. “There are foundations that do good things, and it sucks to feel like one is better or worse than the other. I wanted to dwindle down the amount of charities so that when I split up the money, there’s a good money amount going to each charity.

“When I announced the event, there were a handful of musicians who were interested (but not included in the lineup), and I wish I could’ve added them to the set. If I get enough interest among other people, I might try to do a second show and have different charities. It would be so great to wrangle up as much money as possible—because I don’t have a job, so I am not able to donate. I wanted to be able to contribute on a bigger scale and help wrangle up everybody’s few bucks that they have. I feel like this event will really bring people together, and make it feel like we’re all making a difference.”

Some self-doubt came into play when it was time for Noriega to reach out to local acts.

“When I contacted all the performers, I was fully ready for all of them to say no,” he said. “This could’ve been a pop-up idea that just fizzled out. I used my Instagram account that had more followers to message the artists, because people are always getting spam messages on Instagram. If I do this again, I feel like I will have some credibility and be able to have this event under my belt.

“It’s also just my own social fears: I don’t really talk to too many people outside of my small friend group. To be able to put myself out there to a bunch of people I’ve never met before made me worry about what the outcome would be.”

Leading up to the event, social fears aren’t the only thing holding Noriega back.

“I actually tested positive for the coronavirus recently,” Noriega said. “I’m on my better days now, but I’ve been feeling body aches and extreme headaches.

“I’m performing in as well as co-hosting the event, so I’m going to try my best to make it as entertaining as possible. I also hope this will be a good showcase of local talent, and that people will watch. I’m not announcing the times for each band, so hopefully people will stay for the whole show to create a balanced event.”

Hammer of the Ozz is one of the heaviest bands to come out of the Coachella Valley in recent years. What started as a Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath cover band has evolved into a four-piece hard-rock group with a blistering debut album, Hot as the Sun, available at, that was released earlier this year. The band features Paul Forrester on bass; he is the latest to take The Lucky 13, and here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. John Cougar (Mellencamp) and Randy Hansen doing his Jimi Hendrix impersonation opened.

What was the first album you owned?

Sly and the Family Stone, Fresh.

What bands are you listening to right now?

UFO, Judas Priest (pre-British Steel), Gary Moore (rock), Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Queensrÿche, Black Sabbath, Sex Pistols, Corrosion of Conformity, and Scorpions (Uli Jon Roth era).

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


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

Led Zeppelin.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Jesus Christ Superstar with Ian Gillan as Jesus.

What’s your favorite music venue?

I’d have to say Furstworld and Pappy and Harriet's; it’s a tossup.

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

It’s usually one of ours, “Ashes and Resin” or “Motorgrinder.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

When I heard “Rock the Nation” by Montrose, I stopped suffering and started playing guitar. I had the pleasure of meeting Ronnie Montrose, and I told him he was the reason I play guitar. Great guy; R.I.P.

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

I’d ask Geezer Butler if it was really blown speakers that gave him that great tone and sound during the recording of the first Black Sabbath record.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“The End,” The Doors.

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

Operation: Mindcrime, Queensrÿche.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Ashes and Resin” by Hammer of the Ozz. (Scroll down to hear it!) 

Every year, the McCallum Theatre showcases local performers via its Open Call Talent Project—but the series of April shows, like so many other events, was a casualty of the coronavirus epidemic.

However, the show must go on—so Open Call 2020 has moved from the stage to the screen: At 6:30 p.m., Saturday, July 18, KESQ Channel 3 will air a special half-hour video, produced by the McCallum and hosted by Patrick Evans, showcasing the Open Call finalists. The video was filmed in the desert adjacent to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.

Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, the vice president of education at the McCallum, explained how Open Call normally works, during a recent phone interview.

“It’s a competition where people submit, and then we have callbacks; then we get to about 18 to 20 finalists,” Thuresson-Frary said. “The whole thing is a learning process, but there’s also an added competition element. What we always do with our cast is have all of them participate in a big finale number that is inspired by the finalists every year. A big part of the rehearsals for the show is practicing that finale number. That’s a big learning experience, too, because if you’re a vocalist, you’ll get to dance; if you’re a dancer, you’ll get to sing; and if you’re a musician, you’ll get to do both: Every cast member participates in a choreographed experience. It’s created to be an inspiration for the audience members, who hopefully go home and begin some risk-taking of their own.”

Thuresson-Frary said the McCallum announced this year’s Open Call finalists shortly before the theater shut down in March.

“Had it not been for us already announcing our finalists, we probably wouldn’t have done anything this year,” she said. “We had a few cast members this year who have tried out for several years and finally made it, and I really wanted to figure out a way that we could continue to do the show. We also already had the finale number written.

“We started trying to figure out how to do it this year and thought that we couldn’t really include the competition element. We have several large groups and dance companies, and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to practice anywhere. We have a pretty high standard for the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call project, so if we were to put anything out there that wasn’t at a certain level, it wouldn’t feel like a good alternative. We also were looking at how to perform the finale number—while following the (social-distancing) mandates. We really wanted to try to do something a lot more exciting than all the videos that have been appearing of people that are stuck at home.”

Thuresson-Frary and her team started the process by having the finalists record themselves.

“We met with everyone over Zoom and gave them the music and their parts,” she said. “They worked back and forth with Paul (Cracchiolo), our music director, and worked out a good-quality product to send in. While we were doing this, mandates started to be lifted, and we eventually arrived at a time where we felt it was safe to record a good-quality video that we would feel comfortable putting the McCallum name on. We collaborated with Tracker Studios’ Doug VanSant, and A. Wolf Mearns, who are also musicians. All of us brainstormed a way to complete this project in a way that is safe and good-quality.”

Filming inside the McCallum wasn’t an option; Thuresson-Frary and her team wanted a safe, outside location where mask-wearing and social distancing could take place.

“That’s where The Living Desert came into play,” she said. “We wanted to have a wild desert feel, especially under the circumstances, to be able to pay tribute to Mother Nature and the conditions we live in. We reached out to Judy Esterbrook, who is the sales manager of The Living Desert, and she just so happened to be at Open Call last year and was fully on board for helping us out. They were generous enough to let us use the wild desert area behind their zoo and gardens and provided us with shuttle service that transported our artists individually. There were a lot of logistics to work out, and The Living Desert was very generous and became a very lovely partner. That was the same week that the zoo was allowed to re-open, so everything worked out.”

After she saw the first video cut, Thuresson-Frary said she knew they had made something special.

“It’s now been a month of post-production and a lot of back and forth between Tracker Studios and us,” Thuresson-Frary said. “I didn’t really want to reach out to KESQ (too early), because there were so many variables that could’ve easily put a stop to this project at any point in time. Once I felt confident that we had something that was Open Call-quality, I called over to KESQ and asked for them to partner with us. We feel we have something really special that the community will enjoy. I naively thought that they had a little program that they could stick our (seven-minute) music video into, but they actually asked us to provide them with a whole half-hour. That’s mainly what we’ve been working on, and we’re almost ready to hand it over.”

However, transforming a seven-minute video into a half-hour show was not necessarily easy.

“We were able to already film our usual artist vignettes, so we decided to include those,” she said. “… Each performer will be introduced and have their vignette aired. We also had an intern, an aspiring filmmaker, who created a behind-the-scenes movie for us. I thought that many people wouldn’t believe that all of these performers were in the same place at the same time, so he has some behind-the-scenes footage. The music video is the ending of the 30 minutes.”

While Thuresson-Frary said she’s disappointed that the Open Call shows had to be cancelled, she’s proud that the video will give the talented performers their moment in the spotlight.

“We usually sell out our Open Call series, and we put on four shows, so I know there are a lot of people who really love this project,” Thuresson-Frary said. “There are some people who only come to the McCallum Theatre for our show. This music video can be a testament to the kind of work that we’re able to do for the community, as we’ve been doing Open Call for about 20 years now. … It’s designed to showcase all of the art this valley has to offer. All of these artists didn’t really get to work together, but we’re hoping that this will provide them a sense of community across this divide of distancing.”

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On the surface, Saints and Rebels may seem like a typical punk band—but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the group combines various subgenres under the punk umbrella, including comedy punk, hardcore and even ska.

The band is made up of Austin Lawrence on vocals and bass; Cristian Alvarez on vocals and drums; Sam Codero on “screams”; Chris Hernandez on lead guitar; and Benji Gallardo on rhythm guitar. From January up until the closure of bars, the band played almost every Saturday at local haunts, sometimes pulling double or triple duty within a weekend. The group just released its debut self-titled EP, available on SoundCloud and BandCamp—and it is three tracks of fine punk fusion with a lo-fi mix.

I spoke to the band over the phone recently, and I learned the history behind the name.

“I had been wanting to start a band for a year,” Gallardo said. “I tried in 2018 with a buddy, and it just didn’t happen. Then one day, Cristian messaged me out of the blue; I didn’t even know him at the time. He asked me if I wanted to jam out, and we really clicked. Weeks went by, and the other guys joined.

“The name came from my grandparents, when they told me a story about the ‘Cristeros.’ When they were growing up, the government wanted to restrict religion, and they started off by closing churches and removing statues that represented any saint or holy trinity. After a while, the people started to protest peacefully, which caused the government to become furious and issue an order to execute protesters—hence the ‘Rebels.’ Later, the people had had enough of that and started rising up and taking matters into their own hands and protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves, later to be viewed as ‘Saints.’ We wanted a name that had that same energy of living like a saint but fighting like a rebel.”

A sense of comedic intent is noticeable throughout the band’s music; take “Budlight Chelada,” for example, which offers an overly expressive vocal delivery from Lawrence.

“That just comes from us being goofs,” Lawrence said. “All we really do is just goof around. Growing up, I listened to a lot of Weird Al and Richard Cheese parody music, so I enjoy adding that to our music.”

Added Alvarez added, half-jokingly: “I just mess up a lot, so that’s why it sounds funny. We all have a great time playing music, so that adds an element of fun to it. We don’t treat it like it’s a job; we just go out and have fun.”

Given the band’s happy-go-lucky attitude, I figured the guys would have some interesting performance stories.

“We played a spot in Joshua Tree with local band Daytime Moon, and the energy we brought, combined with the crowd that actually enjoyed our music, made us have a lot of fun,” Alvarez said. “We did play horribly, though, and by the end of the night, we were all drunk and exhausted.”

Hernandez said the band played one of the last pre-shutdown shows in the valley back in March.

“It was St. Patrick’s Day at Plan B Live Entertainment and Cocktails in Thousand Palms, right before the mandated closing,” he said. “It was the last hurrah, and it was jam-packed with people just wanting to party hard. We had to do three different sets, because the other bands for the night had cancelled. We only had about 10 songs that were performance-ready at the time. It was a super-fun and memorable experience.”

The three-track EP is a solid debut—even if the recording process was less than refined.

“We recorded this EP with Nick Mund from the local band Blue Sun,” Alvarez said. “We did it at his house, and he was very new to the program we used to record. It was such a good time, and we had so much fun shooting some skits and goofing off while we tracked the songs. No one knew what they were doing, but we’re still proud of the finished product.”

Hernandez added: “On top of the inexperience, I actually went in with a broken hand. I had to record all of my solos on a broken hand, and if you listen to the recording, you’ll hear me struggling to keep up with all of the songs.”

The band members talked a bit about their writing sessions—and it’s apparent they bring the same free-spirited energy from their performances to their song-crafting.

“The titles and lyrics are inside jokes within the band, or based on some funny events that happen,” Alvarez said. “We add the layers to the song one at a time—drums, bass, guitar—and leave the lyrics for last. We’re always drinking Bud Light cheladas, so there’s that title, or we’ll say something stupid, and that will end up as a song name.”

Lawrence added: “I’ll usually come up with a line or two to start the song vocally, and then Cristian will come up with the rest on the spot or the next day. He’s been doing all the lyrics for our newest songs. We are completely open to anything anyone in the band wants to add, however. Usually, Cristian and I lead the songs, but we’re very democratic in our decision-making. We all work together.”

Alvarez said most of the stuff he’s been writing involves breakups, skateboarding or having fun.

“It’s been a tough challenge, but I feel that I’ve been getting better at it,” Alvarez said. “Austin has also been helping me in terms of vocal melodies and how to sing. I’m comfortable just being behind the drums, but now I am starting to feel better about singing and leading songs.”

As the pandemic rages on, Saints and Rebels continues to create.

“We’re making new songs right now, and looking toward the end of the year to think about recording them,” Lawrence said. “Hopefully, in the near future, we can play some shows and truly showcase them. There’s nothing else to do right now, so we’re practicing and writing as much as we can.”

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Many Coachella Valley musicians pull double, triple or even quadruple duty—and a prime example of this is Josh Heinz. He plays for both Blasting Echo and 5th Town; he’s an in-demand solo performer; and he regularly plans shows, most notably his annual Concert for Autism, a two-day festival raising money for the Desert Autism Foundation.

On top of being a local-music machine, Heinz is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. When I first started playing, he was the host of Open Mic Night at The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert. He was extremely accommodating and answered every question I had; since then, he has been a great friend, and has always reached out to invite my bands to share gigs.

Heinz just released his first solo album, Made in Memphis 2003, on every major streaming platform. The record is a post-grunge burner featuring 10 songs with Heinz’s heavy guitar and emphatic vocal deliveries. While the release is new, the album is not: As the title suggests, this album is 17 years old.

“I moved to the valley in 2001, and I didn’t know anyone,” Heinz said during a recent interview. “I was a stay-at-home dad, and I was just writing a bunch of songs. My band in Memphis, Wyndom Earle, ended, and my ex-wife and I didn’t want to raise her daughter in Memphis, so we moved here. In 2002, I went back to Memphis for a wedding, and talked to Robert Pickens (Picon), who produced and recorded Wyndom Earle. I talked to him about all the songs I had written, but I didn’t have a place to record them since I didn’t know anyone in the valley. He offered to record me in Memphis and cut me a deal—so in February of 2003, I drove cross-country to record.

“We recorded all those songs in 64 hours. I hired the drummer who was in Robert’s band to play drums, and he tracked those in 16 hours, after only hearing four of the songs prior to being in the studio. I played all the songs to a click, so we would both talk and figure out the drum parts in the studio. I talked to him through his headphones as to when to hit the ride or crash, and he nailed all those within three or four takes. I was very fortunate to have him onboard.”

The songs feature highly emotional lyrics, with “You’re Afraid Too” hosting a fearless Heinz projecting on the loss of patience and deceit within a relationship. The final track, “Distance,” is a slower song about the past, specifically the struggles of breaking free of things one would rather not keep around.

“A lot of the songs are about my experiences leaving Memphis and my band, Wyndom Earle, ending on a sour note,” Heinz said. “I started writing when I moved here in May of 2001, and when Sept. 11 happened, I felt like I couldn’t write—3,000 people had just lost their lives, and I felt I was in no place to be whining about my life, because I was still alive. The first song I worked on after that is called ‘Closure,’ the fifth song on the record. The lyrics are: ‘So many left alone; so many still unknown.’ It was me trying to put myself in the position of someone who lost a family member, and who might have not had closure with them. Maybe they got in an argument that day, or needed to say something to their loved one that they didn’t get to.”

Heinz said his songwriting approach has changed in the almost-two decades since he wrote Made in Memphis 2003.

“My approach when I was younger was carrying around a journal with me everywhere,” he said. “I would write down lyrics or poems whenever I had ideas, and would apply them to music later. My primary way is music first, though, because it really sets the tone for the song. Aggressive guitar tones can make for a heavier song, and lighter tones can make for something sweeter. There is no one right way; that’s just what I lean towards more.

“Back in 2003, I had no band. I wrote all my music how I heard it, and didn’t consult people for their take or ideas. It was very singular, and that’s how we recorded it so quickly. Robert and some others in the studio would give me a few ideas, but I really had everything in my head already. When I was younger, I was more apt to do that—just show up with the full idea for the song, whereas now things are more collaborative. Some songs with Blasting Echo will be all done by me, but the majority of our songs consist of all of our efforts poured into a song, starting with just a riff. I’ve grown more to asking others for their input, but it’s still good to have that vision and be set on it. As long as you are in a healthy relationship with your bandmates, you can all work together to believe in your vision and trust their thoughts on your idea.”

Why did Heinz sit on the recordings for as long as he did?

“The main idea behind recording this album was to have a calling card,” Heinz said. “When I finally met other musicians, I would show them a track or two, not the full thing. Initially, I wanted to find a band to play these live, and have it be our first album. It didn’t happen that way—and I’m glad it didn’t. I’ve been playing these songs for years, but only as acoustic performances.

“I never thought about releasing something with nothing to show for it live, but recently, I talked to my friends in Wyndom Earle about remastering and releasing some of our old songs. That conversation and also the restrictions of COVID-19 got me thinking about these songs again, and I just thought: Why not? Nobody is playing right now, and my other bands haven’t been able to meet, so I just wanted to get this stuff out.

“The one positive of COVID was being able to work with Michael (Spann) on the mastering, the artwork, and getting it on streaming services. Without COVID, I probably would not have had time to do all that.”

COVID-19 and the restrictions that have come with it have led many artists to reinvent themselves. I asked Heinz how the coronavirus is affecting him beyond Made in Memphis 2003.

“More than likely, the Concert for Autism will not happen, because safety is more important,” Heinz said. “Our dates have been changing with Goldenvoice’s Coachella plans, but the reality of it is that it’s not going to happen. Many of the businesses that support us are hurting as well, so it’d be hard to ask them for donations. We may try to do a virtual performance in place of it.

“I miss Blasting Echo and 5th Town, and I really miss cranking up my amp and jumping around. Our family has to be really careful, however. My wife, Linda, and I have four kids in the house, and one is severely autistic. We have to be conscious of that risk, because if someone were to get sick, it could affect our family in a major way.

“Linda and I have begun streaming every Sunday at 5 p.m. on the Blasting Echo Facebook page (, and we are lucky to be doing that. It’s been our only creative outlet during these times. We’ve had the tools to stream forever, but never thought to do it until now. It’s been a lot of fun, and great getting to connect with family all over the world, and also people in the desert.”

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Israel’s Arcade is Israel Pinedo’s indie-punk brainchild, with every song written and recorded by him. He melds the basics of punk rock with the structure and dreamy effects of indie bands, a style which has garnered him much success on streaming platforms. His latest release, “Car Crash,” brings a more new-wave approach to his music, with an electronic drum beat and filtered vocal blending joining his patented reverb guitar and synth lines. Pinedo is the latest to take The Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Carlos Santana, when I was 8 years old. My grandpa took me, and seeing how the musicians onstage reacted to the music they were playing, and how it moved them strongly, impacted me and changed me forever.

What was the first album you owned?

A Beatles greatest-hits album when I was 7 years old.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’m really into a lot of house music, drum and bass, a lot of ’90s dance music, and a lot of early 2000s party music like Soulja Boy, Nelly, Missy Elliott, etc.

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

I can honestly say that now as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to respect and even really enjoy a lot of the music that’s on the radio—a lot of pop music. With trends that I see going on right now, I can see the appeal of (these songs), and I can even get into them if I try to. I was a little kid when my uncle taught me that, with music, I have to learn to enjoy everything.

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

It’s always been a dream to see The Doors live.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

When I was in high school, I was really shy to blast my music in my earbuds when it was gay anthems like Britney Spears or ’90s house. I was afraid of people knowing that I listen to that, so I would turn the volume down. Now I don’t really care. I’m pretty proud of my taste.

What’s your favorite music venue?

As far as performing goes, I love anything that’s small, because those are the most-intimate shows. I guess the same goes for watching somebody perform; even if it’s a famous act, I want it to be intimate. Anything that makes it feel that way.

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

Right now, I can’t get Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control” out of my head—and frankly, I don’t want it out.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Around 7, it was the Beatles; when I turned 8, it was Nirvana. At 12, it was Sublime, and at 13 and 14, Mac DeMarco, Black Flag, and The Drums.

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

I would want to sit down and have a conversation with Jonny Pierce from The Drums about his childhood. I want to know what influenced his dramatic lyrics.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Sleep Walk” by Santo and Johnny, then “Guillotine” by Death Grips.

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

I’d probably choose Portamento by The Drums.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“To Another Galaxy (Galaxy Mix)” by Tokyo Ghetto Pussy. (Scroll down to hear it!)

A name like Caeser Pink and the Imperial Orgy conjures up thoughts of fun and perhaps controversy—and the collective certainly delivers, combining vivid and political stage shows with genre-melding music into a riveting, media-blending experience.

The group’s music is opinionated, and live shows add projections and other media. Clips on the internet show band members, dressed in every color under the sun, walking onto a stage one by one from the audience; one video shows the band chanting about love … with dildos strapped to their faces.

Imperial Orgy came about as Pink’s way to express his creative ideas and feelings.

“I had been doing film for a couple years, and I really enjoyed that feeling of being in front of an audience,” Pink said during a recent phone interview. “The concept was really about freedom—to not be limited to any musical genre and to be able to mix any type of art within the multimedia performance, to just do what I want and not worry about the commercial consequences of that. The name Imperial Orgy comes from a Henry Miller book about Russian royalty before the fall, and it seemed to fit well with Caeser Pink. It wasn’t until after we adopted (the name) that I saw it really made sense for the group and the idea of doing whatever you want musically and artistically.

“I played in a punk band for a few years before I went to college. I lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so there was really no direct access to arts. I was doing the best I could to learn about the different arts that interested me. The concept for the group was always about performance art, like theater and dance—a mix of anything we could throw in there, not only to get the message of the music across, but to have different layers of meaning. What’s in the video can add another layer of meaning of what’s going on in the music.”

Pink’s most recent release is a NSFW music video for “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” a politically charged song that critiques supremacist ideology. The video features Pink and his band skewering the views of white supremacists and others—singing, “I don’t wanna live like that.” The video includes the band members and others displaying signs with slurs on them—and even verbalizing some of those slurs—before joining arms and singing the chorus in unison. The timely song and video were actually released before the protests regarding the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

“I wrote that originally as a straight-up Beatles parody, and it was a song that has evolved a lot until I was really happy with it,” Pink said. “It’s definitely a song for the moment, and it has really caused a lot of controversy. Sometimes people don’t really understand it in a live setting, but I feel like the video really gets the point across. … We filmed the video all in one day, and it was a weird experience giving out these slur signs to actors we had brought in. I had a sick feeling in my stomach handing out those signs, but everyone really understood it. There was a moment where I was watching the group singing and dancing with those signs on that even choked me up.

“Live, all the musicians start the song by putting on those signs. We stretch out the song at the end, until it’s just a vocal a capella. Then I’ll start handing out signs to the audience, and have people coming to join the line of all of us wearing the signs and locking arms. That can be a really beautiful moment to witness.”

The band has been no stranger to controversy ever since its debut back in the early 1990s. Religious organizations have protested Caeser Pink and The Imperial Orgy—and even threatened violence toward the group.

“I get death threats all the time over the internet,” Pink said. “Now it’s more personal, one on one over social media, but back in the day, it would be banning us from radio, etcetera. It seemed like whatever we did, someone would ban us. There was a time when I was a kid when it was funny, like Alice Cooper outraging society. Everything has been done now, though, and nothing’s really outrageous except ideas, and that’s what pisses people off.”

The word “eclectic” could describe Caeser Pink’s career, even if it’s a bit of an understatement; the group has produced films, TV shows and even books. He’s even been to space; in a sense: In 2010, Stephanie Wilson, an astronaut on the space shuttle Discovery, took an Imperial Orgy CD, All God’s Children, with her.

“When I was in third-grade, I dreamt of being an astronaut,” Pink said. “I’ve only ever wanted to be two things in my life: a scientist or an artist. I kept hearing that this space thing was gonna happen for years from our keyboard player, who’s friends with an astronaut. It wasn’t until the day of that I realized how cool and unusual this thing is. (Wilson) played an EP that certainly had a message relevant to the world. It was a very meaningful experience.”

If there’s been any constant throughout Pink’s career, it’s the use of satirical humor.

“I’ve always been a big fan of satire humor, and I’ve used it a lot to deal with political messages,” he said. “I always had a theory that when you entertain people, you can open up their minds to different types of music and messages.”

The band has not released much new recorded material in the last decade, but Pink promised that more new music is on the way.

“We’ve really struggled to capture what we do live onto tape,” Pink said. “We have an album officially coming out soon which I feel is going to be the one that really captures what the Imperial Orgy is. It’s been frustrating, but a learning process. It wasn’t until I could really take control of the audio engineering that I could really capture the sound more, and put it in a conceptual way that matches what we do onstage. When you play live, you can do a lot of different styles, and it works for people. When you do that on a recording, it gets very tricky. For me, it was a matter of just forgetting about genre and throwing everything together, and tying it by concepts and messages.

“Genres are a prison that other people place on you, and when it gets in your mind, it controls how you play.”

Pink talked a lot about success during our chat, so I asked him what his definition of success was.

“One of the jokes I say is, ‘When you’ve had so many failures, they look really great put all together,’” Pink said. “What is important is trying to reach an audience and getting your view out there. However, we have a lot of musicians, and they gotta eat. It would be lovely to be able to pay those people what they deserve, and to be able to tour on a wide scale.”

Pink said the group, of all things, is getting ready to start a Roku television network.

“It could be a total failure, or it could bring in some money that would allow us to do things like tour,” Pink said. “It’s a mix of an arts variety show, live performances and more. Our old television show from 2002 will also be on our channel, alongside a live-stream option. The station is called The Imperial Orgy Underground Arts, Music and Culture. When we did our TV series, digital editing was a very hard thing to do, but we managed to reach all over the world and build a network with many public access stations.

“We also formed a nonprofit organization and sponsored an art gallery in Brooklyn. Every weekend, there are group shows of young artists and music. We’re thinking of broadcasting those performances and interviewing the artists on the network as well. We’re not only doing our own thing, but we are promoting artists whose work and messages we take to heart. If artists support each other, everybody rises.”

For more information, visit

On May 22, restaurants in Riverside County were given the OK to reopen for dine-in service; three weeks later, on June 12, bars were given the go-ahead.

However, because the coronavirus continues to spread, the permission to reopen came with restrictions: Tables and/or seats have to be six feet apart. Masks are required when a customer is not at his or her table. And—according to the state guidelines—most entertainment is not allowed.

The state of California’s COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Restaurants, Bars and Wineries, last updated on June 5 and being echoed by Riverside County, states: “This guidance is not intended for concert, performance, or entertainment venues (which are not yet allowed to be open). Restaurants, bars and wineries must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation. All events or gatherings that would bring together persons from different households, such as private parties, must be cancelled or postponed until further notice.”

Despite these guidelines, some local bars and restaurants have been promoting live performances anyway. We reached out to five of these restaurants—and received no response from four of them: Palm Canyon Roadhouse, Wildest Restaurant, AJ’s on the Green, and Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club. Only Lana Ristich, the owner of Chef George’s Restaurant in Bermuda Dunes, returned messages from the Independent.

“We decided to bring entertainment back, because now things are very slow,” Ristich said. “The season is over now. It would be a completely different story if this was happening in March, when we were so busy. Now, in June, it’s slow, so we decided to have entertainment, which is usually only one guy or girl on the stage, because it’s not a big deal. No one’s dancing or doing anything like they were before; they’re simply having a good time.”

Ristich said Chef George’s has limited the number of people who can be in the building, per the mandates.

“We are from Serbia, and restaurants and hotels are all open all over Europe,” Ristich said. “Everyone’s having a good time; no one cares about the virus. American television spreads so much fear about the virus. I understand being careful, and all of our employees and customers wear masks, but you have to take it off to eat. If you have the virus, how are you going to protect yourself that way? It doesn’t make any sense. We are just adhering to the code, and our bar only fits about 20 people now.”

Ristich said she believes that allowing live music back into people’s lives will help them deal with this new normal.

“Virus is virus,” Ristich said. “I know it’s killing people, but people still have to live their life. If someone is sick, they are not going to go out. Older people should stay home, but younger generations with better immune systems might get sick from something worse by just staying home. I’m not so crazy about COVID-19. Everything is going step-by-step, but I think everything is OK with music in restaurants. It’s good to see people in our restaurant listening to live music with a drink in their hand. It reminds me of the old times.”

Meanwhile, other bars and restaurants that normally offer entertainment are following the state’s guidelines—and possibly sacrificing business by doing so. One such place is The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, which in “normal” times is one of the busiest entertainment venues in the valley.

“We are taking this extremely cautiously,” said Brad Guth, the owner of The Hood. “We take the guidelines very seriously for the safety of ourselves and the customers. The county is discouraging live music, so at the moment, we are not going to proceed with live music until we see what the case rate looks like in Riverside County. We’re planning to reintroduce karaoke and bingo within the next couple of weeks—with beer pong being the last thing we bring back.

“We are going with what the county says to do regardless of what other places are doing, which has been hard for customers to understand. I take both my health and the health of my employees and customers very seriously. The county is discouraging large crowds, and we are doing the same. We’ve cut hours and limited space, and we just want people to be safe.”

Guth said the fact that some places are allowing live entertainment despite the state’s guidance is confusing both customers and local performers.

“It’s been very difficult to explain why we are following the guidelines to customers,” he said. “It’s inconsistent throughout the valley, as some places are having entertainment again, and some are not. … I just can’t, with any good conscience, put myself or my staff in danger. We’ve had incidents where people have been crowding the bar late at night when we’ve asked them not to, and it’s hard to control.

“It’s almost as if we’re the police now. We don’t want to be the police; we just want to be an enjoyable place to go, and ensure safety for all.”

When FrankEatsTheFloor—my band, I should disclose—came onto the local scene a few years ago, the valley was introduced to Aleks Romo. His guitar-playing expertise has been a huge asset, as his styles range from intricate indie-rock lines to hard-hitting punk chords. I should also disclose one more thing: On top of being an excellent guitar player, he is also my best friend. For more on FrankEatsTheFloor, visit Romo is the latest to take The Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band at Fantasy Springs. He kept asking the crowd, “What’s my name?”

What was the first album you owned?

Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory. I got it at a thrift store in Coachella.

What bands are you listening to right now?

No Buses, Goodbye Honolulu, Mickey Darling, and Radiohead.

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

K-pop is something that bewilders me, and I don’t understand why there’s such a big following for it all of a sudden. “Gangnam Style” is still cool, though.

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

Mickey Darling. They haven’t had any shows as far as I can tell, but I’d love to go with friends.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Imagine Dragons.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Music Box in San Diego.

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

“Then I'm screaming in my head / When I've got nowhere to go / And I'm falling into bed / On a high chemical low / And I know I'm bound to lose / When I feel the need to use / Why I'm full,” ”I’m Full,” by Wallows.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

PUP helped me get through a lot of hard times. Their energy uplifted me no matter the circumstance.

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

I would ask Kondo Styling from No Buses how he composes his music, and why he makes it in English with such metaphorical lyrics.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“My Hero” by the Foo Fighters, and anything friends would relate to me.

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

Remo Drive, Greatest Hits. Yes, that’s the name of the album.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Hurricane Jane” by Black Kids. (Scroll down to hear it!)

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