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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The 15th and apparently final Campout came early to Pappy and Harriet’s, July 31 through Aug. 3. Yeah, the July 31 gig was technically a solo David Lowery show—but don’t tell that to all the Campout fans who came out.

The Campout started when Cracker recorded the record Kerosene Hat in Pioneertown. Lead guitarist Johnny Hickman shared via social media: “Memories of the morning that Pappy and I were making go-bos (sound walls) to use in the soundstage/barn where we recorded Kerosene Hat. Our producer, the late Don Smith, came in and yelled, ‘Johnny … get your guitar-playing fingers away from that skill (sic) saw.’” The gold record for Kerosene Hat hangs on the Wall of Fame at Pappy and Harriet’s.

Wednesday night featured Peter Case, who had a short but incredible set that was briefly interrupted by a young lady who was asked to leave. That was followed was a very intimate set by the ringleader himself, David Lowery, who performed songs from an autobiographical record he recorded on a four-track in his bedroom titled In the Shadow of the Bull. Lowery sat on a stool and said, “Good evening, this is the first time we’ve tried a pre-Campout Campout.”

His show was, for me, the highlight of the four days of music. The songs included one about the time he remembered his father, who was in Korea—but Lowery used artistic license and changed the location to Vietnam, because it rhymed with the verse. He also sang about growing up in Southern California, via the song titled “Superbloom.” The personal solo appearance helped solidify the bond Lowery has with fans.

Thursday night featured the Trippy Trio (David Lowery, Johnny Hickman and Matt “Pistol” Stoessel), Monks of Doom, Ike Reilly, The Hula Girls, and the Suffragettes, all officially starting off the yearly family reunion—this time with some sadness, because this would be the last Campout. Johnny Hickman could easily be found—just look for legion of female fans who normally surround him. He always takes the time to talk and mingle with his Crumb family.

David Lowery introduced the Monks of Doom, who engaged in some epic shredding. Ike Reilly, a true charmer and Campout regular, had the audience come onstage during “Put a Little Love in It,” and also had Johnny Hickman join him during his performance.

The Trippy Trio was a great, stripped-down version of Cracker, with the band wearing their liberal interpretation of ponchos. The group opened with “Teen Angst,” and the set also included “Dr. Bernice.” Ike Reilly came out to help with “Duty Free.”

The indoor set on Thursday is usually a highlight, but the Suffragettes fell short with a redundant instrumental performance. The Hula Girls were fun, but the tiki-themed surf music did not mix well with the Americana being served outside.

Friday night brought back Jesika Von Rabbit. She is such a regular at the festival that fans bring their own ears—a tradition going back to her original band Gram Rabbit, whose members referred to themselves as the Royal Order of Rabbits. Jesika, too, went way back to the Gram Rabbit days, playing “Devil’s Playground.” Her new record Dessert Rock, is a must listen.

Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven played on both Friday and Saturday, as did many of the members’ various solo projects—perfect for Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven fans, because they get to see the talents of each member.

On Saturday, as I sat outside on a bench, I saw Peter Buck of R.E.M. walking around, admiring the 80-plus-year-old building. I spotted another quarter of R.E.M., Mike Mills, taking photos with fans.

I ran into super-fan Ben Wariner, who informed me that Peter Buck plays with Saturday performing band the Minus 5, and Mike Mills sometimes joins in. This was news to me, and I was elated. The lead singer of the Minus 5, Scott McCaughey, summed up the festival by saying this: “This is a great place to be. Lots of great bands with the same people, and then there is us.”

I was disappointed that this was supposed to be the final Campout. There are no greater fans than Cracker and Camper fans; their intensity is a little strong, but it comes from their connection to these two bands lead by one man. Crumbs and Campers were full of speculation and gossip, with lots of hopes that the tradition would continue via a stripped-down version of the Campout under another name. David Lowery gave hope for a return when he shared this: “It’s been a great run … plenty of opportunities to play in the future, including here.”

Until next time, Mr. Lowery.

Published in Reviews

Campout 14 came to Pappy and Harriet’s over Labor Day Weekend—with a new and well-received format.

Thursday night featured Jim Dalton, Johnny Hickman and the Hickman-Dalton Gang. Prior to the start, Hickman was being his genuine self, talking to longtime fans who have now become friends. A constant at Campout is the level of inclusion: The Crumbs (Cracker fans) and Campers (Camper Van Beethoven fans) make you part of the family.

Hickman spoke with pride about his teenage son, a young entrepreneur selling used shoes online. He pointed to a pristine pair of Timberlands his son sold him at a discount, because he grew out of them.

The song “In My Head,” by Dalton, is fun: “Today’s my birthday; I’m turning 30. I’m perfectly healthy, independently wealthy, in my head—and that’s Bill Murphy; I’m his best friend. He’s at my party pouring shots again; we’re having a good time in my head.”

In reality, everyone was having a blast. The evening progressed with a hilarious song about falling in love with a serial killer, and “Dick Bird” about a bird going No. 2 on a shoulder. “Pantalones,” a song about the loss of pants while in Mexico, is a cautionary tale about pacing yourself when drinking tequila south of the border.

“Papa Johnny’s Arms,” sung by Hickman, is the reason most music venues have security barriers—to keep swooning fans off the stage. However, attendees maintained their composure.

Hickman introduced the unreleased “Poor Life Choices”: “It’s a new song, and it’s a sing-along.” However, it was already in the memory of fans—since it was a hit at last year’s Campout 13.

The theme for Thursday was “Bad Tattoos,” and Hickman shared a story about a bad cover-up tattoo a few relationships ago. Dalton, not to be undone, talked about the alleged tattoo he has on his penis; he said he got it because he use to be a big Pearl Jam fan.

Super fan Jennifer Smyth shouted out a request for a cover of “She Wore Red Dresses,” and Hickman obliged. The Hickman-Dalton Gang worked in a cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”, and the cliché concert heckle from the crowd of “Free Bird” was met with an acoustic jam of the song. Thursday night at Campout is always a highlight, because it showcases the intimacy of Pappy’s indoor stage.

Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven played both Friday and Saturday nights, with David Lowery the lead vocalist of both. Cracker celebrated the 20th anniversary of the album Gentleman’s Blues by performing one half of the album one night, and the other half on Saturday.

The dress-up theme for Friday night was “Night of the Living Dead v. Big Lebowski.” I should have re-watched the movies in advance so I could better identify all of the characters beyond the Dudes and a whole bunch of Liams; for example, CVB fan Kit Hickman was dressed as an Irish Monk. Kudos to Kit for his originality.

Crumb chatter centered on the retirement of a longtime male member of Cracker, and his replacement, a much younger, slimmer woman. Would this lead to a change in sound? The change was not human: Johnny Hickman’s No. 7 1977 Les Paul Standard was replaced by what Hickman described on Facebook as “his (female!) replacement ... this BEAUTIFUL girl of a Fender Stratocaster. … She is a bit more temperamental, yet SO very glorious in tone.” Frankly, I could not tell the difference; the new band member was well-received.

Cracker played the hits both nights including “Low,” “Eurotrash Girl” and the lovely “Almond Grove.”

Camper Van Beethoven headlined Friday and then opened for Cracker on Saturday. CVB once again played the hits over the two nights, including theh cover of “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” “Northern California Girls” and “Take The Skin Heads Bowling.” Ben and Jenny Wariner from Utah went a little crazy when CVB went off the set list and added “History of Utah.”

Saturday’s dress theme was “Monochromatic Colors” and Cracker/CVB songs. David Lowery was in all-white denim. Johnny Hickman later commented on Facebook in response to a photograph I posted of the show: “David looks resplendent in his all white denim … a throwback salute to the ‘Eurotrash Girl’ video … magnificently filmed and directed by Carlos Grasso decades ago about 100 yards from this very spot.”

Jesika Von Rabbit, the Queen of High Desert Rock, returned to the Campout on Saturday with a new band and a new record, Dessert Rock, through Dionysus Records. Her new music was well-received, and she was a joy to hear.

Traditions are sacred at Campout—and this means Victor Krummenacher and Jonathan Segel jammed together Saturday on the indoor stage.

Ike Reilly closed out Saturday; he’s a prior performer at Campout who was splendid with his stripped-down acoustic set.

As Saturday ended and became Sunday morning, long goodbyes changed into planning for the next Campout, and the next Camp In, back East in Georgia in January.

If you are not a Crumb or a Camper or perhaps a secret member of the Royal Order of Rabbits, you may not understand the longevity of this dusty little music festival … but that’s OK. A family reunion is held every year.

Lastly, Margaret Lowery, you would have been proud of your son at this year’s Campout. The joy he brings to Campers and Crumbs every year is immense. I toast you with Tetley Tea; rest in peace.

Published in Reviews

Campout 12, the annual party and music festival arranged by Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, returned to Pappy and Harriet’s for three days, Thursday, Aug. 25, through Saturday, Aug. 27, filling Pioneertown, Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree with “no vacancy” signs thanks to the temporary resettlement of music fans.

This festival has ingrained itself into the high-desert community. One example: I was seeing discount offers on social media specifically for fans of the event. ArtFx and Furnishings offered a 10 percent discount if you mentioned the Campout, and 2 Guys Pies Brick Oven Pizza did the same if someone used the code word “Crumb,” the moniker of Cracker fans.

Skylar Gudasz, hailing from Durham, N.C., opened Thursday night, keeping with the tradition of having great new talent appear at Campout. “Oh my God, this place is gorgeous!” she said, quickly understanding the unique vibe of Pappy and Harriet’s. She hooked the audience with “I’ll Be Your Man”; the song’s video was directed by her brother, filmmaker Jason Gudasz.

Custom dictates that a Cracker duo set takes place on Night One—but this was not to be: David Lowery was absent, as he had a class to teach. Thus, Johnny Hickman took charge, performing double duty by offering a solo warm-up, and then playing with the Hickman-Dalton Gang. “Mick could not be here, but you got Keith,” Hickman joked. A highlight of Thursday night was a stripped-down version of “San Bernardino Boy.”

Johnny Hickman’s fans can get a little crazy—in a fun way. Odd overheard comments, like “My favorite word is labia,” caused those on the stage to pause temporarily. Still, the comfort level at the Campout is high, since everyone here loves the music, and the fans love each other.

Last year, fans wore pink to remember Karen Pratt-Mills. In her honor, Chris LeRoy, of the Dangers, with Johnny Hickman sang a song written for Karen by LeRoy. Some tried yet failed to maintain their composure during this sweet song about a special Crumb who passed to soon last year after a battle with cancer.

The Kolars, a husband-and-wife duo, were a treat, after being featured band at Echo Park Rising in L.A. a few weeks ago. Rob Kolar sings and plays guitar, as Lauren Brown becomes an instrument herself, by using her feet on top of a bass drum while playing a full drum kit. The Kolars mesmerized the audience. They are slated to return to desert for the Joshua Tree Music Festival on Oct. 6.

Friday night brought Skylar Gudasz back for another indoor set. On the outdoor stage, Jonathan Segel of Camper Van Beethoven showed off his guitar and violin talents while bandmate Victor Krummenacher supported Segel on the bass.

Jesika Von Rabbit also brought her show to Pappy and Harriet’s. Focusing on her solo material like “You Drive Me Ape”—including the banana cannibalization by one of her ever-present Grundle sidekicks, which also included a leather-clad gorilla-faced Grundle. A new fan favorite, “Dog at a Human Party,” brought a four-legged friend to the front of the stage. Todd Rutherford Johnson from Gram Rabbit joined Jesika onstage, pleasing Gram Rabbit fans by closing with “Dirty Horse.”

Camper Van Beethoven headlined on Friday, with lead vocalist David Lowery present and wearing all-white, forgoing the “Pajama Party” theme of the night. Campout participant Douglas Avery of Arizona wore his best bathrobe and turned in a fine impersonation of the “Dude” for the pajama party.

Lowery sang the hits, including “Eye of Fatima (Part 1)” and “White Riot.” Camper Van Beethoven also played “Northern California Girls,” a 2013 release from the album La Costa Perdida. Pajama-clad fans sang and danced with joy.

Saturday featured the Dangers, a staple of the Campout, along with the Whiskey Gentry duo. Los Rios Rock School, a music academy in Orange County, offered students an opportunity to play a rock show.

Ike Reilly, a singer song writer from Libertyville, Ill., performed solo, warming up the audience for Cracker. He just released his seventh studio album, Born on Fire (Rock Ridge Music/Firebrand). Reilly is a fabulous storyteller, a fact best demonstrated by the title track “Born on Fire,” a song about his middle child: “Don’t let nobody try to dampen your flame, try to cool you down, try to make you change, try to steal your heat, or mock your desire. Take your flames to the street cause you were born on fire.” Johnny Hickman joined Reilly onstage, and a request for a female backing singer resulted in an onstage female invasion.

It is safe to say that Cracker drew the biggest crowd on Saturday. I ran into one of my blog followers, Rocio, who was attending her first Campout. She is a music fan who seemingly appears at every must-see concert, meaning her presence is a true litmus test on what is good and hip in music. She’s also a former Marine who turned in several tours during the War on Terror. I suggested that she shout out a request for “Yalla Yalla,” a song about the Persian Gulf conflict, since the song is seldom heard at the Campout. Alas, she did not feel comfortable screaming out a request.

Lowery wore his vintage “The Inland Empire: We will kick your ass” shirt, a slogan I first heard about when Lowery penned an op-ed after the San Bernardino shooting. Cracker performed well with hits including “Teenage Angst,” “The World Is Mine” and “Low.”

After the show, I ran into Rocio. She smiled and told me Cracker played her favorite song “Almond Grove” from their latest release, Berkeley to Bakersfield. I did not ask her if she knew someone who could relate to this somber song, including the lyrics, “See my big brother Jack? He went to Kandahar, but he never came back.”

Sometimes, people ask me: Why go to the Campout, with the same two headliners and the same lead singer, year after year? The answer is simple. Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker have cultivated a catalog of songs making the bands as relevant now as they were two decades ago. Attendee Jessica Auck said it best: “It’s the only place in the universe where I love the audience as much as I love the band.”

Published in Reviews