CVIndependent

Sat12072019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Brian Blueskye

Whitey Morgan and the 78’s music is called “outlaw country” by some.

Whitey, however, doesn’t care for the word “outlaw” when it comes to his band—and many other bands as well.

The band will return to Stagecoach on Sunday, April 28, after playing the festival for the first time in 2016.

Whitey Morgan, whose real name is Eric Allen, is originally from Flint, Mich. During a recent phone interview, he talked about his upbringing in the town that has become part of the national conversation due to the American auto industry’s problems, as well as the town’s drinking-water catastrophe.

“It was a typical Midwestern industrial town,” Allen said. “Dad worked in the factory, and Mom didn’t work. My grandpa was retired, and I spent a lot of time with him, and that’s where I learned a lot about country music. I got in a lot of schoolyard fights and stuff like that when I was a kid. I don’t know if we were lower class or lower-middle class; in fact, I don’t even know what that means. I know that I never went hungry, but we damn well didn’t have anything that wasn’t necessary.”

Allen said he was fortunate to go to a diverse school.

“The school I went to was in a white neighborhood, but they bused in the black and Mexican kids from the other parts of the town,” he said. “We had poor white kids, poor black kids and poor Mexican kids. … It’s when you’re young, and everyone is the same to you. It wasn’t until I went out in the world that I learned how terrible people are, what they think about each other, and all that other shit. … It’s amazing that people who haven’t been around other races of people are the most racist of people. It’s kind of like you’re talking shit on something you know nothing about, but that seems to be the American way: People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

I asked him about the term “outlaw country.”

“The way the whole outlaw thing was … Willie, Waylon and the guys who were already on major labels … who weren’t getting as much traction as they would have liked had a lot of opinions on how they wanted their music to sound,” Allen said. “They eventually decided, ‘If I’m not going to do it my way, I’m not going to do it at all.’ When they said that to the record company, (the company) buckled, which created this outlaw thing. That’s the true meaning of the word. I think they just throw that word around too loosely—especially if you have long hair, a long beard and tattoos, and play a little louder than any other band. I’ve never really liked labels and don’t like labeling things. You can do things outside of the box and still be true to yourself.

“It’s kind of annoying, because people describe themselves with that label, and it’s like, ‘No, you’re definitely not that. Stop trying to call yourself that.’ It’s easy for them to just label themselves that, because maybe they’re searching for who they are.”

As a songwriter, Allen is able to take the dark sides of life—subjects such as drinking, heartbreak and regrets—and turn them into fun country songs.

“I’ve noticed in the last four or five years that I’ve learned that I kind of hear every song that way: Every song that’s about drinking or doing something else is already dark in itself,” he said. “There’s that old line that you can be at a party, and you’re still standing in a corner alone. I hear these people saying they’re going to live with no regrets, and that is such bullshit. I don’t know anyone who isn’t going to have some regrets about things they’ve done or what they haven’t been able to do. It’s really hard to combine all that, and I just naturally do it because of the life I live. It’s great out here on the road sometimes; it’s great to be drinking and partying and hanging out with different people all the time. At the same time all that stuff is happening, my body is wearing out; my mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be; and that equation ends up being what you hear on my record, I guess.”

As the popularity of Whitey Morgan and the 78’s has grown in recent years, so, too, has the size of the venues in which the band plays.

“I’m glad that we’re graduating to some of the nicer theaters and things like that, but there’s something that feels at home in a 300-seat rowdy honky tonk or a place where everyone is standing up,” Allen said. “That energy is just thick in the air. I love that, and that will always feel like home to me. But I like the nicer theaters with the better sound, and things go easier. When you’re on the road a lot, the little things that could go wrong can start to wear on you. There are all these triggers to set you off. To have less of those on a long tour is definitely a plus. But I’ve walked into places where I’ve placed twice, and don’t remember playing there, but I’ll walk into the green room and be like, ‘Oh, I remember this green room!’ or, ‘I remember that restaurant next door that we ate at!’ After a while, you grab on to the really shitty things or the really positive things—and the things in between can be forgotten.”

Allen said playing at festivals presents a unique set of challenges.

“Festivals are always a little different for me,” he said. “Just playing outdoors has been a challenge, because I don’t get that vibe I get in a dark bar. One thing I learned early on is: Drink lots of water. Don’t only drink whiskey, because you’re not Superman. I try to focus on playing the songs, because that’s a venue where a lot of stuff could go wrong. When you’re the sixth band of the day going in, you think they have everything figured out, and we go to start playing—there’s nothing even on, and the stage is dead. We’re half a song in, and it shuts back off. I’m looking at the sound guy and wondering what the hell is happening.

“I’ve had some nightmares happen that make me wary when I step onto a festival stage. Unless you’re the headliner who got a two-hour soundcheck, and they have your shit saved in the board—that’s one thing. But if you have 45 minutes to play and 20 minutes to get your gear up, you play for 25 minutes before you’re finally warmed up. When we’re done, it’s like, ‘Shit, we were just getting warmed up.’”

I asked Allen what he would recommend to a Stagecoach attendee who partied a little too hard the night before.

“Obviously, water. I’m big on Gatorade and water immediately,” he said. “In Southern California, it’d be a big plate of enchiladas, beans and rice. Maybe a margarita. I mean, realistically, the only thing to cure a hangover is to have a drink. Just do one margarita; it’ll take the edge off.”

The DC Comics universe gets its best movie since Wonder Woman with Shazam!, a fun—and surprisingly dark—blast of superhero fantasy. While a little sloppy at times, the movie works thanks to its central performances and warm-hearted core.

Zachary Levi is an excellent choice to play the title character; that character is the result of a 14-year-old boy being handed super powers by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou). That boy is Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster child in search of his real mom. When he yells “Shazam!” a lightning bolt blasts him in his melon, and he becomes the glorious, red-suited, white-caped superhero—but he still has a 14-year-old’s brain. This gives Levi the chance to do a Tom Hanks/Big sort of shtick, and he’s good at it.

Adults in a certain age group might remember the Shazam TV show from the 1970s. Batson would actually transform into Captain Marvel—not the Marvel Captain Marvel, but the DC Captain Marvel. (There’s a convoluted, legal history behind how Brie Larson eventually wound up playing a character named Captain Marvel. We won’t go into it here.) In the TV series, Billy got his powers from an animated Zeus and his family; it was a combination of live action and cartoon on Saturday mornings with your Frosted Flakes. It was actually kind of badass, but I digress.

The new Shazam (who goes by various names, including Captain Sparkle Fingers) gets coached by his superhero-obsessed sidekick and foster brother, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Freddy winds up being one of the big reasons this movie works, despite its flaws. Grazer employs the same kind of whip-smart line delivery that made him one of the more memorable kids running away from Pennywise in It.

As for those flaws: There are abrupt tonal shifts and subpar CGI—but it’s refreshing to see DC’s take on a comedic, shiny superhero after the gloomy blunders that were Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Justice League, and the goofy bombast of Aquaman. Shazam! has some of the joy that’s missing from the latest Superman flicks.

Director David F. Sandberg is an interesting choice to helm what is essentially a family-fun blockbuster. Watch out: Sandberg directed the creepy horror films Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, and horror does creep into a couple of genuinely frightening scenes. Sivana (Mark Strong), the film’s villain, is accompanied by monster personifications of the seven deadly sins, and they tend to bite people’s heads off and throw them through windows—making parts of Shazam! nightmare fuel for young children. As an adult, I appreciated the chance to be scared (even if the scares did feel slightly out of place), but I imagine some parents might sit shocked as monsters bite heads off. The scary stuff is countered by a sweet family message involving Billy and his foster home. Faithe Herman steals scenes as Darla, Billy’s blissfully optimistic little foster sister who will make you laugh and break your heart. Still, the violence is just short of R-rated, so be careful.

Some poor screenplay choices take the action to all-too-familiar places, like a convenience-store robbery and an attack at an amusement park. (“Uh oh, someone’s still up there in the Ferris wheel!”) Sivana doesn’t impress much as a bad guy. He’s serviceable, but nothing extraordinary.

Shazam! doesn’t feel like a DC movie, nor does it feel like a Marvel movie, for that matter (although it does use a Ramones song for its credits, as did Spider-Man: Homecoming; this actually bugged me a little bit). Batman and Superman live in the same universe as Shazam, but those parts aren’t filled at the moment. (Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill are out.) The movie still finds ways to include the characters that are fun nods, and maybe DC will do some legit crossovers in the future. I’m thinking they have at least one more Shazam! in them.

Shazam! is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Local audiences are going to get a rare chance to enjoy the music of Mon Laferte, the most successful music artist in Chile today.

That’s no exaggeration: She’s the most listened-to artist from Chile on Spotify. She’s the Chilean artist with the most Latin Grammy Award nominations in one year (five, in 2017), and she’s the best-selling Chilean music artist in the digital era.

Mon Laferte will be playing Chella at the Riverside County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, April 17, and will be appearing at Coachella on Friday, April 12 and 19.

Laferte is currently living in Mexico. During a recent phone interview, Laferte talked about the differences between there and her native Chile.

“In Mexico, the music industry is much bigger,” Laferte said. “It’s obviously much more consolidated. It’s bigger; the roof is higher; there’s more diversity; there’s room to grow, and that nurtures an artist in several ways. In Chile, there’s a really good music industry, but it’s a lot smaller; the ceiling is lower. It doesn’t allow you to grow that much, and there’s not room to travel as much as you can in Mexico. But this is a very good moment for the music industry in Chile, and there’s a lot of new talent coming out.”

In 2003, she performed on the Chilean music-competition television series Rojo. She wound up becoming a regular on the show for four seasons.

“These programs are edited before they are aired. I feel that it didn’t hinder my creativity in any way, because my personality is very strong,” Laferte said. “There were a lot of times where I went off-script completely. Aside from what could have been edited when it was broadcast, it was a reflection of who I am as a creative person.”

Her latest album, Norma, released last November, was a collaboration with At the Drive-In and Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.

“It was a great learning experience,” Laferte said. “This was the first time I’ve ever given the production of an album to somebody else in full. The demos were given to Omar as guitar and vocals only, and I followed his intuition of his vision for those tracks, recording them live at Capitol Studios. It was a huge learning experience and something I loved doing for the first time.”

An accompanying film is slated to be released later this year.

“Initially, the album was created as an audio-visual piece. I didn’t intend to release the album first and the visuals later,” Laferte said. “When I wrote it, it was like a documentary on love, and the tracks went along with the visual piece—kind of like visual resources to tell the story beyond what music and lyrical arrangements can do. I’m very excited to see this come to life.”

Laferte said she’s excited about touring the United States and playing at Chella and Coachella.

“Being able to build my life around music and live off my music is the best dream come true,” she said. “Coming from Chile and having a career that developed from a small country and connecting to people performing at Coachella—those are the bigger rewards. I get to live for music.”

Chella, featuring Los Tucanes de Tijuana, Mon Laferte, Cola Boyy, and Giselle Woo and the Night Owls, takes place at 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 17, in the Fullenwider Auditorium at the Riverside County Fairgrounds, 82503 Highway 111, in Indio. Tickets are $30. For tickets or more information, visit www.goldenvoice.com/#/event/370991.

The 11th edition of the annual Desert Stars Festival made its debut at its new location in downtown Joshua Tree over the weekend—and it was a rousing success.

The new location of the festival—which was also moved from fall to spring this year—is near the Joshua Tree Saloon in the arts district of downtown Joshua Tree. The first thing I thought when I walked onto the site was that it has a similar vibe to the back patio of Pappy and Harriet’s, where the festival took place for 10 years.

I was only able to attend on Saturday afternoon, while festival-goers were trickling in.

Local band The Flusters took the main stage at 2:35 p.m. and debuted two new songs which offer a glimpse into the evolved songwriting for the band’s upcoming new album, which guitarist Danny White told me will be out “next year, hopefully.” Given the temperatures and the dust kicking up throughout the day, The Flusters left their suits and ties at home and went for a more dressed-down look.

All of the bands that performed on Saturday afternoon offered a psychedelic rock sound, but none of them sounded the same. I told Flusters frontman Dougie Van Sant: “How can people say that rock ’n’ roll is dead when we’re seeing stuff like this right now?” while we watched a band called The No. 44.

Another of the bands that caught my attention was Los Angeles group Iress. When Iress first started playing, I noticed a similarity to Warpaint—and then the guitars of Michelle Malley and Alex Moreno suddenly turned sludgey and doomy as Malley’s vocals paired with the riffs in a beautiful and haunting way.

I was disappointed that I had to leave due to plans later in the evening: It was obvious that Desert Stars had a lot to celebrate with its successful first run in downtown Joshua Tree.

Scroll down to see some photos from Saturday afternoon at the Desert Stars Festival.

After Beyonce headlined Coachella last year, it was hard to imagine how Goldenvoice could top that this year.

And … uh, they haven’t.

That said, there are a lot of great acts on the bill at Coachella. Here’s a list of the performers I, personally, won’t miss.

Friday, April 12 and 19

U.S. Girls

This is the experimental pop project of producer and musician Meghan Remy. She has released seven albums, and after I heard her most recent album, last year’s In a Poem Unlimited, I hoped U.S. Girls would be on the Coachella lineup for 2019. Just about every music publication that reviewed the album gave it a high score. Remy’s brand of experimental pop goes into some interesting territory. It’s easy on the ears; it’s catchy; and it’s mesmerizing. Remy’s live performances have received strong praise, and it will be interesting to see what she does for Coachella.

Let’s Eat Grandma

While funny, this is not the funniest name on the lineup. (Look closely.) If you’re a fan of Tegan and Sara, you’ll love Let’s Eat Grandma. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth have many interesting things going for themselves; they are able to belt out some beautiful harmonies, and they get down and dirty in some pretty chaotic samples and beats. I highly recommend checking out their album I’m All Ears before checking them out at Coachella.

The Frights

What do you get when you take a punk band that also incorporates surf rock and doo-wop into the mix? The Frights! The Frights go from goofy and off the wall to all of a sudden sounding like Minor Threat. It’s a beautiful mixture of chaos and playfulness—and it’s a whole lot of fun. In a lineup that is less focused on rock bands, The Frights definitely stand out.

Kacey Musgraves

Last year at Stagecoach, Kacey Musgraves played on the Mane Stage during a strong wind storm right before headliner Keith Urban. Despite the challenges—and appearing frustrated at times—Musgraves put on a memorable set for the large country audience. I have to wonder: How will her performance play out at Coachella? It’ll be an interesting sight to see; every year that a Stagecoach performer is included in a future Coachella lineup, the result always seems to be memorable—in a good way.


Saturday, April 13 and 20

Steady Holiday

Dre Babinski has had an interesting career. She’s a model and actress who has worked primarily in commercials—yet she also has quite a knack for songwriting. Her music videos are haunting, and her music is dark and yet beautiful. You can hear bands such as Portishead and Goldfrapp in her music, along with her stated influences of Leonard Cohen and Burt Bacharach. It can make you feel joy—and make you cry. She was well-received at Coachella in 2016 and will no doubt dazzle attendees in 2019.

Idris Elba

We’re used to seeing Idris Elba—aka the next James Bond?—onscreen in films such as Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and the Avengers series. I had never heard his music until recently, and I was pretty amazed by his vocal talents. His voice has a lot of soul, and after watching some footage of his DJ sets, I’m even more fascinated. It’s hard to say what he’s going to do at Coachella, but whatever he does, it should be fantastic.

Ty Segall and White Fence

Ty Segall is one of the best things to happen to the current era of rock ’n’ roll in this current era. While many know who he is, more need to know who he is. He evolves with every record he puts out, every band he puts together, and every collaboration in which he finds himself. White Fence, his collaboration with Tim Presley, is nothing short of earth shattering and will blow your fucking mind. Forget what is going on elsewhere at Coachella and get your ass to this performance.

Mac DeMarco

It’s got to be interesting when someone defines what he does as “jizz jazz.” DeMarco has a sound that is a melding of ’80s smooth rock and psychedelic pop. A lot of what he does also feels like early David Bowie. His music video for the song “Nobody” (the song will be on his upcoming album in May) features DeMarco in lizard makeup wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a cigar, which speaks to his sense of humor and bizarre persona. Considering he sells out venues around the world, you should circle this one on your Coachella schedule.


Sunday, April 14 and 21

Mansionair

If you are a fan of ODESZA, you might remember the appearance Mansionair made on ODESZA’s 2017 album A Moment Apart. With the release of Mansionair’s first full-length album, Shadowboxer, earlier this year, we’re finally getting a proper glimpse of this Australian indie-electronic trio. The album took three years to make; part of the album’s creative process was a retreat to a cabin in the mountains. Shadowboxer is receiving a lot of praise from fans and critics alike, and this Coachella performance is one I’m really anticipating.

Alice Merton

There are thankfully a lot of women on the Coachella lineup this year—and Alice Merton may just take the world by storm one day. Her sound is similar to that of Florence and the Machine, and her debut album Mint was clearly made on her own terms. Her vocals sound flawless throughout, and you can clearly feel the soul and beauty reflected in her songwriting.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

If you’re seeking more of Saturday headliner Tame Impala on Sunday, the closest thing you’ll find is Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The band’s psychedelic sound is a throwback to the ’70s; you’ll also get a dose of kick-ass garage rock. The band is currently touring behind last year’s album release, Sex and Food. After packing Pappy and Harriet’s last year, this group will amaze you.

Blood Orange

I purchased the album Negro Swan on a recommendation from an employee at Amoeba Records in Hollywood and put it in my CD player for the nighttime drive back to the desert. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) is clearly an artist of conscious thought and is singing about all of the right things—self-exploration, the political struggles facing the black community, the anxiety of LGBT people, and much more. Blood Orange is definitely on to something, and I can’t wait to experience whatever he has up his sleeve for Coachella.

Superorganism may very well be the most interesting band you’ll see at Coachella.

Superorganism is actually more an art collective than a band, made up of eight members from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. The group’s closest comp may be Gorillaz … but even that’s not quite right.

Figure out Superorganism for yourself on Saturday, April 13 and 20.

Superorganism’s videos seem like pop-culture propaganda—spoofing modern society. During a recent phone interview from London, Harry (real name: Christopher Young) explained his view on their music videos.

“I think it’s always propaganda to a degree,” Young said. “It’s certainly not a conscious thing on our part, but I think the ego that drives you to write songs and (makes you) feel like you have something meaningful to say to the world is inherently propaganda. We don’t set out to do that, but I think you can pick up quite a few things that run through our record. I like to think that we leave it open to people to interpret what they want out of those songs. We definitely try to have consistency and cohesiveness in what we present to people.

“In terms of mainstream pop music, it depends on whether you feel the Beatles saying, ‘All you need is love,’ is propaganda, or if ‘fuck the police’ is propaganda. But if you have a strong message that you want to convey, you are going to be propagandists in your results, whatever your intentions may be.”

The video for “The Prawn Song” (embedded below) references various recent memes … including, ugh, Tide Pods.

“I think it stems from the influence of Devo and these ideas reflecting society through absurdity more than making a heavy-handed comment on society. Our comments are still somewhat serious,” Young said. “I always think of ‘Prawn Song’ in particular: The message of the song once you unpack it is serious about how humans are entrapped in the environment of our world and various flaws we have. I think a sense of humor is integral in our presentation. Even in the art and pop world, I really struggle with things that take themselves serious without any irony or any capacity to appreciate absurdity. The Tide Pods are a big part of that. What a weird meme to have taken off, and it plays into that Devo theme perfectly.”

Seven of Superorganism’s eight members live together in a house in London. I asked if that ever becomes too much.

“There comes a point where you’ve just come off tour, and you’ve been on a bus together, and you come back into this house that’s full of the same people you were just on a bus with—and you can get a little bit of cabin fever,” Young said. “But all of us have our various ways on how to deal with that, like going off to hang out in a different city for a while to get a bit of a peace of mind, or going for walks around the local area and clearing your head. I try to hang out with my mates who are totally into video games and don’t know a lot about music when I’m back in London, because it’s nice to be in this refreshing zone. That’s the nature of being an artist: It’s a lifestyle first and a job second. We all have our ways of trying to clear our heads.”

In a band with eight people, how do you resolve conflicts in the creative process?

“I wouldn’t say ‘conflicts.’ That’s too strong of a term,” Young said. “Our guiding ethos is really helpful in how we construct things, because it negates conflict before it’s begun. Our guiding ethos is you should invest your ego in the outcome; don’t invest your ego in the process. … That means a good idea will flow, and a bad idea will sink. We don’t get too uptight or upset over our ideas not making the cut. We don’t tend to have culture-specific disagreements for music, but if I have an idea for a guitar part in a track, and Soul (Earl Ho) presents a better one, I guess you could call that a conflict. I’m always going to go with what the best idea is instead of making sure my part is heard.”

Nearly everything that Superorganism does is made in-house—even the production of their videos and their live shows.

“I think that it’s a combination that we set this project up as an art collective,” Young said. “On one hand, we can do everything in-house. Robert Strange (Blair Everson) does all of our visuals; he makes the videos and the visuals for the live shows. He’s downstairs in the bedroom below mine right now working on stuff. We can assemble all of this stuff at home with minimal support. Most artists have an idea for what their visuals should look like and how to put it together, but they need to hire a videographer who can do that, and if it’s someone who has a lot of experience, that’s where it’s going to cost you. … We try to keep that stuff at home and do it for the absolute minimum. That’s where our record label, Domino Records, comes in. Things happened so quick for us in the beginning. They were really confident about coming in and giving us more support from the start. Before we even played a show is when we signed our record deal. It meant that Domino was happy to make the advances and cover the setup (things) we couldn’t do, like hire a projectionist and understanding the lighting rig.”

Coachella comes in the midst of Superorganism’s tour of the U.S., and Young said he’s excited to go into states like Georgia and Colorado, rather than just the usual cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

“I think it’s a weird time for music,” he said. … “One thing that I’ve noticed that happens quite a bit in America, probably because we’re on an indie label, is we tend to get kind of grouped together with what I would describe as ‘indie-rock acts.’ Personally, I feel deprived by that. We’ve worked hard to create something very modern and electronic, and we’re not really rock. Because people really like to categorize things, a lot of the artists we’re categorized with tend to be throwback ’90s alt-rock things. Our stuff has electronic beats and a little bit of a guitar, but it’s all pretty synth-heavy.” 

Latin music has always been a vital part of Coachella Valley culture—but it hasn’t necessarily received much attention outside of the Latino community.

However, that’s started to change, and Goldenvoice—the mega-promoter that puts on Coachella and Stagecoach each year—has taken notice, last year adding the event known as Chella in between Coachella weekends. The concert, at the Riverside County Fairgrounds, is returning this year, on Wednesday, April 17.

Ocho Ojos, a local cumbia band (right), performed at last year’s Chella, but is not on this year’s bill. Instead, the group is playing at Coachella itself—and is even listed on the official poster. This will actually be the band’s second Coachella appearance; Ocho Ojos was one of the local bands selected to play at the festival in 2017.

I recently talked with the members of Ocho Ojos at the La Quinta Brewing Co. taproom in La Quinta about the band’s sound.

“It’s electronic music, but it still connects to the roots of cumbia,” said guitarist Cesar Flores. “It’s a modern sound. We use this SP device for backing tracks, but we also have a drummer that incorporates the rhythm. It’s pretty modern—because we’re hip guys.”

Keyboardist Daniel Torres elaborated on the band’s modern direction.

“It’s much more modern because of technology and things like that—and we’re trying to create new content within this genre,” he said. “All of us have different styles that we’re into, so that alone brings something different to the style of cumbia that we play. Even people who have an untrained ear and people who don’t necessarily know a lot about certain styles can listen and say, ‘Oh yeah, sounds like cumbia!’”

Ocho Ojos was formed in late 2016, and the members—all between the ages of 26 and 30—remember a time when it was almost impossible to find Latin music in the Coachella Valley.

“If it was, it was usually a Top 40 band that was at a restaurant or hotel. They would play covers and not any original content,” Torres said. “They were playing popular songs that were in Spanish from different genres. There wasn’t necessarily any (Latin) band or group in the music scene that we were involved in. … There was definitely no band playing anything Latin.”

Added bassist James Gastelum: “I think that came from a lack of resources. There were no bands to watch, so you don’t get inspired.”

However, that slowly began to change.

“Little by little, we met people through the years. We didn’t necessarily grow up with (them), and we’re from different age groups, but we’re all going to come together,” drummer Rafael Rodriguez said. “There’s always the scene of bands that play in the casinos for money and stuff, but we’re one of the groups people really like because we’re doing original music.

“Latin people have always had a presence here in the music scene.”

One newer venue in particular has been vital in helping foster the Latin music scene: Kilos Cantina in Thousand Palms.

“Kilos is dope, and I can really appreciate them hosting all the bands that are coming through town,” Gastelum said. “They have the right idea, and they own a great space. They have a great location, and they’re running it well. They respect the performers and set up some pretty dope shit. I don’t even question it at all, because it feels like it belongs there.”

Torres added: “Felipe Oros from Kilos has treated the local musicians and touring acts really well. Even though it feels like it’s geared more towards a Latin club, he’s had metal shows and had D.R.I. at Kilos. It’s a little bit of everything … and that’s what creates a sense of community in the music scene.

“Michael Murphy, who owns Bart, is the same way.”

When Ocho Ojos played at Coachella in 2017, the band was invited only a few days before the festival—as is often the case with local bands that earn a spot on the Coachella lineup. This year, however, the band was invited well in advance.

“We were on their radar and listed as a band that people should check it out. That’s how we got asked to play again,” Torres said. “We got an email back over the summer, so we knew about it months before. We put in a lot of time and a lot of work. We’re really excited to be playing Coachella again.”

Gastelum said the band has indeed worked hard to create new fans and a good reputation.

“We put out good recordings that are available on all platforms,” he said. “We also put out some music videos. We invest in ourselves as far as being consistent with recordings and shows.”


While Ocho Ojos is not part of this year’s Chella lineup, Giselle Woo and the Night Owls is, joining Los Tucanes de Tijuana, Mon Laferte and Cola Boyy for the show at the Riverside County Fairgrounds.

Woo talked about how she received her invitation to play at Chella.

“We were performing at a mixer back in February for young professionals,” she said. “That was taking all of my attention, and I got this message on Facebook. One of the representatives of Chella asked me, ‘Have you seen it yet?’ I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Between sets, I checked my e-mail, and I had received an e-mail from him asking me if I’d perform at Chella if we were available. Obviously, I said yes without thinking twice about it. I didn’t even know who the other bands were going to be. I just knew this was awesome (based on) what the event is and what it stands for. I feel like they made an awesome decision, and it’s a great opportunity for us.”

Woo grew up in Cathedral City in a family that listened almost exclusively to Latin music.

“Latin music is pretty much all I was exposed to,” she said. “A lot of kids I know who are Mexican American and who grew up in the valley, their parents listened to the Rolling Stones and stuff like that. My parents didn’t listen to that stuff. It was strictly a lot of the cumbia bands and all the older Mexican big names. It wasn’t until I was a teenager when I first heard Sublime, and was like, ‘Whoa! That’s cool!’

“My parents listened to all Spanish music. I don’t regret any of it, though, and a lot of the reason I have what I have in me … is because of that. It’s music with a lot of meaning and heart.”

Woo sings in both English and Spanish and often performs Latin music at “mainstream” venues.

“Most of my experiences have been good, but not all of the time,” Woo said. “I’ve been singing in Spanish for a while. I’ve had ugly experiences that have made me really sad, like hearing comments like, ‘Are they going to sing something in English?’ I still, to this day, have this insecurity of whether it’s a good idea to sing in Spanish in certain places, and I’m always reminded by my good friends that I shouldn’t worry about that.

“People love me for what I do, and that’s what I do, and I shouldn’t ever feel that way. I’ve been pushing through the past few years and even (feel insecure) when I would perform with Machin’ and would see bands like Elektric Lucie, who are doing original Latin music. It’s nice to see people embracing their culture, even when it’s kind of intimidating in a way, because you want to be all-inclusive. I feel like it’s important to stay true to yourself and stick to it.”

While she didn’t grow up in the east valley, Woo has a strong connection to that part of the Coachella Valley and its Latino traditions.

“My family joined me, and we went to the (brand-new) Coachella Valley Food Truck Park in Coachella. I remember telling my parents, ‘I love this place,’” Woo said. “As soon as we make a left on Grapefruit Boulevard, I feel like I’m in Mexico. It’s been a long time since I went to Guadalajara, where my dad is from, but I volunteer my time for a church that’s located in Coachella and work one or two retreats a year. I spend a lot of time in Coachella for that. I love listening to all of the music out there, and that really gets my blood pumping. I feel like I’m at home, and I love the camaraderie of the community.”

Woo said she’s excited about performing at Chella—and about what it means for the community.

“I think the excitement is really going to hit me once it’s time to rock. Right now, I’m trying not to think about it too much, because then I’ll start getting freaked out. I feel truly honored,” Woo said. “Mon Laferte is a woman I’ve been admiring. All the Latino girls are rising right now. … Opening for Mon Laferte, and Los Tucanes de Tijuana, which I grew up listening to—it’s a true honor.

“My perspective on Chella is that it’s great, and I think adding Chella is a celebration of community. I hope that Goldenvoice truly understands our community in the Coachella Valley, and I hope they know how much love resides here in the valley for one another. I feel something special in the desert that can’t be replicated. Naturally, I’m protective of my home, and I consider this whole place my home. I want this event to really be a positive thing, and I’ll do my best to make sure that is what happens. … It truly does bring us all together, and I hope we can pack that place.”

Chella, featuring Los Tucanes de Tijuana, Mon Laferte, Cola Boyy, and Giselle Woo and the Night Owls, takes place at 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 17, in the Fullenwider Auditorium at the Riverside County Fairgrounds, 82503 Highway 111, in Indio. Tickets are $30. For tickets or more information, visit www.goldenvoice.com/#/event/370991.

Coachella and Stagecoach dominate the music coverage in April—but there are a whole lot of great events going on before, during and after the festivals throughout the Coachella Valley.

The McCallum Theatre will soon enter its summer hibernation, but not before a fantastic April schedule. At 8 p.m., Thursday, April 4, find out who’s the boss when Tony Danza brings in his one-man variety show. He’ll be telling stories about his life and playing music with the Desert Symphony. Tickets are $75 to $250. At 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 10, popular Christian-contemporary music artist Stephen Curtis Chapman comes to the McCallum. He’s won five Grammy Awards and sold more than 10 million albums. Tickets are $39 to $88. At 7 p.m., Saturday, April 27, the Coachella Valley Symphony will be holding its 26th Anniversary Gala, joined by Under the Streetlamp, a fun music group that performs rhythm and blues, rock ’n’ roll and doo-wop from the 1950s to 1970s. Tickets are $45 to $85. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has an April event you won’t want to miss … especially if you’ve watched Netflix or Hulu recently. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 6, Ashanti and Ja Rule will be performing. Ja Rule may currently be best-known for his recent involvement with the disastrous Fyre Festival. He’s also known for a few hits in the early 2000s. Tickets are $39 to $69. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage has several fun events from which to choose in April. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 5, truTV star and magician Michael Carbonaro will be performing. Carbonaro is also known for his appearances on 30 Rock, Happily Divorced and Grey’s Anatomy, on top of his dazzling magic act. Tickets are $25 to $160. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 26, Comedy Central’s Daniel Tosh will take the stage. You remember him … he’s guy who has all the videos from YouTube showing people doing stupid and ridiculous stuff—supplemented by his colorful and hilarious commentary. Tickets are $80 to $100. Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 Casino has a couple of intriguing shows. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 13, Paquita La Del Barrio (upper right) will be performing. Known as “Franny from the Neighborhood,” this beloved performer is well-known in the United States and Mexico for her songs that promote strength and solidarity while challenging sexist machismo. Tickets are $35 to $45. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 27, the “comedian of a thousand faces,” Jo Jo Jorge Falcon, will bring the funny. Falcon is known for his twisted sense of humor—and for sometimes wearing a condom-tip cap. Tickets are $36 to $81. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort and Spa has a full slate of impressive April offerings. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 5, ’60s pop icons Chubby Checker and Frankie Avalon will be performing on a double bill. Frankie Avalon is best-known for his movie performances with Annette Funicello in what become known as the “beach party” genre. He’s also a singer-songwriter and has recorded seven albums. Chubby Checker is known for his hit “The Twist” (which was actually a Hank Ballard and the Midnighters cover) and the accompanying dance. Tickets are $45 to $65. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 12, comedian Cedric the Entertainer will be performing. He’s best-known for his role as Eddie in Barbershop, as well as his other acting roles, but he’s also been a popular standup comedian through the years. Tickets are $59 to $79. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 26, country artist Rodney Atkins will take the stage. He’s had six No. 1 hits on the Billboard U.S. Hot Country Songs chart since his career began in 2003. Tickets are $45 to $55. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has a lot going on in April—and is always a popular place to be during Coachella and Stagecoach, as you never know who will show up. Here are a couple of events with tickets still available. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 19, Pale Waves will be performing. It’s a four-piece indie-pop band from the United Kingdom—and this group is fantastic. When I listened to their debut album My Mind Makes Noises, it reminded me of the best alternative pop, such as the Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Echo and the Bunnymen. Pale Waves has been selling out venues in the U.K., Europe and North America. Tickets are $16 to $20. At 8 p.m., Sunday, April 28, the legendary rockabilly/rock ’n’ roll band Reverend Horton Heat will be performing, along with the Legendary Shack Shakers. No hyperbole: These are two of the best rock bands in America, and both have recorded great music that any rockabilly, blues or rock fan can appreciate. Tickets are $25. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The action remains hot at the Purple Room. At 6 p.m., Friday, April 12, the “King of the Song Cue Ball” Jerome Elliott will be performing. A hilarious award-winning actor, singer and director, and a friend of the Independent, he’s performed at just about all of the top cabaret venues across the country. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 6 p.m., Friday, April 26, jazz singer, songwriter and actress Ann Hampton Callaway (below) will come to the Purple Room. She’ll be singing jazz songs that were made famous in films. Tickets are $55 to $65. At 6 p.m., Saturday, April 27, actress and singer Renee Olstead will be performing. You might remember her from Still Standing and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Well, she’s also a hell of a singer, and performed at the Live 8 concert in 2005. Tickets are $35 to $40. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

For a decade or so, the Desert Stars Music Festival brought beloved bands like Dinosaur Jr., The Raveonettes, The Lemonheads and others to a yearly celebration at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

However, the festival in the fall of 2017 brought the Pappy and Harriet’s chapter to a close. This coming weekend, a new chapter for Desert Stars fest will begin, at a new location—in the east arts district in Joshua Tree, where the lineup over two days will include headliner Luna, as well as Dean Wareham performing Galaxie 500 and Chaos Chaos.

During a recent phone interview, festival founder Tommy Dietrick discussed the festival’s history.

“When you think back to 2006, there weren’t a lot of outlets for indie bands to do a festival scenario,” Dietrick said. “If you wanted to play Coachella, you had to be a lot bigger. You had to have a lot of contacts who were superstar managers, agents and so on. I produce and engineer music for a living and work with a lot of independent artists. I know a lot of different artists in the scene, from the Dandy Warhols to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the bands that fall under the psychedelic and indie ethos. I had been coming up to the high desert and Pappy and Harriet’s. Somewhere around 2004 and 2005, some of my friends had been doing these shows on the backlot of Pappy and Harriet’s. Around 2006, we had become friends with Robyn (Celia) and Linda (Krantz) who own it and said, ‘Hey, we want to do this three-day festival with all these indie bands and charge $50 for the entire weekend.’

“The Entrance Band headlined the first year, and everyone showed up and donated their time playing for free. We had a skeleton crew putting the whole thing together, and we had so much fun that we decided we should do it again the following year. It started there, and by the third year, I reached out to some of my friends who were in bigger indie bands—and it was sold out. We still continue to keep it small and did it there from 2007 to 2017. Really, the whole thing was based on the independent spirit.”

Dietrick said the festival’s growth led to its new home—although he emphasized that Desert Stars would remain smaller and independent.

“We talked about how we wanted to have an autonomous venue where we could have our own place and set it up doing our own thing. That’s what happened now,” he said. “We’re on commercial acreage in the downtown arts district of Joshua Tree. We moved it to the spring instead of in the fall, as we did for 10 years, which is awesome, because it has a rebirth feeling.

“We built this new venue site from the ground up: 400 feet of fencing; two new stages; and we have our own bar and food now. It’s really exciting to see the evolution. The new venue is technically about two times the size of our old venue, but we’re keeping it smaller, especially as we test the infrastructure. We’re going to keep the whole event this year at around 400 … just to make sure we’re doing it as correctly as we can. A lot of people in this field of micro-festivals, as they grow, they make the mistake of growing too fast. We have intentionally limited our growth and won’t ever be a big 5,000 to 10,000-plus-people festival. There’s too much headache and stress at that level.”

Still, Dietrick said he’ll miss Pappy and Harriet’s.

“I feel like I grew up on that back lot,” he said. “When we did that first one in 2007, I was 29 years old and didn’t know what I was doing. I have so many memories from there. I did an interview in OC Weekly, and it had 10 moments that defined our event. One of them was playing onstage with Robby Krieger from The Doors. These are ‘pinch yourself’ moments that you can’t believe sometimes. We’ll miss it, but after a decade, it feels really good to be independent.”

Dietrick said he’s quite excited about the new location.

“It has a little of an Austin, Texas, meets Joshua Tree, California, vibe to it, because we have this really amazing steel and wood fencing all around,” he said. “There are these nice entry gates that are made out of wood. As long as people have a wristband, they are allowed to go in and out and wander through the shops and restaurants around us. We’re right in downtown Joshua Tree.

“This location site doesn’t have a fucking Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box or Dollar General. That’s the best thing to come out of this.”

Desert Stars has always invited local bands to take part in the festival. This year, The Flusters, Gabriella Evaro and Jesika von Rabbit are on the bill.

“Living here full-time now as of three years ago, I’ve known a lot of the local musicians up here,” Dietrick said. “Jesika von Rabbit has been a big supporter, and she’s kind of a legend up here. You get to know everyone quickly living in a small town, and I adore everyone who I come into contact with. There’s a lot of interesting talent that’s out here. I try to do my very best to benefit the community I’m a part of.

The Desert Stars Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, March 29 and 30; park at 6551 Park Blvd., behind Coyote Corner, in Joshua Tree. Weekend passes are $75; one-day passes are $48.50. For tickets or more information, visit www.desertstarsfestival.com.

Antisemitism and other forms of racial hatred are on the rise—and Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs is taking a stand with the Interfaith Service to Stop Hate, taking place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 29.

During a recent phone interview, organizer Bob Weinstein explained the goal of the service.

“There’s been a tremendous spike in the hate of minorities, with Jews being shot dead in their houses of worship, and African Americans being persecuted in the streets,” Weinstein said. “Even in Palm Springs, we had an incident with the Black History Parade … where someone from the parade was attacked by a racist.

“The LGBT community is systematically being attacked. We have a very polarizing situation today where minorities are being viciously persecuted across the country and around the world. A Jewish person can’t walk down the streets of Paris without being attacked. What I wanted to do to combat this hate before it gets worse is partner up with local churches once a month … and have more of a brotherly service and try to get the pastors, temples and Baptist churches across the country to (tell) their congregations that hate and bigotry are not acceptable. We’d like to start this trend across the country.”

Weinstein said religious congregations are in a position to speak out against racial hatred.

“The base of the community is the community that goes to church or goes to a mosque,” he said. “Unless the leaders of these communities talk and teach their congregants that hate is not acceptable in our society, things could get worse. During the Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe during World War II, most of the churches remained silent, even though the church leaders were aware that Jews were being persecuted and murdered. You can’t have that today. You need to have the leaders of the community talk to their congregants and tell them, ‘This has to stop, and it’s not acceptable.’ We have to make a change for the better, and we have a capacity to do better.”

In 2018, the FBI reported that there were 7,175 hate crimes in the United States in 2017—1,054 more than the previous year, or a 17 percent increase.

“The problem is it’s becoming more acceptable,” Weinstein said. “Antisemitism is out in the open. Attacking African Americans in the street has become more acceptable. These things cannot be acceptable in our society; otherwise, we’re going to end up in a civil war. That’s the bottom line. We have to stop it, and we have to deescalate the situation before it gets worse.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are at least 30 hate groups in Southern California.

“There have been a number of Nazi organizations and hate groups living in the Coachella Valley, and in the surrounding areas as well,” Weinstein said. “It’s always been a very conservative jurisdiction. Small pockets like Palm Springs are subject to periodic attacks like we had with George Zander a few years ago. We have to be on guard, and we have to fight back.”

The service at Temple Isaiah will include speakers including Congressman Raul Ruiz, Mayor Robert Moon, Palm Springs Councilmember Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs Councilmember Geoff Kors, and State Senator Jeff Stone.

“We’ll have speakers before the service from 6:30 to 7:30, and then at 7:30, we’ll have the service where our congregation will join the Baptist congregation in Palm Springs, Ajalon Baptist Church, an African American congregation, and their choir will join our cantor onstage, singing and praying together. We’ll be praying for peace and to stop the hate.”

Weinstein said Temple Isaiah has an important role to play in fighting for social justice in the Coachella Valley.

“Temple Isaiah has always been at the forefront of trying to seek justice not only for the Jewish community, but for minorities in general,” he said. “Many years ago, we had interfaith services with the African-American community and other communities throughout the Coachella Valley. We’re always trying to reach out. I think that not only should we reach out in this instance; we should try to set a trend for the rest of the country.”

The Interfaith Service to Stop Hate will take place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 29, at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-325-2281, or visit www.templeisaiahps.com.