Written by Jessica Klausing
I have been a big fan of both Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker for many years.
Well, I started out listening to Monks of Doom first and worked my way back to Cracker and then Camper Van Beethoven . So, I'm a little out of order with things. I had heard of this allege “Campout” in a place called Pioneertown. Listening to Counting Crows' This Desert Life, I had become pretty familiar with Pioneertown and Pappy and Harriet’s through the song, “Ms. Potter’s Lullaby.”
In fact, it was listening to a Counting Crows bootleg that inspired me to want to make it out there someday. During a live version of "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby," Adam Duritz talks about wanting so badly to escape so he spends the night out in the desert. Adam's description of Pioneertown had really intrigued me. I wanted so badly to escape the confinement of the life I was living as well. I had spent most of my life in my dull hometown and was ready to escape like Adam.
At the time, I was living in a small rural town in Georgia, between school and work; I never had the funds or time to fly out there. The closest thing I had in attendance was watching the first ever Campout on DVD. It was not until 2014, when I moved to Los Angeles that I would finally be able to attend my first three day annual Campout extravaganza.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Day 1: Crumb Initiation
On September 11, 2014, I drove out to the high desert for a weekend I would never forget. Yucca Valley has a very chill vibe to it. Despite the dry desert heat, a sense of serenity washed over me as I stepped out of the car. The desert itself was beautiful. Nothing but sand, cactus, blue skies, rocks and Joshua Trees that stretched on for miles. This was the picturesque inspiration for any country western lyrics. I especially loved the fact that the little town was quiet all day and night! It was a much welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of metro life in LA! Once I checked in to my respective hotel and was settled, I immediately wasted no time in getting to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.
The palace is a little restaurant and bar in the middle of nowhere complete with an intimate indoor and outdoor stage. It does not look like much at first but it has plenty of personality. This place is literally a gem buried deep within the desert. Robert Plant, Modest Mouse, and Vampire Weekend are just a few of the many all star talent that performs on these stages. The food is even really good! In fact, I ate there all three nights for dinner. I personally recommend the pulled pork sandwich. Around 6PM, all of the Campout attendees were to line up outside the palace for their festival bracelets. It was at that time I was introduced to many of the other fans in line.
Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker have a tight nit community of fans known as “Crumbs.” The Crumbs consider each other more like family. I couldn’t agree more. Attending the festival alone, I was quite intimidated at first. It seemed like all the fans knew each other, except me. But I was immediately introduced and literally welcomed with open arms into the group. It’s always great meeting other die-hard fans at various shows but the Crumbs are flat out the nicest, most welcoming bunch I have ever met.
Talking with the Crumbs, I became more familiar with the Campout customs. Each Campout day has a particular costume theme. Today was Funaro day. Everyone was to wear their Funaro shirts in honor of Cracker drummer, Frank Funaro. Frank suffered a severe arm injury that kept him from playing the drums this year. He was still there in attendance for Campout to support his fellow Camper/Cracker family. It was a real pleasure getting to chat with Frank. He’s a big flirt and such a delight to be around.
At around 9PM, Johnny Hickman and David Lowery opened Campout as the Cracker Duo with Greg Lisher. The Duo mostly performed stripped down acoustic versions of some of their hits such as "Low," "Dr. Bernice," and "Teen Angst." I really perked up as soon as Johnny crooned into my all time favorite Cracker song, “Another Song about the Rain.” Johnny’s haunting “Ahh Woo” vocals blend deliciously into the clash of his guitar. I can't get enough of this beautiful song.
This Campout was a particular special one because both CVB and Cracker had new albums. Cracker’s new double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield was not available until December but the Duo played several songs from the album.
My favorite of the night was “King of Bakersfield.” This song has a nice old school Conway Twitty western sound with bittersweet lyrics. David explained that the Berkeley side is influenced by punk and garage while the Bakersfield side is more California country. It’s a nice record that showcases the band’s talents with both alternative rock and country. However, I tend to favor the Bakersfield side more. Maybe because it’s pure and gentle pace makes me yearn for the desert life?
Friday, September 12, 2014
Day 2: I Live in LA
Jonathan Segel – 7:30pm- 8pm (outside stage)
Paul Chesne Band – 8:30pm – 9:15pm (outside stage)
Camper Van Beethoven – 9:45pm (outside stage)
The Dangers w/ Johnny Hickman – midnight – 12:45am (inside stage)
After an incredible first night, I was beyond ready to continue on with my Campout adventures. During the day, I walked through the small town of Yucca Valley to check out the scenery, which included a stop in Rose and Buster’s Wine Tasting Bar. The owner, Buster is a local to the Mojave desert and just happens to be a Crumb. The bar is decked out in a swanky hippy desert style. Do the wine tour if you have a chance. Buster will treat you to an assortment of delicious cheeses and rare organic wines that can't be found in stores.
It was also a pleasure bumping into many other Crumbs throughout the little town. Everyone was regaling last night’s performance and was hyped about the other bands for tonight’s lineup. Tonight’s costume theme was New Wave and Punk. I think Team Punk pretty much dominated the costume category for the night.
Later that day, I returned to Pappy and Harriet’s for my dinner before the festivities began. As luck would have it, some of the guys from Cracker and CVB were having dinner there too. The cool part was I actually got to sit at an adjoining table with David Lowery and Jonathan Segel. Such great guys! I chatted briefly with them and Greg Lisher about music until our food arrived.
While the bands were setting up, I took a walk through the old abandoned Roy Roger’s western movie set, which is now Pioneertown. During certain parts of the day, some of the shops are open to the public. I found out that Kerosene Hat was recorded in the now closed movie soundstage. I like all of the Cracker albums but Kerosene Hat is my favorite and most listened to out of the bunch. It’s such a surreal feeling for me to just take in this area that was the inspiration for many of my favorite Cracker songs.
Around 7:30PM, everyone gathered to the outdoor stage to watch Jonathan Segel. I don’t know really how to describe Jonathan’s set other than 'hippy trippy instrumentalpalooza.' I can dig it! Everyone else seemed to as well; as the smell of weed sure lingered on throughout the entire set.
The Paul Chesne Band was next up and managed to build on the psychedelic atmosphere with some grungy desert rock. “Wet Dog Man” is a gritty dive bar anthem for the rebels. I prefer the more old school piano based "Pink Champagne." The band has a solid blues meets twang sound in the lyrical style of Gram Parsons and Jeff Tweedy. It takes quite a bit to impress me when it comes to country. I will say that Chesne knows how to give a strong delivery.
The much anticipated Camper Van Beethoven took the stage next. CVB had just released their new duel albums, El Camino Real and La Costa Perdida. Similar to Cracker, each album takes you on a musical journey through the different parts of California. El Camino Real focuses on the darker sound of southern California, while La Costa Perdida has the more trippy northern California sound. Their music has always interfused psychedelic rock, ska, folk, European dance and pop. Expect the random. What else could you really expect from them?
The band played quite a few of their new songs. My favorite of the set was "I Live in LA." Having just moved to LA, the lyrics reminded me of the bittersweet goodbye I gave to my friends and family before I left. Another favorite was “Northern California Girls,” which is a sequel to the Beach Boy’s “California Girls.” Of course, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it was a treat getting to hear the surfy hit "Take the Skinheads Bowling." Jonathan's violin styling complimented Greg's Telecaster along with Victor's bass, holding up the rhythm. These guys were in top form for the night.
After the set, I managed to chat with Victor Krummenacher. I love and respect all of the guys for their hard work and talent, but Victor has a special place in my heart. As I stated earlier, I am a big Monks of Doom fan. I gotta admit I was a little bummed they weren’t on the bill this year, but Greg did confirm to me that a new album was in the works! I told Victor how much his music meant to me and that I just moved out here. He gave me a hug thanking me for coming along with a hearty welcome to California! It was definitely the highlight of my night for sure.
At midnight, we headed to the inside stage for Johnny Hickman and the Dangers. Chris LeRoy and Johnny Hickman gave a powerhouse performance of pop hits such as "Lucky," "Stranger," and "Radio City." Their energy was contagious. This is the kind of music you expect to hear waltzing into a saloon. I was already wiped out from the previous bands but their esteemed brand of Honky Tonk rock kept me on my feet til the end.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Day 3: Crumbs, Crows, and Cracker OH MY!
Los Rios Rock School – 7pm – 7:45pm (outside stage)
Brant Bjork and the Bros – 8pm – 9pm (outside stage)Cracker – 9:30 pm (outside stage)
The Hickmen – 11:30pm – 12:15am (inside stage)
Victor Krummenacher Band – 12:45am (inside stage)
The last night of Campout. Just when I thought nothing could top the first two days, tonight just got better!
Around 5PM, the Campout bands held a special Meet N Greet session. By special Meet N Greet it's basically you buy the official Campout poster, and the bands all sign it in an assembly line fashion across the table. I defiantly wanted some token to commemorate this weekend, so I participated.
At 7PM, the Los Rios Rock School opened the show. Los Rios Rock School provides programs to help teach kids to play instruments and record professionally. The owner, Tyler Marolf is such a nice guy and you can tell he is really passionate about helping his students. They covered many Cracker hits such as "Low," "Movie Star," and the crowd favorite, "Eurotrash Girl." I was amazed at the talent. I could see that the Cracker guys felt the same way. They stood off to the sidelines happily cheering the kids on. These kids really got into the music like seasoned professionals. One Crumb even exclaimed, “these guys are gonna be the headliners for Campout 50!”
Next up was Brant Bjork and the Bros. I can’t give you my actually review of them that night because I couldn’t hear anything! I had made it up to the front row at this point. Once Brant hooked up his double stacked amps, instinctively, everyone started putting on their ear plugs. I had never heard their music so I didn't think it would be such a big deal. Geez, was I ever wrong! Sure enough the bass was melting the skin off my face. All I could hear was BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, the entire set. I couldn't make out any words! One of the Crumbs felt bad for me and went to get me a pair of ear plugs. Even with the ear plugs, I still couldn't make out anything. Next time I see these guys, I will remember to stay in the far back row!!
Once I got home I did give these guys a proper listen before I made an opinion. I'm really glad I did because what happened next was unexpected.Their particular brand of stoner rock is the type of chill music you want to just listen to while laying on the floor staring up at the ceiling. It sounded a lot more aggressive in person.
Everyone cheered as soon as Cracker took the stage. Tonight’s final theme was “I want out of this circus,” where the Crumbs and the band were all dressed in assorted circus attire. The stage was even decked out with creepy clown dolls. Everyone went all out for the last night of Campout. Tonight was my favorite theme of all. Everyone wore the most creative assortment of costumes and it felt more like a Halloween show than an indie desert rock festival.
Cracker brought it home with some soulful country rock. The band played many of their popular hits, "Low," "Teen Angst," "Sweet Potato" and "Big Dipper" Johnny never fails to amaze me. A seasoned guitarist that can shred it during "Eurotrash Girl" and then change dials into a soulful blusey "Take Me Down to the Infirmary." Most fans have a favorite preference between Cracker and CVB. I really couldn't begin to decipher my favorite. Just like their double albums, they both represent different genres but compliment each other so well.
The biggest treat of all was seeing that Counting Crows ex drummer Ben Mize filled in as the drummer for the night! It was a mix of Cracker/CVB and Counting Crows music that had convinced me to pursue my lifelong dream of moving to California and coming to Pioneertown. Being here to witness the best of both worlds was beyond a dream come true for me. After Cracker’s set, I made a beeline to talk to Ben. He was such a nice, down to earth guy (as all of the guys are). We bonded over the fact that we are both Georgians, in fact; Ben nicknamed me “Georgia” for the rest of the night. It was particularly cool getting to chat with Ben about This Desert Life (which is my all time favorite Counting Crows album).
We both went inside for a few drinks and to check out the Hickmen. Johnny kept the party going with more electrifying Honky Tonk rock. After the Hickmen, I got a chance to chat with Johnny. He was such a sweetheart! He saw that the air was making me chilly so in an attempt to warm me he gave me several big hugs and a kiss.
Victor Krummenacher Band closed out Campout. Being a huge fan of Victor’s music, I was very excited about his hearing his solo work. Victor's music is a cross mix of old fashioned country with a twinge of Irish folk. It's on a much darker side of the spectrum than the sarcastic CVB. Much like Cracker and CVB, Victor was also celebrating a new album release. His ninth studio album, Hard to See Trouble Coming was released earlier last year. "If I Could Only Close My Eyes" has Leon Helm type vocals with an emotional brooding of drums and pedal steel. Amidst the gloomy tracks, "If You Wont Break My Heart, I Wont Stand a Chance," has a slight early rock N roll feel that stood out for me.
After Victor’s set everyone headed outside for the traditional Campout closer of “Porch Stock.” Porch Stock is basically Johnny and a couple of musician friends’ improvised sing-a-long jam session outside the Pioneertown hotel. This was quite a celebratory way to close out the 10th annual Campout!
“Last of the great Pioneertown bars”
Campout X has been very special to me. I have made lifelong friends and am very blessed to have spent three wonderful nights listening to incredible music in a breathtaking atmosphere. All of this made my hectic move worth it in the end. I can guarantee this will NOT be my last Campout! I look forward to more shows and making more Crumb friends. Thank you fellow Crumbs and to the CVB/Cracker extended family for memories that I will always cherish. If you are a music fan and want to get the hell out of the city then I encourage you to check out Pappyand Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. You will be glad you did! They always have talented musicians that perform there. Campout is usually held every September, unless otherwise noted. Tickets for Campout can be purchased onCracker or CVB's websites.