Diamond in the Desert
By Simon Weedn
As September’s heat wave finds us, just as summer is supposed to be drawing to a close, the time to catch some awesome music beneath a gorgeous, warm night sky is now. Thankfully, the fine folks at Pappy & Harriet’s, along with laid back, alternative rockers The Mother Hips are bringing you one last fantastic summer music festival. For those in need of a final epic weekend of good bands to round out your summer season, the first annual Desert Dust Up Festival has all the makings of what you’re looking for. Boasting a well rounded line-up that pulls from some of the best and brightest of California’s alternative rock, country, roots and americana scenes spread across two stages, there’s a lot to look forward to at this last hurrah out in the desert.
Dusty and Dedicated
With so many festivals these days taking place in desolate, no-man’s-land style venues that are chosen only for their ability to hold as many people as possible, the idea of having the Desert Dust Up at a venue like Pappy and Harriet’s—which allows intimacy as opposed to capacity—is a welcome relief. Located just outside of Yucca Valley, in the scenic and rustic former live-in movie set turned unincorporated village of Pioneer Town, Pappy & Harriet’s has been a mainstay attraction of the city since the ‘40s and ‘50s, when it appeared in films and television programs as notable as The Cisco Kid and The Gene Autry Show.
In recent years, Pappy and Harriet’s has built a reputation as a diamond in the desert for live music. Acts as notable as Vampire Weekend, Band Of Horses and the Arctic Monkeys have all played there. Even former Led Zeppelin singer, Robert Plant, has made an appearance. Additionally, the venue has become home to an array of local desert musicians, and is now a prominent stop on the tour itinerary of many nationally and internationally known recordings acts. Even their regular Monday open mic night is known to have highly regarded musical groups drop in to perform a few tunes for themostly local audience. “The thing about my venue is there is a lot of freedom here,” explains owner/talent buyer Robyn Celia. “It’s kind of like there are rules, but there are no rules, and it is the wild west in a lot of ways. So I think people just come let their hair down and really enjoy the music. It’s open, there are stars, you’re not confined, and your kids can come. It’s all ages, which people love; they can bring their kids, watch some music, have a good time and not worry.”
Although this is the first year of, hopefully many Desert Dust Up’s, the idea for the festival has it’s roots in another Mother Hips’ organized gathering. Mother Hips’ singer and guitar player, Tim Bluhm muses, “Well we’ve been doing this one in Big Sur called The Hipnic, and we’ve been doing it for, I think, five years. It’s been successful; everyone out on the coast loves it, and it gets better every year. We just wanted to see if we could do that again in another part of the state.”
Robyn Celia further explains, “The first time they [The Mother Hips] came out to play, it was love at first sight . . . We have this outdoor stage and I remember when Tim Bluhm saw it they were all just like ‘Wait a minute?! We want to have a festival here!’” Bluhm adds “[Pappy and Harriet’s] is just such an awesome venue . . . The people there are so cool and it’s just a beautiful thing.” With their plans and goals for the Desert Dust Up running parallel to Bluhm’s work with the Hipnic, Bluhm and Cecilia set about putting together a stellar line up for the festival. “It’s just bands that are our friends, who we have a connection to, and bands that are interested in being a part of a cool event,” says Bluhm. He continues, “Rather than seeing how much money we can make, the idea is that it’s a family friendly thing and we’re just trying to step out of the rat race for a few days and enjoy music and each other’s company.”
Keeping those ideas in mind, the Desert Dust Up has brought together an array of talent that should make any fan of music on the whole salivating with anticipation. One of the most well known groups on the festival’s main stage will be East Los Angeles legends, Los Lobos. The band, now in it’s 40th year, is well known for its immense melting pot of a sound, which combines everything from Americana and Mexican roots music, to older rock and roll and punk rock. In their four decades together, Los Lobos have released over a dozen albums, garnered several Grammy’s, and dazzled audiences all over the world with persistent touring. Those in attendance on Friday evening will have the privilege of seeing Los Lobos in one of the most intimate settings they’ve played in years, beneath the stars on Pappy and Harriet’s stage.
Stardust and Wanderlust
In addition to Los Lobos, the Desert Dust Up will feature an array of acts hailing from all over California. Representing the Southern portion of our state will be acts like Paul Chesne, whose band performs their blend of soul and rock and roll regularly, and is a favorite of Pappy and Harriet’s regulars.
Pasadena’s Old Californio will be dishing out its distinctive, critically acclaimed blend of country rock and psychedelia for two sets over the course of the weekend. Los Angeles singer-songwriter Luther Russell’s new project, SAKES, will be delivering a late night set after Los Lobos on the inner stage. Silverlake’s bohemian scene will be represented by the anthemic, rootsy, indie rock of The Lonely Wild, who are poised to be one of the next break out acts of the neighborhood. Even San Diego will be represented with a performance from mellow-rockers The Donkeys right before The Mother Hips on Saturday evening.
Those looking for a taste of the Northern part of the state will also have plenty to fill their ears with. The weekend will feature appearances by Grateful Dead bass player, Phil Lesh’s sons, Brian and Graham in their bands American Jubilee and Midnight North, respectively. Also hailing from the Bay Area and putting in two sets, one late and one early, will be Lazyman, whose jammy rock sound fits right in with the rest of the weekend’s offerings.
From the Hip
With so many awesome, talented bands to enjoy, one would be remiss notto mention the group at the helm of the entire weekend, long running Bay Area act, The Mother Hips, going strong for over 20 years. The Hips have done something few bands with any type of longevity in this day and age have done, created careers in the world of music entirely on its terms. Though its sound can be hard to place at times, there’s little doubt that it follows proudly in the footsteps of the free-spirited energy that defined many classic Northern California bands, such as its friends from The Grateful Dead. In its time together as a group, the band has released several albums, spent time on a major label, toured extensively all over the world and now, helps curate two distinctive festivals.
Most recently, the band released their eighth studio album, Behind Beyond, earlier this year. Though the band has always stayed close to its ‘90s alternative rock roots, it seems to be working hard these days to make sure that, beyond anything else, it always stays true to its own ideals with the music it makes. “We wanted it [Behind Beyond] to be the next step for The Mother Hips,” Bluhm explains. “The Hips don’t have any restraints or anyone telling us what we can or can’t do, so we just want to make records that we’ll be proud of years down the line.” In addition to giving the band as much freedom to do what it wants as possible, the band is focused on writing music that connects with its listeners on a deeper level. Whereas many groups write music for the aesthetic and the “sounds cool” appeal, The Mother Hips, now more than ever, want to deliver tunes that hit its audience both emotionally and spiritually, if possible. This approach certainly gives Behind Beyond a depth that others, even its peers, struggle to reach. One aspect that might help in this approach to writing is that the band really takes its time to craft its records. Says Bluhm, “They always say the saying goes that, ‘You have your whole life to write your first record, and then you only have a year or two write the second one.’ And we sort of turned that on it’s head; we had plenty of time to write new material and record it, there was no rush.”
With a new record to its name, a line of shows in front of it and the Desert Dust Up closing in, The Mother Hips have a lot on its plate as the year rounds out, but also a great deal to be proud of as well. Though the band members are keeping their plans for their sets at the Dust Up close to their vests, Bluhm admits they’ll be shaking up their sets to keep things interesting. “We won’t play the same set by any means. We may not even play any of the same songs. That’s kind of how we roll.”
A Stellar Summer End
As the days wind down and the excitement builds, one thing seems to be certain, the Desert Dust Up is going to be an incredible experience for live music fans of all ages. With a focus on creating an environment for artists to personally connect with their listeners as opposed to the distance and isolation that some of the larger festivals unwittingly create, the Desert Dust Up will certainly be a unique opportunity for bands and fans alike. Its ideas certainly seem to fit perfectly with the freedom and energy that Pappy & Harriet’s provides. So do yourself a favor and make it a point to roll out to this one. The warm desert air will do you good, the music will be awesome and you’ll enjoy being under the gorgeous night sky.
Desert Dust Up Music Festival at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; pappyandharriets.com. Fri, Sept. 20-21. 7PM. $30-$50. All ages.