“Back in my room
I had a late night out
But I had a place to go.”
“Happy Times,” Chris Leroy of The Dangers
Cracker at Campout 9, Sept. 14, 2013, photo by Robert Lane
Up at 3 a.m. to start my California trip, I brought in the Post-Trib and found a great Jeff Manes SALT column on colleague Will Radell, which concentrated on his being a Civil War re-enactor but also mentioned that his being in the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra chorus. During an airport layover in San Francisco I had a Buena Vista burger and spotted a handsome dead ringer for Miller realtor Gene Ayers and a professorial type who resembled the late IUN Economics prof Les Singer. My Avis Mazda didn’t have a key; instead the car started when you put a foot on the brake and touched a button simultaneously. After visiting my 97 year-old mother, I had a nightcap at Applebee’s, where Natasha recognized me. It was her second day back behind the bar after giving birth to a girl named Marissa Sunshine that she calls Honey.
At Midge’s apartment Thursday we looked at a photo album that contained her and Vic’s wedding pictures. She recalled that Vic’s best man and ushers put limburger cheese in his car that they were planning to use on, causing it to stink so bad – like body odor or smelly feet - that the vehicle never recovered. Fortunately Aunt Mamie let them have her Buick for their honeymoon.
After checking into the Yucca Valley Best Western, I drove to Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown and picked up tickets and a blue armband. I sat down next to a filmmaker, Jim Thompson, who worked on the set of “Magnum P.I.” in Hawaii for several years and attended art school in Baltimore at the same time I was a Maryland grad student and, like me, participated in the 1967 March on the Pentagon. So we had much in common. A history buff and motorcyclist, he recommended Herbert Wagner’s “At the Creation: Myth, Reality, and the Origin of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, 1901-1909,” claiming it presents an excellent description of Milwaukee during that era. Hanna, a beautiful young blond, struck up a conversation. She’s attended Campouts with her parents since before she turned 21. I asked whether having them around cramped her style; they’re wilder than I, she replied. Shortly thereafter, confirming what she said, her mom and three other cougars came by in revealing outfits and gave out hugs to all of us.
The entertainment got off to a fantastic start. Hickman Dalton Gang featured Cracker guitarist Johnny Hickman, the main reason I am a Cracker fan (some call themselves Crumbs). Working my way to the front of the indoor stage, I got the full benefit of Johnny’s facial expressions, guitar prowess, and interaction with the audience. Later Johnny and David Lowery did a set featuring numbers not commonly heard at regular Cracker concerts, including one of my favorites, “Happy Birthday To Me,” with Johnny on harmonica. I left before a group came on featuring a member of Foo Fighters and slept soundly.
At Best Western’s sumptuous free breakfast buffet, a guy kept eyeing me and smiling. I finally noticed his blue Campout wristband. From northern California and a train buff (he knew what lines came through Northwest Indiana), Bob had seen Cracker six times this year; his sister was more a fan of Camper Van Beethoven, also fronted by David Lowery and the main Friday act. In the lobby were Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” which I’d never read, and LBJ adviser Jack Valenti’s “This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House, and Hollywood.” Valenti was a WW II bomber pilot in Europe but had never talked about those experiences nor flown a plane ever again. His most harrowing mission was crossing the Atlantic at war’s end. A voracious reader of generally good taste, he liked historian Will Durant, mystery writer Elmore Leonard, and novelist John Updike but had no use for the effete Henry James. While MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) president, he once sat between Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope, both of whom loved to tell jokes but were nearly deaf. Valenti had to repeat each one so the other could hear it.
Leading off Friday’s entertainment were The Dangers, a California rock band. After a rollicking opener, out came Johnny Hickman with his guitar, who performed on a half-dozen numbers, including “Walking Highway 61,” which he and Chris Leroy wrote when teenagers. Afterwards Johnny chatted with admirers. I relayed greetings from his Northwest Indiana fans, including Marianne and Missy Brush and Lorraine Shearer. Epic flooding was threatening his home in Colorado, and he was in close contact with his dad, who reported that a nearby creek had turned into a raging river.
The first outdoor act, Gram Rabbit electronic rock band from nearby Joshua Tree. Many in the crowd had on rabbit ears. Singer Jesika von Rabbit reminded me of Lady Gaga with her wild array of sunglasses and her blond punk hair. Formerly a Gram Parsons cover band, Gram Rabbit frequently played at Gram Fests (as did Cracker) held in their hometown near where fans cremated Parsons’ body in 1973. Headliners Camper van Beethoven mixed in new songs with fan favorites such as “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Violinist Jonathan Segel and bass guitarist Victor Krummenacher, both of whom later played on the stage inside, were sensational. A couple smoking a joint offered me something that turned out to be a guitar pick with the Campout 9 logo.
With a couple hours to kill Saturday I picked up Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” according to Ernest Hemingway the origin of all American literature. The celebrated humorist declared: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” Early chapters cleverly poked fun at civilized society, and both the intro and afterword were enlightening, but I’ll ever finish it and left the copy for a future Best Western guest. I turned on the Alabama game against Texas Tech, which had turned into a rout by the time nephew Bob Lane arrived, fresh from a round of golf with his dad and a visit with his grandmother. He had found Cracker performance on YouTube and was pumped for the evening’s show.
Jimbo with Chris Leroy and Johnny Hickman, photo by Robert Lane
At the Meet and Greet Johnny Hickman and Chris LeRoy were seated next to each other. Johnny had a bandaged and ugly-looking cut on his arm but shrugged off my concerns; Chris claimed he deserved it. Hanna had informed me that after Friday’s final act Johnny always played an informal set at the campground. That might have been the scene of the accident. Both Chris and Johnny autographed a Dangers CD for me, and then Bob and I walked over to buildings that once had been the set for old Gene Autry, Cisco Kid and Roy Rogers films. Some had been refurbished as gift shops; others provided excellent photo opportunities for us and a couple young girls we ran into. With the temperature dropping into the mid-seventies at sunset, Bob and I traded witticisms and felt totally relaxed. A veteran of countless Grateful Dead and Phish concerts, Bob started feeling the same vibes, as we passed an area near an old motel where campers were parked. Pappy and Harriet’s was a perfect place to host Campout 9, with ample seating both indoors and outdoors and a large open area for the main acts. In addition to restaurant seating, there was reasonably priced buffet and pints of beer (in my case Bass Ale) for $4.25 – and no pressure to keep buying, even at the bar. The only drawback was an 11:30 curfew for the outdoor shows. It was hard to imagine neighbors who might complain, allegedly the case in past years.
Pioneertown photos by Robert Lane
Up first Saturday, Jonathan Segel band, featuring two members of Camper van Beethoven and a former Cracker and Counting Crows drummer. Bob and I maneuvered near the front and grooved out. Next came Jackshit whose leader, Davey Faragher, was the original bass guitar player for Cracker. Then Cracker played for 90 minutes starting around ten. Dave Lowry, normally rather dour, wore an outrageous wig and Hawaiian outfit and seemed to be totally enjoying himself. They’ve never sounded better. Like many others, I was singing the chorus to “Low,” “Teen Angst,” and “Euro Trash Girl.” It being Hawaiian Night, quite a few folks had on leis and revealing costumes. One woman wandered through the crowd topless; another had on a lobster outfit.
Sunday Bob headed home to San Diego after breakfast. I watched the Eagle lose to the Chargers on TV, then visited Midge prior to having a filet minion dinner at Piero’s Acqua Pazza. Applebee’s was crowded that evening because of a dispute between Time Warner Cable and NBC, which caused a blackout of the Sunday night football contest between San Francisco and Seattle in many households. My Fantasy player Marshawn Lynch scored three TDS, but, alas, I lost to Pittsburgh Dave despite winding up with the third most total points among our eight teams. To my delight Andrea Aguirre was behind the bar and gave me a warm welcome. I told her about Campout 9 and having a chance to talk with all the band members. Cracker bass player Sal Maida, for instance, recalled twice playing at Valparaiso’s Popcorn Festival and talking with Missy and Marianne at the Cubby Bear in Chicago. When I got home and played The Dangers CD, I was blown away with how good it sounded, especially Johnny Hickman singing “Wandering Around,” and called Marianne to rehash the entire three days.