Maya Rudolph & Gretchen Lieberum are Princess

I’m not really one for tribute bands. There’s this group Peace Frog who does a pretty solid tribute to The Doors every Sunday here in Venice, which I love because Jim Morrison and that era kind of define Venice and deserve to be honoured as such. But overall, most tribute bands are washed up impersonators, in my humble opinion.

Then one day I heard that Maya Rudolph had a Prince tribute band that was set to play two back-to-back shows at the Troubadour. All former notions aside, there’s no way I could resist this show. I have loved Prince since Purple Rain single-handedly forced me into puberty and Maya Rudolph is a comedic goddess, not to mention the Troub is my favorite LA venue. Worst-case scenario, it would be good for a laugh and a bit of a boogie, right?

Princess is a dynamic duo made up of two devoted Prince fans – Maya Rudolph and her best friend, jazz vocalist Gretchen Lieberum. Throw in a kickass backup band and some pseudo backup dancers who present her majesties with the appropriate stage props and accessories, and you’ve got a tribute show sure the melt any Prince fan into a pool of purple goo. Words eaten. All hail the tribute band!

Sure, the show has a comedic element to it. But it was clear from the second the ladies stepped on stage to open with Let’s Go Crazy – Rudolph donning a lace blindfold, no less – that we were dealing with legit Prince fans.

I’ve only seen his majesty live once. It was a sold-out stadium show in Vancouver, BC in 2013. Prince played for nearly 3 hours…and when the house lights came on, he kept going, despite his stage being torn down around him. The man is unstoppable!

I wasn’t sure how Prince would feel about Princess, but it turns out he’s a fan according to this interview Rudolph gave for LA Weekly upon meeting her idol.

“It was like the gates of heaven opening,” Rudolph says. “Gretchen and I got to meet him the last time he played in town. And he gave us both these big, nice hugs, and he said that he had our performance on Jimmy Fallon recorded on his DVR.” (side note: the backwards bit is kind of epic)

I’ve seen a lot of incredible live shows in LA this year, but I can’t say I had more fun than I did at the Princess show. If you’re in San Francisco in January, they’re playing SF Sketchfest.

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Pappy & Harriet’s

Los Angeles is known for attracting, inspiring and launching the careers of rock stars from all over the world, this we know. It’s also known for an unmatched live music scene with more venues than any other city in the US. From massive stadiums all the way down to dark little dive bars, the vibe is legit.

While there’s no shortage of live shows every night of the week in LA county, there’s a place – a strange and kitschy little place – about 2.5 hours east that stands out among the rest. A “palace” perched atop a long and winding desert road to nowhere in the Yucca Valley, where artists like Robert Plant and Vampire Weekend have graced it’s storied stage.

Pappy & Harriet’s, a cabaret style roadhouse situated on the edge of the Mojave Desert in Pioneertown, is almost too good to be true. I had read about bands I love dropping in for surprise appearances, and given the bars remote location, I had to see for myself what was drawing people there.

The road from Yucca is kind of a trip, especially at night. You immediately begin to climb in elevation, in complete darkness, save a few random folks who call the valley home. We did spot a massive pine tree decked out in twinkling Christmas lights on the edge of a cliff with no visible house nearby. How they got there is a mystery.

The moment you pull up, you’re hit with the intoxicating smell of mesquite barbecue smoking out back. The bar is part of a small village founded in 1946 by Hollywood filmmakers who intended to create a living movie set for western pictures. With facades based on an 1870s frontier town, it feels a little like Wyatt Earp will rise from the dead and challenge you to a duel at any moment.

A mix of bikers, old folks, families and cool kids clasping their bourbon-filled mason jars filled the place. While the food is worth the trip alone, we were there for the music. Anthony D’Amato opened with an acoustic set; he and his guitar and harmonica had a big enough sound to match an entire band. Then the headliners, Israel Nash, hit the stage and as D’Amato put it, launched into a set that would melt our faces off. Think Harvest Moon era Neil Young meets The Who meets rockabilly. Fuck, is that even possible? Maybe it was the electro-magnetic air, maybe it was the whiskey but it was the perfect soundtrack for a wild night in the desert.

We couldn’t help but alter our plans to return the next day before heading back to the city. It was worth it. A trip to the California desert isn’t complete without wetting your whistle at Pappy’s alongside the gnarly locals and bright-eyed hipsters. Even for a first-timer, I felt right at home.

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pappy-&-harriets

pappy-&-harriets

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Transcending Time in the Desert

There’s something strange and mystical about the desert that can draw you in like a thirsty traveler to an abundant oasis. The climate is almost perfect, at certain points of the year, while the dead of summer could result in just that – death. Natural environments capable of creating extreme danger kind of get my rocks off, even though I wouldn’t dare travel to these places in times where an inherent risk is present. Just being aware of the power of these corners of the world is enough to satiate my adventurous appetite.

While planning a trip to Joshua Tree, I stumbled across a few travel blogs that talked about a big white dome, a short drive from the Yucca Valley. I remembered seeing an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where he and Josh Homme visited something like that too. Always one to follow in the footsteps of my favorite journos and rock stars, I couldn’t resist traveling down the rolling road to nowhere, passing ‘Jesus Saves’ signs along the way, in search of this strange structure.

Eventually we reached a little town called Landers and found the Integratron, a striking white dome set amidst a desolate, desert backdrop. I was waiting for tiny, green men to swing open the front door and tell us to join them meanwhile hoping we hadn’t stumbled upon some religious cult clubhouse. Luckily, neither were the case.

Situated on top of a geometric vortex, the Integratron was built in the 1960s by aerospace engineer George Van Tassel who claimed the idea to build it was inspired by communications he had received from extra-terrestrial life. I wasn’t too far off with the little green men.

The only acoustically perfect, all wood structure in the United States, its energy is said to be capable of cell rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel. While I didn’t find myself shot back into the early 1970s, a time I fantasize about traveling back to all the time, I did experience an altered state of consciousness that I can only describe as not really being awake, but still being completely aware.

My husband and I signed up for a Sound Bath, conducted by one of the three sisters who own the place. A sonic healing technique, using giant quartz bowls keyed into your body’s energy centres (or chakras), the soothing sound is said to deliver frequencies deep into cellular levels.

Our group of about 20 people were invited into the upstairs sound chamber and asked to lie down on the mats and pillows provided, with our heads facing into the center. At first, the sound is a little jarring but eventually soothing. For me, it felt like a sound bubble was hovering outside of my right ear before traveling inside my head, lingering somewhere in between my eyes, before escaping out from my other ear. At one point it felt like my arms had dropped through the floor and eventually it didn’t feel like there was any floor at all. My husband found the whole experience so soothing he fell asleep.

The Integratron, originally financed in part by Howard Hughes, attracts visitors and musicians from all over the world; there to experience acoustic perfection or to absorb it’s healing powers. I came purely out of curiosity, but I’m eager to make my way back to experience it all over again.

Reservations can be made ahead of time, and I suggest you book well in advance. According to Nancy Karl, one of the co-owners who conducted our sound bath, interest in the Integratron has increased tenfold over the past few years. Visit integtratron.com for more information.

Also published in the Huffington Post.

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A Day in Joshua Tree

There are a lot of books, blogs and spiritual enthusiasts that talk about bucket lists these days. Goal-getters, manifesters and the like. While I certainly subscribe to the practice of gratitude and setting goals I’ve never been one to maintain a “bucket list”. I guess the mantra that’s always meant something to me is to follow your desires, despite how impulsive or careless they might seem. If it feels good do it, I always say. Or was that an overplayed Sloan song?

Despite not having a list of items I feel compelled to check off before I fade to ashes someday, there are certain things that I fixate on. I guess you could interpret that as a bucket list, but I like to think of them as things I’m mysteriously drawn to as a result of some unspoken force. That probably sounds a little crazy. Maybe it is.

I’ve been obsessed with Joshua Tree for as long as I can remember. The diversity of the environment, the jaw dropping landscapes and the gnarly yucca trees made famous by four Irish lads long ago. It’s always felt like a universe away, even though I’ve lived within a 3-hour flight of California’s Mojave Desert most of my life, where a portion of the park is situated. Now that I live in Los Angeles, it was high time I explored this place I’ve fantasized about for decades.

Before committing to a multi-night stay in one of the campgrounds, I decided it was better to tackle the park in a day trip from Palm Springs to get my bearings and better understand the climate. No matter what time of year you plan on venturing into Joshua Tree, always make sure you have the right supplies with you to stay safe and hydrated.

We entered at the East entrance from Highway 10, which is exactly where you want to start if you intend on traveling across to the other side of the park in one day. The road leading up to it was surprisingly desolate with little to no traffic (like, we maybe encountered 3 other cars), despite being a long weekend. Which really appealed to my Joshua Tree fantasy of feeling like you’re the only person on the planet.

We arrived at the Cottonwood Visitor Center right when it opened and the helpful rangers gave us a map and pointed out all the keys points of interest, based on our 12-hour timeframe. If you have time, start the day by hiking the easy 1.5-mile loop to Cottonwood Spring before getting deep into the park. The spring, which was used for centuries by the Cahuilla Indians, is the result of earthquake activity and the trailhead begins next to the Visitor Center.

Our first stop was the Ocotillo Patch, which immediately transported us to what seemed like an underwater garden. The tall, green plants looked like soft coral swaying in an undercurrent amidst the Mojave’s Pinto Mountains. Great photo op for street signs that indicate how crazy and windy the route is.

A few more minutes up the road and you reach the Cholla Cactus Garden, which may have been my favorite part of the park, based on the snap-happy amount of photos I took. This area of Joshua Tree is otherworldly and the colors are so vibrant it feels like you’re looking through an Instagram filter (#nofilterneeded). Walk the 15-minute loop – or longer, depending on how long you marvel at these prickly wonders – and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. We spotted a rather friendly desert hare that was practically posing for us.

Continuing on, before we knew it, the landscape shifted from sun and sand to moody clouds and mile-high boulders. Each piece gently and strategically placed, as if by some giant being, balancing against the laws of physics. We stopped at Jumbo Rocks to stretch our legs and determined this was the spot to camp next time we make our way to Joshua Tree. The rock formations there create perfect little alcoves, offering a much-needed reprieve from the heat of the day. Slightly beyond the campgrounds you’ll reach Skull Rock, another great photo op if you feel like climbing into the nostril and hamming it up as my husband did. Be on the lookout for lizards here. We spotted a few desert iguanas basking on the warm rocks.

As you continue through Sheep Pass – watch for bighorn sheep, as the name would suggest – Ryan Mountain comes into view. One of the highest points in the park and great for a more challenging hike with steep terrain, once again a photo op was necessary as my husband’s name is Ryan. This definitely tops our list for our next visit.

Finally, we made it to Hidden Valley, perhaps one of the most photographed and familiar places in the park due to the abundance of yucca trees (also known as Joshua trees) and a teeny, tiny little album in the 80s. You know when you dream of what a place might look like or feel like, and when you get there, it’s often slightly different than you imagined? Sometimes better, other times a little lackluster. Hidden Valley was exactly what I had envisioned Joshua Tree to be. Spellbinding, spine-tingling and, if nothing else, a little eerie. Make sure you have some time to spend there just to wander. No maps, phones or distractions. Just be. And if you’re looking for the tree made famous by U2, it’s not actually inside Joshua Tree, but several hours away…if it’s still standing today.

Obviously, after traipsing about all day in the various temps and terrain, dodging rattle snakes and other unfavourable desert characters, you’ll have earned yourself a cold one. Belly up to the bar with the locals at the Joshua Tree Saloon, less than a mile past the western entrance to the park, until it’s time to head back for sunset.

A lot of people recommended that we head to Keys View for sunset, which has a great view of the valley below. But, if you’re looking for that iconic Joshua Tree experience, with yucca trees dotting the horizon as the blazing sun dips below the Bernadino Mountains, head to Quail Springs and stake your claim on one of the many boulders to soak in the last seconds of magic hour. It might just change your life.

Suggested soundtrack: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits, Queens of the Stone Age Like Clockwork and The Doors Morrison Hotel.

What to bring: A cooler with a minimum of 2 litres of water per person. We also packed sandwiches, granola bars and fruit. Wear a hat, sunscreen and make sure you have something warm to layer on after the sun goes down. Otherwise, a camera, good tunes and a tank full of gas are all you need to make the trip. Oh, and toilet paper…just in case. But the park has several rest stops with outhouses.

 PARK MAP

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joshua-tree-national-park

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