Back To Pappy & Harriet’s: Promoter Phil Pirrone Goes Full Circle To The Venue That Changed His Life

Bringing It All Back Home: Phil Pirrone, who was just announced as the co-booker of…

Bringing It All Back Home: Phil Pirrone, who was just announced as the co-booker of Pappy & Harriet’s, a venue with enormous meaning to the promoter, talent buyer and musician.

“There’s no way this is real – I’m having a
weird COVID fever dream, right? There’s
no way this is reality. This is a
glitch, right?” Phil Pirrone is incredulous recalling the
day, a few months back, when he got word
he would be co-booking Pappy & Harriet’s
in Pioneertown, Calif., just outside Joshua Tree National Park. 

“I was playing in a band in L.A. and we started
playing shows out there and it instantly changed
my life,” says Pirrone, whose company Moon
Block booked shows at Pappy’s in 2012 and this year announced it would relocate the Desert Daze Festival to Pappy’s. But for this promoter, talent buyer and
musician (his band
JJUUJJUU is currently recording), his connection to the venue runs
much deeper, far beyond the transactional. “It
shaped who I am today,” he says.

That is not an understatement. Just ask his family.

“The band I was playing in at the time and my
now-wife Julie’s band, Deap Vally, played a show
together out there,” he says. “Julie and I had been talking
for a while, getting to know each other and really,
since that night, we’ve been inseparable. It really
was the start to our relationship officially. That
was where the connection happened. We bonded,
initially, because her band was playing the very
first thing my company did, called Moon Bloc
Party in Pomona. Then we played those shows together
at Pappy’s, and it’s like we had known each
other for a thousand years. That’s what it was
like, but it was like we’d been separated by space
and time. Now we’re together, so Pappy’s is in our
heart, both of us, and it’s part of our relationship.
It’s part of who we are. So part of taking this job
is really a full circle type of thing.”

The arc of that circle began some 75 years
ago with the construction of Pappy & Harriet’s
Pioneer Palace, a fascinating part of Southern
California history. It was built in 1946 out of
high desert chaparral 25 miles north of Palm
Springs to look like an 1870’s frontier town movie set
for Hollywood Westerns. More than 50 films
and TV shows were filmed there including
“Cisco Kid” and “Judge Roy Bean” with stars
of dusty yesteryear like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers
saddling up. It was also a living movie
set with interiors open to the public and once
included an ice cream parlor and bowling alley.

Pappy & HarrietOnly In SoCal: The historic Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown was part of a movie set built in 1946 to look like an 1870’s frontier town and where some 50 films and TV shows were shot

In 1972, the Cantina façade was turned into
a rollicking “biker burrito bar.” Ten years later, the aforementioned Harriet, daughter of the Cantina’s owners, and her
husband Claude “Pappy” Allen, opened Pappy &
Harriet’s Pioneer Palace with food and live music,
which over the years has featured everyone from
Robert Plant to Vampire Weekend to Leon Russell
to Paul McCartney and many others. When Pappy
Allen died in 1994, mourners from across the
globe turned out for his memorial service. Victoria
Williams, a local, recorded “Happy to
Have Known Pappy” for her album Loose.

James IrvineJames Irvine

With a capacity of 970 outside and 350
inside, Pirrone says co-booking Pappy’s, with
his Knitting Factory Entertainment colleague
James Irvine, is not like curating for other clubs
and they may not bring in the latest Top 40 act.
“I think there are some venues in this country
that if you look at the calendar, it’s anything
that sells. This is not that. There’s a reason why
Pappy’s is included in a conversation with venues
like Red Rocks. One thing I learned from
(co-owner) Robyn Celia, going there and being
friends with a lot of people who work there and
live in the area, is that it needs to be protected.
That means it’s an endangered species. My
job is going to be to honor that legacy, protect
it and preserve it. Some of the job is to say,
respectfully, ‘We don’t feel this is right for the
club,’ where you probably wouldn’t find that
with other venues, buyers, promoters. They
would say, ‘What? This show is a sellout show.
You book it.’ This is a little different.”

Pirrone goes into detail about how special the
experience of just getting to Pappy’s can be. “The
drive there is part of the experience in and of
itself,” he says. “When you’re driving over the
Mojave Pass, and you drive into Old Town Yucca,
you’re just like, ‘Whoa, where am I? This is
incredible.’ And then you turn up Pioneertown
Road, and that’s when it gets really interesting.
There’s all these boulders. It’s cinematic. You’re
instantly like, ‘Oh, I’m out of the city. I’m a million
miles away. This is exactly where I want to be.’”

Pappy‘s is a little blip on the horizon, you
get closer, and it’s this little Western town,
and you see this roadhouse. You pull in, you
smell the barbecue, you see the smoke, and
you’re just instantly transformed and transported.
It just sets the tone for your whole
experience, your whole trip. It’s just one of
those places that you don’t need anything else
to have a transcendent experience. I just remember
it being like a kid at Disneyland. That
wonderment, that ‘Wow,’ that ‘Whoa.’”

Desert DazeThe Joshua (Tree) Light Show: Temples performing at 2019’s Desert Daze, which this year is relocating to Pappy & Harriet’s.

Proof of concept is last week’s announcement
that Pappy’s would host the ninth
installment of Desert Daze, the wondrous
independent festival with a heavy psych-rock
bent founded by Pirrone in 2012 out of Desert
Hot Springs before it moved in 2013-15 to Sunset Ranch
in Mecca, Calif. near the Saltan Sea. The following year,
Pirrone partnered with Knitting Factory Entertainment
and moved the fest to the Institute of
Mentalphysics in nearby Joshua Tree. In 2018,
the fest again moved to Lake Perris State
Park near Riverside before this year coming
back to the Joshua Tree area. Along the way,
Desert Daze booked some of the best and
non-traditional music fest fare anywhere,
including: The Sonics, Iggy Pop, Television,
Black Angels, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Thee
Oh Sees, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, My
Bloody Valentine, Tame Impala, Stereolab,
Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, Spiritualized, Ty
Segall, Eagles of Death Metal and John Cale.

Pirrone is excited to be booking shows at
Pappy’s with his colleague Irvine who oversees
booking at Knitting Factory in Brooklyn and the
Slowdown in Omaha as well as the UMS festival
in Denver and Maha Festival in Omaha. “He has
a lot of experience and know-how from booking
clubs that he brings to our collective workflow
and he’s showing me the ropes on how to work
within their systems and protocols. He’s a great
leader and a great colleague, confidante and
friend. There’s a lot of mutual respect between
James and I, and he’s a big fan of Desert Daze.
I’m a big fan of his work in all the different
clubs. Together, we’re both over the moon to
be booking our dream shows at our dream club

Morgan MargolisMorgan Margolis, CEO, Knitting Factory Entertainment

The talent buyer, promoter and musician
is also incredibly grateful for his partnership
with Knitting Factory Entertainment and
especially his relationship with CEO Morgan
Margolis. “If I could point to one person who’s
responsible for the growth and my ability to
grow Desert Daze into what it is and let my
vision breathe and live, it’s Morgan and I owe
everything to him. The fact that he would
entrust me with this a major opportunity
for myself and Knitting Factory, I don’t take
lightly. And working with James and Danny
Glazier, one of the other buyers for Knitting
Factory, they are awesome. I love working with
them. I’m learning so much from them.”

Pirrone, who booked shows at Pappy & Harriet’s
over the years, recently went back in his
new capacity as the venue’s co-buyer – with a very
different perspective. “I drove up there for the
first time since taking the job a couple of weeks
ago for Los Lobos just to check out the socially
distanced set up, wrap my head around it, talk
to the production manager, talk to the staff, just
really get my bearings,” he says. “I’ve got to tell
you driving in that time, it hit different. It hit me
like a ton of bricks of pure love. I was just like,

“My friend Farmer Dave, when I announced
it, his comment was ‘Welcome home.’ I’m
getting choked up now thinking about it. I went
to the staff and I said, ‘I’m just so grateful to be
involved. I love Pappy’s and I know you do, too.
And I just want to make you proud.’ And one
of the staff said, ‘I worked Desert Daze in 2017
and when I heard it was you, I thought, “We’re
going to be alright.” And then I walked over to
Morgan. And Morgan’s like, ‘How are you doing,
buddy’ And I was like, ‘I’m having a little bit of a
moment.’ And then he gave me a big hug.”