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

Phil Pirrone

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 & Harriet

Only 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 Irvine
– James 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 Daze

The 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 together.”

Morgan Margolis

Morgan 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, ‘wow.’

“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.”