BY BETH ALLEN
Cruise in campout. Rolling Heavy Magazine sponsored van show. Concert with Red Fang, Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Acid King, Golden Void, Ecstatic Vision.
Pappy & Harriet’s, Pioneertown, California.
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Pioneertown is in Yucca Valley, near Death Valley. This was a long haul for me – about a nine hour drive – but I figured it was worth it because of the van show, the rock factor and the camp out. Drinking and driving is not cool. Drinking and passing out in your van for the night IS cool!
I got tickets early and secured a campspot right behind the bar at the Corral Campgrounds, which was only $10 a person and dogs were allowed. Hot damn!
I haven’t been able to make it down to any of the Southern California van events/curises/runs in last few years. Seeing as Rolling Heavy—who I interviewed for DON’T COME KNOCKIN’ in March 2013—was putting it on I wasn’t sure what kinds of vanners to expect. I had in mind a younger, hipper crowd. And to be honest, I was a little wary.
Since I started DON’T COME KNOCKIN’ in the mid-90’s, vanning has had a HUGE rise in popularity. Southern California is on the vanner map with California Street Vans sponsoring van cruises on a regular basis. Younger van clubs like the Vandoleros are on the scene bro-ing down with their cool dude, muscle car lovin’ vibe. Printed mags like Custom Vanner and Rolling Heavy have been going strong for a few years and selling out of back issues. The awesome documentary movie Vannin’ came out in 2014, giving well-deserved exposure to vanner culture. Mainstream media has been interested: in the last few years, even The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times (in a "Men’s Style" fashion spread no less) have covered vanning. Other countries have caught the buzz too—I just got a call from a filmmaker in Canada who wanted to pick my brain for a van movie she’s working on.
So vanning is gaining poplularity and people seem to be really diggin’ on it. You think I’d be stoked, right? Well, In my experience (and being the almost 50-year-old fart that I am) when things I love get popular, mainstream and hip—I get worried. It could be a good thing... but quite often it’s the kiss of death. I think of a quote from the Vannin’ doc, expressing concern about the surge in vanners and vanning culture: “I'd like to see it get bigger. But I don't want to see it get flooded with assholes”. Sums it up perfectly for me. I like my underdogs and underground scenes the way they are. Underground.
For better or for worse, it was high time I found out what’s goin’ on out there in the newer van “scene”. So I packed up the Red Hot Shaggin’ Wagon with my boyfriend Shawn, and our three furry friends, Riley, JJ and Lemmy. We left San Francisco on Friday around 2pm. We meant to leave at 10am but you know how that goes, when you are not a morning person that shit never seems to work out! So off we rolled at 2pm from the bay area and traffic sucked. I mean it really, really, SUCKED. A stop for gas, a couple piss breaks, and an attempt to sit and have some chow to avoid the Hwy 99 Friday night commute hours left us in Victorville at 11pm. We were tired and cranky. But Holiday Inn did us right, and we woke up rearin’ to go in the morning.
Breakfast in Victorville and our sweet, pimply-faced waiter asked where we were going (he had overheard us arguing about driving directions). Told him our destination and he said “Wow, that’s the middle of nowhere!” I found this pretty laughable, because I feel like Victorville is the middle of nowhere. Seriously.
Rad morning drive through the desert. Especially liked this one area along the 247. It had signs everywhere that said something-or-other “Estates” and had a planned community vibe. Second homes for rich LA people? Not sure. The desert and trippy rock covered hills were something else though. Fucking cool.
For the last ten years I have been dirtbiking out in the Mojave desert, at least once a year, in this off-road riding and camping area called Spangler Hills. I go camping with a big group of friends and we moto it for a few days. No showers. No running water. At night we blow up fireworks (it’s awesome to have friends who have pyrotechnic licenses and total hook-ups on explosive shit) and in the day we dirtbike all over. People set up firing ranges and shoot guns. I love the feeling of being out in the desert just chilling. There’s nothing like it.
I was stoked to be out near where I go camping, but in a different part of the area… cool to be checking out and exploring new terrain. And I had heard all about how cool Pappy & Harriets is but had never been.
But I digress. Let’s get to the show already! Rolling up to Pappy & Harriets around noon, I could see that the van show out front was already groovin’ and it looked like a lot of vehicles had shown up. We went behind the bar to the campgrounds and it was a way bigger area than I expected—since it had limited spots available for the night I had assumed it would be a dinky place. Got parked. Grabbed some cold beers from the cooler and walked a mere few minutes to where all the vans in the van show were parked.
I completely lost it when we walked up to the van show and I saw the line up… there were about 50-60 vans. (Yes, yes, I need to get to the Nats someday! It’s on my bucket list.) It was AWESOME. Took a slow stroll through the grounds, talking to vanners about their rides and checkin’ all the cool shit out. Multiple vangasms! Everyone we met was really cool. Got to meet Cicely and Kara both of whom I interviewed for DON’T COME KNOCKIN’S chicks with vans article: Stand by Your Van. Cicely had driven up from the bay area too, in the Vnicorn. And Kara was vending – selling cool vintage shit. Check out her online shop, Vanner Babes.
So I walked around drooling and soaking it all up. A few hours later there was an awards ceremony and some cool trophies (that incorporated Pabst beer cans) were doled out to lucky winners in various categories. My favorite vans of the day were by far the 4x4s. Those get my panties WET! I would love to have a jacked up 4x4 van someday.
During the “van show” I was so busy walking around and talking to people I neglected to take any pictures… I was way too distracted. Just wanted to soak in all that shag and tuck-n-roll! Lucikly, I made up for it later when most of the vans rolled around back to the Corral campground area to park for the night.
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As the van show wound down, the vans rolled around to park for the night, and we moseyed back to the campgrounds. Met a few new campground neighbor dudes who gave us some VANARCHY stickers and buttons. Right on! A Grim Creepers Van Club vanner also peeled his cool beer coozie off his beer when I complimented it, and gave it me. Thanks dude! Cool thing about the “van show” earlier is that there were lots of vans around in the parking lot and the campgrounds, that weren't in the “show” part. So there was lots to look at! Met this guy Seth who had “Van Haulin’” (with a Van Halen style V and H) painted on the side of his hauling business work van. Ha! Good one!
The vendors had broken down and I had forgotten to take a photo at the Rolling Heavy Magazine booth where they had their “Nose Down, Ass Up, That’s the Way We Like to Truck” t-shirts for sale. I wanted to get a pic of me in front of one of ’em flipping the camera off. Damn! Well here’s one I photoshopped! Fuck that shirt. Bleeech.
By now it was later afternoon and I was about a six-pack in. It was time for some much-needed grub! Went over to Pappy & Harriets restaurant/bar and found a LONG wait. It was the only place for chow and I was hankering for some BBQ. Not sure how my boyfriend got past the “two hour” predicted wait time, but he snaked us in and we got a table. Whew! Be warned: if you ever go to a big show at Pappy & Harriets be prepared for this. Pack some snacks or eat when you get there. It was super crowded in the restaurant and bar. I had been considering a “nap” before the stoner rock started, but it wasn’t gonna happen. The opening bands had already begun playing on a cool outdoor stage. While I didn’t catch much of Ecstatic Vision or Golden Void, they sounded great.
Dinner accomplished and the dogs fed and napping in the van, it was time for Acid King. Haven’t seen them in a long time and the desert was the perfect backdrop. The stage lighting was super killer – and it was sundown. Couldn’t have been better. Roooooock. A kid who was probably barely 21 came up and earnestly asked me about my jean vest, he wanted to know “what it meant”. I told him it was just punk rock patches. A rock vest. He smiled and thanked me. Kinda funny. I have a big red van patch on the back and like to say it’s my club colors for my one-woman van club. Go lone wolves!
Saw Brant Bjork hanging out and went over and said hi. Reminded him of the Fu Manchu interview I did for DON’T COME KNOCKIN’ in 1999 and asked him if he had a van yet. He said no, but that he did have a couple of kids now. Ha ha. We chatted about the old desert generator party days—of which I’ve only heard about and never experienced. An ex-boyfriend of mine who grew up in Indio told me all about them. Sounded so fucking cool. Brant said that he was glad this wasn’t an actual “out in the middle of the desert generator party” because things used to get scary at those sometimes. I had never thought of this—you get a few “unwanted elements” out in the boondocks and kaboom, things have the potential to go to shit.
Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band were up next and did not disappoint. Good groovin’ vibe. Must say though that I like my desert rock a little on the harder side. Would rather have seen Brant pounding the skins in Fu Manchu, but The Low Desert Punks were good for a stony time. By now I was a 12-pack in and had been smokin’ a lot. I wandered out to the porta potties and met some nice dudes who had driven from Phoenix in their cool Econoline van. In a stoned haze I lurked around them for awhile, shootin’ the shit. One thing I noticed at the show was that my weed oil vape pen was sort of… out of place. At shows in SF you see vaporizers literally everywhere. But it was obvious this desert club was a roll your own kinda joint.
Red Fang took the stage and I couldn’t believe I’d lasted this long. What a day! About mid-set I was ready to sack out. After a full day of boozin’ and vans, vans, vans, more boozin’, BBQ and rock, I was pooped and ready to pass out.
Which I did.
Early in the morning my boyfriend climbed out of the van and puked. Right there in the campground next to my van. I think that means we had a good night!
The two nicer campground bathrooms were taped off as OUT OF ORDER. So I made my way to one of three porta potties. I had been hoping to “sit down” for a bit, but It wasn’t looking good in there. Destroyed is an understatement. The damage a camground full of partying vanners did to five toilets in just one night was pretty impressive.
One of my campground neighbors came over and told me a weird story about losing his jean vest during the show the night before. He was from Portland. The friend he’d come to DG with had crashed out early so he was alone. He said that during Red Fang some biker looking desert dude told him he “didn’t like” his vest. Just a punk rock patches kinda vest… Apparently the biker dude had a few other other biker dude friends and they sorta surrounded him. To get them off his back he ended up taking off his vest and “giving it to them.” Say what? If anyone tried to pillage my punk rock patch vest they’d have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers! Fuck that! Never heard of anything like this happening at a show before. Sounded fucked up. Later, I remembered that young kid asking me about MY vest and had to wonder if maybe the Portland dude was trippin’ or something and had imagined the “desert biker guys”! Or maybe the dudes were some of the assholes I had worried would be infiltrating the new van scene? Shit, who knows. I do hope the poor guy got his vest back somehow.. found it behind a bush or something. I know he was going to ask at the bar about it.
It was time to go. Bleary-eyed and hungover, we rolled out early for the long drive home.
All in all, good times. I was impressed with how organized the whole shebang was, and how many bad ass vans had shown up. Keep on truckin’ and I hope it happens again!
PICTURED ABOVE: Just some of the vans at Desert Generator. Left: Swag from the Vanarchy van dudes.