If you’re looking for the hands-down coolest adult playground this side of the Sierra Nevadas, then today’s your lucky day. There are some places on this Earth that are so special, they literally warm your whole heart just thinking about them. There are some people you encounter who are such gorgeous souls, they practically bring tears to your eyes just talking about them. Recently, we were lucky enough to experience both of these things together over one incredible weekend…and our hearts almost exploded with joy. So gather in real close now, because we’re about to let you in on some of the absolute nearest and dearest of all our local hidden gems. Just promise to keep it between us, okay?
Tucked just beyond the main highway in Yucca Valley on the way out to Joshua Tree, Pioneertown is everything your adventure-seeking heart could desire…and more. Winding through the rocky mountain pillars on Pioneertown Road feels a lot like you’ve hitched a ride onto Big Thunder Mountain, suddenly finding yourself on “the wildest ride in the West.” But don’t let the painted façade of the tiny Wild West main street fool you into thinking this is child’s play…far from it. This is where grown-ups come to take their boots a-walkin’ into the deep desert nights and shake their tail feathers to some of the greatest bands around.
That’s all thanks to Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace—the deliciously rustic BBQ restaurant, bar and live music venue that acts as the very heart and soul of Pioneertown. It also happens to be our favorite place to see live bands in all of California. When we heard that Charles Bradley “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” was going to be playing, we knew we had to be there. Anyone who’s ever seen a show at Pappy’s knows how much those nights stay seared into your soul forever. They’re really that special. So we called in the troops, packed up the Prius Brigade and headed out to the high desert for a weekend Soul Shakedown Party to get the summer kicked off right!
Pappy & Harriet’s throws down some seriously legit BBQ, with meats seared in the back patio on swinging “meat hammocks” over live flame. We made up that name, but that’s what they look like as the steaks swing and sway away to grilled perfection, sending that soul-stirring barbeque scent straight at you in all directions—a shining beacon of deliciousness to guide your way through the desert. We ordered a little bit of everything and split it, family-style. Ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, steak, burgers…there is literally no way to go wrong here. Our table of foodies (including some vegans and gluten-freers) cleaned their plates—no morsels left behind! Yep, they even have vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options here, never you fear. There’s a yummy something for everyone.
After your meal, take a little sunset stroll along Pioneertown’s “hoof–n-foot only” Main Street—a tiny strip of dirt road flanked by old-timey wooden buildings straight out of a Spaghetti Western. Some of the buildings are just façades, but others are fully functioning businesses, like the saddlery and the beautiful hand-made pottery shop—filled with goods from local artists who uphold the pioneer spirit of this tiny enclave. And for those in the market for an off-the-beaten-path wedding venue, the big brown wood barn at the end of the block is the stuff of every Etsy dream come true.
Located just across from Pappy & Harriet’s is the miniscule Pioneertown Motel, a long-standing institution with a revered community vibe. Its previous incarnation was a handful of charmingly ramshackle rooms that were more grandma’s-hand-me-downs than desert chic. You could take in an Edward Sharpe show at Pappy’s and then find yourself staying next door to them and suddenly having an all-night jam session sing-along bonfire til the early morning hours. Now under new ownership and having recently undergone an Instagram-ready facelift, we’ll have to report back on the new vibe to see how it compares. So far, it seems like they are trying their best to honor the original spirit of these sacred grounds.
We don’t say “sacred” lightly. Pioneertown is a destination for true music lovers. People willing to drive two hours to see a show under the desert stars just for the night because they understand that this is where music magic happens—that it’s hallowed ground. And you can feel it as soon as you step foot on these unpaved roads. Your whole body just knows…something pretty special is about to happen.
And happen it did! We first saw Charles Bradley killin’ it at FYF Fest a few years back when he made his debut. We collectively had never seen that much soul brought to one stage before, especially under a sweltering midday sun. But Charles sang and danced and made our own souls leap out of our bodies as we watched him give his all to the audience, give his all to the music. It was the only thing anyone could talk about: the unknown 65-year-old man who came out of nowhere in the 2 o’clock “time-filler” slot and ended up stealing the entire festival. From that moment on, we were converted. So when the chance came to see Charles in this most intimate sacred space, we jumped on it.
It’s a rare thing that happens when a performer can transform a concert into a holy event. Charles Bradley does it again and again. Knowing he had been selling out large concert venues where people had to sit up in balconies to see his show, getting to see him up close and personal on this little outdoor patch of desert under the shining stars felt more like being gathered together for a cozy family revival at your best friend’s backyard party. It was electrifying to get to stand directly in front of him as he took to the platform underneath the string lights in all his 60’s-soul-throwback glory. His band, appropriately titled “His Extraordinaires”, are extraordinary musicians, supporting him with their own effortless class and grace as Mr. Bradley takes to the stage to deliver his soul shakedown sermon to the people.
From his first moment on stage, the audience was rapt. The voice on this man is incredible. There is a reason they call him “The Screaming Eagle of Soul”, but don’t let that “screaming” part fool you…he is all smoothness, all joy, all love, all elegance even in his highest octaves which are, to say the least, some incredibly high heights that both he and the audience literally soar on. That must be where the “eagle” part comes from—when he sings, you feel your own soul soaring with him. It’s a joyous, exuberant and truly touching experience. Discovered much later in life, Charles Bradley went through periods of homelessness and spent time as a James Brown impersonator before finally making his own name for himself in his mid-sixties just a few years back. It’s incredible to think this musical jewel had gone unseen for so many years. But he shows no sign of bitterness, no jaded outlook on life. Whatever his struggles were, Charles has clearly managed to maintain a pureness of heart and spirit that is actually quite shocking. It embues every single note he sings, every word he speaks, every move he makes.
Our audience stood in absolute awe, moved to tears many times by the pureness of the man in front of us whose one mission in life is to SPREAD LOVE to all he meets, all he sees, all he sings to. It’s a strange thing to say you finally know what it feels like to stand in the presence of Pure Love, but that’s how a lot of people summed up their feeling from the night. When he came into the audience to give out hugs towards the end of his set, we saw adults turned into awe-filled children, as if they had just been touched by the real live Santa Claus of Soul, letting them know that they will be okay, that they are loved, that all their dreams WILL come true if they just hold onto their belief and keep an open heart. He should know. It happened to him.
After shaking our booties down and stirring us all in body, heart and soul, Charles made his final exit. A palpable feeling of quiet reverence lingered in the air for long afterwards—a knowing that somehow we had all just transcended something together and would never be quite the same. People’s eyes were alight, huge smiles on their faces, as they turned to their loved ones and held them just a little closer, already taking Charles’ message deeply to heart that only love is real, only love matters, so give it freely every chance you get.
Stay tuned for more on our Soul Shakedown Weekend in Joshua Tree! And check out our clip from Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires live at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace:
Take Charles’ soul-stirring tunes with you & follow us on Spotify! ~
Be sure to subscribe to Sirens & Scoundrels for more awesome happenings and local hidden gems delivered straight to you! Enter your email address on our home page & hit “SUBSCRIBE”!
Follow us on Instagram: @sirensandscoundrels.
Find Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires on tour near you: http://www.thecharlesbradley.com.
Find out more about Pappy & Harriet’s, including hours and upcoming shows: http://www.pappyandharriets.com.
© 2016 Sirens and Scoundrels