Happy Camping with David Lowery
What started out as an extended birthday party for a group of friends is now a music sensation — in the middle of the California desert. You’re probably asking why Richmond should care, right?
Because several of the bands at the third annual Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven Campout (Sept. 6-8 in Pioneertown, Calif.) have Virginia ties: Richmond residents David Lowery of Cracker and Camper, Johnny Hott, also of Cracker; Charlottesville’s Hackensaw Boys and Ohio’s Jason Molina, whose albums Lowery has produced in his Broad Street studio, Sound of Music. (Temporarily relocated across the street, thanks to a recent fire on that block.) Molina records under his own name, as well as Songs: Ohia and his most recent incarnation, Magnolia Electric Company.
I caught up with Lowery recently to talk about the campout and the latest news on his musical projects.
“Originally it was going to be a party for friends and families and people in the band,” he says. “Lots of people in Camper had September birthdays.” Then a plan developed to invite fans, which worked out pretty well. “Everybody clamored for us to do another one,” Lowery says, and last year, the second night sold out. This year, they are adding a third night, and Cracker will play 1993’s “Kerosene Hat” in its entirety. (“Low,” off this album, was the group’s first big single.)
Pioneertown, Lowery acknowledges, is “out in the middle of nowhere,” but it’s within reasonable driving distance of L.A., Las Vegas and Phoenix. “It’s a beautiful place. Hipsters and artists have discovered that area in the last 10, 15 years. I like the vibe of the people.” It’s also not far from where he grew up, in Redlands, Calif.
When Lowery and I spoke, he was in California, writing songs for Camper. But more appears to be happening on the Cracker front. A radio station in New York picked up a demo recording (“Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing To Me”) off Lowery’s MySpace page this summer, and it’s gotten considerable radio play. The band’s also been touring in support of last year’s album “Greenland.” With well-attended shows, Lowery calls this Cracker’s “most successful summer in more than 10 years. Kids like rock again — I don’t know what it is.” The 17-year-old group may come out with a new album next (rather than Camper) because of this wave of support, and Lowery suggests that another “radio song” might be released this fall.
And now for the burning question: Will there be an East Coast Campout for those of us who can’t make it to the desert? Lowery says maybe next year. “We’ve thought about it, and we even know where we’d want to do it,” he says — possibly in Virginia or North Carolina. But the decision will be made after September, once this year’s campout is done. Stay tuned!