Last weekend, Paul and I were looking for something fun to do. Little did we know we would be taking a 40 minute car ride that would take us to a place before our time- the WILD WEST. What… in California? What year are we in, again? I know… Well, let me start at the beginning.
Paul and I are fans of the singer, Eilen Jewell (rhymes with feelin’) and found out that she and her band were performing in So Cal. Eilen is a young, Boston based artist known for her unique, soulful style- think a mix of classic country, folk, and bluegrass. Her roots music harkens back to an earlier era, yet, is distinctly her own.
We checked out where she was playing only to see that she was performing at a little place called Pappy and Harriet’s Palace in Pioneertown. Paul and I both looked at each other… Pioneertown? What in the….? Well, a quick google search and we soon found out that Pioneertown is located not too far from Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. The town originally started as a live-in old west motion picture set, built during the 1940s. It was a real working, wild west kind of place. A number of popular western movies and TV shows were filmed there and actors, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, were considered among some of the regular faces in town.
Today, shockingly, Pioneertown is still in operation. According to the town sign, it has a population of 500 but how that is possible, is beyond me. The town is almost desolate with tumbleweeds rolling, horse corrals, and old hitching posts still standing. There are no street lights, no gas stations, just a dusty road that leads you in and out of town and a few local landmarks like Pappy and Harriet’s, the Pioneertown Motel, and the Pioneer Bowling Alley (still in operation). During the summers, the western town becomes a bit of a tourist attraction with re-enactments of gunfights on Sunday afternoons on Mane Street (yes, I spelled it correctly- like a horse’s mane).
However, the real attraction to Pioneertown, in my opinion, is Pappy and Harriet’s. Any given weekend, this creaky, wooden shack that was once a movie set and then a gas station turned cantina is now a jumping, local watering hole- complete with mounted animal heads, old western photos and beat up license plates as wall decor. People come from all over for some of the best BBQ around and of course the great live music.
So, that brings us back to Eilen Jewell… Pappy and Harriet’s totes itself as the best Honky-Tonk west of the Mississippi. If you’re not really into that, Pioneertown and Pappy and Harriet’s could be a bit intimidating, but Paul and I decided to give it a go. After all, musicians like Robert Plant and Lucinda Williams have performed there so it can’t be all that bad. Well, it wasn’t. In fact it was great. It had a mix of city slickers, families, locals, Marines (29 Palms Marine base is near by), and of course, biker gangs. This place rocks. What can I say, I guess Pappy and Harriet’s is just a cool place that brings together people from all different walks of life. You’ve got to love it.
After Paul and I settled in to our table, we ordered ourselves some cold beer- served in glass mason jars. Paul ordered the manly dish, the cowboy combo, of ribs and Santa Maria BBQ. I had the southwest chicken salad. Mine was delicious and Paul’s Santa Maria BBQ was to die for- so delicious! After we stuffed ourselves silly we kicked back and got ready for Eilen Jewell. We had front row seats in an intimate venue in the middle of nowhere… it was really neat. Eilen and her extremely talented band performed their hearts out for the small crowd. She played a lot of her songs from the new album, Letters From Sinners and Strangers. You could tell the patrons really enjoyed Eilen’s songs. Many were up dancing a little two step and people even bought them shots- woo hoo!
Surprisingly, it was a really great night. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves in to at the start but it ended good and showed us there’s always something new to discover in your own back yard. After all, when you have good food, good beer, and good music on a summer’s night, what could be better?