Free Show Wednesday, April 16th @ 5pm. Local Bands Representing The Depth and Youth of Coachella Valley’s Music Scene
By Lisa Morgan
Goldenvoice put the call out to this desert’s local musicians and they answered. Bands throughout our valley submitted videos to vie for a spot in the second annual block party on Tachevah Drive in Palm Springs, a showcase that last year provided huge exposure for the winners and even a chance to play at the world renowned Coachella Music and Arts Festival. 65 videos were voted on by thousands, multiple times, pushing 10 bands to the top based on their number of votes. Unlike last year, however, their metal (so to speak) was to be tested in a much more strenuous setting: a battle of the bands, if you will, at the Hard Rock Hotel, Palm Springs. The bands would perform a traditional set and be judged by the lovely and accomplished country/blues songbird, Shelby Lynn; Desert Sun’s and the Coachella Valley’s infamous music/entertainment connoisseur, Bruce Fessier; and Goldenvoice/AEG Live representative, Gopi Sangha. It was play hot, or go home. A few bands played exceptionally hot, and still were sent home sans victory. Needless to say, the competition was fierce. Three of the ten were chosen. The process of winning a shot at performing for these judges was not without controversy, due to the fact that one could sit for hours voting repeatedly for their favorite band giving advantage to those with nothing but time on their hands. Still, there was very little room for doubt that, based on the performances on each given night, these judges got it right. For an event that, in large part, represents a college age demographic, these three bands will hold their own next to the majority of the bands imported to perform at this year’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival. That is not to say that a few of the other bands that were NOT chosen from the live competition or the other 65 video submissions could not have done us as equally proud. Goldenvoice has done something very good for our music community. It has given a high profile platform to showcase the many representatives of our desert soundscape, one that is rapidly becoming a fertile musical mecca, blooming within every genre and age demographic imaginable. For that, Goldenvoice, we thank you.
The winners, in order of their scheduled performances at the 2014 Tachevah, Palm Springs Block Party were:
(I should take this opportunity to share with you that the worst part of this entire contest for pretty much EVERY band competing, was what felt like the endless amount of time that passed between their last song and the announcement of the results.)
The Yip Yops: This first band came out swinging on their appointed night to compete, and man did they make an impression. Completely covered from head to toe in what seemed to be hooded Hazmat suits, tagged with fluorescent paint. Having only performed as a unit for the last 6 months, the mystery swirled around them as they pounded out a rocking original tune reminiscent of late 70’s punk the likes of Devo with classic rock overtones. The vocals that barreled out of the lead singer had the tone and depth of Jim Morrison with a touch of INXS’s Michael Hutchence’s upper range floating in and out of the song. When, after the first song ended to the cheers of those watching, the three revealed their faces by pulling their hoods back, the cheers reached an even higher pitch. Standing before them was lead guitar and singer, Addison VanWinkle (14), Jacob Gutierrez on bass (15) and drummer Ross Murakami (17). While many were there to support friends in other bands, The Yip Yops had won the crowd’s delight with their stage presence and musicianship, and they didn’t stop there. They went on with their supercharged set, leaving many in the audience conceding that the Yip Yops were strong contenders for the win.
I had the opportunity to meet with them in their practice room. I asked them whose idea it was to wear the suits. Drummer, Ross Murakami pointed to his left. Bass man, Jacob Gutierrez pointed to his right. Between them sat Addison Van Winkle (aka Add). He shrugged and explained, “I was in class thinking how cool it would be. I told my dad and he dug it. Then we took it to the band and they… well, they didn’t like it.” Ross smiled and admitted, “He eventually convinced me.” It was a risk, but it paid off with high dividends as it allowed these very young players to be judged on pure musical merit while adding an entertaining mystique to their performance. Unknown to the audience however, was the fact that the hooded suits did not allow them to see. So under the most strenuous and nerve racking circumstances possible for a band, these guys walked on to the stage literally blind.
Addison has been a natural at music from a very young age taking piano lessons. A bit of a prodigy, he absorbs everything he is taught and then some, with a natural grasp on reading music and music theory. The other two band members, however, are completely self-taught. All three admit that they were inspired by the interactive game Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Ross admits he had been given a guitar as a gift and ended up selling prior to the video game inspiration. But ultimately, when other kids his age were buying more video games, Ross bought himself a set of drums. Without any mentors or teachers, he turned to YouTube instructional videos and began to learn the songs he loved that were on his iPod. Jacob also learned by ear and the internet and taught himself how to read guitar tabs. Practicing several times a week over the last 6 months, scheduling around Ross’s part time job and Add and Jacob’s school schedule, these players push each other out of their comfort zones and form an amazingly tight unit.
Six months ago the Yip Yops set their sights on Tachevah. Now, like the other local bands they will be sharing the stage with, they just want to get out there and play. They have 10 original songs ready to go and several in the pipeline. When asked what their hopes would be should they garner the attention of a label, Addison answered, “I think that would be the dream. Tour support would be great. We put a lot of effort into our show, trying to keep people guessing what the hell we’re going to do next. I think additional exposure, getting out to play for as many people as we can.” I asked them if they felt they had fine-tuned their “sound” or if it was still developing. Jacob answered, “We are always going through different phases. I think we’ll always be developing and changing.” As I spoke to these musicians, who in any other setting might be called “kids”, I found that I was looking into the eyes of young men, a bit wise and focused for their years, who knew exactly what they wanted, were ready and willing to do the work. This isn’t a gung ho bunch of youngsters entertaining a hobby, having to be prodded by parents. Quite the opposite. Not once did any of the parents step in and try to speak for them. Watching over them as loving parents do and giving them the support they need, they were careful to stay out of the way, trusting them and allowing these talented and driven musicians to pursue and reach for their dream. They respectfully take this group of young men called the Yip Yops and their pursuits very seriously as should we all. Based on what I witnessed, they are set to make some noise in the music industry.
CIVX: I first heard this band at The Hood Bar and Pizza shortly after they had received news that they were to be one of the ten battling it out for a spot at Tachevah. It was one of those moments that subtly hits you over the head like a truck. They have a sound that is so full and so powerfully rhythmic and harmonic, it is riveting. The dual guitars of Sal Guti and Dillon Dominguez, play in countering chorus, lead and rhythm, causing you to search back and forth to see who’s playing what lead to no avail. The two are very much one. Pounding out the steady but intricate and driving beats is a human machine (aka Joel Guerrero). Yet, no machine can match the touch and feel behind the consistent perfection of musical time Guerrero puts out tirelessly and powerfully. With all that going for them, they have more than enough to qualify them as winners in any contest.
Here, enters Nick Hernandez with one of the most unique and enchanting vocals I have ever heard. He sings steadily, rich in tone and pitch, floating from note to note forcing you to lean forward to hear the musical message. Where some front men cover their lack of vocal skill with a rehearsed and practiced style, Nick is natural style backed by pure vocal ability. His voice, echoing like the very first indigenous creators of song, makes this one of the most original bands I have heard in a long time. Together they carve and whittle brilliant song after brilliant song. Meanwhile, you cannot take your eyes off of them as they pour themselves into the music in an almost trans-like manner. I have to wonder if sometimes they should break out of their deep musical oneness to eye the audience and see what a Wow reaction they are getting from them.
I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to see this band at Tachevah. This is definitely a large venue band that will absolutely thrive in this setting. When you do see them and realize that everything I’ve said about them is NOT an exaggeration, consider this: The band has only been together since January. The video they submitted they had to put together at the last minute using their phones. Then their family and loved ones went to work, voting to help them win. The magic of this band lies deep in the friendship and brotherhood they share with each other. With serious emotion, drummer Joel says, “We have our differences; we each have our different tastes. But we keep an open mind.” Guitar player Sal Guti, speaking for the entire band shared, “We respect and admire innovative musicians and music. We are striving to play our own role in that.” I have to say, there is a very strong chance that they will.
One11: I have been hearing about this band for the last two years and have not been able to see a performance. First I heard about them from proud parents, but not long afterward, it seemed like everyone knew who they were. I was impressed by their video submission to Tachevah last year and was glad to see that they were selected for the top 10 this time around. Finally, I would be able to catch them live. They were the last band on the last night of the competition, and they had me in the first 60 seconds of play. On an extremely competitive night of truly talented and enjoyable music, One11 hit the stage and it was pure magic. Front man, Michael Ramirez on guitar and vocals powered each song out with magnetic charm and charisma while the rest of the guys, Evan Boydstun – lead guitar and vocals, Ryan Cenicola – drums and vocals, and Matt Sutton – bass guitar and vocals, matched him gift for gift. The energy was paralyzing, but only for a split second, after which you were moving and cheering to the music. They went on to play a dynamic set, throwing in an instrumental piece in the middle where the guys showed of their incredible technique but mostly their pure joy of playing music. After being charmed and wooed by Ramirez who engaged the audience like a natural, the audience suddenly became like flies on the wall, witnessing an all heart and soul jam and an amazing intimate musical moment between the players on the stage. “I really love my instrument,” says the front man boyishly. “I’m way more comfortable just playing with the guys. We thought doing an instrumental piece in the middle of the set would keep it from getting boring. We were also able to show a bit of progressive technological skill as we used some of our samples during that song. I thought the judges might be impressed with that…especially Bruce.”
While this may have been one of the most competitive nights of the competition, I do believe the dynamics that One11 brought to the stage is what made them one of the two bands, along with the Yip Yops, to be selected for the Tachevah showcase. Talking to Ramirez later, he chuckled as he shared, “We probably spent more time arranging the set and coming up with a formula for our time on stage than we did actually practicing.” One11 first came together in this particular combination of players, opening for Eddie Money at the Palm Desert Civic Center a couple years ago, but as Ramirez went on to say, “We were really excited to play this show since we don’t get to play at ‘home’ often. I was really excited to show how we’ve progressed as a band…to show everyone who we are.”
The main emphasis for these musicians is “authenticity”. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead and The Doors all represent a piece of that raw musical integrity that One11 strives for. I often don’t like to quote from a band’s website, as I prefer to write from my own perspective. But when the statements are beautifully articulated and are truly representative of the band, like they are in this case, I feel it is absolutely necessary. Having seen and heard the band and speaking with them on a few occasions now, I can literally hear Michael Ramirez’s voice as I read from their site: “We want to give people something to believe in. In a world where music seems to lose that true honesty and genuineness, we want to be the band to bring it all back.” Having performed over 200 shows, including the infamous Warped Tour, the passion and love from where their music stems has not faded. “Through all of the excitement…we have never turned our backs on the ideals we started the band with. We are a band built on honesty and sincerity, writing and performing solely from our hearts, minds and instruments. What truly makes music special is if it is created with a great soul in it, and that it speaks the truth of the voice it is coming from.”
The Band of Family and Friends
I have to give a shout out to the families and friends of these bands based on what I have personally witnessed. The amount of love, support and respect they show these artists has everything to do with their success so far, as well as the amazing opportunities that have yet to come. The future holds great things for each of these bands as crafters of sound and story. With school budget cuts, and fanfare mostly given to those in pursuit of athletics, these parents have not only supported them financially, they BELIEVED in them. Then they let them fly, staying close enough to witness and watch over, but never stepping in the way or trying to bask in any of the light that these artists draw to themselves. These are the kind of parents, family and friends that celebrate the successes and the heights, but will also be there for the lows, encouraging all them every step of the way, cheering, “You have something of value to offer. Don’t give up.” We should all be so lucky.
Tachevah, Palm Springs Block Party will be held on April 16th starting at 5 pm. Get there early if you like to be close to the stage as last year the concert drew hundreds. The three local bands will be joined by popular Los Angeles based bands including the neo soul/indie pop group Fritz & The Tantrums and the production and DJ duo, Classixx. Admission is free and will be held at the Spa Resort Casino in Downtown Palm Springs. Others to thank along with Goldenvoice/AEG Live for bringing this opportunity to our musicians and giving them the coveted exposure are the Desert Sun, Harold Matzner, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. P.S. Resorts and the City of Palm Springs.