Photos by: Matt Stasi // Article by: Bylle Breaux
San Bernadino, CA — The 2nd annual Lost Highway Music and Motorcycle Festival took place in San Bernardino last Saturday. The thought of covering a music event in a shadeless, July desert honestly made me a little nervous. I’ve been a Los Angeles girl for sixteen years now, which means I’m vegetarian and probably gluten intolerant, not good considering festival choices consist of pizza, corndogs and beer. Then there’s the heat and the storms. I’ve heard about the awful dust storms that kick up at Coachella and Burning Man and how sometimes there is barely any visibility. We also had to consider that this was one of the largest motorcycle events in Southern California, there are no females in the line-up of musicians, and we would need to camp there in order to cover the full circus. Look, I watched all seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy, so that sounded, to me, like testosterone-fueled stranger danger with gangs displaying their patches like peacocks, basement made drugs and spontaneous gunfights. We conjured up a lame game plan of how to seem tough while still avoiding festival moonshine and obscure hallucinogenics. Finally, after convincing ourselves that in the very least it would be an adventure, we packed the jeep with necessary survival equipment, I grabbed my steam punk goggles and cut-offs, and we headed out in full on Mad Max style, just in time to sit in Friday afternoon traffic.
Pulling up to the campgrounds, I noticed a man carrying a very large gun, possibly semi-automatic, and tons of security. A group of young male campers were being frisked outside their RV as guards rummaged around inside searching for all the things listed on the festival website of “Don’ts.” The SUV in front of us had to find clever ways to consolidate their hard alcohol with their juice so they could leave the glass bottles at the door. We drove around, trying not to look like we have never camped in the desert before, and picked a spot next to a group with a huge, black P.O.W. flag. We quickly set up our tent, trying not to argue about which end was up because that would be a dead give away that we are rookies. We wanted to seem united if some crazy stuff started going down. And then, through the still warm air, we heard Luke Bryan. “I could be wrong but I just don’t think a mean biker gang would be blasting Luke Bryan,” I said, just as one of our neighbors approached with a much needed mallet and an offer of carne asada tacos at their perfectly organized outdoor kitchen.
As we tossed down some of the best tacos I’ve ever had (completely forgetting about my vegetarianism and gluten issues), a friendly man on a golf cart came by to let us all know there was live music and free cold beer at the front. And he wasn’t kidding. Former Fresno State pitcher turned heartthrob country singer, Brent Young, and rambunctious cover band, Hall Pass, played while we mingled over ice-cold PBR’s and more free tacos. By the time Bullets and Octane took the stage, guys began smashing into one another, but then apologizing, and girls began to show up in just bras and shorts. Late night corn hole games went on endlessly with the complicated scoring systems by intoxicated judges, and Jell-O shots somehow made their way around the campgrounds. So far, our expectations of this event were dead wrong.
As the morning sun snuck into our tent around 7:30 a.m., I was thinking about my strategy to combat the day’s heat. Fortunately, the campgrounds provided amazing showers and Roadhouse Biker Church served a complimentary breakfast, complete with Tapatio. We watched the show bikes being cleaned up and ready for competition like pageant contestants, and joined our neighbors for their homemade Micheladas, as we watched Jesse Hughes, lead singer of The Eagles of Death Metal, fly around in a golf cart. Assuming we would be hiking the ¼ mile to the main gate, we were again surprised by a luxury shuttle service driven by a happy young musician from Austin who came in just to help out with the event.
The Lost Highway staff was informative about the layout and breakdown of the festival events. They were expecting 20,000 people while I was just expecting to pass out from heat stroke. Grateful I had spent most of the morning hydrating and my immediate mission was to find the spots where I could get ice throughout the day to stick in my bra and keep my torso cool. Once I got in the gates, my anxiety was relieved to see it everywhere. Little golf carts pulling bags of ice, snow cones for sale, and huge, giant stations with mister fans. Near the amphitheater stage, named the Outlaw stage (for reasons I still don’t understand), a shaded press area had been set up with cold drinks, tables to work from, Internet and more ice. Producers of this show had thought of everything.
Them Evils kicked off the day like they were born in hell and used to the heat. High-octane energy, hair flipping, jumping, and crazy guitar riffs set up the mood for the Harley Davidson Quaid festival stage. The Super Hooligan races were drawing a sun screened, shirtless crowd of men as street legal motorcycles raced against one another on a tight turning oval track. Then there were the show bikes, lined up like Rockettes as they gleamed like trophies in the sunlight.
At the Outlaw stage, Colt Ford and Tyler Farr warmed up fans but it was Justin Moore who won them over. His dueling guitar version of “Purple Rain” as a tribute to Prince was unexpected, and let us all know he wasn’t just a ‘good ole country boy.’
Stopping by the press booth to reload my bra and hydrate, we made it back to the festival stage just in time to catch Taylor Hawkins, drummer for Foo Fighters, handle the sticks for his cover band, Chevy Metal. It was an awesome display of fun as they covered some Motley Crue and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”
Tailgaters began to fill the massive gravel parking lot and burnouts could be heard across the festival grounds. A couple of Harley Davidson bikes were given away to some lucky ticket holders and prizes were announced for the motorcycle pageant. We ran into our neighbors, who had just arrived from some explorations and made us grateful we had chosen water over Bloody Marys that morning. Eagles of Death Metal rocked the festival stage, with their childlike silliness and crafty musicianship, just as the sun finally began to set and more shade was moving in. Jesse Hughes filled his time before and after his gig riding a mini motorcycle behind the stage with an infectious grin.
Rushing back to the Outlaw stage was no easy task as the festival had now tripled in attendance and a blue night sky was hovering. It was shocking to see the crowd had transformed from Moore’s conservative country sweethearts into tattoo and converse clad dissidents in anticipation of Social Distortion, the festival’s maverick extraordinaire. Opening their set with a bang, this battle-scarred, cowpunk fraternity sent fans into a frenzy as they jumped over barriers trying to get closer to their king, Mike Ness. Fiddle player, David Bagger, pushed the live sound forward in a way that gave the band a timeless touch, which is important since they have been doing this since 1978. Ness can be just as vulnerable as he is rugged, making him the ultimate front man. “Rock and Roll saved my life. It almost took it too, but then saved it again,” he said before playing “Me and My Guitar.” The crowd sing along of “Ball and Chain” was surprisingly emotional, and the slam dancing to their hard driving version of Johnny Cash’s “ring of fire” was more inline with what I expected to see at this event.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC) played back at the festival stage but it was well worth the effort of getting there just as the sooty entity was making their way up through billowy smoke with their intoxicating, militant rhythm by drummer, Leah Shapiro. “Beat on the Devil’s Tattoo,” was a perfect song for their dark lighting and seductive silhouettes. Their fan favorite, “Berlin,” was no frills, straight gunmetal rock and roll. This band does what they do, with no heed given when it comes to approval or popularity, leaving them seeming disavowed and mysterious, a lost art with our current cultural situation.
The amphitheater now overflowed with curved bill baseball hats, cut-offs and cowboy boots. A massive stage screen video showing Brantley Gilbert being released from prison, followed by a backstage prayer with the band, captured the packed arena’s attention. In the crowded silence, the stage exploded with light and confetti as the band appeared ghostlike in bright lights for a sold out show, all in anticipation for their version of Outlaw country. Gilbert had a completely opposing performance strategy than BRMC, with a walk up very similar to a UFC fighter. His beefcake build and hip-hop appearance screamed of “Magic Mike” energy and sent the girls into high-pitched squeals. Brantley Gilbert loves his fans and his highlight was bringing Colt Ford out to sing a duet to “Dirt Road Anthem,” written by the pair, a song that became a best seller for Jason Aldean. The band was “dirty south” fun and Gilbert’s live charisma is dangerously contagious.
An easy walk back to the campgrounds got us to our comfy retreats much faster than the masses of monster type trucks and motorcycles trying to exit the festival grounds. For some reason, the Team America anthem was rippling through different groups of people as they laughed and sang the profanities as loud as possible. We snacked on chips and cold beer as we discussed all the things we couldn’t get to at the festival, until our obliging neighbors called us over for more carne asada and a game of can jam. Sunday morning greeted us again with nice, clean showers and the complimentary breakfast. We laughed at ourselves all the way home at how gangster we were.