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X marks the spot at venerable Pickathon

John Doe and punk rock legends chug along, headline indie roots fest


Photo Credit: COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER SOHLER/PICKATHON - Pickathon returns for another year of music at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, Friday through Sunday, Aug. 1 to 3. For info: pickathon.com. We always like to think of ourselves as a snapshot of what is best in contemporary music, says Zale Schoenborn, event organizer.It doesn’t hit you until John Doe says it. “We’re the last punk rock band.”

And in a sense, Doe is right, when you realize all the members of X are still alive and playing together.

All the original Ramones are dead. And virtually every other punk band formed in the late 1970s has lost at least one original member or simply doesn’t play anymore.

Yet X — bassist Doe, his former wife Exene Cervenka, drummer DJ Bonebrake and guitarist Billy Zoom — soldiers on.

X will be among the headliners at Pickathon, which takes place on Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley Friday through Sunday, Aug 1 to 3 (www.pickathon.com).

The indie roots festival also features L.A.’s Warpaint, Jonathan Richman, Nickel Creek, The War on Drugs, Blind Pilot, Ural Thomas and The Pain, Jolie Holland, Quilt, Spanish Gold, Ages and Ages, Charlie Parr and numerous other acts on seven stages.

From 1977 on, X mixed rockabilly twang with punk attitude, all tempered by a strong artistic sensibility.

“We were never a straight-ahead punk rock band,” Doe says. “Then again nobody ever was.”

In fact, this band was not only seminal in the L.A. punk scene, it contains a member indirectly connected to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll itself — Zoom, who played with Gene “Be Bop A Lula” Vincent toward the end of his life. Zoom is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Come to think of it, this X band is pretty darn historic: the Doors’ Ray Manzarek produced the band’s first four albums; the band has shared songwriting and members (Dave Alvin) with The Blasters; and Doe’s version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” plays on the jukebox when Kevin Costner’s and Whitney Houston’s characters dance in “The Bodyguard.”

A film and TV actor as well, Doe doesn’t seem to have let any of this go to his head — he notes he and his bandmates are tickled pink they’re still jamming.

“We’re all very grateful and happily surprised,” he says, though he adds X has worked at it.

“We have a certain ambition, a loyalty to each other and the music. If the music was easily dated it would be easier to get sick of it,” he says.

The band has been rehearsing cuts off its first four albums for Pickathon, he says, and is excited to play, as it never lost the original flame of inspiration. Acoustic roots and punk share a common source, Doe adds.

“It’s not based on tricks and artifice,” he says of punk and indie roots. “It’s more straight-ahead emotional content. Punk rock was all about returning rock ‘n’ roll music to its basics. ... It represented freedom, and it’s a little dangerous.”

X will play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 8:50 p.m. Sunday, and Doe will join The Sadies on stage at 11:20 p.m. Saturday.

Robbie Fulks

Another Pickathon highlight, alt-country-guitarist-singer Robbie Fulks, is about to release a CD called “Gone Away Backward.”

Over the years, he has moved from being a somewhat tongue-in-cheek artist mocking both Nashville and the alt-country world when he first performed solo in the 1990s to a more serious composer delving into, dare we say it, Springsteen-Dylan territory.

Take “Where I Fell,” off his newest album. A lament for the small towns laid waste by America’s industrialization — and then de-industrialization — it’s “depressing,” Fulks says, but nonetheless the song conveys a certain reflective beauty you just can’t hear in more optimistic tunes.

“I feel much more comfortable relaxing in a tempo and singing a relaxed sort of music right now,” he says, adding he knows his high ‘n’ lonesome tenor voice is not what mainstream country wants anymore.

“A lot of the old sounds are anachronistic in a way that’s unpleasant to listeners of commercial country radio,” he adds, referring to fiddles and mandolins and Appalachian holler vocals.

Fulks is exactly what Hank Williams Sr., ordered, a wonderfully skilled guitarist who brings a novelist’s sense of wordplay to his lyrics.

“I’m a word guy for sure, but I’ve learned over the years ... music is really kind of first,” he says. “It bypasses the verbal place in the brain.”

Fulks will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday.