When the shooter Jennings saw his friend Brandi Carlile put together a Joni Mitchell tribute set at this year’s Newport Folk Festival, it got the Grammy-winning producer thinking, maybe, of organizing his own similar project.
“I was offered this festival, and I just didn’t want me to come and play a regular set. I don’t have a [new] record,” says Jennings rolling stone behind the scenes at the inaugural Rebels & Renegades festival, held this weekend in Monterey, California. “So I was trying to think of something to do, to do something really special. Then my wife said, ‘Hey, why don’t you sing a bunch of that Warren Zevon stuff you listen to?’
In a unique showcase, at least for now, Jennings and his backing band, dubbed the Werewolves of Los Angeles for the occasion, galloped through a set of late Zevon classics: “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Excitable Boy” and, of course, “Werewolves of London”. Jennings, who prefers playing keyboards these days (often as a touring member of Carlile’s band), switched to guitar for Zevon’s heartbreaking signature ‘Keep Me in Your Heart’ before returning to keys. for the poignant ending to the tribute, “Desperados Under the Eaves,” an ode to Zevon’s beloved Los Angeles.”Doesn’t the sun look angry through the trees/Don’t the trees look like crucified thieves/Don’t you feel like Desperados under the eaves/Heaven help whoever gosang Jennings, who has lived in Los Angeles for more than two decades.
“I was able to really find a lot of myself in him. [when rehearsing these songs], then I started to understand why I was so obsessed with LA, Charles Bukowski, all those characters,” Jennings says. “And [Zevon] is one of the characters.
On its first outing last weekend, Rebels & Renegades curated an eclectic lineup, with the alternative bluegrass of Saturday’s headliner Trampled by Turtles juxtaposed with Cody Jinks’ outlaw country of Sunday. Hard-to-box artists like the Cadillac Three, Nikki Lane, Sierra Hull, Houndmouth, Shane Smith & The Saints and Kat Hasty – not to mention Jennings – were also featured.
“We wanted to make a festival that represents what we listen to,” says Rebels & Renegades promoter Dan Shehan, who is also the founder of the California Roots Music & Arts Festival. “And there really is nothing quite like this particular style of festival, mixing all these genres in such an intimate setting.”
Held on the Monterey County Fairgrounds, just on the outskirts of the quaint coastal community, the property is hallowed in the annals of music history. The Monterey Pop Festival, where Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar and the world first saw Janis Joplin, was held there in 1967.
In a surprise to those arriving on site, the original Monterey Pop stage and outdoor bleachers are still within earshot of the Rebels & Renegades performance areas. Plans are underway to incorporate the scene into future episodes of Rebels & Renegades. But in the meantime, Amigo The Devil is just browsing the decades-old platform.
The Austin singer-songwriter searches for the exact spot where Hendrix infamously set his instrument on fire. “I always wonder, ‘Were those moments really as crazy and special to everyone back then as they are now? Or did it become so special because it was captured on film and shared on over time?” Amigo asks. “But then you get here, and you stand here, and you can feel it.”
Cody Jinks isn’t just feeling the Monterey vibes, he’s fully embracing the new festival’s erasure of genres. The Texas singer takes a simplistic approach to classification. “I’m one of those people who always thought there were two kinds of music, good and bad. There are good songs and there are bad songs. There is no gray matter there,” he says. “And, the thing is, there’s always been a cross-pollination of music ever since music started. And there will continue to be.
Backstage on Saturday after his set of lyrical Western songs, Orville Peck reflects on the idea of what it means to be a performer in a modern era of country music where the door may seem wide open for some artists but barely open for others. ‘others.
“There are still a lot of walls to break down. Women play at a 1:13 ratio on the radio. There is very little visibility for people of color, LGBTQ people,” he says. “I just try to be myself, telling my gay stories. it’s coming [my music] with sincerity and authenticity – if it helps to break down walls and barriers, then great.
After their first afternoon on the Big Sur stage, blues-inspired band Houndmouth echoed Peck’s take on musical rules. “You’re trying to bend them,” says vocalist-guitarist Matt Myers, pointing to Rebels & Renegades’ mixed theme. He posits that music is in a very liberating phase, where genres have all but disappeared and neither fans nor promoters care about categories. “We’re an ‘indie band’ from Indiana,” he says, “at an Americana/country festival in California.”
Shehan says it all comes down to Monterey Pop. “It was a group of artists who went against the grain at the time,” he says, “and what we want to create here is that same vision.”
And Rebels & Renegades will return: the festival will span three days (October 6-8) in 2023.