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Rufus Wainwright, Billy Strings, ‘Mojave Desert’ offer ambitious, eclectic livestreams

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 18, 2021

By Bill Forman For The Spokesman-Review

Last winter, Brooklyn singer-songwriter Evan Zwisler offered seasonal advice for musicians eager to hit the road.

And while his blog’s title, “Tips for Touring in the Winter (Hint: Don’t),” may have been tongue-in-cheek, its descriptions of snowbound touring’s occupational hazards – road closures, show cancellations, fans hibernating under their blankets – were all too familiar to anyone brave or foolish enough to actually go out there and do it. His accompanying photo of an overturned van on a mountain overpass drove the point home.

This winter, musicians and fans don’t have to worry about any of those things. Which is fine if you have no desire to see, hear or play live music in person. For the rest of us, there’s a rapidly rising stream of virtual shows – and all the pros and cons that come along with that.

With livestream concerts providing the next best alternative at the moment, musicians and promoters are aiming for the kind of “event status” we’ve come to expect from the real thing. After a fair amount of floundering in 2020, livestreaming appears to be hitting its stride as evidenced by three upcoming concert series that promise to be as eclectic as they are ambitious.

The most unusual is “Live in the Mojave Desert, Volumes 1-5” (, a biweekly series of 1080p HD livestream events that kicked off Jan. 26 with Earthless, continued on Feb. 6 with Nebula and will be followed by performances from Mountain Tamer (Saturday), Spirit Mother (March 6) and Stoner (March 20).

The series is the brainchild of the California Deserts Wizards Association, a collective that, in more normal times, hosts a live music and generator party outside Joshua Tree called Stoned and Dusted. Naturally, its concert series will feature liquid light shows to illuminate the “double pyramid” of boulders that form the scenic backdrop. Each performance will also be released as a live album.

If all this triggers flashbacks for longtime acid-rock devotees, it’s probably because the project draws its inspiration from Pink Floyd’s legendary “Live at Pompeii 1972” concert film. But the music itself, in many cases, leans more in the direction of Kyuss, the Palm Desert stoner-rock band whose members would go on to form Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu and Eagles of Death Metal.

So, it’s only appropriate that the series will go out on a high note with the debut performance of Stoner, a new band featuring Kyuss co-founders Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri.

Fans with more jam-band inclinations, meanwhile, can get their own hit of nostalgia with Billy Strings, who launched his new livestream series on Thursday. “The Deja Vu Experiment” ( will unfold over the course of six nights onstage at New York’s venerable Capitol Theatre, the same venue where the Grateful Dead played their own six-night run exactly 50 years ago.

To celebrate the Dead’s golden anniversary, the young bluegrass guitarist also plans to tap into the original concerts’ ESP experiments, in which fans were prompted to focus on imagery shown during the performance while communicating telepathically with a “guest subject.” If your third eye is insufficiently developed to have any idea what that means, you can find out more on the event website.

No less ambitious, albeit in a more subtle way, is “A Rufus-Retro-Wainwright-Spective 2021” (, in which the droll singer-songwriter leads viewers through a “virtual livestream tour” of his offbeat recorded repertoire.

The series launched on Feb. 5, and future episodes draw upon soundtrack tunes from “Rufus at the Movies,” original material from the 2021 Grammy-nominated “Unfollow the Rules,” rarities from throughout Wainwright’s career and intimate “fireside chats” to help drive the cold winter away.

If these and other livestream events can live up to their billing, they’ll certainly help music fans get through these winter months while they anticipate the return of actual live concerts. And if these and other livestream events are financially successful, they might become a viable continuing part of the entertainment ecosystem even after fans can again go to concerts and festivals in person.

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