Kyuss fans celebrate family and community

Deep in the barrenness of Sky Valley along Dillon Road is a yellow and blue sign that reads “Welcome to Sky Valley”. It’s simple and looks like any sign a town would display to welcome visitors and residents.

But the Sky Valley sign has its place in rock ‘n’ roll history. A previous iteration appeared on the cover of Kyuss’ 1994 album, “Welcome to Sky Valley”. Just as Beatles fans from around the world visit Abbey Road in London, Kyuss fans come to the desert to pay their respects to the band that call the area home.

About 50 members of the Kyuss World Facebook group turned up at the panel Saturday afternoon for a group photo before a scheduled performance by former Kyuss singer John Garcia and his band Gold at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs. It was the first time the members got together for a group photo since 2019.

Kyuss World founder Nathan Lawver poses in front of the "Welcome to sky valley sign" in Sky Valley, Calif. on September 17, 2022.

The group’s founder, Nathan Lawver, made the trip from Madison, Wisconsin, and has been coming to the panel since 2017, and said the way Kyuss has incorporated the Coachella Valley into his desert rock music sound makes it a place that fans want to visit. Many Kyuss World members around the world have posted photos in front of the sign over the years.

“At one point, at least three or four times a week, members from all over the world would post a photo of themselves to the Sky Valley sign,” Lawver said. “I’ve seen pictures of Nepalese visiting Sky Valley. Definitely a lot of Aussies over the years.”

Kyuss'

Kyuss formed in 1987 and was known for creating a new sound that combined 70s rock ‘n’ roll with punk rock. The original incarnation of Kyuss included Garcia, guitarist Josh Homme, bassist Nick Oliveri, and drummer Brant Bjork. In 1993 the band toured Australia as the opening band for metal band Metallica. Oliveri left in 1992 and Bjork left in 1994.

Since disbanding in 1995, Homme formed the band Queens of the Stone Age the following year, which featured Oliveri from 1998 to 2004. Bjork, Garcia and Oliveri have been active in solo projects.

The Kyuss family

From 2017 to 2019, Kyuss World would collect donations within the group to send a member to attend annual gatherings at the sign. One such member was Daniel Hofman from Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia in 2018

A fan since the 90s, Hofman dreamed of visiting the sign after noticing numerous photos on Kyuss World. When we arrived in the Coachella Valley, Hall welcomed Hofman into his home. John Garcia and Band of Gold bassist Mike Pygmie and his family threw him a barbecue. Yawning Man’s Gary Arce took him to Joshua Tree’s Rancho de la Luna recording studio to meet owner and musician, David Catching.

“It was special that Kyuss World sent me there through crowdfunding because I couldn’t have afforded it,” Hofman said. “It was a dream and I didn’t think it would ever happen. I felt so far from where I live in Australia because I’m about 60 hours from Sydney in a city similar to Palm Springs with almost the same population.”

Daniel Hofman from Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia poses with the "Welcome to Sky Valley" sign at Sky Valey, California in 2018.

Garcia said the idea for the album title and cover for “Welcome to Sky Valley” came from Bjork. Although none of the band members had ever lived there, it was a place the members visited often.

“The way (Bjork) presented it to me, there’s something fierce about that title,” Garcia said. “It was who we were and who we were becoming. Being from the desert is something that we are very proud of being from the desert. And it’s a local place that we know, so it made perfect sense”

community sign

According to Sky Valley Secretary Neil Ludlum Owners Association, there have been different versions of the sign for several years and the first was installed by the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce. During the 90’s a new sign appeared with the name of the room and this model went on the cover of the “Welcome to Sky Valley” album.

The owners association installed the current version in 2013. Prior to the Kyuss World group photo in 2019, the sign was vandalized. Ludlum said he was “a loving fan” who wanted the sign for his collection.

The back of the "Welcome to Sky Valley" sign in Sky Valley, California on September 17, 2022.

Most Sky Valley residents support keeping the sign as a symbol of community spirit dating back many years, and Ludlum encourages residents to mingle and welcome those who visit.

“Even though a lot of our people don’t particularly like Kyuss’ music, we can still like the (fans) and we do,” Ludlum said.

Sky Valley resident Jason Hall, who grew up in the area and is a member of Kyuss World, has a different view. He laughed when asked what the sign meant to him and said, “It’s going to be disappointing for a lot of Kyuss fans.”

“To me, it’s just a sign,” Hall said. “I drive past it four times a week. It’s iconic and I understand why, but I grew up in this neighborhood. I was just like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty awesome and I know where that sign is.’ I’m more about the community, the sign isn’t important, it’s how the community feels about it, how it brings everyone together and loves it.

According to Kyuss singer John Garcia, drummer Brant Bjork, seen here outside his home in Joshua Tree, California on January 13, 2015, came up with the album title "Welcome to Sky Valley."

While Kyuss attracted fanbases in Europe and Australia which continue to grow today, the band was not as successful in the United States.

“A friend of mine showed me (Kyuss) and I fell in love with them and tried to listen and get my hands on whatever they put out,” Hofman said. “At this stage, there was no internet or anything like that. You had to find and buy the CDs. Being in a small town (in Australia), it was not easy.”

Looking back on Kyuss and the sign’s popularity among fans around the world, Garcia said he felt “lucky.”

“I wasn’t always like this and it took Kyuss breaking up for me to feel like this,” Garcia said. “I look at myself when I was young, I feel like slapping him and saying, ‘You don’t know what you have, so be thankful and thankful.'”

Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment for the Desert Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bblueskye.

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