Pappy + Harriet’s In Historic Collaboration With McCallum Presenting Emo Orchestra with Hawthorne Heights

By Bruce Fessier


he New York Times described emo rock in 2007 as “Ricky Nelson sings the Sex Pistols.”

But, like many disparaged forms of popular music, from disco to Dixieland jazz, emo has evolved into vast new varieties that have gained street cred, even as rock’s popularity has plummeted.

On Nov. 9, the “screamo” emo band, Hawthorne Heights, will play the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert with Emo Orchestra, a recently-assembled ensemble featuring from 15 to 31 string, brass and woodwind musicians. Each was hand-picked by Hawthorne Heights’ agent, Ben Mench-Thurlow, to play original arrangements by Evan Rogers, a Los Angeles-based UK native who conducts the orchestra.

It’s the first collaboration between the McCallum and Pappy + Harriet’s, the iconic music venue and restaurant in Pioneertown. It’s also the first step toward achieving a goal set by new McCallum board chairman Garry Kief to attract a younger demographic to the 1,127-seat theater.

Mitch Gershenfeld
Photo courtesy of DeAnn Lubell

McCallum President, CEO and Artistic Director Mitch Gershenfeld, and Pappy + Harriet’s co-owners J.B. Moresco and Lisa Elin say they’re
hoping this co-promotion will lead to more joint ventures.“I’m looking forward to seeing if this partnership could bring a different audience to the theater,” said Gershenfeld. “Garry knows the pop world very, very well, and one of the things he’s talked about is, he wants us to expand our audience. To me, doing a partnership with Pappy + Harriet’s is a great way to see if we can actually attract a younger audience to the McCallum.”

“We want to see how this one goes,” said Moresco. “Ever since we put it on sale we’ve been contemplating, if we have a band that’s big enough to sell 2,500 tickets, maybe we look at this as two different sub-markets of the same market, where the experience is completely different. You get the standing room outdoor experience at Pappy + Harriet’s under the stars and then you get a seated, much higher-elevated scenario at the McCallum: two shows with a completely different feel.”

Moresco and Elin began managing Pappy + Harriet’s in April 2021 and they realized last July how beneficial a low-desert partner could be. They had booked the ’60s British Invasion band, The Zombies, into their 1,000-capacity outdoor venue without realizing it was too hot for an outdoor show. So they moved it into their 350-capacity restaurant.

“That would have been a perfect show to put down at the McCallum,” said Elin. “It was like watching the Storytellers DVD.”

Gershenfeld doesn’t see the McCallum doing shows in July or August. But Kief wants to extend the McCallum season and the theater has done shows in June and September. It also has presented Americana legends such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Bonnie Raitt. But that was in the first half of the theater’s 35-year history. Moresco doesn’t identify the McCallum as a venue for today’s rock.

“I don’t think it really works,” he said. “This show works because it has the orchestra element. But Father John Misty would be a great show at Pappy + Harriet’s and the McCallum; Lana Del Rey — a show that had (a vocalist with) real command of the vocals — that would be part of it.”

The iconic Pappy & Harriet’s
Photo courtesy of Chris Miller

“It has to be a little bit more of an elevated experience,” said Elin. “Command of the vocals and a more theatrical experience. Patti Smith would be great. That’s also a show that sells out (1,000-seat venues). She would do gangbusters at the McCallum.”

Hawthorne Heights and Emo Orchestra began their collaboration following a resurgence of interest in emo. Emo Nite, a touring party founded eight years ago by curators T.J. Petracca and Morgan Freed, now plays venues from the Avalon in Hollywood to Webster Hall in New York. It played Coachella and had a sold-out three-month residency at the Zouk Nightclub at Resorts World in Las Vegas in 2022.

Mench-Thurlow, who attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, assembled an orchestra by seeking trained musicians who like emo on social media sites such as Reddit, Facebook, and his Berklee Alumni Group. He originally planned to tour with union musicians from each city supporting Hawthorne Heights. But, after seeing how union rates had escalated since COVID, he found it feasible to create an ensemble that could travel on two rented buses. They’ll start as a 15-piece orchestra, but they have charts for 26 and 31-piece ensembles, and Emo Orchestra could grow as the demand warrants.

Hawthorne Heights played Pappy + Harriet’s on a Wednesday night last October and Moresco was surprised by the enthusiasm for the show — not just by the local audience, but his own staff. He then branded the month Emo October and said, “Every single show was hugely successful.

“To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have even known or been able to talk about this prior to that show,” he said. “But Hawthorne Heights and the lead singer, JT (Woodruff), takes you on sort of a verbal journey. He’s very much an ambassador for this resurgence of emo. So, when you have a band you absolutely love, you always want them to come back.”

Mench-Thurlow approached Moresco last November about Hawthorne Heights playing its hits, plus emo classics by bands such as My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday and Dashboard Confessional, with Emo Orchestra. But he said he’d need at least 1,000 seats. So Moresco cold-called Gershenfeld.

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“He was saying they had this opportunity to book this orchestra show,” Gershenfeld recalled. “To be honest with you, I’ve never been up (to Pappy + Harriet’s). But he said he thought the McCallum would be a great place to do this particular show since it involved a symphony orchestra and Hawthorne Heights.

“He was exploring, would they rent the theater? Would we want to present it ourselves? I said, ‘Let’s do a co-promote.’ The McCallum’s got a great brand. They’ve got a great brand. But we have very different audiences. I thought this would be a really great opportunity for us to expand our demographic and partner with a great brand.”

Gershenfeld said this emo night will be just the beginning of subtle programming changes at the McCallum. The 2023-2024 season is pretty much set, but he’s considering more country and Latino artists, plus comedians that play to younger audiences.

“I think people will probably notice with our ’24-25 season that it’s going to be a little different,” Gershenfeld said. “They’ll see some things at the McCallum they haven’t seen before.”

He’s also thinking Moresco might be able to steer him toward artists “not on my radar.

“To be honest with you, I did not know the band Hawthorne Heights,” he said. “I know other emo bands, like My Chemical Romance, and I have since watched a lot of their videos. So I get it. But what I like about Pappy and Harriet’s is they do everything from the kind of acoustic music that I really like to things like Hawthorne Heights. So I’m looking forward to working with them to bring in acts that I normally would not go after because I’m just not booking in that world.”

Conversely, he’s also hoping Emo Orchestra will introduce younger fans to the orchestral music he loves. Mench-Thurlow says Emo Orchestra can make that happen.

Fans of early emo bands such as Good Charlotte, Jimmy Eat World and Rites of Spring have been bringing their kids to emo shows, Mench-Thurlow said. So he’s including a primer on orchestral instruments and who’s playing them in playbills throughout this tour.

“We want to encourage youths to play string instruments,” he said. “My hope is, a kid sees this violin player and goes, ‘I’ve never heard a violin player. Violin players are awesome!’ And he’s going to go to the merch table and see a little emo skeleton-branded guy playing a violin, and he’ll be able to take that pen, and that’s going to be his catapult to be a violin player.”

Elin, who is Moresco’s wife, also is excited about promoting certain McCallum shows to Pappy + Harriet’s fans. She grew up in New York attending Broadway musicals and listening to eight-track tapes of a certain Palm Springs superstar with personal and professional ties to the McCallum. One of her dreams is getting Barry Manilow to follow Paul McCartney’s 2016 show into Pappy + Harriet’s.

“If I have anything to do with it, he will!” she said. “I was like, if I don’t see Barry Manilow before he dies, I’m going to kill myself!’ I love Barry Manilow.”

Emo at the McCallum

What: Emo Orchestra featuring Hawthorne Heights

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 9

Where: The McCallum Theatre, 73-000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert

Tickets: $48-$78

Available at:

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