Steve Poltz is returning to his desert stomping grounds Saturday as an icon

By Bruce Fessier

Songwriter Jack Tempchin, whose catalog includes such Eagles concert staples as “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Already Gone,” and “Smuggler’s Blues,” pretty much anointed him Tuesday in the Bob Lefsetz music industry newsletter.

Lefsetz had interviewed Poltz in a podcast in which he tried to determine — in Tempchin’s words — “Why he has a gigantic fanatic worldwide audience without ever having a hit record.”

The answer, Tempchin wrote, “is his live show. The energy is unbelievable.

“I’ve seen everybody,” he said before locking his keyboards in all caps. “I HAVE NEVER SEEN A SOLO ACT ANYTHING LIKE STEVE POLTZ. Nobody has. You have to see it to believe it.”

Just to clarify, Poltz did co-write a hit record. He went on a surfing vacation to Mexico with his then-girlfriend, Jewel, in the late 1990s. They got mixed up in a drug-smuggling bust that could have landed them in jail after cops insisted they take home a kilo of marijuana. Steve instead gave it away and went home and wrote a song about his feelings for Jewel. The angelic, now-girlfriend of Kevin Costner liked it and told him not to “Poltzify” it – meaning, apply his wicked sense of humor to what Jewel thought could be a hit. She added beautiful lyrics and it became “You Were Meant For Me.” It made so much money, Steve’s dad reviewed the bank statements from his home in Palm Springs and thought there’d been a mistake.

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Poltz will tell wild stories like that as a top-billed artist at the Joshua Tree Music Festival, recently named America’s best music fest by USA Today (on a 10-best list that included Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo but not Coachella or Stagecoach). His name appears on the poster in a large font even though he’s playing at 1:40 p.m.

Poltz finds humor in that, as he does about most things.

“We have a running joke, all my friends,” he said in a recent Zoom interview. “We always go, ‘Hey, you’re in the next level of the font!’ I was just in Florida playing Moon Crush. I was with my friend John Craigie, my friend Glen Phillips from Toad the Wet Sprocket and my other friend, Paul Thorn. We were all laughing that our names were at the very bottom in a little font. So, I always say it’s like we’re on a rock-climbing wall. Somebody is always going to climb higher than you and someone’s always lower than you. So, be nice to everyone you meet on the way up because you will meet them on the way down.”

Poltz, 64, grew up in Palm Springs and graduated from Palm Springs High School in 1978. He immediately moved to San Diego and became part of a vital San Diego scene with his irreverent punk-Americana band, the Rugburns. His mentors were Mojo Nixon and the Beat Farmers. His contemporaries included Jason Mraz, A.J. Croce and Rocket from the Crypt.

Poltz has fond memories of his childhood in Palm Springs, where he got to caddy at the Bob Hope Desert Classic, trick or treat at Liberace’s house, and greet Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra at the Palm Springs Airport.

But he regrets just missing the desert’s fabled underground rock scene.

Poltz had no idea there was a desert rock scene brewing in the wilderness. He was in Concert Choir, the Madrigals and theater. He played classical guitar and wrestled in the 93-pound division. He went on tour with Up With People.

“I was not hip,” he noted. “I loved ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I Got Love in My Tummy.’ I loved the Monkees. Of course I loved the Beatles, but I was into the movie ‘Grease’ in high school. Think how lame this is: It’s 1977 and Television and all these bands are happening at CBGB’s (in New York) and I’m applying for Up With People.”

He left Palm Springs the year future members of the band Target 13 recorded the first version of “Rodney on the ROQ,” a tribute to KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer that called attention to the local punk scene. It was recorded at the home studio of former Palm Springs High School music director Gus Patzner, who wrote the PSHS alma mater with his wife, Rose Marie.

Poltz sang the alma matter as part of his high-energy storytelling solo act, which he describes as “a punk version of the Smothers Brothers.” In his autobiographical song, “Folk Singer,” he describes himself as “a wash-up punk, still a dead-ringer for a folk singer.”

Poltz went on to live at Neil Young’s ranch while working on some recordings. He was signed to one of Frank Zappa’s labels. He toured with the punk band, X. He inspired Weird Al Yankovic with his catching hip Rugburns song, “Dick’s Automotive.”

Now he’s living in Nashville and is a popular recurring artist at the Joshua Tree Music Festival.

“The weird thing is, when I go back to the desert, I love it more than I ever did,” said Poltz. “I really appreciate the beauty of the desert and I love being in Palm Springs. The first thing I have to do is go to Las Casuelas, the original one. I just adore the desert.”

Poltz never does the same show twice, but he’s likely to tell some crazy Palm Springs stories about Elvis and Sinatra and being a paperboy at The Desert Sun when he appears on the Boogaloo stage with just an acoustic guitar. To find out which musical icon refused to give him an autograph at the Palm Springs Airport, buy tickets at

Win tickets to Joshua Tree Music Festival May 16-19!

Bruce Fessier is a veteran desert journalist who was recently inducted into the inaugural class of the Coachella Valley Media Hall of Fame. Contact him at and follow him at or

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