Stomping Grounds: Ellensburg, WA by Mark Pickerel of Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands

Mark Pickerel, frontman for his “Praying Hands,” has managed to avoid the big city. Hailing from the town of Ellensburg, Washington, he has been playing music since a young age with the unique role of singing drummer. Starting his career with the Screaming Trees, Pickerel has rocked with artists such as Mark Lanegan and Brandi Carlile – not to mention a stint as the drummer for Nirvana. His new album, titled Cody’s Dream, is due out March 8. Learn more about Ellensburg and its colorful characters below.

What’s your town’s nickname?
Us locals are always too busy coming up with nicknames for Yakima Washington (just over the mountain from us) to take the time to come up with a nickname for our own town. Yakima is known for being one of the largest drug distribution centers in the country. Everyone calls it “Crackima.” Now if you asked the folks down at “tourist bureau” what the town’s nickname is , they would simply tell you that it’s “Rodeo City.”
What’s your nickname for your town?
The “REAL” windy city! We’ve finally installed a huge energy producing wind farm to try and make some money off the stuff! We’ve depleted all of our other natural resources , no more can I raise my fist to the air and curse the wind. It’s going to make us all rich!
Why do you live there?
To escape all temptations of the big city. (This is a joke of course because I’ve wound up in more trouble here than I ever would have in the city!)
What is your favorite local attraction (monument, park, etc)?
The Yakima River. Too bad so many have to die in it every year.
What is your favorite local event/festival?
I loved the rodeo when I was younger, but a few years ago I saw a horse suffer an injury in an event that resulted in him having to be “put down” and I’ve never returned.
What is the best time of year to be there?
Late summer and early fall are beautiful. It’s especially beautiful during “forest fire” season, the fires create the most beautiful sunsets that you’ll ever see!
Listen to ‘Forest Fire” for more on the subject.
Who is your favorite local celebrity/personality?
A guy who went by the name of ‘Rockin’ Rollin.’ He was the guy with a rainbow colored afro who always appeared at sporting events back in the 1970’s, holding up a big sign that read : John 3:16. He always sat behind home plate at the world series (for maximum visibility) so as to get his message out to the masses; but back in the mid eighties he was arrested at LA-X for hoaxing a bomb scare and is still in prison. (Flights at LA-X were grounded for several hours, he learned the hard way that you can fuck with a lot of things but you don’t fuck with commerce!!)
When I was a kid , he would always appear at the annual 4th of July picnic and just walk around giving us all “high fives,” spreading his message of love and peace. I’m sure he’s still doing the same thing behind bars.
He was probably my biggest influence as a child.
Where is the best place to drink and what’s their specialty or happy hour?
The Frontier Tavern, their specialty is their pickled, hard boiled eggs. One time a hunter-friend of mine came down from the hills with a rattlesnake that he’d caught – he brought it in a gunny sack to show off – and he sat down for a few drinks and proceeded to tell the story of his trapping (over and over again, each time more dramatic than the last). We were all giving him hell for treating the snake so poorly so he decided that he would feed it one of the pickled eggs to answer our concerns but the snake was more interested in his hand. My friend was rushed off to the emergency room and the snake got away!
Who has the best jukebox (and what’s in it)?
The Tav , nothing too special , Pink Floyd ,AC/DC,The Doors, CCR, Bowie, The
Guess Who and Mark Pickerel’s Snake In The Radio (no joke).
What is your favorite place to see live music and what was your favorite show there?
There isn’t really a good music venue.
When I was young , there was a place called The Ranch and they actually brought artists in like John Lee Hooker and J.J. Cale but the place burned to the ground before I was old enough to gain admission. Arson is still suspected.
I did get to see Nirvana before they had a record out , they played our little community center. Krist almost beat up the security guy there just for suggesting that the kids not “slam dance.” Krist jumped off the stage mid-song and started pushing and threatening the security guy who was trying to physically restrain one of the young girls who wouldn’t take heed to his verbal warnings to “stop with the slam dancing.” This guy was no match for Krist and he ran off humiliated that one of the band members had emasculated him in front of the entire crowd and the “slam dancing” continued without incident until the police arrived to “tame” the young girl and her friends. By then Nirvana was just putting the final touches on one of the most amazing and inspired sets of music that I had ever witnessed. I spent the next four years trying to get in that band, they were going to “rescue me” from The Screaming Trees!
What is your favorite local band?
Besides the Screaming Trees, currently I like a young singer named Star Anna (Shes’ playing my record release party in March). There was a great hip hop collective called Log Hog who were really great (They might still be around but I think they’ve moved to Olympia).
What is your favorite diner or restaurant and what is their best dish?
The Valley Cafe has been a big part of my life since I was a little boy (the only place in town that’s NOT a “greasy spoon”). It’s known for it’s wide variety of vegetarian dishes as well as it’s fresh seafood and salads. I love the “Chicken Marsala.”
What is your favorite record store and what was your best find there?
The best record store was my own and called Rodeo Records but before that was a great little shop called Ace Records where the shop keeper stocked every genre of music that you could imagine as well as a huge selection of books on witchcraft, astrology, and Nazis, as well as a large selection of vintage porn, underground comics, and alternative press. My best finds include the first Devo 7″ “Be Stiff” (Stiff Records), and the Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio “Train Kept A Rollin” (original 7″).