The first Stagecoach Country Music Festival was back in 2007—meaning this is the 10th anniversary of the country companion to Coachella.
There are a lot of familiar names on the bill this year … and there are some serious oddities, too. To help attendees plan, I’ve come up with a list of acts I certainly won’t be missing.
Friday, April 28
I interviewed John Moreland in advance of his 2015 appearance at Stagecoach after hearing about him in the underground alt-country forums. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow spoke highly of him on her show, in part because he’s modest, down to earth and soft-spoken. Oh, he’s mega-talented, too: This singer-songwriter who spent his teenage years playing and touring in punk-rock bands is truly special. Even though he stays seated during his entire performance, Moreland offers folk/Americana songs that enter the depths of your soul. He’s mesmerizing as a performer and a songwriter; you truly won’t want to miss John Moreland.
This is one of my personal favorites. Front man and singer-songwriter Jay Farrar spent seven years playing in Uncle Tupelo with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco before they went their separate ways. While Tweedy and Wilco went on to become famous, Jay Farrar’s Son Volt received more critical acclaim (if, alas, not more record sales)—because Farrar’s songwriting evolved into something truly great. Farrar is of the same ilk as Woody Guthrie and is a purist when it comes to Americana music. Son Volt recently released a new album, Notes of Blue, and not long ago toured playing debut record Trace in its entirety. It’s great to see Son Volt finally on the Stagecoach lineup.
This is one of those aforementioned Stagecoach lineup oddities. The Zombies were part of the British Invasion during the ’60s, and had a sound that was very psychedelic—even for that time. Hit song “Time of the Season” is a psychedelic-rock staple, as is the band’s other big hit, “She’s Not There.” The Zombies broke up in 1967, and the only remaining original members are lead singer Colin Blunstone and organist Rod Argent. It will be great to see The Zombies … and it will be interesting to see how the band is received at Stagecoach.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis, now 81 was, announced as part of Stagecoach’s 2013 bill—before he cancelled without explanation. Hopefully he will be there this year. While Jerry Lee Lewis is most remembered for the scandal surrounding his December 1957 marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin, there is actually much more to talk about than that. Jerry Lee Lewis has recorded some of the best songs in rock history, such as “Great Balls of Fire,” “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Breathless.” He’s also the last man standing of the Sun Records legacy. I’m still laughing at the joke Beavis made in Beavis and Butt-head about how he “did the piano and kicked his cousin.”
Saturday, April 29
I love the fact that I can picture The Walcotts (pictured right; photo by Max Knight) playing in some smoky honky-tonk with chicken wire to protect them from flying objects. However, this group throws in some rock ’n’ roll0, too. This Los Angeles outfit should be a treat for those who arrive at Stagecoach early. I also highly suggest checking out the album Let the Devil Win, because it’s quite good.
John Doe of the punk band X is also a solo artist—and like his X bandmate Billy Zoom, Doe is a fan of country music. Doe is actually quite multi-faceted; he’s also dabbled in acting and poetry, and just released a book, Under the Big Black Sun, about the Los Angeles punk scene from 1977 to 1983. You won’t want to miss John Doe—because he will definitely put on a great show.
Tommy James and the Shondells
One has to wonder what Goldenvoice is thinking with all of these psychedelic rock bands from the 1960s on the bill. Don’t get me wrong, though; I am not complaining. Tommy James and the Shondells can be heard on oldies radio quite often with “Crimson and Clover,” “Mony Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now” (which was covered by Tiffany in the ‘80s) and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” It will be interesting to see how this group is received, too.
Sunday, April 30
The HillBenders (Performing The Who’s Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry)
OK, things keep getting stranger here. The HillBenders are a relatively new bluegrass band from Springfield, Mo., and the group is going to perform The Who’s Tommy, a rock opera … but in a bluegrass style. The band released a recording of this in 2016, and has been touring with it recently, so arrive early to check this one out. It sure is odd to hear bluegrass versions of “Do You Think It’s Alright,” “Fiddle About” (no pun intended), “The Acid Queen” and “Pinball Wizard.” I’m wondering if we’re going to see bluegrass versions of the characters performing in the background as the band plays.
This one isn’t all that weird: Stagecoach is actually the perfect place for the Cowboy Junkies, who have been putting the “alt” in alt-country since 1986. Cowboy Junkies has made some downright dark originals and some haunting covers; in any case, Margo Timmins’ voice is just beautiful. The band has recorded numerous albums, and put out a series of four albums known as the Nomad Series from 2010 to 2012. If you’re a fan of alt-country, make sure to check out Cowboy Junkies.
Because a lot of people love Los Lobos (below), myself included, I think this performance will go over well at Stagecoach, and the fact that a Latin band from Los Angeles will be performing at Stagecoach is fantastic. One of my favorite albums of all time is Los Lobos’ By the Light of the Moon, and the band’s live shows are always interesting—because you don’t know if you’re going to get a lot of originals, or if you’re going to get a lot of jam-band-style covers. Having seen Los Lobos before, I can say you’ll walk away at the end very happy.
It’s become a fantastic tradition for local bands to perform at Coachella, and this year, three local groups got their moment in the spotlight—or, rather, moments in the Gobi Tent.
Kayves, a Tachevah finalist, played on Friday. The Yip Yops, which played a set to a packed house at The Hood Bar and Pizza with the Flusters in between the two Coachella weekends, performed on Saturday. And Ocho Ojos, a psychedelic cumbia band hailing from the East Valley, played on Sunday.
There are numerous benefits for a local band to play at Coachella. Some members of the local bands who have played Coachella in the past have told me about the ability to engage with the bigger names and get advice, or be put in touch with producers or people who they should work with. The exposure alone can help newer bands.
To some Kayves members, this year actually marked a return to Coachella. Nick Hernandez (vocals, guitar) is the former front man of CIVX, a 2014 selection, while Danny Gonzalez (guitar) played at the festival in 2015 with Alchemy. After their Weekend 2 performance on Friday, Hernandez, guitarist Oscar Rico and drummer Adrian Romero stopped by the press tent.
“It still felt like the first time,” Hernandez said about Kayves’ 2017 Coachella shows. “It’s a big stage, and we’re used to playing smaller venues. The thing that was better this time around is that we got to play it twice. … When we played the whole set live (on Weekend 1), we knew about the adjustments we were going to do for the second weekend. That’s why the second weekend was better.”‘
Unlike CIVX in 2014, Kayves has songs on some streaming services—and the band definitely saw a Coachella bump.
“We got 100 more followers in a day or two,” Romero said.
Still, Kayves only has self-recorded material out—something Rico said the band plans to change soon.
“We’re going to go back into the studio and do everything properly and go from there,” he said.
Given Kayves includes members from both the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles, the Coachella gigs meant some early mornings for the band.
“It’s really hard for us to get together, Romero said. “Today, we had to practice at 5 in the morning, because we came from Los Angeles, and it’s been a long day.”‘
For the Yip Yops, a Coachella appearance seemed long overdue. After the band’s Saturday performance in the Gobi Tent, the members said they felt as if they weren’t a “young band playing Coachella” or the “local band playing Coachella,” but simply a band playing Coachella.
“We don’t feel this is the last time we’ll be playing Coachella,” keyboardist/guitarist Mari Brossfield said.
Yip Yops front man Ison Van Winkle said playing at Coachella has always been a goal for the band.
“Especially living here, it makes it that much more substantial,” he said. “But it’s not a peak, and it’s not the end. We’re not just going to break up after this.
Bassist Jacob Gutierrez told me the Coachella appearances have given the band chances to network behind the scenes. In fact, during Weekend 1, Van Winkle’s father, Tony, sent me a text message saying the band was hobnobbing with musicians such as the members of Local Natives and Father John Misty.
“We had a lot of things in the works, but this really helps to solidify us as musicians, and it gives us a platform to reach out to as many people as possible,” Gutierrez said. “It’s going to open a lot of doors for us.”
“During these two weekends, we’re not just partying it up,” Brossfield said. “We’re taking ourselves seriously, and we’re on the job. This is a huge platform to use to launch yourself with.”
Ocho Ojos is a new band—one that had not yet really made my radar screen before Coachella. On Sunday, when they stopped by the press tent, guitarist Cesar Flores and keyboardist Danny Torres told me the history of their band.
“We’ve been around since October 2016,” Flores said. “We formed when I was asked to play this cumbia dance party. One of my friends was organizing the event and asked me if I could play. I agreed, and at that time through social media—I wanted to have a jam at my house—I asked if anyone was willing to jam, and Danny hit me up. He was very good at communicating, so we clicked right away. It was easy to get together and write music.”
Torres said he and Flores didn’t set out to start a band right away.
“We have good chemistry,” Torres said. “It very natural, and it wasn’t like we set out to start a band. We continued to play together and liked what was coming out.”
They didn’t think that a Coachella appearance would happen so soon.
“We envisioned it at one point,” Flores said. “We thought that maybe it would happen if we wrote and really worked hard. We knew that Coachella has had local bands for opening slots, and we didn’t think it would happen this quickly. We were excited and super happy.”
The style of music Ocho Ojos plays is not heard a lot in the valley. Torres said they feel that’s a good thing—because it helps them stand out.
“Our style, psychedelic cumbia, it is really what set us apart from the beginning,” he said. “As soon as we came into the music scene, playing backyard shows and venues here in the valley—and our scene is mostly rock and punk bands—I guess we’re very different in comparison.
Thanks to Coachella, people in the rest of the Coachella Valley music world—and beyond—now know about Ocho Ojos.
“It definitely put us on a platform and got us a whole lot more exposure,” Flores said. “We’re going to get more serious and publish some of our music, so we can solidify the sound we have. We’re definitely going to work on new material as well.”
Despite a growing economy and decreasing unemployment, the homeless population in the Coachella Valley is expanding—at an alarming rate.
The annual Riverside County “point in time” count in January showed the homeless population had increased from 1,351 unsheltered and 814 sheltered individuals in 2016, to 1,638 unsheltered and 775 sheltered in 2017.
The Coachella Valley cities had 297 homeless individuals in 2016—and 425 individuals in 2017. Another alarming fact: The number of homeless individuals locally without shelter is about to rise, because Roy’s Resource Center, the only shelter for the homeless on the west end of the Coachella Valley, is slated to close at the end of June.
The beleaguered facility in North Palm Springs is shutting its doors largely because some local city governments have not been paying their share to keep Roy’s financially solvent. Before the center opened in 2009, all nine Coachella Valley cities agreed to give $100,000 a year in support. While Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and Indio have upheld their ends of the bargain, more or less, the other cities have not. In fact, the city of La Quinta has given nothing to Roy’s, although it has given financial support to Martha’s Village and Kitchen and the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission.
Sabby Jonathan, the mayor pro tem of Palm Desert, is the chair of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ Homelessness Committee. He explained the reasons behind the closure of Roy’s Resource Center.
“The services and management for Roy’s are being provided by Jewish Family Services of San Diego, and they notified CVAG and the county last year that they wouldn’t be renewing the contract when it terminates on June 30,” Jonathan said. “The reason is for the last several years, they’ve been contributing about $100,000 a year to fund the annual deficit. As service providers, they’re supposed to be getting paid, not putting money in.
“When they announced they weren’t going to renew their contract, we searched for different service providers, and none came forward. The county made a decision to convert that facility as a long-term mental-health facility.”
Jonathan tried to put a positive spin on the conversion, despite the significant loss in services for the homeless.
“It won’t be Roy’s, but it will still be a facility out there in that location providing different services,” he said. “That’s really a plus for the community, because we don’t have that kind of facility (for mental-health services) in the desert at this time, and we really need it. The key will be to replace the services that Roy’s was providing—specifically, housing for 90-plus people.”
The closure will undoubtedly lead to a significant increase in the number of unsheltered homeless—at the time of year when shelter is needed most.
“We just had a ‘point in time’ count, and it shows that if we look at the nine valley cities, the increase in homelessness in the Coachella Valley is 43 percent: We went from 297 to 425. That’s huge. If Roy’s closes down, and we have no provision for the 90 people it currently houses, the increase is even more dramatic, because we’re talking about going from 297 to 515, and that’s crazy. We are at a crisis point, and we absolutely need to come together and replace that facility.”
However, a quick and easy replacement is not in the cards. On April 19, the CVAG Homelessness Committee approved something called the West Valley Housing Navigation Program. The plan, which is not finalized, includes a mixture of diversion and prevention programs.
It does not, however, include a new west side shelter.
On the east side of the Coachella Valley, the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and Martha’s Village provide services to the homeless—but after the loss of Roy’s, there will be no service providers on the west side, even though more and more homeless people are located in the western Coachella Valley.
“We need to make sure there is housing for those people and more on the west end of the valley,” Jonathan (pictured) said. “The homeless population went from 138 on the west end of the valley to 225; that is Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Cathedral City. That’s a 63 percent increase in homelessness on the west end of the valley. We can’t ignore that. We need to create housing for those people. It needs to be on the west end and can’t be on the east end in Indio or in the central valley. It needs to be where they are, and they’re on the west end of the valley—225 out of 425 total.”
Jonathan said the middle-of-nowhere location of Roy’s also played a part in its demise.
“The intent of Roy’s was to create a homeless shelter on the west side of the valley. Unfortunately, while it was well-intentioned, it was doomed to failure due to the lack of transportation,” he said. “That drained over $300,000 from the annual budget just to get the folks back and forth, because (Roy’s) was closed during the day: The residents would be transported to Palm Springs during the day and brought back. That meant that Roy’s Resource Center had to own, operate and maintain a fleet of buses. We’ve learned the lesson, and now our efforts are focused on working with the cities on the west end to create housing in one or more of those locations.”
Of course, due to NIMBY-ism, residents have long fought the presence of homeless shelters near their homes and businesses.
Many have questioned whether or not the homeless situation can be fixed. However, Jonathan offered a couple of success stories.
“It’s true that you can’t eliminate it completely, but you absolutely can make a dent and improve the situation,” Jonathan said. “In the city of Riverside, homelessness among veterans has virtually been eliminated. That’s important, and that’s proof that success, at least in part, can be attained.”
A program in Indio has shown promise as well.
“Another case in point is the program utilized in the city of Indio known as CORP (Community Outreach Resource Program), which is a program that takes homeless people and puts them through a process that is six to nine months, which includes job-training. Health issues and addiction issues are addressed. If they graduate, their case is brought in front of a tribunal, which includes a sitting judge, and representation from the district attorney’s office, probation office and the sheriff’s department. Any outstanding warrants and fines are rescinded. That allows for any homeless person to escape that cycle and re-enter society. Without that, they have debt over their head; they can’t get a driver’s license, and they can’t drive to a job interview. It’s next to impossible.
“Just in the last three or so years this program has been going on in Indio, there have been 91 participants, and 89 have graduated and have had their warrants and fines removed. None of those 89 have returned to homelessness.”
Scott Wolf, the development manager at the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission in Indio, said the mission has seen an increase in the need for housing and shelter.
“We’re completely full,” Wolf said. “We’re always limited in resources, and primarily limited in the beds that we have available. We only have so many beds that we can fill. There are people out there still looking for places, and we cannot absorb everybody.”
Jonathan reiterated that there need to be resources for the homeless on the west side of the valley—and that city governments valley-wide need to address the situation.
“(East valley cities and organizations) are taking on the burden, and that cannot continue,” he said. … “We believe that to be effective in regard to homeless, this valley needs to implement a regional, holistic approach. We can’t have every city on its own taking everyone (who is homeless) down to the Indio jail, and taking four hours of a deputy’s time. Those people are back out on the street immediately, because there’s no room to put them in jail. We’ve done nothing to stop wasting deputies’ time, and nothing to reduce homelessness. … We’re recommending that all cities adopt the CORP program and any other programs that would be effective in their cities, and that we all work together in that regard.”
I asked Jonathan why Coachella Valley cities seem to have a difficult time working together. He expressed optimism that the cities can and will improve their efforts.
“I can’t comment on the inner workings of individual cities, because I’m not familiar with the individual challenges they are facing. But I will say that the way that we are dealing with homelessness in general nationwide has evolved in a positive way,” he said. “We are learning how to be more effective. That’s what the Coachella Valley Association of Governments is for—to work together and figure out how to address problems that are common to all of us, that can only be solved by working together.
“A homeless person, by definition, is not a resident of Palm Springs or Indio; in fact, they move around. If one city makes it uncomfortable to be in their city, they don’t disappear; they go somewhere else, such as the next city over. Part of the evolution in how to better address homelessness is that we can’t work on this issue individually. We need to work on it together, and that’s what’s happening in our valley.”
Since its inception in 1999, Coachella has continued to evolve—to the point where it’s now one of the most well-known festivals in the world.
This year, it went through a large evolutionary step: The capacity went from 99,000 people to 125,000. The site was also reorganized, with the Outdoor Stage and the Mojave and Gobi tents pulled all the way back against Monroe Street. The Sahara Tent is a permanent fixture on the site, but the interior got all sorts of new effects. There is also a new tent, too: the daytime/early evening-only Sonora Tent. It offered an air-conditioned, club-like atmosphere and hosted a lot of punk-rock acts, like as T.S.O.L., The Interrupters, Shannon and the Clams and others.
Many Weekend 1 attendees took to social media to complain about crowding in the general admission areas. There was some truth to those complaints, as I learned during Weekend 2.
Still, I found it pretty easy to move around the festival with only a general-admission-wristband. I did notice longer lines for the restrooms, and thanks to an increase in the number of disabled patrons attending Coachella, the ADA platforms at all the stages got full early.
Another issue: The lobby area after the security checkpoints got overly crowded throughout the mid-afternoon to late evening. On Sunday night, I at one point found myself in a human traffic jam, in the middle of a large crowd of people trying to push through a bottleneck.
Yes, these are serious issues that need to be addressed for Coachella 2018. Still, I found the festival rather navigable overall.
Some Sunday highlights
• Ezra Furman, the first act on the Outdoor Stage on Sunday afternoon, opened his set with a cover of the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare.” His set had a lot of highlights; it was as if Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the Ramones had a love child. The mixture of piano, a bit of harmony and a punk-rock sound was fascinating.
• Lee Fields and the Expressions was the first act to perform on the Main Stage. Fields has a very powerful voice, even by old R&B/soul standards, and his songs got the crowd going—singing along, clapping and slowly waving hands in the air as Fields sang slow, ballad-like songs about love or changing the world for the better.
• Future Islands’ early-evening set on the Outdoor Stage was just as impressive as the set I witnessed in 2013 when the band performed in the Gobi Tent. Front man Samuel Herring is well-known for his high-energy dance moves, and on Sunday, he pulled them off quite well. After 11 years together, the band is still climbing the ladder of indie-rock success, and doing so without many stage effects or crazy gimmicks. Who knows what we’ll see from them in the future?
• TSOL closed out the Sonora Tent on Sunday night with a fun performance—complete with old-school Los Angeles punk attitude, mosh pits, circle pits and Jack Grisham’s wild banter. He explained that while the band was recording the recent record, the members were one studio over from Snoop Dogg. At one point, the crew joined Snoop for a game of basketball—when John Fogerty drove his Corvette onto the tennis court. Grisham said he politely asked him to move it, and Fogerty simply walked away. Grisham’s response: He pulled up the door handle and put it between his butt cheeks. When Snoop and his crew said that Jack’s actions were “pretty fucked up,” Grisham responded that they didn’t know what punk was about. Oh, and Grisham said he also rubbed his scrotum all over Fogerty’s hood, too. In other news: Grisham pointed out that keyboardist Greg Kuehn’s son, Max Kuehn (who plays in the band FIDLAR), was filling in on drums.
• New Order put on a tremendous headlining performance in the Mojave Tent on Sunday night; it was one of the best shows I saw. The performance was upbeat, included more of a dance music element, and filled up the entire tent, with overflows onto the lawn area. The band played two Joy Division songs for the encore: “Decades” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” both of which paid tribute to friend and Joy Division front man Ian Curtis.
Photo credits (below): Aerial shot, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; Ezra Furman, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Future Islands, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Lee Fields and the Expressions, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; New Order, by Charles Reagan Hackleman/Goldenvoice.
Coachella attendees who braved Saturday’s hot temperatures got some great music to enjoy, including the day’s headliner, Lady Gaga.
I must admit that I am not a big fan of pop divas, but I promised myself I would keep an open mind as I took in Gaga’s performance, rather than doing my usual full embrace of the “music snob” title that some have bestowed upon me.
As for that performance: After Bon Iver’s Main Stage set finished a little before 10 p.m., most of the area was dead, as attendees crammed the Outdoor Stage area to take in DJ Snake’s performance. That let Gaga’s die-hard fans grab spots close to the stage.
Gaga was scheduled for 11:10 p.m., and even though the stage seemed set well before that, she did not take the stage until after 11:30.
I watched parts of last weekend’s Gaga show on the live YouTube stream. While it was an impressive spectacle, some moments fell flat (a sentiment I heard from people who were there, too). The costume changes were over-long, meaning her backing musicians had to play lengthy solos before she would finally reappear.
This week, she tightened things up. Her default costume appeared to be a pair of decorated Spandex shorts over a leotard, with stars next to her eyes and on her temples. While her appearance may have changed a bit, the set list was rather similar. Her banter with the audience at times seemed to fall flat—although she admitted to the audience that she felt a little nervous, in part because her parents were in attendance.
She also told a story about how she arrived in Los Angeles from New York wearing all leather, and was told that it was too hot to wear leather. She added that she still loves leather and that she was bringing leather to the desert. I’m sure the small group of bears I saw earlier in the evening walking around with leather harnesses and aviator sunglasses were in that sea of 100,000 people screaming, “YOU GO GIRL!”
Many of the visuals that accompanied the performance were not included all that much on the live stream last week—and in person, the visuals were indeed stunning and well-done.
Lady Gaga ain’t my cup of tea, but I appreciate the energy that her music puts out, and that she has fans from all walks of life. While the performance was a little rough around the edges for my tastes, her appearance will be remembered fondly by most.
Other Saturday highlights
• Local band the Yip Yops were an early afternoon delight in the Gobi Tent, with many people coming through to check them out. Their evolving and futuristic sound definitely made them stand out. Of course, the Yip Yops were ready for the Coachella stage two years ago.
• Chicano Batman performed to a large and fantastically diverse crowd at the Outdoor Stage on Saturday afternoon. Despite temperatures at almost 100 degrees, the band still played in ruffled shirts and new navy suits. This band is truly on the rise and drew a much larger crowd than they did when they played in 2015.
• The Heineken House was the place to be on Saturday, thanks to the air conditioning and the never-ending flowing of cold, delicious beer. Late in the afternoon, the protopunk band Death, the subject of a documentary titled A Band Called Death, performed in the tent. While it may have annoyed the typical Heineken House audience of people who like house and trap music, the rock crowd that turned out to hear them play—myself included—loved every minute of it. One has to wonder why they were not put in the Sonora Tent instead.
• Bon Iver’s co-headlining Main Stage performance was nothing short of fantastic. The band’s indie-folk sound has evolved in a big way, and the show was nothing like the group’s Coachella 2012 performance. There was a lot of live sampling and layering during the performance, along with some pretty trippy visuals. Also, Bruce Hornsby and Jenny Lewis appeared with front man Justin Vernon at the end of his set. Vernon, wearing a T-shirt that said “PEOPLE” across the front of it, declared toward the end of his set: “If you don’t have close friends, you don’t have shit.”
Photo credits (below): Death, by Brian Blueskye; Bon Iver, by Julian Bajsel/Goldenvoice; Chicano Batman, by Erik Voake/Goldenvoice; Yip Yops, by Quinn Tucker/Goldenvoice
Camping accommodations at Coachella are pretty sweet—if you like to party.
But what if you aren’t into partying, are Jewish, and are attending Coachella? Shabbat Tent has you covered.
Coachella and Passover tend to overlap at times—as was the case last weekend. This weekend, on Saturday morning—during the Sabbath—I noticed Shabbat Tent and decided to stop in. There, I met Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.
Before the service, Rabbi Bookstein’s volunteers offered attendees grape juice, wine or whiskey to drink during the service. One of the attendees raised his hand and said, “WHISKEY PLEASE!” He then added: “I LOVE JUDAISM!”
During the brief Sabbath service, Rabbi Bookstein discussed giving freely to others without expecting anything in return, as well as the meaning of establishing healthy boundaries.
Shabbat Tent doesn’t only show up at Coachella. When you look at the Shabbat Tent website, you’ll see it has appeared at numerous U.S. music festivals, both small and large. The tent is not only a place observe together; it’s also a place where people can get hot meals, water and even some entertainment.
“The idea of Shabbat Tent started in 1999,” Rabbi Bookstein told me after he finished the service. “A couple friends of mine noticed a lot of people of Jewish background going to these festivals. They want to observe some of their Jewish rituals together. They wanted to have a themed tent where they could get together. That was the original idea. They’re going to be there on Friday night during Shabbat, ‘So let’s do Shabbat together.’”
Bookstein told me that everyone is welcome in the tent. His wife, Rachel, and all the volunteers are very hospitable toward all.
Bookstein said Shabbat Tent organizers quickly learned they were on to something. “There are the people who want to come together. But then there are hundreds (of people), or at some festivals even thousands, who also want to benefit and participate. Maybe they have a Jewish background; maybe they want to do Shabbat.
“Then there’s another element, which is opening a hospitality tent. You can’t just make it for Jewish people; you have to make it for everybody. It’s got to be universal. Shabbat Tent became a universal tent to create a place of chill and community in the middle of the craziness of a music festival.
“Coachella is more of a party scene than any of the other festivals that I can think of. Some people have asked us, ‘Why would you go to Coachella? It’s nothing but a big party.’ Actually, that’s why we need to be here more than ever. Because Coachella is such a party atmosphere, there are not a lot of places for people to chill and relax. Here, I feel we’re a necessity as to what’s going on, to provide people with a safe and chill area.”
The Shabbat Tent was of great service to Coachella attendees who found themselves in distress this weekend, as a rash of robberies hit the festival.
“People here get robbed. Who else is going to give them water and food?” Bookstein said. “They just can’t walk over to any of those vendors and say, ‘Hey, my wallet got stolen. Can I have a burger?’ They can come to Shabbat Tent, and we’ll give them water and food. We had a few people sleeping here last night who had their tent stolen, and a couple of people had their friends leave and abandon them. They had no place to sleep and no food, so they slept here at the Shabbat Tent.
“There’s another element, which we never planned for, which is Coachella not serving Kosher food. We have a Kosher kitchen here.”
Is Rabbi Bookstein excited to see any of the acts at Coachella? He laughed when I asked him and he described himself as more of a bluegrass fan.
“This is not my kind of music,” he said. “I appreciate the people, and there are some really talented people here. There is somebody playing on Sunday who I want to see: Toots and the Maytals. But this is not my lineup. A couple of years ago, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers played, my wife and I went and saw them a little bit, which is was fun. I grew up a few decades ago, so that was the music I remembered from high school.”
Radiohead’s Weekend 1 Coachella performance was, by all accounts, a disaster.
That was on everybody’s mind as the Friday headliner prepared to take the stage for Weekend 2.
I wasn’t at Coachella last weekend, but I certainly heard about the sound issues, intense audio feedback and other problems that forced the band off stage twice during the set.
Also … the band played “Creep” last weekend—a song the group almost never plays. Was it planned for the set list, or was it added as a consolation for fans who braved the technical difficulties?
I may never get the answer to that last question, but all of my other queries and concerns were washed away: Radiohead’s Weekend 2 performance was fantastic.
Ambient and atmospheric sounds emanated from giant poles, with speakers positioned throughout the Main Stage crowd area, before the band took the stage; it reminded me of Roger Waters’ Desert Trip performance. Speakers like this can really complement sound effects—or make a band’s sound schizophrenic.
Radiohead took the stage with a surprising lack of visuals: The video walls to the left and were not on, and a large round oval—visible as a non-operational backdrop throughout the entire day—remained non-operational. (This is called foreshadowing, kids!) During the first two songs—“Daydreaming” and “Desert Island Disk”—the only visual effects were lights shining upward on the stage.
Then came “Ful Stop,” the third song—where all the problems started last week. Suddenly, visuals on the sides of the stage started—and the aforementioned large, round oval in the background came to life.
It was like a cosmic blast.
The speakers throughout the field in the Main Stage area began to add layers and little noises to Radiohead’s music. Thom Yorke was energetic, although he avoided conversation with the audience, other than quipping that Radiohead was ready for a residency in Las Vegas.
While the Weekend 2 crowd didn’t get to hear “Creep,” we were treated to “Fake Plastic Trees,” another song the band almost never plays live.
Radiohead’s Friday night set was indeed a beautiful thing, and Weekend 2 attendees—who tend to be more of a music-aficionado crowd than the Weekend 1 group—left the Empire Polo Club on Friday night quite happy.
Other Friday highlights
• Local band Kayves absolutely rocked the Gobi tent. A nice crowd came to catch a glimpse of the band, which was received well. I had to laugh when Nick Hernandez explained that Kayves was on Spotify; this led a man to scream, “WHERE ARE YOU FROM!?” Alas, his shout went unheard by the band.
• The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s second appearance at Coachella was also well-received—which, considering the group was performing traditional jazz, was a beautiful thing. The group played some material from its new album, So It Is, and praised the crowd for “getting (their) asses out of bed early” to see them—even though it was after 3 p.m.
• King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (say that 10 times fast!) is a psychedelic rock band that includes elements of garage rock and metal. Also … I swear there’s a touch of Indian music for which Ravi Shankar was so famous—even though nobody plays sitar in that band. Anyway, the band turned in a fantastic afternoon set, while saying that the band’s Weekend 2 crowd was better than last week’s group. Pretty far out, man.
• The Interrupters performed an energetic, upbeat and wildly fun performance in the new, punk-and-garage-leaning Sonora Tent during the early evening—one of several new additions to Coachella this year that boosted capacity to a whopping 125,000 people. (Good news: The tent’s air-conditioned. Bad news: It looks like Nickelodeon threw up in there.) The Interrupters gained a huge mosh pit and knowledgeable fans who knew the lyrics to the songs—screaming along with Aimee Interrupter. At the end of the performance, guitarist Kevin Bivona told the crowd he wanted some audience participation, and asked if anyone knew how to play guitar. In response, a guy got up onstage; when asked what his name was, he replied “Tim” in a gruff voice, before a crew member handed him a worn-down black Gretsch guitar. That not-so-random audience member: Tim Armstrong of Rancid, who played two songs with the group and then went back into the crowd, where he took selfies with attendees who couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Photo credits (below): Kayves, by Julian Bajsel/Goldenvoice; King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, by Charles Reagan Hackleman/Goldenvoice; The Interrupters, by Everett Fitzpatrick/Goldenvoice.
You’ve probably never heard of Klangstof. If that’s indeed the case … you really need to change that.
From Amsterdam, the group has been performing together since 2015, and is now signed with Warner Bros. This year, Klangstof became the first Dutch group to ever play at Coachella.
Front man Koen van de Wardt stopped by the media tent on Friday, April 21, and chatted with me about his Coachella experience.
“It’s been amazing,” van de Wardt said, beaming with a smile. “It’s been everything I expected and a little bit more. It’s our first United States festival date, and it’s a very cool one as a first experience. Everything has been so overwhelming. All these people are walking around. Obviously, the heat is horrible, but you try to deal with it.”
Van de Wardt said the band has played at festivals in Europe—but the experience here is rather different.
“American crowds are very honest,” he said. “If they don’t like anything, they’ll (complain) right away. If they love it, they’ll be screaming. In Europe, it’s like people wear a mask. You can’t really read them as you would American people. I really love playing Coachella—because whenever you play a good song, people notice it right away. You can really feel the vibe of the audience right away.”
Klangstof’s indie sound may be a tough sell in America, but van de Wardt said he hopes people will keep an open mind.
“I wouldn’t call it a struggle, but we definitely need to work a lot harder playing in America,” he said. “We have to take way more extra steps to get going here. But I think if we work hard to get that done, people will understand at last. We’ll get there.”
Klangstof will soon go on tour with the Flaming Lips—one of the craziest live psychedelic-rock bands in the world. A look of excitement came over van de Wardt’s face when I asked him about it.
“I’ve never seen them live before, so that’s going to be a first for me. I really can’t wait to see the unicorns, the confetti and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “I also like to tour with a band that inspires me—the bands you watch and say, ‘Now I’m inspired to write new music.’ I think the Flaming Lips are the perfect band to go on tour with, because they’re so different. They really do their own thing, and I’m looking forward to asking them how they do it and how they record their music. For me, it’s going to be a great learning process.”
Van de Wardt also talked about Radiohead’s glitch-filled performance last week.
“I really enjoyed Radiohead last week, even though they had all those sound problems,” he said. “I’ve seen a perfect Radiohead show before so many times, and I was curious to see how they coped with such a big problem. It was inspiring and very cool to watch a band cope with such a problem.”
I asked him what he thought about the cult of Lady Gaga, which is most definitely present at Coachella this year. He said he understood it—even if he doesn’t share warm feelings for the Saturday headliner’s music.
“I actually fell asleep during Lady Gaga because I was so tired,” he said. “That's definitely some kind of music I don’t understand myself, but I do understand it’s poppy and catchy, and people love it. But I always find it hard to trigger me. I do understand why she’s popular. I was awake for it for about 15 minutes, and I understand that it really works—how she does it onstage, and every move she makes. It’s very well-thought through, and it works great.”
Klangstof said the band is already booked through December.
“We’re doing the Flaming Lips tour first, going through the United States as well, and then we’re going to run through some festivals in Europe. After that, I want to rent a cabin in Norway, get the band in, set up our equipment and be there for three months.”
A poet at Stagecoach? Yes, indeed.
Renowned cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell will be returning to Stagecoach to serve as the Mustang Tent’s emcee for the entire weekend, April 28-30. Mitchell, who has recorded eight albums, is known for his poems such as “Story With a Moral,” “The Bristlecone Pine,” “The Rawhide Braider,” and “Night Before Christmas on the West Texas Plains.”
During a recent phone interview, he discussed his love for poetry that goes back to his childhood in Elko County, Nev.
“It was just always there for me,” Mitchell said. “I grew up on a ranch that was really remote. We were 60 miles from town and about 30 miles from a dirt road. We were 14 miles away from the nearest neighbor. We didn’t even have electricity, and we did the strangest things at night: We sat around and talked to each other. People have forgotten this, but it was very common practice when people would come to visit for (hosts) to be playing a musical instrument, singing a song or reciting poetry. I got into kind of the last of that, I think.
“Some of the old cowboys my dad hired would actually recite a poem or two. If you want to get a kid’s interest, give him a rhyme and a meter. Look at Dr. Seuss. That was something special when they would just tell me the story of ‘Casey at the Bat’ or ‘Cremation of Sam McGee,’ and all those things just resonated and became part of my life. I started reciting early, and by the time I was in high school, I was changing very nice and pleasant lyrics in songs of the day to silly, lewd kid stuff. I found I could write in rhyme and meter if I thought about it.”
Mitchell explained what his poetry is all about.
“It covers life; it covers who I am; it covers what’s around me, and hopefully people realize that cowboys are semi-human, so we have a lot of the same concerns,” Mitchell said. “There are only so many experiences humans can have, and they can get them from a wide variety of situations. … Each story has been told millions of times. What I try to do is make it interesting in the words of the language and try to make it part yours.
“We can all watch a Steven Spielberg movie … but we’re all voyeurs in that. We are watching. If you watch little kids watch movies like that, they get a dumb kind of look on their face and don’t react. But if you read kids stories, you’ll see physical reactions, because it takes them away from being a voyeur and puts them more into: ‘This is what’s happening right now to me.’”
I mentioned to Mitchell that poetry seems to be, frankly, a dead or dying art form.
“I think that it’s died more than once,” he responded. “I think human nature and human experience is like history repeating itself. I think one time, I premiered a book at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, which is owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He and I got to sit down for a long time. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is one of the great beat poets of the time. We visited, and he said to me, ‘I’m really glad you guys are coming along and giving poetry back to the American people. I’m afraid I was part of a movement that actually removed poetry from the common person.’ Many people who love beat poetry are going to argue about that. If you think about it, the few surviving poets of that time were the Robert Frost-type of poet. Robert Frost was asked about this free-verse poetry, and his answer was great. He said: ‘Very interesting, isn’t it? It’s like playing tennis with the net down.’ I thought: That is part of poetry. Poetry doesn’t have to make you feel sorry for the poet or sorry for yourself, or let you know how bad the world or humankind is. It doesn’t have to do that. It can bring joy and comedy, and can touch all facets of life. We need poetry to tell us the politics of the day and remind us of feelings.”
Mitchell made one additional point about the state of human communication today.
“We don’t even rely on newspapers anymore,” he said. “We still rely on storytelling, no matter what media. No matter what media you go to … you have to go back to basic human communication. Music, arts and poetry are needed media staples in our life.”
Mitchell said he has enjoyed the wide variety of acts he’s encountered in the past at Stagecoach.
“For a guy who completely dreads crowds, and for a guy who is fairly uneducated as to who’s the newest big shot in Nashville, I still love it,” he said. “I still think that the people who put it on are good at what they’re doing—very good. They make it very comfortable for people to be there and make it very comfortable for you to find the type of entertainment you want. You can have the biggest of the modern Nasvhille stars on one stage, and the greats of yesteryear on another stage. Then you can come to my stage and have everything from the greats of bluegrass to the upcoming types of music that are bluegrass and the old-Americana type. But we’ve had Garrison Keillor up there, too.”
If you’re expecting a full cowboy poetry set from Mitchell this year … sorry, but you’re out of luck.
“It’s a funny thing: This year, they are bringing me in strictly to emcee the stage, just because they’re good people,” he said. “They didn’t want to leave me out and had filled the roster. They realized that my name wasn’t on it, and they hired me to come and be the host of the stage. I generally know the artists and get to introduce them in a way that the people who are there are actually introduced to them.”
Blending country music with jazz and pop is not easy—but for Robert Ellis, it seemingly comes naturally; just check out his latest (self-titled) album.
Ellis will be making his second appearance at Stagecoach on Saturday, April 29.
During a recent phone interview, Ellis said he did not use a specific formula while recording his latest album, which was his fourth.
“As much as I’d like to take credit for every decision and say that it’s all premeditated and conscious, a lot of what happens in making music is pretty accidental,” Ellis said. “You just chase down a vibe, and you go in a direction of things that excites you. At the end of the process, you can turn around and say, ‘I intended to make it this way,’ but in reality, it’s not always like that. It’s more about what your boundaries are and what your parameters are. If you have decided that you want to make a very Americana album, and the only instruments you want on it are acoustic guitar, stock electric guitar and harmonica, you sort of (have) a narrow window as to what can happen. But we didn’t have any of those boundaries when we started recording. We ended up with this weird thing.”
As far as the Americana genre goes, Ellis isn’t really a fan, and doesn’t consider his music to be a fit.
“I find most Americana music to be pretty boring,” he said. “It doesn’t interest me. I understand the reason why what I do is grouped into that genre; I get it. I think people tend to have superficial reasons as to why they group things together. I am from the South, and I write songs that are sort of story-based. At least in the past, there were some country and folk elements to what I was doing. So I can see why I was thrown into that category, and it makes perfect sense. But I don’t listen to that music. I like a lot of music that is described as folk music, like Joni Mitchell, but I think what she does is weird and progressive. If you look at the players on her records, like Jaco Pastorius and Michael Brecker, these are not big names in folk music; they’re jazz players. Everyone remembers Joni Mitchell as this flower-power folk artist.”
Ellis talked about a specific artist on his current playlist.
“I just bought the Joanna Newsom record. I was listening to that this morning,” Ellis said. “I really love that she’s not on Spotify, because you just can’t fucking go listen to her music for free. I thought, ‘I really want to hear that new record.’ I had to go on iTunes and buy it for $11. It’s not like I have a ton of spendable income, but her album is worth the money. I felt really good about spending money on her album. I think there are very few artists who do that, and it felt rewarding, because I don’t know the last time I bought a record.”
Ellis explained how he approaches songwriting, and what he thinks makes a good song.
“It could be anything. I like a lot of different music for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “What I try to do in my songs is communicate a story and choose the music to go along in telling that story. We listen to a lot of jazz, and a lot of rock ’n’ roll, and we just improvise.”
Ellis spends a lot of time each year on tour.
“Three hundred days,” he said. “I have good days and bad days. Generally, the time onstage is the best thing in the world. It feels right, and I feel time passing effortlessly while I’m getting to play music. It’s all the other shit that gets old. It’s all the driving and the other bullshit you have to do to make this work—like figure out how to sell music. It feels pretty tacky and time-consuming. But the actual performing and improvising never gets old, especially after you’ve been driving for 8 or 9 hours. All I want to do is be in the moment, improvise and play music.”
Ellis said he’s consistently writing, too.
“I have a lot of records in me that I really want to do,” he said. “I guess if I get enough coffee in me, I have 10 albums I wish I could do in the next five minutes. I’d love to do a record of jazz standards. But I have no idea what the next record will be like—but it definitely won’t sound like the last one.”
Stagecoach’s lineup is usually weirdly diverse. Ellis said that he finds Stagecoach to be inexplicable—but in a good way.
“A lot of the artists at Stagecoach are these weird left-of-center artists,” Ellis said. “I know Phosphorescent played Stagecoach a few years ago. The last time, I played Stagecoach, Toby Keith was the headliner. Nora Jones’ country band was there, and so was Old Crow Medicine Show. There’s a wide variety of artists that play that thing. I definitely don’t think Toby Keith and Old Crow Medicine Show play the same genre of music. I don’t feel out of place at all, because I don’t know the identifying quality all of the bands have. I haven’t been able to wrap my head around that. Last time I played, people seemed to really dig it, and I had a good crowd. It’s California, so it’s all kinds of different people.”