It’s definitely another hot weekend at the Empire Polo Club.
The Stagecoach Music Festival kicked off on Friday, April 26, with a mellower, laid-back vibe compared to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s two weekends. Beautiful women clad in Daisy Dukes and Western attire and a lot of shirtless men in cowboy hats braved the hot weather.
The sun didn’t bother a couple of fans in attendance, who appeared happy as they exited the beer garden next to the Mane Stage. (That’s not a typo; that’s what the main stage is called.)
“I’m having an awesome time,” said Zack Lindsay of Palm Springs.
When it came to the sun, Lindsay came prepared. “I’m not bothered by the sun. That’s why I have a hat.”
Larry Owen of La Quinta wasn’t bothered, either, going shirtless and displaying good spirits. He shared what excited him the most about the festival.
“It’s definitely the acts, and some of the old country acts playing on some of the other stages. It’s great,” Owen said.
Before the gates even opened, the news of George Jones’ passing set a somber mood among some of the older country-music fans, as well as many of the artists. Robert Ellis, who performed a set in the Palomino Tent in the afternoon, toured with Jones recently.
“I would hope that people would be honoring his memory today,” Ellis said. “I think there’s a chance that the younger folks here at this festival might not know who he is, which is kind of a shame. I mentioned it onstage, and a couple of the older guys “wooed” really loud. But most of these people are probably 18 or 19 years old; they’re going to see Toby Keith, and they don’t have any idea who George Jones is. You would hope at a country festival that it would be earth-shattering news,” he said.
Nonetheless, Ellis said his set.
“My show was cool. It was a lot of rednecks, a lot of people without shirts on. It made me feel right at home—I’m from Texas,” he said with a laugh.
The Haunted Windchimes took the stage at 1:30 p.m. in the Mustang Tent. The Windchimes are known for being perfectionists in the art of harmonies, and their performance started off as an intimate show for just a few people. The bluegrass and folk sound of their opening number “Waiting for a Train” was stunning. Desirae Garcia mentioned the scantily clad ladies and gentlemen, and during the group’s set, they dedicated a heartwarming performance of Leadbelly’s “Old Ship to Zion” to George Jones. The band’s mellow and laid-back set felt like a show by genuine old-time country band in an era that has long since passed.
Hayes Carll was fired up through his sound check in the Palomino Tent, with “Check, check, 1-2, how are you?” leading to a small ovation a few minutes before his scheduled 2:50 p.m. set. Carll, ever the literary troubadour, played his signature songs that resemble the sound of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, combined with a little bit of Southern rock. His all-over-the-place beats had the crowd dancing and laughing. During a long-winded speech addressing his hectic and somewhat unique touring schedule of rodeos and honky-tonks, Carll thanked the crowd for attending. “I know we’re in a recession or a depression, but I want to thank you for spending your hard-earned money to come out and support country music,” he said, to a loud ovation.
Carll decided to take a break from the normal Southern rock sound of “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” by performing it in a Americana style, which made the song stand out and become a little bit more … country. Toward the end of his set, he announced he was going to play a song about the political divide in America. His description: “If Rachel Maddow and Ann Coulter went on a blind date with an open bar tab.” “Another Like You” reflected Carll’s unique and amusing take on a variety of subjects. He also performed a great cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Drunken Poet’s Dream.”
If there’s one thing you can say about Hayes Carll, it’s this: Anyone who despises country music would love him.
For fans of Americana, Old Crow Medicine Show’s headlining performance in the Mustang Tent was a real sight to see. The tent was nearly full, as the group attracted a unique audience of both older and younger attendees. When the band began playing, it looked and sounded like the biggest hoe-down ever seen. Cowboy hats bounced up and down as people danced country-style. Each time one of the members would address the audience, the crowd cheered so loudly that the members’ words were barely audible. Covers of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin” were a perfect fit. Considering other songs in the set such as “Alabama High Test,” “Take It Away” and “Wagon Wheel,” fans of Americana should celebrate the fact that Americana is back on the up and up.
The main stage was graced with the presence of Bocephus himself, right as the sun went down. His intro—a mix of Kid Rock, Gretchen Wilson and other various artists who mention him in songs—received a thunderous applause, as did his opening number, “I Like to Have Women I’ve Never Had.”
One thing is for certain: Hank Jr. is not that great of a singer; his late father and his estranged son Hank III surpass him when it comes to singing. He sounds like Waylon Jennings at times when it’s mellower, but when he tries to sing to a beat, he goes out of rhythm and out of tune. His band, on the other hand, is excellent.
When he started his second song, he stopped and said he instead wanted a little bit of “Keep the Change.” The song—a verbal lashing of the Obama administration featuring lyrics declaring, “I’ll keep my freedom, I’ll keep my guns,” and, “We know who to blame: United Socialist States of America”—had fans cheering and clapping. In a surprising move, his most popular song, “All My Rowdy Friends,” was third on his set list.
While Bocephus’ singing may be weak, he’s a brilliant instrumentalist. He showcased his ability to play guitar solos, teasing the audience with a few covers that he didn’t sing (thank God!), such as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Two Steps” and Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See?” One cover he did sing, quite terribly, was Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”
He later took to the piano and told a story about how he wanted to “boogie woogie” when he was a kid. He played a cover of his late father’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On.” Toward the end of his set, he included “Family Tradition.”
While Hank Jr. might not be able to sing like his father or his son, he knows how to work an audience; his fans love him.
Headliner Toby Keith (the Independent was not among the media outlets authorized to photograph him) had the entire festival’s attention when he showed up on the Mane Stage at 9:30. The intro was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” until the song stopped, and a video started to play of Keith driving a Ford truck through the desert. In the video, he picks up a mysterious woman who leads him to a ramshackle bar that’s empty; it’s a mirage sequence of some sort.
All I saw was: “Ford truck commercial.”
Toby’s opening of “American Ride” was all-American display of loud country music set to pyrotechnics and an impressive light show. He kept his patriotic vibe going with “Made in America.”
“Let’s get drunk and be somebody tonight!” Keith said, holding up his red plastic cup, before starting “Get Drunk and Be Somebody.” He then asked the crowd, “Anybody drinking here besides me?” before telling the audience that he was trying to remember how long it had been since his last trip to Palm Springs. “1,452 beers ago,” he said, before starting the song with the same title.
Keith, like many performers throughout the day, mentioned George Jones.
“He was the face of country music that everyone wants to be,” said Keith, before covering “She Still Thinks I Care” and “White Lightning.”
During “I Wanna Talk About Me,” Keith’s microphone seemed to suffer from technical issues, but the performance was still solid. “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again,” Keith’s story about trying marijuana with Willie Nelson, led to the stench of marijuana going in the night air.
Keith’s patriotic set couldn’t have left out “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” his controversial anthem recorded shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Keith delivered a strong performance and closed out Day 1 on a high note.
Even with George Jones’ death on the minds of many—some performers even choked up while mentioning his passing—Stagecoach went on and paid a warm tribute to the late country legend.
For those who are not able to attend Stagecoach, AXS TV is offering live coverage from 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Photos below by Erik Goodman.