Wind, a threat of late rain and cooler-than-normal temps didn’t dissuade the cowboy-boot-and-cowboy-hat crowd from reveling at the Empire Polo Club in Indio on Friday, April 25, during Day 1 of Stagecoach 2014.
Attendees were let into the merchandise-booth and lobby areas a bit early, but access to the stages was blocked off until noon sharp—when the gates opened, and the theme to The Benny Hill Show, “Yakety Sax,” played as everyone ran toward the Mane Stage to set up chairs and blankets.
At 1 p.m., The Wild Feathers had the honor of kicking it all off, on the Palomino Stage. The small crowd was blown away—and perhaps a bit uncomfortable—during the blasting Southern-rock sound of the first two numbers. However, when the band moved on to its honky-tonk-style material and California-inspired country sound, its became a crowd hit.
“It was beautiful,” The Wild Feathers’ Joel King said. “We toured all throughout the winter in the bad weather, so it was nice to get out here in the desert, and Stagecoach is cool, because it’s going back to the roots, and the whole vibe of the festival is real nice. The people are great here.”
It wasn’t long after that JD McPherson took the Palomino Stage. When he spoke to the Independent before Stagecoach, he discussed his ’50s rock ’n’ roll sound—with a hint of country—and how it had worked at various country festivals he had played in the past. Well, it definitely worked at Stagecoach. While some in the sizable crowd didn’t know what to make of his music, which sounded tailor-made for a ’50s sock hop, many of the older attendees were dancing happily.
As late afternoon approached, Shakey Graves appeared on the Palomino Stage. He first took the stage as a one-man act, with a setup that involved a kick drum he used to keep the beat as he sang. Eventually, he was joined by a drummer and a backing guitarist. His performance was unique in the sense that it bordered on folk music combined with the blues. His songs came off as deep, and he attracted a bigger crowd than previous acts; he held the crowd for his entire 40-minute performance.
When Shelby Lynne stepped onto the Palomino Stage in the early evening, some seasoned Stagecoach attendees thought back to 2008, when she broke down while performing and walked off the stage. Thankfully, she was in a much better place on Friday: She came out happy and ready to perform. Her band was tight, and the bass player had some nice grooves going on. It was a pleasure to see her at Stagecoach again; her voice was top-notch.
In the nearby Mustang tent, it was all about the harmonies when The Wailin’ Jennys walked onto the stage and sang a beautiful number a cappella. “If anyone came in here to catch Waylon Jennings, we apologize,” frontwoman Ruth Moody told the audience. Their harmonies and folk sound were captivating and perfect.
Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers showed up on the Palomino Stage as the sun was setting. They performed a much-anticipated set at Stagecoach last year, and this year’s set was similarly anticipated—and similarly performed. The Forest Rangers played the Sons of Anarchy theme song, and when Sagal came out, she was given a loud ovation. Her performances included Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Free Fallin’,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and lead vocals on The Band’s “The Weight.” The best performance by the Forest Rangers was a cover of Ziggy Marley’s “Love Is My Religion.”
Following Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers, Lynyrd Skynyrd closed out the Palomino Stage for the night. The crowd size—both inside and outside—was equal to the crowd sizes that Skrillex and Fatboy Slim had in the same tent last week at Coachella. Opening up with “Workin’ for MCA,” Skynyrd was all about the classics, following with “I Ain’t the One” and “Call Me the Breeze.” The late Billy Powell and the late Leon Wilkeson—two of the three founding members who were in the band after it reunited—were missed, but their spirits seemed to be present. Lead singer Johnny Van Zant commented that the band was now made up of three Southerners (one of whom is the only remaining founding member, Gary Rossington), three Yankees and one American Indian (guitarist Rickey Medlocke). After an amazing performance of ballads “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man,” Johnny Van Zant announced that he didn’t believe in set times, which is why the band decided to extend the set for “Gimmie Three Steps,” and an encore that included “Sweet Home Alabama” and, of course, “Free Bird.”
Eric Church closed out Friday on the Mane Stage. Throughout the day, I noticed some people wearing shirts that said “ERIC FU*KING CHURCH” on them; it turns out they were being sold in the merchandise booth and were a huge hit among festival-goers. Church has been known for his anti-establishment ways, which hasn’t pleased a lot of mainstream Nashville music execs. Despite the wind and the chilly temperature, fans stuck around. When Church opened up with “That’s Damn Rock and Roll,” he was giving the audience the bird. The band members who back Eric Church look like they could be metal musicians, and his amps were decorated in skulls. It was definitely a wild show for a mainstream Nashville star—and it appears Eric Church won’t be toning down his act any time soon.
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