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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Stagecoach 2015 started on Friday, April 24, with high winds, cooler temperatures—and a lot of great music.

If you’ve never been to Stagecoach, I highly recommend arriving for the opening of the grounds on the first day of the festival. Right at noon, the Monday Night Football theme blasted throughout the grounds, and people took off running toward the Mane Stage. The music also changed to things such as the Benny Hill theme or “Reveille.” Many festival employees stopped what they were doing to film the spectacle with their cell phones. It’s quite a contrast to what happens at Coachella—where they simply snip the caution tape, and people slowly walk onto the grounds without a scene.

The Haden Triplets kicked things off on the Mustang Stage. The daughters of the late jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who are signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records, have a neotraditional country sound—with some Carter Family-style folk thrown in. Their harmonies were impressive, and Petra Haden’s violin playing was quite beautiful.

Pegi Young and the Survivors performed on the Palomino Stage around 2 p.m.—and the sound was similar to what you’d hear in a classic honky-tonk. It was a little bit of country, and a little bit of rock ’n’ roll. Young dedicated her tune “Better Livin’ Through Chemicals” to the pharmaceutical companies; she spoofed the TV-commercial disclaimers that reveal all the nasty side effects—and said that after that, you’d still be “skippin’ through a flower patch” just like on the commercials.

In 2013, The Lone Bellow played Stagecoach for the first time; the band was back this year, and frontman Zach Williams mentioned how special that first appearance was for them, because it was the first festival at which this Americana group from Brooklyn ever played. The Lone Bellow’s performance sounded like country should sound in the modern age: There were folk elements, bluegrass elements and rock elements. The audience in the Palomino Tent was a mix of shirtless cowboys, ladies who wanted to dance, and some old-timers—and all who watched were impressed.

Last week at Coachella, I mentioned being blown away by a gentleman who performed named Sturgill Simpson: He was magnificent, he managed to woo the Coachella audience with his country sound. At Stagecoach, in the Palomino tent following The Lone Bellow, he put on just as awesome of a performance—and while some boot scootin’ went on, the Stagecoach crowd was nowhere near as generous to Simpson as the Coachella crowd was. Simpson has denied sounding like Waylon Jennings—but he definitely does sound like Jennings, albeit with Simpson’s own originality and creativity.

The Time Jumpers, featuring Vince Gill and Kenny Sears, followed Simpson—and even one of their collaborators, Riders in the Sky frontman Ranger Doug, was in Oregon and didn’t perform with them, the old-time country band, with all its jazzy and country roots elements, was magnificent. It was a feel-good, throwback country show.

Steve Earle took the Mustang Stage at 7 p.m. and started with some of the blues material from his most recent album—but he still performed the classics. Stagecoach was a long time coming for Earle, and his hour-long set was a delight. During his biggest hit, “Copperhead Road,” a group of line dancers cleared a space and put on an impressive routine that got a lot of attention. Unfortunately, after “Copperhead Road,” many people wandered off to other stages, and Earle finished with a smaller crowd than he started with.

Closing out the Palomino Tent was a true icon of the Bakersfield sound: Merle Haggard. Haggard was about 10 minutes late for his 7:45 p.m. set, but considering Earle was closing out the Mustang Stage, and many people who had spent all day in front of the Mane Stage were walking over to hear Haggard, it was wise to give attendees some extra time. While Haggard was magnificent, a polished horn section removed some of the edge and twang from his songs. Still, it was fantastic to hear the legend in top form toward the end of the first day of Stagecoach 2015.

Scroll down to see photos from Stagecoach 2015's first day.

Published in Reviews

It was a first for Pegi Young and her band, the Survivors—and she was more than happy to be there.

Young has been in music since 1983, when she sang in The Pinkettes, a group that backed her now ex-husband, Neil Young. In 2007, she released her self-titled debut album.

During an interview at Stagecoach, she expressed excitement for playing at the festival for the first time.

“We are very excited to be here today,” Young said. “I’ve never been here before, but they really dress the place up great. People have been friendly, and they’ve checked our wristbands about 100 times. We’re in the right place!”

In 2014, she released a new album, Lonely in a Crowded Room.

“It feels like ancient history in my head. We recorded a bunch of it at Redwood Digital, and we did some sessions at Capitol, and we put in the backgrounds in Philadelphia,” she said about the album. “We had a little break in the tour, and I knew there were some good gospel singers in Philadelphia. As luck would have it, there was a gospel choir there, and there were these two sisters that broke off and sung backup on our record.”

I asked her whether it was becoming more normal to use gospel singers on Americana-style records.

“I didn’t even know it was a possibility of being cliché,” she said. “I guess I’m not listening to enough music. When you listen to the record, it’s not like traditional gospel. … It just gave me the sound I was looking for.”

A cause has been close to Young’s heart for years: education for children with special needs who suffer from severe physical and speech impairments. She founded the Bridge School with Neil Young in 1986, and every year, there has been a concert to raise money for the school. Her son, Ben, suffers from cerebral palsy.

“I do sit on a board called Artistic Realization Technology, which is art-therapy-based education. At Bridge School, our focus is to really enable kids to access their education by way of low-tech, high-tech or no-tech devices, and of course, I have a 36-year-old son with cerebral palsy. The genesis for founding the school was trying to find education-based programs that existed to fit his needs, and finding none in 1985 or 1986, that’s where we got the big idea to start the school.”

Both the Bridge School and the Bridge School Benefit have grown through the years; it’s an acoustic-based annual concert in Mountain View, Calif. Bands and musicians who have played include Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam and Willie Nelson, just to name a few. Young discussed the first show, back in 1986.

“We had no idea what the heck we were doing. Neil had this idea to make it an acoustic concert, which was a brilliant idea, because this was before MTV Unplugged and that whole thing,” she said. “We were winging it. We didn’t know what we were doing except going out there to raise money to get the school started. Indeed, it has grown, both the concert and the school. I did have big, wild dreams about where this school could go.”

Regarding her career: Young said a new album is in the works, and she’s enjoying playing for live audiences.

“I got a stack of new lyrics for a new record, so when we’re done here, we’re going to go back and work on some melodies for some of my lyrics,” she said. “I was really happy with my current record. We all love the record. We did a tour right after Bridge School Benefit last year and played for about a month, and we’ve been on a hiatus until now.”