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Fri12062019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What a treat, going to my first Stagecoach.

I have many pleasant memories of past Coachella fests, and I was fortunate enough to attend the legendary Desert Trip, so the grounds were familiar to me—but here, they were just a little more country, as the Osmonds like to say.

I saw lots of guys wearing $21.95 straw cowboy hats from a company that makes tractor supplies … and I must confess that I bought one, too, solely for the UV protection. I only spotted one MAGA hat—worn by a college-age lad sporting his finest preppy look. But everyone was friendly and pleasant, even when I bumped into people rushing to the stage.

On Friday, Kane Brown started his 7:30 p.m. set with “Cold Spot”: “It’s 4:30 Friday; I get off at 5. I come into your place, you come into mine. Got a bottle of Jack and cheap red wine; yeah, our own little world. Wanna open ’em up, close all the doors, spin you around on that kitchen floor.”

Brown then pivoted: “This song goes back to the ’60s. Are you ready?” he asked as he introduced “Stand by Me.” He then changed gears again with “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill and “Jump” by Kriss Kross. “Used to Love You Sober,” the 2015 single that helped lead Brown to the Mane Stage, was followed by his wonderful song “Heaven.”

After his set, I moseyed on over to the Honky Tonk Hall—which was incredible. They had me at the ice-cold AC. Dancers two-stepped as DJs pumped tunes by Luke Bryan.

I then moseyed back to the Main Stage to see Luke Bryan himself. Kicking things off with “Country Girl” and a request for him to “shake it”—he obliged on the edge of the stage—Bryan then introduced the audience to the new delish song “Knockin’ Boots.”

Bryan shared fan favorite “All My Friends Say,” adding: “You gotta be kissing upon someone tonight.”

A jubilant Bryan bantered: “Stagecoach, what’s up? Good God, there’s a lot people here. Pace yourself; I don’t know how you drink. Raise your hands if you have to pee right now. … I played with Phil Mickelson today; he whipped my ass.”

A bit later, Bryan asked the audience: “Do you want to do some old-school country music tonight?” before performing a cover of Alabama’s “Mountain Music,” with the heartfelt words, “Oh play me some mountain music, like Grandma and Grandpa used to play. Then I’ll float on down the river to the Cajun hideaway.”

Clearly having fun, Bryan sang “Rain Is a Good Thing,” with those drunken lyrics: “Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky … we hunt our hunnies down; we take them into town.”

Luke’s headlining performance was a great way to end Stagecoach’s first day. As I left the grounds, I observed many fans in apparent physical distress due to their new cowboy boots—but they still had smiles on their faces.


Saturday was another great day—Sam Hunt put on a fine show, but the highlight was arguably Lynyrd Skynyrd’s likely final Stagecoach appearance, which you can read all about here.

On Sunday, Terri Clark informed her Palomino Stage audience: “This is a festival with lots of beer, so if you are not involved now, you will be by the end of the night.”

She continued: “I get letters about this song. A husband made a headboard out of wood with the title of this song,” before performing hit “Now That I Found You.”

Illness-related cancellations by Mark Chesnutt on the Palomino Stage and Jordan Davis on the Mane Stage led to some schedule changes. Danielle Bradbery moved into Jordan Davis’ time slot—and she wound up being one of the weekend’s highlights. Just 22, she dominated the Mane Stage with her magnetism and vocal talent. “Red Wine + White Couch” was fantastic, as was her cover of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.

Whitey Morgan personified the music your grandpa or grandma would play back in the golden age of country. Stage props included an old Valvoline oil can—and I suspect the gents on the stage were very capable of changing their own oil.

I ran over to see Lauren Alaina on the Mane Stage; she has a popish country sound and is an incredible performer—still true to her country roots.

Oh … and then there was Tom Jones performing on the Palomino Stage. As I walked over, two women sitting on a planter asked me to their picture. They said they saw Tom Jones back when they were 19, a few decades ago.

I was worried about going into the photo pit and suffering a possible injury caused by thrown undergarments—but this was Jones’ gospel-musical act, and fans restrained themselves. After talking about singing with Elvis, he sang Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” He has not lost his touch; the women in the audience were all eyes and ears as his voice launched musical love arrows with his original song “Sex Bomb.”

Old Dominion was awesome on the Mane Stage, featuring popular songs such as “Be With Me, “Hotel Key” and “Not Everything’s About You.”

Jason Aldean headlined on Sunday, to a sea of people in every direction. His set included “Rearview Town,” released as a single earlier this year. He also sang my favorite song of his, “Any Ol’ Barstool,” from his seventh studio album, They Don’t Know. But his song “Crazy Town” really hit home, because it reminded me of this festival with the words: “Hollywood with a touch of twang, to be a star you gotta bang, bang, bang.” It was a metaphor, perhaps, for the beauty and the glitz—but more importantly, it was a reminder that you have got to bang, bang, bang that hammer, or that computer, to pay your dues and make it in this thing we call life.

I literally ran into Diplo in the Mane Stage photo pit on Saturday—but I couldn’t really get close to him for his Sunday after-party. It got there early, and it was already packed. Access to the photo pit was closed to all media—which hinted at a few surprises, as VIPs replaced media photographers. An hour earlier, I’d run into a model from L.A. who said she’d heard Miley Cyrus was going to perform—but instead, we got her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, with Lil Nas X. Diplo was enthusiastic, saying, “I can’t believe how many people stayed so late,” but the Palomino was packed with people wanting to party. As a light rain started to fall, everyone was dancing to the genre-bending remix of “Old Town Road.”

Stagecoach did it again—creating a joyous and well-organized festival that was inclusive to all.

Published in Reviews

The last time Lynyrd Skynyrd performed at Stagecoach in 2014, the band performed for an overflowing crowd in the Palomino Tent.

For Stagecoach 2019, Lynyrd Skynyrd was again scheduled to perform in the Palomino Tent … and the more things stay the same, the more things change.

First: The Saturday performance is likely to be one of the legendary band’s final performances. Guitarist Gary Rossington, the only remaining original member, is having health issues related to his heart, so the band’s current farewell tour is likely to actually be a farewell tour.

Second: The Palomino Tent is about half the size now as it was back in 2019. Goldenvoice apparently didn’t take this decrease in supply and increase in demand into account.

A huge crowd was already packed into the tent late in the afternoon. Sammy Kershaw performed the set prior to Lynyrd Skynyrd—and few people departed when he finished, while more and more people continued to arrive. By the set’s scheduled start time of 7:40 p.m., the crowd was overflowing—on the sides and far out the back.

When Skynyrd finally took the stage, the band started with “Workin’ for MCA”—a well-known Skynyrd tune, even if it isn’t one of the band’s big hits. It’s been included on many of the band’s compilations and live albums and is a fan favorite. The band followed up with “Skynyrd Nation,” “What’s Your Name?” and “That Smell.”

A live performance of “Tuesday’s Gone” is always a special treat—and just about everyone was singing along to it at Stagecoach. During “Simple Man,” archive footage of some of the deceased band members was shown on the video screens.

The final two songs have been the same at every Skynyrd show for years: “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird,” which included a video intro by the late Ronnie Van Zant explaining the song’s meaning being about freedom.

Lynyrd Skynyrd has long been a rock institution, easily recognizable with pop-culture references galore. It was the Southern rock band that made The Who and the Rolling Stones envious back in the ‘70s.

Of course, the band also has one of the most tragic stories in all of music—a rise to fame that was suddenly derailed by a 1977 plane crash that took the lives of original frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines and three others, while seriously injuring the other band members. Original members Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell have since passed away, as have other contributing members over the years.

It was great to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at what is likely to be the band’s final Stagecoach—although it was a little sad, too. Regardless, the music and legacy of this band, the creator of the Southern rock genre, will always live on. (Scroll down to see some photos from the show.)

Setlist

Workin’ for MCA

Skynyrd Nation

What’s Your Name?

That Smell

I Know a Little

Saturday Night Special

The Ballad Of Curtis Loew

Tuesday’s Gone

Don’t Ask Me No Questions

Simple Man

Gimme Three Steps

Call Me the Breeze

Sweet Home Alabama

Freebird

Published in Reviews

Stagecoach has changed in the past couple of years; the lineup is shorter—but Goldenvoice is still including smaller Americana bands and classic country acts while Nashville’s big stars take to the Mane Stage.

Here’s a list of acts I certainly won’t miss at Stagecoach.

Friday, April 26

Cordovas

When I listen to Cordovas (right), I picture them playing in one of those smoky country-Western bars shown in films during the ’70s and ’80s. The band performs country music with a bit of the Grateful Dead and the Band thrown in. Cordovas will help you start off Stagecoach right—along with a cold beer and a comfy seat on a blanket or in a lawn chair.

Cody Johnson

There’s something enjoyable about many country singers from Texas—and Cody Johnson definitely has that certain something. On just about every album of his, you can hear the rodeo, and you can hear the honky tonks. Many of his songs have some grit, while his ballads can bring a tear to your eye.

Bret Michaels

Poison was one of the hardest-partying bands in the ’80s glam-metal scene—and the band is still going fairly strong. While Poison is known for anthems about partying and bagging chicks, there were moments later in Bret Michaels’ career when he showed a softer side—almost in the form of country or honky-tonk ballads; heck, he’s even started to adopt a more country-style appearance in recent years. It’s no wonder, then, that he’s also put out country songs as a solo artist and appeared on recordings with country stars such as Kenny Chesney. Bret Michaels took a long time coming to Stagecoach—but he should fit right in.


Saturday, April 27

Charley Crockett

Charley Crockett has said that he prefers timeless songs as far as songwriting goes. When you listen to him, you’ll hear some of that vintage Hank Williams sound, some old rock ’n’ roll, and even some ’70s-style country. He will be performing criminally early—at 12:30 p.m.—on the Palomino Stage, so be sure to arrive in time to catch his set.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

This will probably be the last time you’ll see the famed Southern-rock outfit play at Stagecoach, because the band is on its final farewell tour—and unlike most of the bands that do these types of tours, it seems as if Lynyrd Skynyrd is really ending for good. You probably know the band was in a plane crash in 1977 that killed original frontman Ronnie Van Zant, as well as guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. Since then, all the other original members of the band have left, save one: guitarist Gary Rossington. He’s kept the band going with Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny Van Zant, but it feels like this is the right time for Lynyrd Skynyrd to bow out. If the band indeed calls it quits, this will be your last chance to sing along to “Freebird,” so don’t miss it.

Cam

Cam’s country-music roots come from right here in California: She was born in Huntington Beach and spent time in San Francisco and Oceanside. Her career has been consistently on the rise since she started in 2010; she’s also written music with Sam Smith for his album The Thrill of It All. I highly recommend checking out her 2015 album Untamed for an idea of what to expect.


Sunday, April 28

Jimmie Allen

Jimmie Allen’s music career was bumpy before he really got started. He was struggling so much that he was living in his car; he auditioned for America’s Got Talent and didn’t make it past the preliminary auditions; he auditioned for American Idol and didn’t make it to the live-voting rounds. But the man’s work and talent has finally paid off. He released his debut album, Mercury Lane, in late 2018, and his career has nowhere to go but up after finding success on country radio.

Tom Jones

This is a bit of an odd fit for Stagecoach, but considering The Zombies, Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, and Eric Burdon of the Animals have all played at Stagecoach … why not? Jones should have no problem winning over the crowd at Stagecoach—plus it’ll be interesting watching people in Stetsons and denim swaying to “It’s Not Unusual.”

Diplo

Yep, that’s right … I’m saving the most interesting Stagecoach act for last. The man behind Major Lazer and his own EDM material is stepping out of the dance-music to perform at Stagecoach’s “Late Night in the Palomino” at 10:55 p.m. Sunday night. Having seen Major Lazer at Coachella, I must say: It’ll be interesting to see what Diplo does for country fans at Stagecoach.

Published in Previews

A while back, Parker Millsap tweeted: “I ain’t no son of Ronnie.”

Indeed, there’s no relation, and the names are spelled differently, anyway. Still, the men share some similarities; they were both influenced by gospel, blues and rock ’n’ roll—but Millsap’s sound is all his own.

He’ll be coming to Stagecoach on Sunday, April 28.

When Parker Millsap first started, his sound had more acoustic and gospel elements, but over time, he has added more of a rock sound—and his latest album, Other Arrangements, is almost entirely rock ’n’ roll. During a recent phone interview, Millsap discussed the evolution.

“A lot of that is based on the live show,” Millsap said. “I started out doing listening-room and house concerts, and I did an acoustic thing for quite a while. Gradually, as I made money and could afford to have more of a band, I really wanted the shows to move a little bit more. I got tired of singing all ballads. I wrote songs that would be really fun to play live with my band.”

Millsap was raised in a religious household in Oklahoma, and he was exposed to a lot of gospel music.

“I have a bunch of history with that music, given I grew up in church,” Millsap said. “A lot of my musical upbringing was getting to see live music on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night every week for 16 years straight. It’s tied up with my personal experience, with music and spirituality.

“Church music isn’t made for the same reasons that commercial music is made. In the church I grew up in, none of the musicians were paid; you play for a higher power. … Music is a spiritual thing, not a religious thing, at least to me. The melodies, the rhythms and the humanity of gospel music transcend the lyrics for me most of the time. The feeling of the music is almost so true that you could be singing anything, and I’d almost believe it.”

However, gospel music wasn’t the only thing Millsap listened to as a kid.

“I grew up listening to a lot of blues, rock ’n’ roll, and a lot of Texas singer-songwriters,” he said. “(There was) not a ton of radio; radio wasn’t really a thing. My dad had a ton of CDs and tapes, so I got to listen to all kinds of stuff that not a lot of my friends were listening to.”

These days, he said, he rarely feels uncomfortable at a gig.

“I’ve done so many different kinds of shows, playing from county fairs to three people telling us to turn it down,” Millsap said. “I’ve played weird Hooters-type bars with 10 giant TVs playing a UFC fight while we’re playing the show—and it’s pretty hard to offend me. If people just want to sit down and listen, that’s great. If people want to dance through the whole set, even through the ballads, that’s amazing.

“The big challenge of the road is sitting in the van. Playing music, loading in, loading out, soundcheck—that doesn’t bother me. It’s just sitting in the van that’s the hardest part of touring.”

So how does Millsap spend his time in the van?

“There’s a lot of Instagram scrolling,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of audiobooks lately and podcasts, but a lot of it is just silence. All of us are pretty independent dudes, and because we are so close to each other, all day, every day, when we’re on tour in a van together, in a little green room together, then a little stage together, and then a hotel room together, we try to respect each other’s space.”

Millsap said he tours so much because it’s the best way to gain an audience.

“Touring is the only sure-fire thing I’ve found,” he said. “I own the label, and I pay for publicists. The best return on investment is playing a show for people, and them telling their friends. The next time I come to town, those people bring three friends, and then those three people bring their friends.”

Millsap said he’s excited to come to Stagecoach, because it’ll allow him to see other musicians take the stage.

“I’m always excited to go to California with my friends to play music and check out other bands,” he said. “Festivals are cool, because a lot of touring musicians get to play music, but don’t necessarily get to go see shows unless we’re opening for someone or unless someone is opening for us. I love going to festivals because I can catch up on a bunch of stuff that I haven’t seen.”

Published in Previews

Whitey Morgan and the 78’s music is called “outlaw country” by some.

Whitey, however, doesn’t care for the word “outlaw” when it comes to his band—and many other bands as well.

The band will return to Stagecoach on Sunday, April 28, after playing the festival for the first time in 2016.

Whitey Morgan, whose real name is Eric Allen, is originally from Flint, Mich. During a recent phone interview, he talked about his upbringing in the town that has become part of the national conversation due to the American auto industry’s problems, as well as the town’s drinking-water catastrophe.

“It was a typical Midwestern industrial town,” Allen said. “Dad worked in the factory, and Mom didn’t work. My grandpa was retired, and I spent a lot of time with him, and that’s where I learned a lot about country music. I got in a lot of schoolyard fights and stuff like that when I was a kid. I don’t know if we were lower class or lower-middle class; in fact, I don’t even know what that means. I know that I never went hungry, but we damn well didn’t have anything that wasn’t necessary.”

Allen said he was fortunate to go to a diverse school.

“The school I went to was in a white neighborhood, but they bused in the black and Mexican kids from the other parts of the town,” he said. “We had poor white kids, poor black kids and poor Mexican kids. … It’s when you’re young, and everyone is the same to you. It wasn’t until I went out in the world that I learned how terrible people are, what they think about each other, and all that other shit. … It’s amazing that people who haven’t been around other races of people are the most racist of people. It’s kind of like you’re talking shit on something you know nothing about, but that seems to be the American way: People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

I asked him about the term “outlaw country.”

“The way the whole outlaw thing was … Willie, Waylon and the guys who were already on major labels … who weren’t getting as much traction as they would have liked had a lot of opinions on how they wanted their music to sound,” Allen said. “They eventually decided, ‘If I’m not going to do it my way, I’m not going to do it at all.’ When they said that to the record company, (the company) buckled, which created this outlaw thing. That’s the true meaning of the word. I think they just throw that word around too loosely—especially if you have long hair, a long beard and tattoos, and play a little louder than any other band. I’ve never really liked labels and don’t like labeling things. You can do things outside of the box and still be true to yourself.

“It’s kind of annoying, because people describe themselves with that label, and it’s like, ‘No, you’re definitely not that. Stop trying to call yourself that.’ It’s easy for them to just label themselves that, because maybe they’re searching for who they are.”

As a songwriter, Allen is able to take the dark sides of life—subjects such as drinking, heartbreak and regrets—and turn them into fun country songs.

“I’ve noticed in the last four or five years that I’ve learned that I kind of hear every song that way: Every song that’s about drinking or doing something else is already dark in itself,” he said. “There’s that old line that you can be at a party, and you’re still standing in a corner alone. I hear these people saying they’re going to live with no regrets, and that is such bullshit. I don’t know anyone who isn’t going to have some regrets about things they’ve done or what they haven’t been able to do. It’s really hard to combine all that, and I just naturally do it because of the life I live. It’s great out here on the road sometimes; it’s great to be drinking and partying and hanging out with different people all the time. At the same time all that stuff is happening, my body is wearing out; my mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be; and that equation ends up being what you hear on my record, I guess.”

As the popularity of Whitey Morgan and the 78’s has grown in recent years, so, too, has the size of the venues in which the band plays.

“I’m glad that we’re graduating to some of the nicer theaters and things like that, but there’s something that feels at home in a 300-seat rowdy honky tonk or a place where everyone is standing up,” Allen said. “That energy is just thick in the air. I love that, and that will always feel like home to me. But I like the nicer theaters with the better sound, and things go easier. When you’re on the road a lot, the little things that could go wrong can start to wear on you. There are all these triggers to set you off. To have less of those on a long tour is definitely a plus. But I’ve walked into places where I’ve placed twice, and don’t remember playing there, but I’ll walk into the green room and be like, ‘Oh, I remember this green room!’ or, ‘I remember that restaurant next door that we ate at!’ After a while, you grab on to the really shitty things or the really positive things—and the things in between can be forgotten.”

Allen said playing at festivals presents a unique set of challenges.

“Festivals are always a little different for me,” he said. “Just playing outdoors has been a challenge, because I don’t get that vibe I get in a dark bar. One thing I learned early on is: Drink lots of water. Don’t only drink whiskey, because you’re not Superman. I try to focus on playing the songs, because that’s a venue where a lot of stuff could go wrong. When you’re the sixth band of the day going in, you think they have everything figured out, and we go to start playing—there’s nothing even on, and the stage is dead. We’re half a song in, and it shuts back off. I’m looking at the sound guy and wondering what the hell is happening.

“I’ve had some nightmares happen that make me wary when I step onto a festival stage. Unless you’re the headliner who got a two-hour soundcheck, and they have your shit saved in the board—that’s one thing. But if you have 45 minutes to play and 20 minutes to get your gear up, you play for 25 minutes before you’re finally warmed up. When we’re done, it’s like, ‘Shit, we were just getting warmed up.’”

I asked Allen what he would recommend to a Stagecoach attendee who partied a little too hard the night before.

“Obviously, water. I’m big on Gatorade and water immediately,” he said. “In Southern California, it’d be a big plate of enchiladas, beans and rice. Maybe a margarita. I mean, realistically, the only thing to cure a hangover is to have a drink. Just do one margarita; it’ll take the edge off.”

Published in Previews

What do Beyoncé and Garth Brooks have in common? They both brought something amazing to this year’s world-renowned local music festivals.

On Sunday afternoon, Garth Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, appeared in the Rose Garden at the Empire Polo Club for a press conference, where Stacy Vee of Goldenvoice announced this year’s Stagecoach had set a record with 75,000 attendees.

Brooks started off by thanking Goldenvoice CEO Paul Tollett and Vee, Goldenvoice’s festival talent-buyer, for the invite to play at Stagecoach. He also mentioned that Yearwood had played the festival 10 years prior in 2008—its second year.

I asked Brooks during the press conference how many times he had been approached to play the festival, and what made him finally decide to say yes this year.

“We’ve been very lucky that Stagecoach has asked for us to be here,” Brooks said. “We retired back in 2001 and raised our babies, and that’s when the festivals really started to take off. We went from places like Jamboree in the Hills … that were just kind of thrown together, so the art of the festival is still somewhat new to me. But they were sweet enough to ask every year, and every year we’d say, ‘Thank you, but we’re raising our babies right now.’ Once we stopped having to raise them and got them off to college, we were on tour for three years and just couldn’t do it. So I promised them that the first available chance we had that we’d play here, and this year was the first available chance we had.”

Brooks was asked how he prepared to play Stagecoach after performing in Vegas and on tours.

“The main thing is this: If it’s five people or it’s 500, it’s still about connecting one-on-one,” he said. “It just always is. Getting to play the presidential inauguration, you’re lucky to step out in front of crowds of that size, and what I have found is that the larger the size, the more (the crowd acts) as one.”

Later in the evening, Brooks’ Stagecoach debut came with the same high winds that Saturday headliner Keith Urban endured. Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” played over the house music system; the lighting team apparently decided to distract the crowd by synching the lighting to the song—before Brooks suddenly appeared onstage.

Brooks’ choice of a headset microphone caused some technical difficulties—the wind could be heard blowing into his microphone. The wind also caused a wardrobe malfunction: His cowboy hat blew off, exposing his head before someone quickly ran out and gave him a blue baseball cap that he wore backward for the rest of his performance.

Wind-related problems aside, Brooks looked thrilled—and at times surprised—by the sight of the crowd. He told the crowd: “I know you’ve been here for three days, but you’re going to be here all night!”

The performance was billed as “Garth Brooks with Trisha Yearwood,” and close to an hour into the set—right after Brooks played “The Thunder Rolls”—Yearwood finally came onstage, after Brooks joked with the crowd: “I know I’m biased because I’m sleeping with her, but this woman has a voice like no other.”

While Brooks took a breather, Yearwood performed “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl),” her big hit “How Do I Live?” and “She’s in Love With the Boy.” Brooks then returned to the stage and continued his performance until just before midnight—making it a marathon more than two hours long.

After years of rumors, Goldenvoice had finally triumphed and brought Garth Brooks to Stagecoach. One has to wonder where the festival will go from here.

Here are some other highlights from the day.

• Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson) and his band, Promise of the Real, started off their set in the Palomino by dedicating their set to his father, who was celebrating his 85th birthday on Sunday, and performing “Turn Off the News.” Nelson at one point mentioned he had written a song about alien life; he said he really wanted to meet an alien, and that he’d written that song while watching an episode of Rick and Morty. Hmm. Anyway … Nelson’s performance was a combination of country, psychedelic rock and folk music—and it was fantastic. Fans were hanging on through every minute of it.

• Folk-icon Gordon Lightfoot was the final act to perform in the Palomino on Sunday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t loud enough. No matter where you stood, people talking were enough to drown him out—and right next to the stage, you could hear motorcycles revving from the nearby Harley Davidson exhibit over his voice. From what I could hear, the 79-year-old sounded as if he still had it. I wish I could have heard more.

Check out some images from Day 3 below, from Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

Keith Urban may be from New Zealand, but his brand of country music is as American as it gets.

On Saturday night, Keith Urban returned to Stagecoach for the first time since 2010—a day after releasing his new album, Graffiti U.

Despite blustery winds on Saturday night, Urban put on a magnificent performance. When he started his set by playing the first few chords of “Somebody Like You,” the excited welcome from the Stagecoach crowd was just as loud as the music.

The wind was a challenge for Kacey Musgraves, who performed just before Keith Urban and appeared frustrated a few times—but the wind didn’t seem to faze Urban. As the wind blew Urban’s hair all over the place, he joked with the audience, “This was exactly what I was looking for tonight, Stagecoach.” He added a little later that it “smells like it’s pretty cool down in the front,” before singing a few lines of the Brothers Osborne’s “Weed, Whiskey and Willie” a cappella, and then playing “Never Coming Down.”

While the daytime heat and the intense winds that came on early in the evening hindered the day for some, it couldn’t stop the beer-drinking, barbecuing, dancing and great music that took place throughout the day and into the night.

Here are some other highlights from the day:

• Ronnie Milsap’s afternoon performance in the Palomino tent was sort of bittersweet. While it was a delight to see him, his voice is simply not what it used to be; it was difficult for him to the hit high notes in some of his songs. He told the audience that a recent CD compilation included a lot of his hit songs from the ’70s and ’80s, and said, “My life is condensed into 21 CDs, or 100 8-tracks.” Personally, I loved his performance of “What Goes on When the Sun Goes Down.”

• When Jason Isbell appeared in the Palomino, he told the nearly packed house, “Personally, I feel like we’re playing on the best day of the festival,” noting that Dwight Yoakam would be playing later in the evening. Isbell talked about touring with Yoakam, saying that he couldn’t wear tight jeans, because Dwight was better than him at that. “I don’t have an airbrush, so I’m not going to beat him,” he quipped. The former Drive-By Truckers guitarist has definitely gained much-deserved appreciation among the rock and country crowds. His wife, Amanda Shires, backed him on violin, and really shined.

• Dwight Yoakam packed the Palomino tent beyond capacity and put on the best live performance I’ve ever seen from him. He paid tribute to the late Merle Haggard and performed “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.” Of course, he also performed his collaboration with the late Buck Owens, “Streets of Bakersfield.”

See some photos from Day 2 below, from Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

The 12th iteration of Stagecoach kicked off Friday—and festival attendees had one less stage to enjoy than they’ve had in previous years.

The Mustang Tent—which hosted many bluegrass, folk and alt-country bands over the years—is gone. There are now only two stages with music going at any given time, and the alt-country, bluegrass, folk and classic-country acts have been scaled way back. The Mane Stage opens later in the day (the SiriusXM Spotlight stage fills the gap before 4 p.m.), and the Palomino Tent is smaller. Considering previous Palomino headliners like the late Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd drew crowds that could fill the current Palomino Tent way beyond capacity, this may or may not have been a good decision.

Does this mean Stagecoach is no longer any good? No, it doesn’t; Stagecoach on Friday was still a fantastic time—even if some of the cutbacks, leading to a less-diverse set of acts, were disappointing.

I primarily hung around the Palomino Tent on Friday. Here are some highlights:

• Banditos started things off in the Palomino on Friday afternoon. The Birmingham, Ala., outfit known for mixing things up with Southern rock, garage rock and bluegrass—with a touch of psychedelia—was a hit for the early-afternoon crowd. Vocalist Mary Beth Richardson had a Bohemian look, and her singing was top-notch. Considering this band once played 600 shows over three years, the members know each other—and it shows.

• Joshua Hedley most likely felt the high temperatures as he stepped onstage in a green suit, embroidered with a tiger and an alligator. Some fans in the crowd were shouting “JOSHUA!” in between songs, to which Hedley replied: “That’s my name; don’t wear it out. I know you are, but what am I?” Hedley just released his first album, Mr. Jukebox—and his Stagecoach performance was an epic celebration.

• The queen of outlaw country, Tanya Tucker, took the stage decked out in what appeared to be white denim with a white Ralph Lauren American flag T-shirt. She came out with swagger and a rather catchy intro before singing “Some Kind of Trouble.” Tucker played to a packed house; even Guy Fieri came down from flavor town to witness Tucker’s set and was shown on the video screen in the crowd. Tucker noted that she had years of hits and not very much time to perform them all—but she did well during her 45-minute set, and even played a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

• When Molly Hatchet took the Palomino stage on Friday evening, the band made the audience sit through Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” before a rather dramatic classical choir intro—complete with sounds of thunder. Sadly, things went downhill from there: Singer Phil McCormack didn’t seem to be on top of his game, and his vocals didn’t come through well over guitarist Bobby Ingram and bassist Tim Lindsey. People began leaving shortly after the performance began—leading to a sparse crowd later on.

Check out some photos from Day 1 below, by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

DJ Bad Ash is a well-known club DJ in Los Angeles—and at Stagecoach, she’s taken her talents to the Honkytonk Dance Hall.

The singer-songwriter, whose real name is Ashlee Williss, stopped by the press tent on Friday and told me what inspired her to become a DJ.

“I’ve always been a singer-songwriter,” Williss said. “I’ve done amazing things in my career, but I’ve never made it. Several years ago, the day I released my big single, my boyfriend at the time passed away. It kind of broke me for a while, and I gave up music for about a year. I couldn’t get out there and sing and give my heart. Somehow, I was missing something and needed some type of music back in my life. An agent of mine suggested, ‘Hey, why don’t you DJ?’ I was like, ‘Oh, no! I’m a singer; I play guitar, and I come from the country world!’

“I thought, ‘I need to open my mind.’”

After taking a DJ lesson, she was hooked.

“It was so fun, and I was a natural. Honestly, it brought my spirit back to life. It made me want to get back out there and learn about all these kinds of music I never enjoyed before. Now, I’m really excited, because I get to incorporate the country music part as well as being a DJ. Now I’m unique, and I’m the first female country DJ who has been in the festival scene. It happened by accident. It was the element that was missing all along, and it was so fun. I’m really excited to be at Stagecoach, and it’s a dream to perform here.”

Learning how to DJ was a challenge, she said, but she has gotten better at it.

“I will say that the technical part—it’s still horrible,” Williss said. “It’s just like a computer, and you don’t know when it’s going to say, ‘I’m not going to work right now.’ It can freeze in the middle of a set, and that can be very scary—and everybody is looking at you like you messed up. The more you do it, the more you learn. It’s best to just get out there and be forced to figure it out. That’s what I did.”

Is country music becoming more popular in the DJ world? Williss answered with a resounding yes.

“Since I started singing years ago, I was always doing a dance-y and sexy kind of thing. Nobody ever understood it before. Now, they get it,” she said. “Now I think because I’ve added just the DJ element, people are starting to understand it. You can remix country, and I think it’s the next big thing.”

DJ Bad Ash also plays music from genres beyond country.

“Most of my gigs in Los Angeles are not country. There aren’t a lot of country events in Los Angeles or Las Vegas,” she said. “When I get the country gigs, it’s what I love and what I know best, but there are a lot of EDM and hip-hop gigs that I’ll take around the country.”

DJ Bad Ash given just released a single.

“It’s called ‘Rodeo,’ and it’s country, but a line-dance kind of country: fun, sexy and cheery,” she said. “I feel like it could become a country anthem for girls. It’s very powerful, female-driven.”

DJ Bad Ash had advice for anyone who wants to get into performing.

“It’s really just about having fun. If you’re enjoying the mix, that’s honestly what it’s all about,” she said. “If you’re having a good time and playing good songs, people are going to love it also. Let your passions come out. For any kind of artist, that’s what it’s about. It’s not about money or fame; it’s about doing what you love.”

If you’ve never heard of Lewis Brice, stop what you’re doing, and check out this new country-music artist.

Brice—he’s Lee Brice’s brother—not long ago left South Carolina for Nashville, and he’s determined to make a name for himself in country music. He will be at Stagecoach on the new SiriusXM Spotlight Stage on Sunday, April 29.

During a recent phone interview, we discussed his music video for “Best Ex Ever,” which may be a first in country music: It’s a song actually praising an ex-girlfriend.

“When I was writing that song, I thought, ‘I have a few exes, and they don’t hate me,’” Brice said. “I told this one story that’s half true where I got into a sticky situation and had one phone call on a pay phone to use, and I remembered my ex-girlfriend from a couple of years before—and she picked up a collect phone call from Lewis Brice. That got me out of my sticky situation, so I wrote a song about it.

“The video was so fun to make. It was my first video where I got to be the actor. We shot it right in Nashville, where a lot of our friends ride by. I was all done up in makeup like I was beat up, so a lot of my friends were stopping in the middle of the shoot, asking me, ‘You OK, man?’ and I was like, ‘Can’t you see I’m shooting a video? Don’t you see all the cameras?’ It was a fun day. I did all my own stunts and had the bottle broken over my head and all that.”

Growing up in a musical family in South Carolina, Brice sang religious music during his upbringing.

“I have my own beliefs, and I think everybody has their own beliefs and whatnot, but when it comes to music, I think it’s a very broad form of having fun,” he said. “Whether it’s singing for religion or singing about the good times and the bad times you’ve been through, I think music is an all-around universal language. Just sing, and have fun.”

While country star Lee Brice—performing at Stagecoach on Sunday, April 29, on the Mane Stage—is his older brother, Lewis Brice is determined to make music his own way.

“When I moved to town, I had my whole life in the back of my truck,” he said. “I was a young kid, and my brother had been up here for a couple of years and had some success. When I pulled up, they were having a little party for me, and before I could get out of the truck, he came up and said, ‘Lewis, I love you, and you made a great decision by moving here, but you have to make your own way up here. I’ll help you in any way I can, but you have to take initiative and do it yourself.’ I thanked him for that. There are a lot of politics here, and people told me being the little brother would haunt me a little bit, but I think it drove me more. My brother is very hard-working, and I learned a lot from him, but he does things his own way, and I have my own way. I’m persistent, and I’ve been lucky with the relationships I’ve had in the business. Between networking and lucky passes, this music business can work out—it really can.”

Brice released his self-titled debut EP last year with six songs, and he said he’s preparing another one that should be out soon.

“I’ve got so many songs. When I play an original set, I can play up to two hours of my own music,” he said. “I really pride myself on that. I played a lot of cover songs, but I got to the point when I got here that I wondered how far I could get if I just sang other people’s songs. It’s worked out well, and I think I’m making that turn and learning a lot from it.”

Country music is one of the genres that continues to do well in the United States; Brice sees that as an opportunity.

“Country music is already a huge platform, and I see it going to an even bigger platform,” he said. “Right now, country music is very accepting to different types of music like pop, deep-rooted country and Southern rock, and I see it getting bigger, because the audiences are accepting country music. I turned on a pop station the other day and heard four country music songs from artists I normally hear on just country stations. That’s a great thing for a country artists when they cross over. I think it’ll just get bigger and bigger, with a broader audience.”

Brice was a late addition to Stagecoach.

“I’m so excited, and I love playing in California. The crowds out there are really awesome,” he said. “When I got the email a couple of weeks ago, I was like, ‘Stagecoach? Wow, that’s a pretty big deal!’ I’ve heard it’s a crazy festival, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Published in Previews

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