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While Stagecoach is known for showcasing a wide variety of alternative-country, traditional country and Americana, there’s still plenty of room for the Western music of Riders in the Sky, who will be making their third appearance at the festival, taking place April 26-28.

The group’s lineup—Ranger Doug (Douglas B. Green), Woody Paul (Paul Chrisman), Joey the Cowpolka King (Joey Miskulin) and Too Slim (Fred LaBour)—has never changed and has remained more or less intact since their founding. When the group came together in the late 1970s in Nashville, Tenn., they decided to wipe the dust off the Western music sound that was pioneered by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Throughout their 35-year career, they have become the first “exclusively Western” music artists to join the Grand Ole Opry, and the first Western music artists to win a Grammy (they’ve won two, in fact). They have performed at Carnegie Hall and the White House, and have 36 albums to their credit.

In other words, they have arguably reached heights higher than the people who influenced them, which is impressive for group playing a genre of country music whose time has long since passed.

“It’s been a long and wonderful ride,” said Ranger Doug in a recent phone interview from Nashville.

While the group’s focus has always been on Western music, they’ve never been afraid to produce a few laughs during their performances, too. “It was just sort of homegrown and organic. We all thought we were fairly funny guys and enjoyed cracking each other up,” he said. … “The things that cracked up the audience, we kept in the act. Suddenly, we became known for the comedy as much as the music.

“It’s been a good combination over the years. It gives us two different audiences and entertains as much as it preserves the music.”

They have also been known for being entertainers to children. The group’s self-titled TV show on CBS replaced Pee-wee’s Playhouse in 1991, after Pee-wee Herman’s indecent-exposure arrest. They also recorded “Woody’s Roundup” for the Toy Story 2 soundtrack, which led to the group recording two of their five children’s-themed albums for Disney’s music label.

“We didn’t start out to entertain children. We still don’t think of ourselves as a kids' act, per se, but people were bringing their children to the shows. It’s been a big part of who we are. The kids have always loved the outfits. There was something about cowboys where everyone wanted to be one for a while,” he said.

“Now kids want to listen to rap. Maybe (cowboys) will come back.”

Riders in the Sky keep busy with touring and have performed more than 6,000 shows. When Ranger Doug looks back on their grueling tour schedule, he simply takes it all in stride.

“You lose sleep sometimes, but there’s not an act out there that doesn’t, I suppose. It’s just part of the business,” he said.

Along with lack of sleep, there are other downsides. “There are definitely days when that hour and a half onstage is the happiest hour and a half that you have, but we don’t have plans to slow down, and we love doing it.” 

The future is bright for these hard-working, yodeling cowboys. They have a new album titled Home on the Range coming out in two weeks; it’s a collaboration album with … Wilford Brimley?

Wait. What? When I asked if Ranger Doug meant the Cocoon actor and the subject of several Internet memes spoofing his diabetic-supplies commercial, Ranger Doug said yes and assured me of Brimley’s talents.

“He’s actually quite a good singer!” he said.

When it comes to the group’s third Stagecoach performance, Ranger Doug said he is happy to be coming back.

“It’s great that they save a corner for the traditional Western music. I think that’s a tip of the hat to where our music came from. We’re honored every time (Goldenvoice asks) us. It’s just means a lot to us that we’re allowed to come out and keep our traditional sound alive to entertain some people, and maybe some kids too while we’re at it,” he said. 

Riders in the Sky play on Sunday, April 28, at Stagecoach. The festival takes place Friday, April 26, through Sunday, April 28, at the Empire Polo Club, 81800 Avenue 51 in Indio. Passes for all three days start at $239. For tickets or more information, visit www.stagecoachfestival.com.

Published in Previews

Stagecoach always features many of the biggest names in country music on the main stage, but the festival also offers a broad variety of artists within country music’s subgenres: Americana, alt-country, folk music, the “California sound” and some sounds that can’t quite be described.

Here’s a list of performers whose names appear in smaller print on the Stagecoach poster, yet they are great performers in their own right. Whether you’re roaming around the Empire Polo Club trying to find something different, or you’re looking for something in between performances on the main stage, here are some performers for your consideration. (And passes are still available.)

Friday, April 26

The Haunted Windchimes: This five-piece folk group from Pueblo, Colo., has a distinctive sound; they don’t define themselves as Americana, country, blues or bluegrass—but one still manages to hear all of those styles in their music. This is a band that has perfected the art of harmonies, and have written beautiful songs of redemption; I guarantee they will reassure you that the Americana sound is alive and well. They have performed on Prairie Home Companion and have a faithful following within the country-music underground that makes them one of this year’s Stagecoach bands not to miss.

Hayes Carll: Hayes Carll is what you get when you mix the writings of Jack Kerouac, the outlaw anthems of Waylon Jennings, and a bit of the softer sounds of Neil Young. An artist in the Lost Highway stable, he’s recorded some eccentric tunes that have made him popular across the music spectrum. He’s not afraid to sing about the dark places that were once popular in the outlaw-country days, in songs such as “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” He also does a very nice cover of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” He made his first Stagecoach performance in 2008 and has also performed at Bonnaroo and SXSW. He’s a delight for country fans who also appreciate rock music and/or eccentricity in songwriting.

Old Crow Medicine ShowOld Crow Medicine Show: This old-time string band was discovered busking on the streets of Boone, N.C., by Doc Watson’s daughter, and it’s been a hell of a ride ever since. After performing on Coachella’s main stage in 2010, they’re now making their first appearance at Stagecoach. They have also performed at the Grand Ole Opry, been an opening act for both Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, made an appearance at the 2003 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Their song “Wagon Wheel”—co-written with Bob Dylan and later covered by Darius Rucker—will bring a tear to your eye.

Saturday, April 27

Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants: Most country-music fans wouldn’t think that Chris Shiflett, who plays guitar in the Foo Fighters, would be appearing at a country-music festival. On an interesting note, Shiflett has been known to sit in with the Traveling Sinner’s Sermon at Slidebar in Orange County that consists of Charlie Overbey of Custom Made Scare, Steve Soto of The Adolescents, and Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham of Social Distortion. “Chris writes from the heart and sings his guts out, and I really respect that,” said Overbey via e-mail. “Chris is obviously a great rock guitar player in Foo Fighters and his prior bands, but it takes real versatility to front his country band, and he does it easily with style and grace.”

Honky Tonk Angels Band: According to the band’s MySpace page (who still uses MySpace?), they’re from the Inland Empire, so they’re a semi-local band playing a major country-music festival, which is always a nice surprise. When I scrolled through the band’s general info and saw that they answered their “sounds like” section with, “A drunken, Dixie fried roadhouse knife fight set to music,” I couldn’t help but to give them a listen. Sure enough, that’s exactly what they sound like … and it sounds awesome; they sound like an edgier, non-jam band version of The Black Crowes. I’m curious to see how they perform live, and how they interact with the audience, but I don’t think there’s much to worry about.

Justin Townes EarleJustin Townes Earle: When one hears the names “Townes” and “Earle,” one thinks country legacy. Justin Townes Earle is the son of troubadour Steve Earle; his father gave him the middle name of “Townes” in honor of Townes Van Zandt. Justin Townes Earle doesn’t have the same type of left-wing-themed songs as his father, and instead has his own unique style that melds rockabilly, Americana, ’50s rock ’n’ roll and early folk music. Like his father, Justin has had problems with addiction, but has seemingly put them behind him. His voice has soul, and you can feel the emotion.

Sunday, April 28

Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers: Jeff Bridges and John C. Reilly aren’t the only well-known actors performing at Stagecoach. Katey Sagal is best known for playing Peg on Married With Children and currently has the role of Gemma on Sons of Anarchy, but she actually started in the music business as a backing vocalist in the ’70s, and sang with people from Bob Dylan to Gene Simmons of KISS. It’s no surprise that she has been singing some of the songs that have appeared in various Sons of Anarchy episodes, including a cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire.” The Forest Rangers have also played on some of the cover songs on Sons of Anarchy, most notably the cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimmie Shelter” with Irish vocalist Paul Brady.

Riders in the Sky: Riders in the Sky are another group returning to Stagecoach from the 2008 lineup. They formed in the late ’70s and are purists of the early country-Western style similar—but they aren’t afraid to include some comedy routines in their act. Bassist Fred “Too Slim” LaBour is credited by Rolling Stone as being mostly responsible for the “Paul (McCartney) is dead” rumor that turned into an urban legend after publishing a satirical piece while he was attending the University of Michigan. This trio has performed several times at the Grand Ole Opry, once had a children’s television show, and contributed “Woody’s Roundup” to the Toy Story 2 soundtrack. This is one performance that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

Charley Pride: Charley Pride is one of the best-known names in country music—and he’s also one of the few African Americans in country music. He originally intended to become a professional baseball player and even played for the Boise Yankees, once a farm team for the New York Yankees. After a stint in the Army and an arm injury, he abandoned his baseball career and started his music career. Pride struggled during the early years of his career due to Jim Crow laws; his early recordings were never released with pictures of him. In 1967, he became the first African-American performer to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. He is one of country music’s most well-respected and influential performers; this is definitely a great experience for anyone who wants to experience a performance by a legend.

Published in Previews

Stagecoach is a country-music festival, of course, but it’s known for featuring performers across a wide variety of country-music subgenres—and that fits Nick 13 just fine.

Nick 13, the frontman and guitarist of the Berkeley, Calif., psychobilly-punk-rock group Tiger Army, is making his second solo appearance at Stagecoach.

“It was a bit intimidating. That was my first live appearance as a solo artist,” said Nick 13, in a recent phone interview, about that first Stagecoach performance, back in 2010. “I was playing in the Palomino tent, and the artists immediately following me were Ray Price and then Merle Haggard. There were a lot of old-timers in the audience who were basically saving their seats for those artists. During my act, when I started playing, it got a positive response very quickly. It felt like a real accomplishment to me.”

Nick 13 said that when he decided to take that break from Tiger Army to record a solo album, he was influenced by hillbilly and bluegrass music from the 1930s through 1960s. “That stuff has been an influence on Tiger Army, to an extent, but only to an extent. I guess as the years went by, I found myself more and more drawn to those styles and to those sounds. And as a listener, I kept going deeper and deeper.”

In spring 2011, Nick began recording his self-titled solo debut album, at studios in Nashville and Los Angeles. Nick’s inspiration from the Bakersfield sound and the early roots of California country music was important to him during those recording sessions, he said.

“If you go back to the 1940s, Hollywood was arguably more of a center for hillbilly music than Nashville was at the time; we had the recording studios and the cowboy-movie element,” Nick said. “The West Coast sound has definitely been a big influence on me.”

Nick’s songwriting abilities—featuring literary inspiration, earnestness and a fair amount of storytelling—have always made him a bit of an outsider in psychobilly and punk rock. He used Buck Owens as an example to explain his method: “For traditional country music, I was always drawn to the earnestness of it. When some people think of Buck Owens, they think of Hee Haw, unfortunately. … But if you listen to the raw emotion, storytelling and earnestness of his records from the early-to-mid-60s, that’s some of the best music that was ever made.”

Nick 13 was released in June 2011 on Sugar Hill Records. The reception has been mostly positive; Great American Country and Country Music Television took notice, and his music video for “Carry My Body Down” even reached No. 1 on CMT’s Pure 12-Pack Countdown. (Scroll down to hear an acoustic performance of the song.)

“The fact it was well-received by so many people into Americana, people in the underground, and, to some extent, the mainstream country world, it was nice,” he said.

When it comes to his Stagecoach performance this year, Nick 13 cited that variety of country subgenres as something that excites him.

“One of the things that makes (Stagecoach) unique is the artistic commitment to representing the whole spectrum of country music,” he said. “You do have those huge multi-platinum headliners, but you also have the best in Americana and some of the incredible legacy artists who don’t make it to the West Coast that often. I don’t know if you get it all in one place anywhere like you do at Stagecoach.”

Nick 13 plays on Saturday, April 27, at Stagecoach. The festival takes place Friday, April 26, through Sunday, April 28, at the Empire Polo Club, 81800 Avenue 51 in Indio. Passes for all three days start at $239. For tickets or more information, visit www.stagecoachfestival.com.

Published in Previews

Jeff Bridges has a few movies in the works (he is an Academy Award-winning actor, after all); he has a newish book out (The Dude and the Zen Master, co-written with Zen Buddhist Bernie Glassman); and he’s a spokesman for an anti-hunger organization (www.nokidhungry.org).

In the midst of this busy schedule, he makes playing concerts—like his appearance at Stagecoach—seem like something thrown together at the last minute.

You might call your buddies to watch a game somewhere; Jeff Bridges plays live music for thousands of people. People have to have a hobby, right?

“We pretty much just let it fly,” Bridges said in a recent phone interview. “If people enjoyed Crazy Heart,” Bridges mentions off-hand, not really noting that he won an Oscar for his role in the film, “we’ll be playing some songs from that.”

Bridges also has some new music that he and his band, delightfully called “The Abiders,” have been working on, following up on his 2011 self-titled second album. (A delightful Big Lebowski-referencing side note: he wanted to call them “The Royal We,” but “the guys were digging the other name, so we went with it.”)

“I imagine people have had time to check out (my most recent album) by now, so they’ve probably decided if they like it,” Bridges said.

Music has been a part of the Jeff Bridges aesthetic for nearly as long as he’s been in the spotlight, as he’s been known to pull out a guitar during filming down-times at his day job.

“I’ve been playing music all my life, really. I picked up a guitar at age 12, and started writing songs not long after,” Bridges said.

During the filming of Heaven’s Gate, Bridges met roots-music super-producer T-Bone Burnett, who produced the 2011 album; Bridges hopes Burnett will be his collaborator again.

“T-Bone’s the best, and we’re old buds, so I’d work with him again anytime,” he said.

But even their relationship seems almost accidental in the laid-back way that Bridges describes it. “After the success of Crazy Heart, I thought I could parlay that into recording some tunes, so I threw the idea out to Bone, and he dug the idea. Off we went to the races, you know?”

The band consists of guys from Santa Barbara—his “homies,” as Bridges puts it.

“We have a great time together, and they’re superb musicians. I love making music, and I get to make it with my pals, so you make time for the things you want to do.”

Even the experience of being part of the Stagecoach lineup has him largely unaffected. “Playing these things can be surreal, but it’s cool.” Plus, he has friends with whom he’s sharing the lineup: “Toby Keith let us borrow his audience for the concert scenes in Crazy Heart. Nice guy.”

If you happen to come by the stage while Bridges and his buddies are playing, he does wish you the best possible experience, but the fates will also have to intervene. After all, Bridges himself has a rather Zen/Dude-like approach to the whole thing.

“I hope people enjoy the show, but I’m not one for expectations. I like to lower mine and be surprised,” he said.

Jeff Bridges and the Abiders play on Friday, April 26, at Stagecoach. The festival takes place Friday, April 26, through Sunday, April 28, at the Empire Polo Club, 81800 Avenue 51 in Indio. Passes for all three days start at $239. For tickets or more information, visit www.stagecoachfestival.com.

Published in Previews

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