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18 Apr 2014

Stagecoach: The Country-Music Fest Has Always Been Known for Its Variety—and This Year Is No Exception

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Lynyrd Skynyrd plays at Stagecoach on Friday, April 25. Lynyrd Skynyrd plays at Stagecoach on Friday, April 25.

At Stagecoach, attendees never quite know what to expect. Big Nashville stars mix with folk singers, alt-country rebels, old-time country acts and rock stars performing solo sets.

Of course, many of the most-intriguing acts won’t be gracing, as it’s called at Stagecoach, the “Mane Stage.” Here are some bands and musicians we think attendees should consider checking out.

Friday, April 25

The Howlin’ Brothers: If you like old-time, traditional country, The Howlin’ Brothers have you covered. Their old-time sound is quite an experience, as demonstrated on their debut album, Howl; check out songs “Hermitage Hotstep” and “Tennessee Blues.” They’ll definitely offer an enjoyable experience.

The Wailin’ Jennys: The all-female trio from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, is known for beautiful harmonies that leave listeners wanting more. Listen to their tracks “Swing Low Sail High” and “The Parting Glass,” and you’ll definitely want to add this group to your list of acts to see. Does the name sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve heard one of their appearances on A Prairie Home Companion.

Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers: Sagal—best known as the actress who played Peg on Married With Children, and who now plays Gemma on Sons of Anarchy—is back at Stagecoach with the Forest Rangers for the second year in a row. I mentioned them in last year’s list of Stagecoach acts not to miss, and I was not disappointed. When the Forest Rangers took the stage last year, they played a few songs without Sagal—leaving those in the crowd wondering if she would even appear. However, appear, she did—and it was unbelievable how beautifully she sang Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire.” When Curtis Stigers showed up to sing “John the Revelator,” it was equally spectacular. Hopefully, the group will have a longer set than they did last year.

Eric Paslay: Eric Paslay is an up-and-coming star with a big Nashville sound. The native Texan has had a lot of success in the last couple of years. After performing on Amy Grant’s How Mercy Looks From Here—with Grant and Sheryl Crow on the track “Deep as It Is Wide”—he released his self-titled debut album in February, and it shot to No. 4 on the Billboard country chart. Country fans love his track “Friday Night.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Lynyrd Skynyrd? At Stagecoach?! Why not? The renowned Southern-rock band was one of the biggest bands of ’70s, sharing stages with the Rolling Stones and The Who. However, tragedy struck in 1977, when the band’s plane crashed, killing original frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, as well as several others. The surviving members, all of whom were injured, decided to dissolve the group afterward. In the late ’80s, the band resurfaced, with Van Zant’s brother Johnny taking the lead. Since then, the band has lost original members Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell after each of them passed away. The band is best known for rocking out tunes such as “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimmie Three Steps,” “Simple Man” and, of course, “Freebird,” but in recent years, the band has alienated many fans by recording anti-left songs and performing with the likes of Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr. Still, their classics are worth sitting through the new material; just flick your Bic and scream “FREEBIRD!!!” when you find yourself annoyed.

Saturday, April 26

Whiskey Shivers: Whiskey Shivers is a bluegrass style band from Austin, Texas, with all of the traditional instruments represented—yes, even the washboard. Some of their bluegrass tunes are funny; others have punk-rock-style lyrics; yet others may leave you wanting to square dance (or whatever it is you do to bluegrass music). In any case, they’re an entertaining addition to the Stagecoach lineup.

Seldom Scene: On the other hand, if you like your bluegrass more on the sentimental side, the Seldom Scene is worth checking out. Since forming in 1971, the band has paid its dues—although the members received some criticism for adding an electric bass at one point. Ben Eldridge is apparently the only original member of the band left, but the band’s credentials are nonetheless impressive: The Seldom Scene was invited to a White House dinner in 2008 and was nominated for a Grammy Award not too long ago.

Trampled by Turtles: If you’re a fan of Old Crow Medicine Show, you’ll love Trampled by Turtles (right). This alt-country/bluegrass band from Duluth, Minn., played Coachella in 2012; they played Stagecoach once before, too, in 2010. While they haven’t achieved the popularity that some other alt-country bands have, take it from me: They are still one of the best live acts in America.

Don McLean: While many people think “American Pie” is about the death of American values, it’s really about the day the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly’s plane crashed in Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959. Don McLean, a folk icon of the late ’60s/early ’70s, has written other great tunes, but is unfortunately most remembered for “American Pie.” If you get tired of country and bluegrass, McLean’s act should offer a nice retreat.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band formed in the 1960s group and developed a great combination of rock and country music—and they’re not from Texas or Tennessee, but Long Beach! They started as a traditional country band, playing the acoustic instruments you’d hear in folk music, but eventually transitioned to electric instruments. They’ve done everything from opening for Bill Cosby to jamming with Dizzy Gillespie, and they recently re-recorded their hit “Mr. Bojangles” with Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley. They’re a great live band—and three of their original members are still part of the group.

Sunday, April 27

I See Hawks in L.A.: I See Hawks in L.A. is a great alternative-country band from—you guessed it—Los Angeles that has been around since 2000. The band has a bit of that Bakersfield sound combined with cosmic country, with great songs such as “Stop Driving Like an Asshole,” “The Beauty of the Better States” and “Hallowed Ground.” While they’d sound fantastic up at Pappy’s and Harriet’s, they’re sure to sound fantastic at Stagecoach, too.

Shovels and Rope: I had never heard of this group until I saw them on the Stagecoach lineup; the name alone made me want to learn more. The info I gathered on this band is that they’re a folk duo—and they rock. There are some gospel influences in there with some old-time folk, but there are also electric guitars and some old-time percussion instruments in the background. This is one performance I’m personally looking forward to.

Michael Nesmith: The Monkees frontman seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth for a while after a 1990s Monkees reunion. While Nesmith is primarily known for the Monkees, he has written country music in the past, and has even released some country songs; you can find some recordings on YouTube, including some recent live performances. This was definitely one of the more surprising names to appear on the Stagecoach lineup; in any case, it should be interesting when Nesmith takes the stage.

John Prine: Not even cancer in the neck could stop this prolific folk songwriter (below). While he doesn’t sing like he once did, he’s still writing great songs about love, life and humor. He also hasn’t been afraid to write songs with social commentary. Many of today’s biggest songwriters, such as Conor Oberst and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, have been influenced by Prine; they even appeared on an album made in tribute to Prine. In late 2013, he was diagnosed with cancer again—this time, in the lungs—and underwent successful surgery. Despite the recent illness, he remains on the lineup and plans to make the show.

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