Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Indio is the Coachella Valley’s largest city—and faces complex challenges due to the fact that it’s the home of Coachella, Stagecoach and Desert Trip.

In this year’s city election, seven people are running for two seats on the Indio City Council: Incumbents Glenn Miller and Lupe Ramos Watson, and challengers Joan Dzuro, Gina Chapa, Sam Torres, Jackie Lopez and Noe Gutierrez.

Joan Dzuro (right), a retired human resources consultant, cited a lack of both redevelopment funds and a concise plan for redevelopment as problems in Indio, due in large part to the state of California dissolving all redevelopment agencies back in 2012.

“One of the challenges that we have is the loss of the redevelopment funds,” Dzuro said. “… When those funds were removed by Sacramento, it became harder to find funding for that. I’m very encouraged by the hiring of (the city’s new director of economic development), Carl Morgan, because he’s able to come up with plans to talk to investors and businesses, and to try to work on options for some of that funding. You always need more funds when you have a fast-growing city. Public safety needs to be able to keep up with that, and it costs money.”

Dzuro said that her 35 years in corporate human resources give her much-needed experience.

“I’ve dealt with corporations from the business side and the employee side,” she said. “I think that’s the strength I can bring to the council, and bring in jobs and create businesses for the city, and have those businesses contribute new marketable skills to our unemployed and to the younger people graduating from college.”

Gina Chapa, a community organizer who worked for Congressman Raul Ruiz, said the lack of diverse commerce is a big issue.

“We’re struggling a lot with bringing in new businesses, supporting businesses, and actually having a thriving commercial area,” she said. “Also, I see that there’s a huge disparity between different populations in Indio. In order to feel like a complete city, we need to find a way to build bridges between the different communities in Indio. I feel that there’s a lack of ownership or participation. There’s a large population of disaffected or apathetic residents who feel disconnected to their local government.”

Chapa (right) said her roots are in Indio. “I’m a longtime community organizer and community resident. I was born in Indio and went to school in Indio. I’m raising my son in Indio, and I’m connected to various communities in Indio.”

Sam Torres, a former city councilman, said Indio’s slow economic recovery has caused problems.

“We’re starting to see some signs of (recovery in) the last few years, but we haven’t seen the robust economy we thought we were going to have,” he said. “I think that there’s another issue, and that’s the fact we’re starting to see two Indios. One is the north side and the far south side along the polo fields. The south side gets a lot of attention and is a new and dynamic community. But we’ve been leaving out the communities that have always been here. The residents in these communities are the ones who were building this economy. If you look in those neighborhoods, you can see the decay.”

Why should Indio voters put Torres back on the City Council, two years after he lost a re-election bid?

“I know the job. Now I really know this city,” he said. “I tell the truth and tell it like it is: ‘This is the problem, and this is what it takes to fix it.’ I do not bow to special interests, because the city residents elect me, and I don’t have a scheme to make money off this city.”

Jackie Lopez (right), who works as the district director for Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, said Indio’s largest challenge involves commerce.

“The No. 1 issue is places to shop,” Lopez said. “People spend their money outside of Indio. One of my main goals is better economic development. There are a lot of business owners struggling to make it. On the north side of Indio, we have a village market that could be a grocery store that’s sitting there. There are people who live across the street looking for places to shop that are walkable, and they’re getting to the point where they’re relying on their children and public transportation. Even though there are places to shop on the other side of the overpass, it’s too far for them. … I also feel that hotels are another concern with these festivals in our city; a lot of our tourists are staying outside of the area.”

Lopez said her work experience makes her a good fit for the City Council.

“I’m a lifelong resident here and have eight years working for the state Legislature,” she said. “I know how to get our money back from the state. I have worked on numerous pieces of legislation at the state level, (and worked) with our congressman to leverage funds for victims of the Salton Sea.” 

Noe Gutierrez—a behavioral health specialist, writer for CV Weekly and musician—said the city has not focused enough on small business.

“Downtown Indio hasn’t flourished like it should have,” he said. “I think smart growth is what we need—focusing on small-business owners and helping people get set up and started, as well as following them through. We all know the numbers of small businesses and when they open. Generally, they close within three years. We need to develop a plan we can follow.”

Gutierrez (right) said his experience in understanding people will serve him on the City Council.

“I grew up in Indio, and went to school in Indio, and I understand the backstreets, the different neighborhoods, the different types of people who live in those neighborhoods, and I understand their perception of things,” he said. “I have a huge amount of empathy given my background working as a social worker. My job is to put myself in other people’s shoes, so I feel I do a pretty good job doing that. … One thing I’m known for is gathering people together, getting them connected and establishing long-term relationships that are beneficial.”

The incumbents have had front-line experience dealing with Indio’s economic challenges in recent years. Glenn Miller said that while some newer areas of Indio—closer to Interstate 10—are fairly prosperous, the city’s downtown is suffering.

“Some of our older parts are taking a toll from the economic downturn,” he said. “It’s getting the actual funding availability, not only from the city of Indio, but also from our business community to invest into some of the areas that have been hit hardest due to the economic downturn, such as our downtown area.”

Miller, who has been on the council since 2008, has seen the city deal with hard financial times.

“When I first came on to the council, we had a structural $13 million deficit,” he said. “We burned through $35 million in reserves. Now we have a structurally balanced budget with over a half-million dollars in reserves, so financially, it is economically sound. But when you start talking about where you want the city to go when listening to our residents, one of the things they ask for is different kinds of shopping and business opportunities, education and investing in infrastructure.”

Miller said he should be re-elected because of his dedication to the city and the fact that he spends most of his free time working for a better Indio.

“I’m the most active and involved council member out of all the council members,” he said. “I’m very much engaged and spend all my free time working with our businesses, nonprofits and residents on what’s important to them.

“Indio will grow not only locally, but regionally. Not everyone who lives in Indio works in Indio. So the stronger the Coachella Valley is as a whole, and the more relationships we can build with College of the Desert and with our school district, it will be an advantage to the city of Indio, and I’m able to engage in those relationships.”

Councilmember Lupe Ramos Watson (right) said she’s concerned that Indio is losing out on sales-tax revenue.

“Our first and biggest challenge is to recapture some of the sales tax that is leaking out to other cities,” Watson said. “Several years ago, we conducted an economic-strategy analysis to figure out how much of our disposable income is being spent within the city boundaries to produce sales tax revenue, and how much was leaking out to other cities. We figured out that more than 50 percent of our potential sales tax revenue is leaking to other cities.”

Watson said she deserves to remain on the council due to the steps that she and her colleagues have taken regarding economic development.

“We just hired an economic development director a couple of months ago,” she said. “Because of the strategy we put together a couple of months ago, we have a plan for the downtown area that we’re completing to make sure the businesses that come into that area not only revitalize the downtown area, but add sales tax to our revenue and augment the opportunities as the ‘City of Festivals.’ With my background in planning in addition to development, I believe I’m a great asset to the city of Indio to help unfold these projects.”

We asked each of the candidates: What is the real identity of Indio?

“I believe Indio’s biggest attraction is that we’re a family-oriented city,” Dzuro said. “We emphasize our parks, the teen center and the Boys and Girls Club of America. We work together as a community with our festivals. The Tamale Festival and the Date Festival are family events. We really try to bring in the families to our community, and I think that’s what we emphasize more than anything.”

Chapa said that she feels the city government is not properly engaging with the older parts of the city.

“We know what it’s all called: ‘The City of Festivals,’” Chapa said. “That’s what it’s marketed as. It … doesn’t have just one identity. We know people understand Indio from the outside because of Coachella and the large snowbird community. As for the identity that it once had, there are many 40-plus-year residents living here who aren’t being included in the new face of Indio and the ‘City of Festivals.’ The identity is something we need to work on as a city, and (we need to) reach out to the community to build an identity so the people can feel like they’re part of the city, and that we can build our city together.”

Torres said Indio is not reaping the economic benefits it should be.

“The city of Indio is the ‘City of Festivals,’ but we used to be the second seat of the county, and we’re now in the backseat to Palm Springs,” Torres (right) said. “Any of the big events they have here, even at the casinos, they call it ‘Greater Palm Springs.’ We provide the neighbors and facilities, but the cash registers are ringing in the west valley. The local leaders have allowed that to happen and don’t have a plan to bring that identity back to Indio, and that’s where we made a huge mistake. It’s called the ‘’City of Festivals,’ but we’re really the ‘Greater Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce Backseaters.’”

Lopez said she wants Indio to once again be considered the hub of the Coachella Valley.

“We have so much potential, and we’re still growing,” she said. “On the other side of the freeway, I just found out we’re getting a Sonic and some other new places to shop and eat. The hope is to make sure we have a council member who will reinvest back into our community. We do pay taxes, and we’d like to see some of that money come back in infrastructure or attracting new places to shop and eat in downtown Indio—becoming the hub of the valley again.”

Gutierrez also said the city does not capitalize enough on the ‘City of Festivals’ label.

“There are some blinders on us,” he said. “We’re known for Coachella, but we don’t really expand on that. We’re just the site for Coachella. … We can’t rely on one-time events where people come, hang out and then leave, and probably never come back. We need a continuous inclusion of all age groups, ethnicities and everything.”

As for the identity of Indio, Miller (right) feels it has a lot to offer culturally.

“It’s the ‘City of Festivals’ and the city of culture. The city also has a bright future,” he said. “I think people see that in our rich history and being the largest city, but … multiple art developments and art pieces are going up throughout the city by world renowned artists who want to be part of the city of Indio and its culture.”

Watson said that she feels the city’s identity as the “City of Festivals” ties everything together.

“We’ve always celebrated our culture through the festivals,” she said. “It’s a community of celebration; Indio is full of hard-working individuals who work through our seasons to fulfill every need of their families, and when it’s time to celebrate, it’s done through our festivals. That is … a hard working community that understands that we need to work hard and work together to build a community that meets our needs.”

Published in Politics

Stagecoach celebrated its 10th year in 2016. Since its 2007 debut, it’s become one of the most successful country-music festivals in the world, popular with locals and visitors alike.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t have room to improve.

Stagecoach has had some truly epic moments. I first attended Stagecoach in 2008 as an employee of Borders Books and Music, which was an onsite vendor. The festival was only in its second year—and having The Eagles play was a solidifying moment for the festival. It was to Stagecoach what Daft Punk’s performance in 2006 was to Coachella.

This year’s festival was a definite success. On Sunday afternoon, as EmiSunshine played in the Mustang Tent—moving into the crowd to keep playing for a couple of songs while the power went out across the festival—the Marshall Tucker Band played to a large crowd in the Palomino Tent, while many faithful country-music fans gathered at the Mane Stage for A Thousand Horses and Dustin Lynch. The vibe was palpable as thousands of people walked around and gathered in various places.

But let’s face it: Stagecoach, in many ways, lives in the shadow of its music-festival sibling, Coachella. Coachella has become one of the most talked-about music events in the world, drawing celebrities and attention from every corner of the planet. It has become a preview of/kickoff for the music-festival circuit each year, and bands have come through Coachella and built their careers in large part on a great performance here.

But at Stagecoach? That has not happened yet.

From a local standpoint, Stagecoach stands a step or three behind Coachella as well. Every year, local bands get the honor of taking the Coachella stage, as happened with brightener and The Flusters this year. That’s not the case with Stagecoach. R Buckle Road, a local country band, would be great to hear at Stagecoach. The closest thing I can remember to a local band playing at Stagecoach was the Honky Tonk Angels Band, from the Inland Empire.

Stagecoach also suffers from a lot of repetition. The headliners for the Mane Stage this year included Eric Church and Luke Bryan, who both headlined in 2014—just two years ago. Carrie Underwood, Saturday’s headliner, has now performed at Stagecoach three times.

Meanwhile, many great performers have never taken the stage at Stagecoach. Off the top of my head, Hank Williams III has never played the festival. Ryan Adams has not brought his country sound to Stagecoach, even though he’s played at Coachella, The Dixie Chicks have been performing off and on—but never at Stagecoach. The Lumineers would be great to include at Stagecoach as well as Coachella. Where’s Neil Young? Personally, I’d love to see some of the remaining folk legends such as Joan Baez or Gordon Lightfoot, given folk performers have been included in the past. There many alternative country and indie-folk bands playing at festivals such as the Austin City Limits Festival and SXSW who would do well on the Stagecoach stage.

Still, I have to tip my (cowboy) hat to Goldenvoice for getting legends to Stagecoach. Shows by the late Merle Haggard and the late George Jones are truly worth remembering, and performers such as Wanda Jackson, Ray Price, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Charlie Pride and Billie Joe Shaver have shined. Southern rock bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Charlie Daniels Band and ZZ Top have played to overflowing crowds, as did John Fogerty did this past Saturday.

Still, it’d be nice if Goldenvoice could branch out to attract more indie-country and alternative-country followers to fill the added capacity that has just been approved for Stagecoach.

Stagecoach has had a great 10-year run so far. Here’s hoping that in the years to come, the festival will grow and become even more successful—with more variety.

Scroll down for photos from the final day of Stagecoach 2016, by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Alexa and Avery Roemer are two kids from Orange County with a passion: rescue dogs. They shared that passion with Stagecoach attendees through their band, A. Rae and the Rescue Dogs.

Alexa, 10, and Avery, 9, were born into a musical family. Their mother, Kelly Rae, leads the Kelly Rae Band, which also performed this weekend in the Honky Tonk Tent. Their father, Jack Roemer, plays bass in Rae and the Rescue Dogs and is the songwriter. The two girls began performing last summer—but they’ve been singing for quite a while, thanks to their musical family.

When the A. Rae and the Rescue Dogs performed in the Half-Pint Hootenanny on Saturday, Alexa explained their mission: “We hope our show inspires you to get a dog,” she said.

All of the songs are about dogs, and the girls have even recorded a CD to benefit rescue dogs. They make appearances at animal-related fundraisers and occasionally make an appearance onstage with their mom’s band. During Stagecoach, half of the proceeds from CD sales onsite were earmarked for Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that provides service animals to people with disabilities.

“I’m passionate about rescue dogs, because our dog is a rescue dog,” Alexa Roemer said during an interview in the press tent. “Our Aunt Lisa rescued him, and we were trying to find him a home. He came from an abandoned home. We thought, ‘Wow, there are so many dogs out there that are like that.’ So to think are a lot of dogs put down every week—I think every dog should have a home instead.”

Avery Roemer echoed her sister’s sentiments: “I think every dog should have a home and should be loved and cared for.”

With their parents close by during the interview, Alexa said she’s happy her father is the songwriter for the band.

“I think it’s cool that he writes our songs,” Alexa said. “He’s really good at it, and I’m glad he’s doing it instead of us.”

Both Alexa and Avery said they do feel a bit nervous at times while performing in front of audiences, but they do it out of passion for the cause of rescue dogs.

“I don’t really get nervous except when I mess up the words,” Avery said. “But I like going onstage and singing to the crowd. I also like selling our CDs.”

As for Stagecoach, both were excited to be seeing Carrie Underwood, given they love American Idol, although they were also looking forward to seeing other performers as well.

“I think we can see some people perform and take some influence from them. I think that would be very cool, and I think it’s going to be very fun to perform here,” Alexa said. “I’ve always liked Carrie Underwood’s music.”

Avery agreed.

“Carrie Underwood is one of my favorite singers—along with my mom,” Avery Roemer said. “I’m really excited to see her.”

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In 2013, I covered Coachella and Stagecoach for the first time for the Coachella Valley Independent—but I had concerns about doing so. In the fall of 2011, I suffered a serious back injury. As a result, I am unable to stand or sit for long periods of time.

Thankfully, while on site during Coachella in 2013, I discovered the services of Goldenvoice’s ADA department, which is in charge of accommodating guests with various disabilities. Three years later, the department is doing an ever-better job of doing so.

If you’ve attended either Coachella or Stagecoach, you may have seen Austin Whitney, of Accessible Festivals. Austin, in his wheel chair, is seemingly everywhere, and always with his service dog, Ophelia.

When I went to meet Whitney at one of the ADA platforms near the Mane Stage on Saturday evening during Stagecoach, he was handling an issue with an ADA wristband holder—with a smile on his face. As we went to find a place to chat, he talked to me about being from Berkeley, Calif., and about how seeing Rancid perform at Coachella was a highlight for him. As we made our way through the grounds, many people screamed his name—and a whole lot of people asked if they could pet Ophelia.

“I was in a car accident when I was 18,” Whitney said. “It severed my spinal cord and paralyzed me from the waist down. That really changed my life dramatically. At the time, my world was turned upside down. I had been very active in sports before that, and all my friends went off to college. My whole college plan was messed up. I was going to go to the University of Michigan, and there was no way after an injury like that.”

Despite the injury, he was determined to attend Coachella in 2008, because Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, was performing.

“It was the greatest show I ever saw in my life,” Whitney said. “At that show, it was one of the first places I found myself smiling. I was consumed by self-pity and hopelessness, and I felt that my life was over. Sitting in that crowd, enjoying that show, I didn’t think about my disability, and I didn’t think about this anxiety that consumed me about my future. I was living in the moment and being happy.

“I started going to a decent amount of music festivals after that. Having that to look forward to every two months throughout the season gave me something to look forward to when I needed something to look forward to during the first one to two years that were the roughest.”

His experiences led him to start working with festival promoters. He wanted to see them go above and beyond the legal requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act and focus on creating a truly enjoyable experience for those who had disabilities. He worked with Goldenvoice in 2011 and 2012, and he returned in 2016.

“(The year) 2011 was my first year at Coachella, and I started working for different promoters, and it kind of dawned on me: There’s a lot that could be done in terms of accommodations and people with disabilities. Other people I had been working with, they weren’t taking them into mind. I started law school at UC Berkeley at that time, and I was the only kind of person who had a legal background with that. The legal stuff doesn’t really matter: What I aim to do is really welcome people with disabilities and go beyond what’s considered ADA-compliant. It’s a very low bar with restrooms, parking and all of that stuff. I wanted to help promoters build events that people with disabilities could enjoy, and not have anxiety when they purchase a ticket.”

The department has to handle some complex and sensitive issues.

“We help everything between a 15-year-old with a broken foot to a 90-year-old with every conceivable health condition and an oxygen tank. We help folks who are hard of hearing, those who are deaf, those who are blind, those who are in wheelchairs, and (those with) various ailments and diseases. We deal with cancer and complications that come from illness, including skin conditions. Pregnancy isn’t a disability, but our services are helpful to a lot of folks, including those with late-term pregnancy; we put that under our umbrella and have a lot of patrons who are pregnant and offer our platforms to them—especially to those who go to Coachella because there are no chairs allowed.”

Whitney said Coachella and Stagecoach attendees noticed that the ADA team was a lot larger this year.

“It’s almost twice the size of the team we had last year,” he said. “These are people who love their job. One of the core elements of how we operate is to connect with people on a very human to human level—and that’s how you diffuse situations when they do arise. We also gave twice the amount of shuttle rides each weekend than were done last year. We have more carts going; I have eight or nine carts going right now. I have more people here to dedicate to what needs to get done.”

Whitney also added LED signs at each platform, making it easier for patrons to spot them. Doppler Labs was onsite offering patrons who are hard of hearing a pair of earplugs that can take in audio and be controlled with smartphones. Whitney said his team was offering guided tours to those with visual disabilities to help them make a mental map of the festival. A dietician was onsite to help those with dietary disabilities navigate among the food vendors. Finally, the department had a hotline phone number set up for the first time, which rang directly to Whitney or members of his staff—which took 160 calls a day.

At one point during Coachella, I watched as Whitney helped deal with chaos just before Ice Cube’s second-weekend performance. Both ADA platforms at the Coachella Stage were full—yet there was a huge line of attendees with ADA wristbands

“That was pretty crazy!” Whitney recalled. “We had 35 people who wanted to get on that platform before Ice Cube when Disclosure was performing. It was already pretty full—and then I had 35 people in line. If we didn’t help people get up there, they weren’t going to see the show.

“I know what it’s like if you can’t stand. If we can help, we will. If that means companions having to give up their seats and stand up, so be it. We got everyone on there, and that was a highlight for me and a personal accomplishment. I got awarded for that too, so it was great.”

Whitney said Goldenvoice has been supportive regarding those with disabilities, and he thinks things will improve even more during future festivals. He conceded there’s a lot of work left to do.

“Right now, we still have capacity issues on the platforms, and it’s crazy out there,” he said. “We have to work on viewing areas. We have the screens with the monitors with American Sign Language, but it has to be dialed in a lot more. I put a lot of attention during weekend 1 and 2 of Coachella doing disability-etiquette-training for security guards, and a huge amount of time is spent fixing mistakes out there with the security staff. They don’t need to be disability experts, but they need to understand when to reach out to us. Those are probably the big (changes) that we’re going to see. Also, (we’re working on) locking down our systems a little bit more and figuring out more innovative ways to get information out there for those with disabilities, whether that’s through social media or the packages with the wristbands that get sent out. After this event, I’ll do a full debrief with my staff to see what we can improve on.”

What advice does Whitney offer to those who are disabled and want to come to Coachella or Stagecoach?

Go to a music festival,” Whitney said with enthusiasm. “I’ve seen some folks who have more serious medical conditions than I can comprehend. I can find a solution to almost any accessibility issue if I know in advance. It’s a little more difficult if they just show up onsite. But if somebody has a specific concern, reach out to us. I’m fairly reachable by phone or e-mail, and this is what I do all the time. I can figure out a solution if there is a concern. I wouldn’t let someone’s disability stop them from experiencing something awesome like that Ice Cube show.” 

There are a lot of cool things to see at Stagecoach—and Pokey LaFarge was the coolest thing to see on Saturday afternoon in the Mustang Tent.

The St. Louis-born and -raised performer is a true roots-music enthusiast. He’s not a revival act; he lives and breathes vintage music from the ’30s and ’40s.

On Saturday, he was clad in a vintage button-down shirt, navy jeans cuffed around his cowboy boots, and a vintage black hat. He often wears suits with cuts from the ’30s and ’40s, as well as other vintage clothing. One thing’s for sure: He looked dressed and ready for Stagecoach.

Starting his set with “Something in the Water,” Pokey LaFarge made it clear right away that his live show includes elements you don’t always hear on his records: In person, you can hear hints of big-band jazz, calypso, Latin, Americana and country-Western in his repertoire.

The large crowd that gathered in the smaller-sized Mustang tent loved him, and was clapping and singing along to the choruses to his songs. He led a sing-along during “Central Time,” about being a plain-old Midwestern boy trying to survive in the Central Time Zone. He declared that while he doesn’t have a problem with the East Coast or the West Coast, he wouldn’t live in either.

One interesting moment came late in the set when he performed a country-Western/roots-style cover of Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne’s “Carmelita.” The chorus: “And I’m all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town.” It proved that although much of Pokey LaFarge’s music is upbeat, he’s not afraid to venture into the dark side. There was a lot of variety to be had in Pokey’s 45-minute set—and it was never dull.

Pokey LaFarge is not the only Americana revivalist to come through Stagecoach and put on a fine performance—but nobody that I have seen has ever won over a crowd as well as he did, especially inside the Mustang Tent, a place where Stagecoach attendees often seek shade or even take a nap on one of the bales of hay. With a horn-section, banjo and acoustic guitars, and swing-jazz style drumming, LaFarge won over the audience easily—and proved that he can not only play for a crowd of Americana purists; he can easily entertain the audience of Stagecoach.

See more Stagecoach Day 2 photos below, by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

Dale Watson is a honky tonk hero and a legend of country music—in part because he wholeheartedly eschews the mainstream.

Originally from Birmingham, Ala., Watson now calls Austin, Texas, home. He owns a saloon there called the Little Longhorn Saloon, which is home to “Chicken Shit Bingo”—a weekly event during which a chicken is placed on a table with numbers on it.

If you have the number on which the chicken does its business, you’re a winner!

I chatted with Watson before his Friday Stagecoach performance, and asked him the question: What do you love about country music?

“I don’t love country music,” Watson replied. “Not today’s country music—not one bit. I love what used to be called country music. I’m a big fan of a genre called Ameripolitan right now, which is what country music used to be: Western swing, rockabilly and honky tonk music. In that regard, what is it about the country music that I love? I love it because it’s honest; it’s real; and it’s something I can relate to. Today’s country music? I can’t relate to it at all. All the stuff that Ray Price and Merle Haggard wrote and played—it definitely speaks to me.”

Watson compared what’s happened to country music to gentrification: “It’s like walking into an old neighborhood you used to go to all the time, and it was fun to be in—and you find out it’s nothing but condos.”

Despite his anti-mainstream ethos, Watson is still in demand. He has a multi-generational audience, and he is consistently releasing records—while touring constantly.

“We play a lot of festivals and mostly honky tonks, or at least what used to be honky tonks,” he said. “I also play a lot of beer joints, and I even own one back in Texas. I recorded the Live at Chicken Shit Bingo album there, which is coming out this summer. Venues vary, but they all have one consistent theme of featuring roots music, whether it’s blues or whatever. We’ll play for the tattooed younger crowd, and the next night, a theater full of old folks.”

Watson has become a legend thanks in part to a lot of nods from younger outlaw and alternative-country musicians; Hank Williams III has mentioned Dale Watson in his songs, for example. But Watson has also garnered younger fans with his social-media savvy: He runs all of his social media himself.

“The Internet has made being more visible possible for people like me, and people who play my kind of music,” Watson said. “We also tour constantly, so when you tour this much, you hit a lot of places where young people discover you—and luckily, they’ve latched on.”

There was a period during which Watson didn’t tour.

“My kids moved to Baltimore one year, and I didn’t want to freak them out by taking them to Texas or make it harder for their mom, so I moved out there,” he said about his 2004 hiatus. “Then after seven months, I realized they were fine, and got back into the grind doing what I needed to do.

“It was tough not to play. I was miserable. That’s when I learned that the best thing for my kids would be to take care of me.”

Watson said he doesn’t get tired out by touring because he constantly mixes things up.

“I don’t do the same set. I’ve never done the same set,” he said. “It doesn’t happen that way, and I may do the same batch of songs in a week’s time, but there’s always something different going on.”

Watson said he’s always writing.

“I’m not writing operas. I’m just writing real songs based on experiences that happened to me,” he explained. “One I recently wrote is called ‘I Keep Doing Things I Shouldn’t Do,’ and it came out of a conversation with somebody who had an operation on her shoulder, and there she was, going out to the shooting range and doing everything she shouldn’t be doing. I told her, ‘You’re just going to keep doing things you shouldn’t do.’ Sounded like a song to me.

“My songs aren’t rocket science, but it means a lot to me, because I identify with it. I know I’m on the right track when I’m doing a song, and when I’m on the second chorus, people are singing along.”

Watson said that he has three (!) albums coming out later this year, including a cover album called Under the Influences, which will feature songs which inspired him. The album will include songs by Merle Haggard and also Ray Price.

As for what he thought about Stagecoach—where he shares the stage with Nashville stars performing that gentrified brand of country—he said he was enjoying himself.

“It’s great, because I saw a friend of mine who plays with Marty Stuart, and that’s what I really like about it: I get to see people I don’t really get to see that often,” he said. “In Southern California with the beautiful weather, it’s kind of a fun hang.”

There are no bells nor whistles to Emmylou Harris does. Her show includes just guitars, bass, percussion—and stunning vocals.

This lesson was learned by those who stopped by her headlining performance in the Palomino Tent on Friday night at Stagecoach. For one hour, she mostly stood in the same place, played guitar and sang.

And it was magnificent.

As Emmylou opened her set with “Here I Am,” any doubts about the strength of the 69-year-old legend’s voice were immediately wiped away. From start to finish, her set was top-notch, and the sound in the Palomino Tent was great. While she didn’t draw a huge crowd like Lynyrd Skynyrd did a couple of years ago, or ZZ Top drew last year, she transfixed most of the attendees who were lucky to find spots close to the stage.

One highlight was a song on which she collaborated with Mark Knopfler called “Love and Happiness.” She delivered a stunning cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” soon after.

Emmylou Harris told a story about The Ballad of Sally Rose, a concept album she released in 1985. She noted that it was an album without a hit single—and she nearly went bankrupt as a result of it. She then played “The Sweetheart of the Rodeo” from the album.

Harris recalled the last time she played Stagecoach, in 2007, noting that Brooks and Dunn stole most of her crowd—and observing how much bigger the Palomino Tent had gotten in the years since. She then turned over the stage to her percussionist and her guitarist, Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose, who performed their 1989 single from their Kennedy Rose days, “Love Like This.”

Toward the end of the set, Emmylou Harris performed a cover of “Spanish Dancer,” written by her friend Patti Scialfa, who she said was “Mrs. Bruce Springsteen”—a title that overshadows her talent as a brilliant songwriter, she noted. She then closed with a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.”

Considering Emmylou Harris was an essential part of the ’70s country music scene and a key figure in the Bakersfield sound, she’s a true country legend. It was fantastic to see her back at Stagecoach—and still sounding great.


Published in Reviews

Stagecoach is known for a diverse lineup which often includes talented unknowns—but Tigerman WHOA takes “unknown” to a whole new level.

I could not find a lineup listing for the band from Lynn, Mass. (beyond a list of first names on Facebook). I sent an interview request … which was returned as undeliverable. The phone number for the band? Disconnected.

However, this wild Americana-meets-punk band is worth a look: With an upright bass, an electric guitar, a mandolin and some punk-style drumming, Tigerman WHOA kicks ass.

As the band took the Mustang stage, the emcee said that what Tigerman WHOA does is unexplainable, so he’d let them come out and explain it for themselves. The first song was a fast number during which the mandolin really came through. The band then changed the gears a bit with a cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”—but with a kick in the ass.

Tigerman WHOA was not afraid to include a quick tribute to Prince: In the middle of one of the songs, the group played a line of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” With the mandolin, upright bass and Tom Waits-style raspy vocals, this tribute was certainly more fascinating than most of the tributes I heard last week at Coachella.

That brings us back to the diversity of Stagecoach: Where else in the United States can you see huge stars such as Carrie Underwood and an amazing yet unheralded talent like Tigerman WHOA?

Published in Reviews

This year’s Stagecoach lineup—one of the better slates in recent years, despite the high number of repeat performers—includes a nice variety: big Nashville stars, country legends, and new players in the game. Americana, outlaw country and a bunch of other genres are being mashed together for an unforgettable weekend.

Here are the acts I’ll be sure to catch at Stagecoach.

Friday, April 29

Dale Watson

Hank Williams III has given Watson (right) a nod, as have many other alternative-country bands and outlaw-country purists. Watson is a true outsider and has written songs about his distaste for the modern Nashville country machine that sells millions of records—even though no one is singing real country songs anymore. Well, Watson’s music is the real deal, and while he’s not a big name, he’s loved by alt-country fans and underground/indie music critics. That’s worth something.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris is often mentioned along with Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson—both because she’s on the same footing as a country-music legend, and because she’s worked with them both extensively. During her early career, she was actually Parsons’ creative partner. She’s won 12 Grammy awards, is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, is an inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and is one of the most influential women in rock ’n’ roll. Need any other reasons to catch her set at Stagecoach?

Robert Earl Keen

He may not be the biggest name, but this guy has written songs that have been covered by the Dixie Chicks, Lyle Lovett, The Highwaymen and many others in country music. Not only is he a fantastic songwriter; he’s one of the Americana music scene’s crown jewels. Dig out some of this guy’s music if you need any more convincing. I am truly excited about the opportunity to see him live.

Eric Church

I was sort of skeptical of the Friday headliner, given he is a big modern Nashville success story. However, he’s one of the few who has earned that success by doing things his own way—a way that, at times, sort of scares people. His band members look like they’d fit right in with some of the nastiest metal bands; his fans wear T-shirts with skeletons flipping the bird that say “Eric Fucking Church” on the back; and his material touts marijuana-smoking, Jack Daniels and Bruce Springsteen. He’s the one headliner I will definitely watch.

Saturday, April 30

Jamestown Revival

Hailing from Magnolia, Texas, this duo sports a name that references one of the first European settlements in what became the United States. These guys are country-music storytellers in the spirit of Willie Nelson, Louis L’Amour, John Prine and others. They have a brand of folk music that meets Americana, and then meets country. As a result, this standout group is starting to build a faithful audience. In the short time they’ve been on the scene, the duo has played at Coachella, Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits. They’re on the path to becoming one of the biggest new things in country music à la Sturgill Simpson and Shovels and Rope, so be sure to check them out.

Langhorne Slim and the Law

It’s hard to believe this guy has been around since 1999 and has toured with the Avett Brothers, Violent Femmes, Old 97’s and many other big name acts—yet he remains an independent artist. He’s probably one of the best modern-day songwriters, yet not that many people know about him. This is someone you’ll definitely want to put on your list; whether you’re going for the Big Nashville bands or the Americana and alternative-country acts, you’ll agree that he belongs at Stagecoach. Also: Do the music world a solid by buying some of his merchandise and telling your friends about him.

Pokey LaFarge

Pokey LaFarge is to country music as Nick Waterhouse is to rock ’n’ roll: They’re young men who have an appreciation for the old-school style. Pokey hails from St. Louis, performs country-swing music, and expresses distaste for most modern music. He grew up on his grandfather’s music, dresses the part of an old Americana performer, and has a sound that is a throwback to another time—and he pulls it all off brilliantly. He released a record on Third Man Records and was produced by Jack White himself; that alone should give him some credibility.

John Fogerty

Creedence Clearwater Revisited, which just played a show here, is successful and fun to watch. But let’s face facts: John Fogerty was the driving force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fogerty has found success beyond the nasty end to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and he continues to play Creedence songs in his set. Considering there was a lot of Southern influence in the legendary band’s brand of rock ’n’ roll, Fogerty fits in at Stagecoach. In fact, he played a fantastic set at Stagecoach in 2008.

Sunday, May 1

Emi Sunshine

I interviewed Emi Sunshine (below), now 11, for her show at Pappy and Harriet’s last summer, and I was instantly charmed by her Southern accent, her love for old country music, and her fondness for the ukulele. Considering she’s already played the Ryman Auditorium (the former Grand Ole Opry House), has been on national television and has toured the United States extensively, she’s going to be a hit at Stagecoach.

The Marshall Tucker Band

When it comes to Southern rock, the Marshall Tucker Band is a name that always comes to mind. “Can’t You See” and “Heard It in a Love Song” are Southern-rock staples and continue to be played on radio stations across the country. While the band has endured a lot of lineup changes, frontman Doug Gray is keeping the group going strong. Word is the band is still great live.

The Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers seem sort of out of place at Stagecoach—but that’s not a bad thing. Numerous acts have been considered out of place at Stagecoach in the past, including Don McLean and The Eagles. This is one of best rock bands of all time, and there’s no doubt the group will turn in a great performance at Stagecoach.

Little Big Town

I reviewed Little Big Town’s show at Fantasy Springs last fall, and while I’m not usually a fan of the Nashville sound, Little Big Town put on a marvelous performance that was energetic and nearly flawless. This is a great live band, and songs such as “Little White Church” and “Girl Crush” will likely get an enthusiastic crowd response. They are the one “Mane Stage” act I highly recommend; you won’t be disappointed.

Published in Previews

Billy Joe Shaver was one of the artists who defined the outlaw-country music genre in the late ’60s and early ’70s. However, there’s much more to him than that.

Shaver, 76, who in 2014 released a critically and commercially successful album called Long in the Tooth, will be appearing at Stagecoach on Friday, April 29.

During a recent phone interview, I asked Shaver if there was something—beyond the legends and the music—that people don’t know about him. The answer was surprising.

“I’m a born-again Christian,” Shaver said. “I try to be like Jesus every day, but people don’t realize that my being born again is a lot different. I got born again in my own fill, and everyone has their own personal savior; mine is Jesus Christ. I feel like you get to be born again your own way. I get to be myself, and I’m still myself, but all those past sins and all that stuff is wiped clean. I got to start over again since I was born again—and I actually wondered if I could get born again again. You can do the same things you did before, but you have to be held accountable for it.”

The term “Outlaw” has often been used to describe Shaver’s brand of country. There’s also a bit of reality in that term: In April 2007, he was charged with aggravated assault in Lorena, Texas, after he shot a man in the face. Shaver said he was acting in self-defense.

“That doesn’t bother me, and it was part of my life,” Shaver explained. “I can’t deny that or anything, really. … I never actually tried to hurt anyone. But if someone tries to hurt me, I’m going to hurt them back. I’m still that way. If someone shoots at me, I’ll shoot back at them. If they hit me, I’ll hit them back, but I’ll let them throw the first punch.”

Before Shaver found fame in country music, he worked at a sawmill and accidentally cut off two of his fingers. He said the accident helped him realize his calling in life.

“It was really hard for me,” he said. “I had learned how to strum and chord, and I had written a few songs. When that happened, I was 21, and I just shot a quick prayer to God and said, ‘If you help me get out of this mess, I’ll do what I’m supposed to do.’ I always knew this is what I was supposed to be doing.”

While he has performed there, Billy Joe Shaver is not a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Considering his history and his contributions to country music, he feels he should be.

“I think I should be in there,” he said. “One day, I know I will be in there. I think they’ll wait until the day I die, because they say I’m unmanageable. I’m really not; I just speak up. That’s all.”

If there’s one thing for which the current generation knows Billy Joe Shaver, it’s for singing the opening themes of the Adult Swim animated series Squidbillies. He praised creators Jim Fortier, Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro for their creativity.

“Those guys are geniuses,” he said. “I had no idea earlier that (the show) was going to be so mean. I probably would have done it anyway, though. … They kind of fooled me a bit, because I went to this church in Austin, and they had me sing the theme song.

“Those guys are real geniuses. But I don’t mean any of those things in the song, and I wouldn’t really do that. I got to laugh at it a lot, though, in the end.”

Shaver is no stranger to Stagecoach; he’s played at the festival before. Still, when I asked him about the festival, he said he was not too familiar with it—but he mentioned his love for everything about California.

“I don’t know too much about it,” he said about Stagecoach. “My boys do, but I just jump in the truck and go. That’s about it for me. That’ll be a lot of fun, though.”

Published in Previews

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