CVIndependent

Fri08232019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

The Deslondes have a fun, rustic, old-time country sound to their music. Hailing from New Orleans, they’ll be sure to be a delight at Stagecoach on Sunday, May 1, and are one of the bands you want to include in your schedule. They’ll also be performing at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Friday, April 29. For more information on The Deslondes, visit www.thedeslondes.com. Guitarist and vocalist Riley Downing was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13, and here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Byron Jones Opry, with my grandparents north of Kansas City, Mo.

What was the first album you owned?

On vinyl: Johnny Rivers at the Whisky à Go-Go.

What bands are you listening to right now?

A lot of old 45s, mostly. But I listen to music on the Interweb as well, mostly buddies’ bands or bands from word of mouth, such as C.W Stoneking, Twain, the Banditos, Cactus Blossoms, Pat Reedy and the Longtime Goners, as well as Luke Bell who is at this festival.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Pop country, and most pop music, actually.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

This guy from the Kansas City area named Gary Kirkland made a record I found a long time ago called Gary Kirkland With Remnants of Buzzard Creek and Other Yahoos. I would have loved to see that band play live.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Old pop country.

What’s your favorite music venue?

I really enjoy the sound at The Basement in Nashville and Off Broadway in St. Louis.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“I was born a rambler and I’ll die a rambler way, it’s always been you see. Ooh I was born a dreamer and I’ll die a dreamer somewhere I ain’t supposed to be,” Kiki Cavazos.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Probably the most (were the) members of Broken Wing Routine, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and Sundown Songs. I met most of them a long time ago in Oklahoma at (the) Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, and they not only influenced me to write and sing, but to travel with those songs as well.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

Merle Haggard: “What month did you say you wanted to tour?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Duane Eddy’s “Stalkin’.” Ha ha! I don't know; play something good!

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Reverend Gary Davis’ New Blues and Gospel.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

Jimmy Jay, “Run Wild (While You’re Young).” (Scrolll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

The Stagecoach 2016 lineup was released today—and it marks a huge improvement over the 2015 slate.

That’s not to say the lineup for the 10th Stagecoach festival does not include a lot of performers that have taken the Stagecoach stage before. Eric Church headlined Friday night in 2014; Luke Bryan also headlined in 2014, on Sunday. With two headliners returning just two years later—on the same nights to boot—one has to wonder if there are a limited amount of artists from which festival organizer Goldenvoice can choose.

That’s also not to say that many people weren’t disappointed in the absence of one, big rumored name: Garth Brooks. While there don’t seem to be too many complaints about the lineup on the Stagecoach Facebook page as of this writing, there are some comments about how it seems the list of headliners and performers seem to be repeating.

There are also complaints regarding Stagecoach’s strict RV-resort policies, limited spaces, and the application process for those spaces. The prices of the RV resort—ranging from $550 to $950—are also a sore subject. Goldenvoice has greatly reduced the amount of on-site RV camping in recent years.

Now, to the ample positives: There are some great smaller names for those who aren’t into the mainstream Nashville country scene. Dale Watson is popular to alt-country fans, especially those who reject the modern Nashville sound. Lucero, a country-punk band that has played at Coachella, will be making its Stagecoach debut. Third Man Records artist Pokey LaFarge, an old-time Americana artist, will be a real crowd pleaser for those who love bluegrass and the old Americana sound. You can also never go wrong with performers such as Emmylou Harris, Billie Joe Shaver, Robert Earl Keen, John Fogerty and the Doobie Brothers.

Who knows what memorable moments 2016’s Stagecoach fest will offer? There have been many memorable moments, such as The Eagles performing in 2008, Rascal Flatts announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011, Nick 13 of Tiger Army’s first ever solo performance in 2010, and a day of mourning and tributes to George Jones after the announcement of his death on the first day of the festival in 2013.

It was another great day in the Palomino Tent at Stagecoach on Sunday, April 26, when the audience got to enjoy both new talents and familiar faces.

Starting things off at 1 p.m. was singer-songwriter Andrew Combs. “We haven’t had anything to drink yet, so this is rough,” Combs said to the small audience. Combs’ songs, a mix of country-rock and folk, were deep and sentimental. He announced his ballad “Suwannee County” was “a song about a conversation I had with an older gentleman about fishing and God.” Before noting the beautiful landscape and departing, he played “Emily.” The chorus was catchy: “E-m-i-l-y, why, why, why, tell me why, Emily.”

Following Combs was a rising talent in Nashville: Logan Brill. She gave a nod to Andrew Combs and his song “Month of Bad Habits,” asking, “Can you keep the party going one more day? I want to see bad habits until Monday morning.” The highlight of Brill’s set was an electrifying cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”; her lead guitarist played one hell of a solo. She ended her set with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” While her original songs were quite mainstream, Brill was an upbeat and fun performer to watch. Her energy is incredible.

Following Brill was another rising Nashville talent, Chris Janson. Janson explained he was a successful independent artist who, after a lot of iTunes sales, finally nabbed a record label. He played a mean harmonica, and managed to draw quite an impressive crowd. Many of his songs embrace the stereotypes of country music—in other words, referencing things like hotrods, trucks, boats, hunting and trailers. In fact, he talked about being in his artists’ trailer, saying, “They make trailers a lot nicer now than when I grew up in one,” before playing his song “White Trash.” He also led chants of “TRUCK YEAH!”

Speaking of the Rolling Stones: A group that opened for the Rolling Stones in the ’70s, Outlaws, followed Janson to the Palomino stage—and the band brought a triple ax attack! The crowd thinned after Janson finished, but throughout the Outlaws’ set, the crowd grew—as did the volume of the reception the band received after every song. Outlaws’ Southern-rock sound is still strong today; the band was marvelous.

If there was one performance that seemed a little out of place at Stagecoach, it was the show by Eric Burdon and the Animals. Burdon and the Animals were key figures of the British Invasion, and have a heavy psychedelic-rock bent. Still, Burdon and the Animals put on a worthy performance. Some of the best songs were “When I Was Young,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” During most of the performance, a sweet smell was blowing around in the air, if you know what I mean.

It was fantastic to see the large, intergenerational crowd that gathered for the Oak Ridge Boys after Burdon. The country legends were in a spot similar to that of AC/DC during Coachella: They played to many younger fans who grew up listening to them thanks to their parents. The Oak Ridge Boys declared that they love Stagecoach, saying it had the best country audience in the world, because attendees support all the musicians, ranging from the younger, independent acts doing something different, to the big names on the Mane Stage. When the Oak Ridge Boys finished their set, the almost-overflowing Palomino Tent crowd gave them a loud ovation.

The act that closed out the Palomino Tent for 2015 was George Thorogood and the Destroyers—and the group sounds like Thorogood grew up playing guitar while using an idling motorcycle as a metronome. While Throrogood may be written off by some as just another white boy playing the blues, he’s pretty damn good at it. “I promise all I can do to go to jail tonight, and if anyone is going to jail for rock ’n’ roll, it might as well be me,” Thorogood told the crowd in between songs. Some highlights were “I Drink Alone,” “Get a Haircut,” and, of course, the closer, “Bad to the Bone.”

’Tll next year, Stagecoach!

Published in Reviews

The Podunk Poets performed in the Honkytonk tent at Stagecoach—and they felt right at home.

“I think for all of us, being invited into a festival that’s so massive—Stagecoach is a dream,” said Podunk Poets’ Kelly Kidd; he and Cindy-Lou Jollotta chatted with the Independent the day after the band’s Friday, April 24, performance. “We’re still independent, so were like the band that keeps taking baby steps.”

The Podunk Poets are not new to the area; the group has performed in the past at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

“There was lots of love there,” said Jollotta. “The crowd there was happy, receptive and energetic. That’s what it’s like at Pappy’s: It feels like a stamp of approval to play there.”

Kidd agreed. “It has such a history, and it’s so nostalgic. In the Americana world, you sort of have to pay homage and pay your dues at Pappy and Harriet’s to keep going.”

The band’s sound is a feel-good throwback to the days of Hank Williams and old-time country. However, it’s hard for independent bands such as the Podunk Poets to go beyond small venues.

“I read an article, and I can’t really quote it, but it said, ‘Country needs its Nirvana,’ and talks about how country music has, in some people’s eyes, become like the hair metal of the ‘80s,” Kidd said. “People who aren’t necessarily fans of big country love the bejesus out of us. It’s sort of like how Amy Winehouse gave a nod to Phil Spector’s sound. We have people who come up to us who don’t like commercial country and say to us, ‘This is the kind of country that my parents listened to. Your sound is what I love and my parents love.’ I think that’s the draw for us: Bringing back that nostalgia feel.”

They also enjoy the show business aspect of their music.

“We don’t just get up and sing,” Jollotta said. “Every show is a party; it really is.”

The Honkytonk Tent, a place that also hosts line-dancing tutorials and country-music DJs, offered the Podunk Poets a perfect place for them to start a party.

“We tried to yell out some dances if we knew our songs were a 10-step or a two-step,” Jollotta said.

Kidd said that the feel of the audience in there worked well for them. “It was cool, because the generations mashed together, too—the gray hairs two-stepping next to the younger generation. It’s sort of like Coachella—the smaller stages are cool. Years ago, I saw Jenny Lewis on a small stage at Coachella, and you just see them starting out and having fun. Then people like that explode a few years later, and that’s really fun to see.”

Where did the band name come from?

“We sort of stumbled on it. We went through a few names in our naming process,” Jollotta said. “We have a really classic sound, and people tell us they think they’ve heard the songs before, and they don’t realize we’re actually a band that performs originals. ‘Podunk’ is the sound.”

Kidd said he thinks the name has a nice sound to it.

“‘Podunk Poets’ had a sophisticated, small-town feel, and we like to write on current elements, too. We touch on things that are edgy for country,” he said. 

I’m a country/Americana-music purist who prefers vintage sounds, and the best places at Stagecoach to find acts that play this kind of music are the Mustang and Palomino tents.

Therefore, when I arrived for the second day of Stagecoach 2015 on Saturday, April 25, I headed straight for the Palomino Tent, and the 1 p.m. performance by Daniel Romano. He performed without drums, and his troubadour style came out quite nicely. He gathered a fine crowd for a performer who was kicking off the day. Later, I interviewed him, and he came off as rather hostile toward the whole Stagecoach experience, which is a shame: He was a talented performer who perfectly illustrates the musical diversity of Stagecoach.

After Romano, John Moreland took the Palomino Stage. It was quick transition given, Moreland needed just a chair and his acoustic guitar. Those who have heard his new album, High on Tulsa Heat, know his singing voice is magnificent—and his voice is just as powerful live as it is in the studio. Many attentive faces watched Moreland and hung on to every word he sang—they felt the emotion of his songs.

Later in the Palomino, Mac Davis, a songwriter for people such as Nancy Sinatra and Elvis Presley, performed to a large crowd. He explained the meaning of his songs in between, and discussed the people for whom he wrote. In a way, Davis could be considered country music’s Neil Sedaka; his sound is a throwback to the ’70s, before country music was sterilized into the modern Nashville sound.

If there was one performer in the Palomino who stole away a nice chunk of the Mane Stage crowd, it was Charles Esten. He has a role on the TV series Nashville (and, strangely enough, was once a featured performer on Whose Line Is It Anyway?), and his performance was a departure from the Americana and classic country typical in the Palomino: Esten played loud, mainstream-style country. He repeatedly reminded the audience about his role on Nashville, a show which has not yet officially been renewed, telling them at the end, “Three episodes left! Keep watching!”

After Esten, it was time for Gregg Allman. Allman has been trying to get back to normal after a liver transplant, and he’s been open about and his long, hard road to recovery. Good news: On Saturday, he looked much healthier, and he performed beautifully, both behind the piano and on the guitar. Playing a combination of solo material and Allman Brothers hits, he was a real crowd-pleaser, and the large crowd that had gathered showed him a lot of love. Of course “Midnight Rider” was included on the set list, with “No Way Out” being the last song he played. My favorite? His performance of “Jessica” early in his set.

If there was one Palomino Tent performance that should have taken place Mane Stage, it was the show by ZZ Top. After Allman’s performance, his crowd stayed, with even more people pouring in to see the bearded bluesmen from Texas.

When ZZ Top started at 9:15, it went dark, and what appeared to be a trailer for a fictional Western film starring the members of ZZ Top played on the two onstage screens. One thing is certain: Dusty Hill’s bass sound is something you can’t ignore. I wouldn’t say it’s “mighty”; I’d say it’s more like a sledgehammer to your ears, and it gives ZZ Top’s live sound am impressive personality. Both Hill and guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons were spot-on. The Palomino, full from the front to the very back, went wild when the trio played “Gimme All Your Lovin’” during the earlier part of their set. The band saved songs such as “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” (which required a guitar change for Hill and Gibbons to their trademark white shag fuzzy guitars), “La Grange” and “Tush” for the end.

ZZ Top brought their A-game, that’s for sure. 

Scroll down to see images from Stagecoach 2015's second day.

Published in Reviews

Daniel Romano gave a solid performance in the Palomino Tent to kick off the second day of Stagecoach 2015, on Saturday, April 25. He then went to the Toyota Tent and gave an additional, fine performance.

However, he may have put on the best show of all during his brief interview with the Independent in the press tent.

The musician and visual artist cited a couple of big names as influences.

“I grew up listening to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. That kind of stuff, my parents had on, and I understood what a good song was early on,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to make good songs ever since, but that idea of music, stylistically speaking, invoked the urge in me.”

He said the songs he writes come to him naturally.

“There really isn’t anything that inspires me other than the need to write,” he said. “It mostly comes out of thin air; I try not to think about it. I feel like it’s bad to over-think things like that, and where it comes from, why it’s there. If I thought about why I’m doing it, I probably wouldn’t do it.”

I asked him how Stagecoach was treating him. That’s when the show really began.

“Nothing is really interesting here,” he said. “The scenery is beautiful, and I played Coachella a couple of years ago, so I’m familiar with the area and the landscape. It’s gorgeous. Yesterday, I went up to Calico, which is a ghost town, and that was pretty cool. It was amazing to see, given it was a mining community from the turn of the last century, so that’s nice.

“But as far as music festivals go, it’s pretty much the worst place to be in.”

I pointed out that Stagecoach was exposing him to new audiences who were discovering his music for the first time.

“That would be the sole purpose of doing it, I think. I think that’s good,” he said.

Romano is from Ontario, Canada. I asked him about the variety of country music coming from Canada, especially Calgary’s notable country music scene.

“There really isn’t any country music in Canada,” he said. “There’s probably some in Calgary, but I don’t know—maybe.”

Romano truly is a talent; he takes an old country music sound and makes it his own. I asked him how he developed his sound—and the answer was perhaps the most interesting part of his performance during our chat.

“I don’t know. It’s better than this shit,” he said, referring to the other music at Stagecoach. “This is fucking terrible. It’s not even music, man. It’s jocks; it’s not art. Jocks and art don’t belong together; it’s nature. It’s the only way to look at it if you’re honest with yourself.”

He discussed his latest album, Come Cry With Me.

“It was done very quickly and sort of set aside for what became too long,” he said. “I sort of lost a connection with it, but I made another record really fast and came back around to the other one from a long separation. You have to progress quickly in this world, and because of that, sometimes the newest thing you did is always the best—and the album wasn’t the newest thing, so it was hard for me to come back around to it. I sort of shed the new light that I had developed back onto it and rejuvenated it, so I’m happy and proud of it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 4 of 7