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Steve Earle will tell you that he’s an outsider in country music, despite a wildly successful career—including a stop at Stagecoach on Friday, April 24.

At the age of 14, he ran away from home while in San Antonio, Texas, so he could follow his idol, Townes Van Zandt. In 1974, he moved to Nashville, where he began writing songs and playing bass for Guy Clark. He joined the music publishing company Dea and Carter and wrote hit songs for Johnny Lee and Carl Perkins. Eventually, Earle signed a seven-record deal with MCA Records. His Copperhead Road included a single, with the same name, about the Vietnam War; it would go on to be one of his biggest hits. Politics, broken relationships and historical perspectives are all common themes in Earle’s records, and he’s known for his left-wing political stances.

During a recent phone interview from Nashville, where he was rehearsing for his tour, he explained why he feels like an outsider in country music—which is one reason why he currently resides in New York City.

“My move to New York was because I needed Major League Baseball and live theater,” Earle said. “I also needed to be able to open my door, walk down the street and see a mixed-race same-sex couple holding hands and not be afraid, even as white and heterosexual as I am.

“Things have been pretty scary for the past few years or so. I still have my house in Nashville, and I’m standing in it right now, so I still have a presence here. I haven’t been played on country radio in a long, long time. There are a few bands that come from more of a bluegrass world that I share bills with all the time, but the mainstream country acts—I don’t even know who half of them are anymore.”

Before the Dixie Chicks were speaking out against George W. Bush, Steve Earle recorded albums that included protest anthems. Jerusalem in 2002 included a song called “John Walker’s Blues,” in reference to John Walker Lindh, an American national who was sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaida. In 2004, he released The Revolution Starts Now, which included “Rich Man’s War.” The album earned him a Grammy.

Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts Now are pretty much the same record. Jerusalem was my immediate post-Sept. 11 reaction,” he said. “I won my first Grammy for The Revolution Starts Now.

“I don’t expect everybody to be political. I was raised in an era where it was just what you did, and all of your songs can’t be about girls, even though I write more songs about girls than anything else, but I write about what’s going around me, and that was a pretty big thing going on around me at the time. I grew up during a war that was always on television, and before it was over with, I was almost drafted, but I wasn’t, because my lottery was the one that didn’t happen. I thought it was dangerous and more of the same. You have to be able to write a political song that isn’t just beating people over the head.”

While his songs are often controversial, they are always thought-provoking.

“People don’t care what I think; they care about what we have in common,” he said. “Sometimes, I have people who come up to me and say, ‘You changed my mind because of the songs you write,’ and that’s pretty fucking gratifying and worth any risks. I probably could have made much more money if I would have kept my mouth shut, but I’m completely OK with it. … I make plenty of money, and you can only spend so much. In my experience, ex-wives and lawyers get it all, anyway.”

Earle has devoted a lot of time to his stance against the death penalty. His correspondence with a prisoner on death row named Billy Austin became the subject of a song.

“Growing up in Texas, I was living north of Houston and close to Huntsville, where they started executing people again,” Earle said. “People started contacting me because they heard that song. I decided it was important, and it’s a movement that’s grown and gained momentum and is in the national debate again. A lot of people stood together and hung in there a long time ago, and we’re getting less and less willing to kill. The European Union has gotten together and decided we can’t have the lethal injection chemicals anymore.”

I mentioned to Earle that old killing methods such as the firing squad are being brought back as a result of a lack of lethal-injection drugs.

“That’s fucking good, because they’re going to find that harder to do. I witnessed an execution by lethal injection, and it looks painful to me. He didn’t move much, but he jolted hard enough on the first chemical that it knocked his glasses off. It’s suffocating people to death and collapsing your lungs. It’s got to hurt, man. I had 11 guys who I corresponded with, and five of them were in Texas, and I knew people who worked in that prison system. They had to quit because they couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

In 2011, Earle released his first novel, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. The story features Hank Williams (and shares the name of a song of his) and centers on a morphine-addicted doctor who has lost his license and is performing back alley abortions around the time of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“It took a look time for me, because I had never done it before,” Earle said about his novel. “It was just historical interest in Hank Williams and that story about the guy traveling with him when he died that wasn’t really a doctor. I already had this idea of why a real doctor would do that and would claim to be able to treat alcoholics with a drug like that. I was there at the airport when Kennedy landed the day before he was assassinated; I was 8 years old. My father was an air-traffic controller, and he called my mother and said, ‘Get Steve out of school and bring him down here. because President Kennedy is going to land at 1 o’clock,’ so we went. It’s about Roe v. Wade; it’s about the Kennedy assassination; and it’s about Hank Williams, and all those things interest me.”

Earle released his latest album, Terraplane back in February. Per usual, it rocketed up the Billboard charts, reaching No. 3 on the Country chart and No. 39 on the Billboard 200—even without the help of mainstream country radio. He explained his approach to Terraplane and his desire to venture into the blues.

“I’ve never written blues songs before, and it’s sort of a challenge to write something sometimes as you get older and you’ve covered a lot of territory. The best way I can explain it is it’s like you’ve been coloring with a 32-color box of crayons, and you limit yourself to 8. There’s a jolt that comes from that, and you have to work a little harder. That’s what working within a relatively limited format like the blues feels like.”

In 2013, Earle’s son, Justin Townes Earle, played Stagecoach; this will be the first Stagecoach appearance for Steve Earle. He said it’s been something he’s been meaning to do for a while.

“We’ve been looking forward to it. I’ve never played that festival before, so I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “There are some people in my audience I have something in common with, and Justin is one of those people, even though Justin likes to think the audience he has is completely different than mine. They overlap a lot more than he’d like to admit. We got an offer last year, and we were already committed to Australia. We always go to Australia in April, and next year in April, I’ll be in Australia again.”

Published in Previews

While the 2015 Stagecoach headliners are larger than life, there are a lot of other acts you should include in your schedule. Here are our suggestions.


Friday, April 24

Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys

It’s always a good thing to hear the upright bass and banjo at Stagecoach. Featuring singer-songwriter Lindsay Lou, this folk group has a beautiful sound—and Lindsay Lou can sing.

The Lone Bellow

These days, the term “alt-country” is (over-) used to describe country music that doesn’t fall in with the mainstream. Well, The Lone Bellow is often described as an alt-country band, so take that for what it’s worth. Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., this group has some great tunes that are heartfelt—and isn’t afraid to rock.

Steve Earle

Sugarland wrote a song called “Steve Earle” for a reason: The chorus goes “Steve Earle, Steve Earle, please write a song for me.” He’s one of the best songwriters in country music; heck, he’s even written a novel. He’s also a sensible lad who has written a lot of politically themed songs championing left-wing causes. (Check out our interview with him next week here at CVIndependent.com.)

Merle Haggard

The legendary Merle Haggard is one of the champions of the Bakersfield sound—and he has quite an extensive history that includes a stint in prison, making him a true outlaw. While Haggard has written some tunes that have angered some people, such as “Okie From Muskogee,” he’s still mentioned in the same breath as Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Willie Nelson.


Saturday, April 25

Old Salt Union

There’s a touch of bluegrass in this group’s acoustic rock sound. In fact, Old Salt Union was named the Best Bluegrass Band by St. Louis’ Riverfront Times, and the band has toured all across the country. Show up early to take these guys in.

The Cadillac Three

If you’re looking for some Southern rock, The Cadillac Three are your band. The group has even recorded with Dierks Bentley (who is also performing). These guys have a dirty Southern sound that would make Lynyrd Skynyrd proud; listen to their song “I’m Southern.”

ZZ Top

I last saw ZZ Top about 15 years ago when I was living in Cleveland—and I left disappointed. Here’s hoping they’ll put on an epic show at Stagecoach. The beards of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill are legendary, and the group reportedly refused millions of dollars from Gillette to shave them. They remarked: “We’d look ugly without them.”


Sunday, April 26

Ben Miller Band

Confession: I’ve been fruitlessly hoping that The Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band would be booked at Stagecoach for the past couple of years—but the Ben Miller Band is not a bad consolation prize. Both groups excel with washboards, spoons and a vintage blues sound. These guys should bring the house down on Sunday.

Oak Ridge Boys

In 2013, I had the honor of interviewing Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys. These guys have stayed relevant for four decades, making great music throughout their career. This is one of the vintage country acts you need to see at Stagecoach.

The Band Perry

The Band Perry, likely to appear on the main stage, is excellent. The group has some hints of bluegrass with a Nashville sound. This family act features Kimberly Perry on vocals—and she has earned her stripes as a powerful voice in Nashville.

Published in Previews

The Devil Makes Three is used to being “the odd band out”—yet that has not stopped the band from enjoying a lot of success since its founding in 2002.

After touring with big names such as Willie Nelson, and playing at festivals such as Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, the band will be sharing its folk-bluegrass sound with the crowd at Stagecoach on Saturday, April 25.

The Devil Makes Three’s members—Pete Bernhard (vocals, guitar), Lucia Turino (upright bass) and Cooper McBean (banjo, guitar)—originally hail from Brattleboro, Vt. During a recent phone interview, Bernhard talked about the band’s name.

“To be honest, it was just sort of convenient, because there were three of us,” Bernhard said. “When we first started the band, we were all arguing over what the name should be, and no one could agree—and we had already recorded our first album. We were really needing to put the album out, and we didn’t have a band name. A friend of ours suggested it, and it instantly sounded like it was the right thing. Everybody simultaneously agreed—which is really rare in a band—and we went with it.”

While they call Vermont home, the members all eventually made their way to California.

“We all moved out West separately,” Bernhard said. “Cooper went to Olympia, Wash. I went to Northern California, and we all started gravitating toward Santa Cruz, eventually. I think when we were kids in Vermont, we thought California was about as far away from home as you could get—and that was just really appealing to us. We all sort of fell in love with Santa Cruz, and that’s where we eventually started the band, and where we lived.”

The Devil Makes Three’s music often features storytelling and dark themes.

“Most of the songs are inspired by things that have actually happened,” Bernhard said. “Occasionally, I write a song that’s a character-driven song, which is almost like writing fiction. Most of the time, it’s stories of people I know, or songs about political events or satire. I just try to write a song that makes sense, and not to write a song that’s typical with the sound of the music we make, which is very old.”

The band has had success—including a series of Top 10 albums on the bluegrass chart—and it’s come, in part, because the band often plays to audiences that are not used to their type of music.

“We’re almost always the odd band out,” Bernhard said. “We’ve played with all kinds of different bands. We’ve played with punk bands; we’ve played with rock bands; we’ve played with experimental bands, and straightforward country acts and folk acts. No matter what, we tend to always never fit in. It’s just sort of the nature of our group, and when we first started the band, it made things really hard for us—but now, I think of it as a positive attribute. Being a band that is hard to define is a good thing.”

The Devil Makes Three’s newest album, I’m a Stranger Here, released by New West Records, has been the band’s most successful. Produced by Buddy Miller, the album was recorded at Easy Eye in Nashville, a studio owned by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.

“This album was the first album we ever worked on with a producer,” Bernhard said. “… We also put a lot of extra instrumentation on the album that we usually don’t do, so that was very different. The process of songwriting was partially in the hands of Buddy Miller as well. It was about as different of an approach as we could get compared to our previous albums.”

Bernhard said Auerbach’s studio is basic—in a good way.

“It’s a very simple studio,” he said. “It’s one live tracking room that’s fairly big, and it’s sort of a low concrete building. It has a lounge and a control room—and that’s really about it. It really lends itself to recording. There’s no isolation like in other studios, where there’s a room for the drums, a room for vocals, and a room for a guitar amps. His studio has nothing like that at all. It’s like the Sun Records studio and those old studios that were two-track recording studios, so basically everything had to be live.”

The simple, live approach works well for the Devil Makes Three.

“We always play live in the studio,” he said. “We’re definitely happy after making the last record with Buddy—that was his approach, too. He was like, ‘We all play together, and we try to get the best take.’ That’s what you hear on the album. His approach was to get not nitpicky, and he told us, ‘When we have the best take, that’s what goes on the record.’ That’s really how we like to do it. We’re a band that needs to play together at the same time to sound good. That’s the approach we’ll take on future albums as well, and that’s the best.”

After more than a decade with the Devil Makes Three, Bernhard said he has no regrets.

“I think for us, most of our tough times came early on,” he said. “We really struggled for a lot of years with a lot of hard touring and no money. That can be hard and really tough. We were also in our early 20s, and that brings another host of problems. We were just young and didn’t really know what we were doing.

“Even though it’s taken us a really long time to get where we are now, I don’t think I would do it another way. We’ve had a chance to learn how to be in a band before we were a big enough band to where it was necessary to know it all.”

Published in Previews

Rachel Maddow once said via Twitter: “If the American music business made any sense, guys like John Moreland would be household names.”

Well, the singer-songwriter isn’t a household name—yet. He may be on his way, though, considering the fact that his music has been featured on Sons of Anarchy, and he’s performing at Stagecoach on Saturday, April 25.

John Moreland has spent most of his life in Tulsa, Okla. He was singing and writing songs by the age of 10, and fronted hardcore punk bands in high school.

“When I was about 12 or so, the first music I found that was on my own was punk rock,” Moreland, 29, said during a recent phone interview. “I loved Minor Threat, and I loved a lot of D.C. hardcore and ’80s hardcore, but I’ve been through every punk rock phase. I went through the Social Distortion phase; I went through the Rancid phase. I think I might still be in my Social Distortion phase, actually. When I was a little bit older, I learned more toward hardcore and metal, and East Coast DIY hardcore.”

He later burned out on hardcore punk, and returned to the music he grew up with—his father’s record collection, which included Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young, Steve Earle and Tom Petty.

“I was really interested in melody, which you don’t really get in hardcore—just the way that lyrics can impact you when you hear the right words with the right melody, and all the words are in the right place,” he said. “… My dad listened to the Copperhead Road album, so I sort of knew who Steve Earle was, but when I heard ‘Rich Man’s War’ on The Revolution Starts Now, it was eye-opening, because I was used to hearing anti-war messages and political messages from punk bands, but it had never really seemed personal and hit me that hard until I heard that particular song.”

What makes a good song, according to John Moreland?

“If it feels good, it’s a good song, I guess,” he said. “I go back and forth on which ones to keep, which ones are going to make the record, and which ones will get wrapped. It comes down to if something feels really good when I sing it, I’m going to keep it. I’m always kind of self-conscious that I’m writing about the same stuff over and over again, but writing songs is just sort of how I sort out my thoughts and deal with stuff.”

I asked him about the hardest gig he’s ever had; Moreland responded that there are numerous contenders.

“I’ve had a lot of really tough ones, but I don’t have those as often anymore, which is really cool,” he said. “Any gig where you can finish a song and nobody claps or anything, those are pretty rough.”

Moreland said playing music in Oklahoma, on the other hand, isn’t as hard as some people may think it is.

“It’s actually pretty good,” he said. “Oklahoma has a lot of good music, and the thing that can be tough is there are a lot of gigs to be had. … You can always play some town festival or some shithole bar in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, they’ll pay you pretty good, because they don’t know what is what, and they think that’s the going rate for a band—but those are pretty soul-sucking gigs, usually. Finding the good spots takes some trial and error, but there’s some cool stuff going on here in Oklahoma.”

Moreland said touring has become routine to him; after all, he’s been doing it since he was a teen.

“I toured a lot in hardcore bands when I was a kid. It definitely opened my eyes and provided new experiences back then,” he said. “It’s still really exciting, but I’m much more like an old man about it now—I play the show and go to bed early.”

Published in Previews

It was two years ago this month that the first print edition of the Independent hit the streets of the Coachella Valley—three months after the “official” launch of CVIndependent.com.

Through 28 months of online publication and 21 print editions (two quarterlies and 19 monthlies, if you’re keeping score) so far, we’ve constantly strived to be a true alternative publication—in other words, cover topics that have gotten short shrift in the other local media.

One of those topics was music. Since Day 1, we’ve made an effort to cover as wide of a variety of music as possible—and I am proud of how we’ve done. This brings us to the topic of our second annual Music Issue, which is hitting streets this week. Some of the Music Issue stories have already been posted at CVIndependent.com; the remainder will be posted soon. We have a total of 10 stories previewing acts who will be performing at Coachella or Stagecoach, plus tons of other great music coverage.

Another undercovered topic we’ve been tackling: Issues in the East Valley. I am proud to say you can find two features that focus on the East Valley in this month’s print edition. Kevin Fitzgerald brings us the story of Agua4All, an effort to bring safe drinking water to areas of the eastern Coachella Valley where there has been none; you can read about that at CVIndependent.com on Friday. Also: Brian Blueskye tells the story of Martha’s Village and Kitchen, a fantastic nonprofit in Indio that’s celebrating its 25th anniversary of helping the valley’s homeless.

Finally, I want to mention something we won’t be covering. Yet another topic that’s been undercovered in the valley is theater. For two years now, we’ve made every effort to ethically and fairly review all local productions that run for more than one week—and we’ve done just that.

However, at least for now, we won’t be reviewing Desert Theatreworks shows. After a review of the company’s production of Lost in Yonkers, company management stopped granting us review tickets. It’s worth noting that although Desert Theatreworks’ management took the time to berate the reviewer after the review was published, emails and a phone call from me to discuss the matter went unreturned.

Desert Theatreworks is now the second local company to do this; Palm Canyon Theatre has been denying the Independent review tickets for more than a year now.

The truth hurts sometimes, eh?

Published in Editor's Note

During the 1960s, rock ’n’ roll—and, specifically, the British Invasion—took the world by storm. One of the big British Invasion bands was the Animals, led by Eric Burdon. Burdon not too long ago released a new album, ’Til Your River Runs Dry, and the Animals will be appearing at Stagecoach on Sunday, April 26. For more information, visit www.ericburdon.com or www.facebook.com/officialericburdon. Here are his answers to the Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

Count Basie, with Joe Williams on vocals.

What was the first album you owned?

The Boss of the Blues, Joe Turner.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Calexico is constantly on my iPod. Eric Bibb, Ben Harper, Michael Jerome Browne and, of course, all the usual suspects: Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Little Richard, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Nina Simone, among many others.

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

Honestly, I can’t think of any artist everyone loves. Genre? I do get the artist’s need to express himself or herself, whether it’s punk, hip hop, country, rock or blues. It’s all valid.

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

Little Richard, with his original band.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

The Hot Spot movie soundtrack, featuring John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis and Taj Mahal. Also: The soundtrack for the film Underground (1995) by Emir Kusturica.

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Olympia in Paris, and The Fabrik in Hamburg, among others.

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

“The Road Is Dark,” Michael Jerome Browne.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Nina Simone. The truth is that she scared a lot of people, but she embraced me as a young artist. Her strong personality and voice inspired me musically.

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

“Do you understand dynamics?”—to ANY musician out there.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

The Neville Brothers version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

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

Ray Charles at Newport, Ray Charles.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“I Don’t Believe a Word You Say,” Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

The final day of Stagecoach on Sunday, April 27, closed out three weekends of Coachella/Stagecoach awesomeness with more great music—and a notable dud as well.

Kicking things off, on the Palomino Stage, was I See Hawks in L.A., a band with a traditional country-music sound that hearkens back to the late ’60s and early ’70s. Frontman Rob Waller has a voice that is similar to that of the late Waylon Jennings; the lap-steel guitar and harmonies felt like a throwback to the legacy era of country music.

When I recently interviewed Shelly Colvin, she spoke about the influence of Emmylou Harris, and explained how being raised in a Southern Baptist household tinged her music. Her performance on Sunday afternoon certainly showed those influences: Gospel music and a rustic country sound were mixed with Colvin’s stunning vocals. She didn’t sing any of her songs like she sang them on her debut album.

Bangles member Susanna Hoffs took the Mustang Stage after Colvin. She performed the Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum” and followed with the Bangles’ “Manic Monday” early in her set. While she is primarily known for her pop/rock sound, her set did have a country feel. She was an interesting addition to the Stagecoach lineup.

People who were lucky enough to be inside the Palomino tent around 3 p.m. were blown away by Shovels and Rope. The duo—consisting of Cary Ann Hearst and her husband, Michael Trent—is like a country-Americana version of the White Stripes. Hearst’s voice is beautiful, yet gritty and powerful when it needs to be. They played both acoustic and electric, and switched positions between guitar and drums. Their performance was the most interesting and entertaining of all the sets I saw at Stagecoach, thanks in part to their excellent energy and stage presence.

Wanda Jackson a highlight of the late afternoon. She explained during her set that she’d undergone shoulder surgery about three weeks ago—around the same time she was added to the Stagecoach lineup. She opened her set with “Riot In Cell Block No. 9”—which, simply put, was awesome. She said the dust in the air was causing her some problems, yet her voice was incredible. She went through hits such as “Funnel of Love” and “I Betcha My Heart I Love You,” and talked about her relationship with Elvis Presley in the mid-’50s. She said he gave her a diamond ring before he became wealthy, and that she had the ring checked out; the diamonds were indeed real. In a nice bit of showmanship, she performed a cover of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” after the story. One interesting moment came when she talked about a Sunday afternoon in 1971 when she was sitting in a church in Oklahoma and realized she had everything she needed—except for a relationship with Jesus Christ. She followed with the gospel song “I Saw the Light.” She closed out her set with a cover of the song that made Jerry Lee Lewis famous, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On.”

Michael Nesmith of the Monkees followed Wanda Jackson on the Palomino Stage—about 10 minutes late. Wearing a white sport jacket, he told the crowd that he was only going to perform songs that he had written personally—which led to a good number of people leaving from his already somewhat-dismal crowd. His performance of songs from his solo records in the ’70s didn’t impress, and neither did his showmanship; he basically made hand gestures and sang lyrics from the iPad attached to his microphone. He ended his performance by saying: “I’M SO OUTTA HERE! GOODNIGHT!”

There was one positive outcome to Nesmith’s performance: He cleared out plenty of space for people to get good spots to see John Prine, who closed out the Palomino by opening with “Spanish Pipedream.” Prine recently had lung surgery, yet he still managed to sing well. He didn’t socialize much with the crowd, and instead let the music do most of the talking. After performing “Six-O’Clock News,” he told the audience, “I hope it wasn’t too loud for you,” which got some laughs, considering the song’s slow pace. Highlights of his set were “Iron Ore Betty,” and “Lake Marie.” After a brief encore, he returned to perform a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Paradise,” which was a perfect way to close out the Palomino for Stagecoach 2014.

Before headliner Luke Bryan took the Mane Stage to close out the festival, the lights went dark as a video played of him lighting the end of an arrow on fire and shooting it with a crossbow. The stage then had a trail of fire as Luke Bryan blasted into his opening number, “That’s My Kind of Night.” Bryan had the largest of crowd of any Stagecoach 2014 headliner, with few people leaving during his performance.

And with that, Stagecoach 2014 was a wrap.

Scroll down to see a photo gallery.

Published in Reviews

The winds were up and the temps were down during Day 2 of Stagecoach 2014—but the music was spectacular.

Former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson kicked off the day on the Mustang Stage. Watson’s set was a prime example of the diversity offered at Stagecoach when attendees get away from the Mane Stage area. Watson offered a traditional sound, switching between banjo and guitar. His one-man folk act was impressive.

The Spirit Family Reunion appeared on the Mustang Stage mid-afternoon. The America band has appeared on NPR and has earned write-ups from various Americana-related publications—and the group is certainly worthy. With a sound similar to that of the Felice Brothers (minus the accordion), Spirit Family Reunion had crowd members dancing and clapping along. “Mainstream” country music is becoming more diverse with bands such as this gaining an audience, and the modern sound—mixed with a traditional, rustic approach—of Spirit Family Reunion was a real delight for those who caught the band.

Former Drive-By Truckers guitarist Jason Isbell appeared on the Palomino Stage late in the afternoon. He’s spoken in detail about his drug battles and the fact that he does not remember much about portions of his tenure with Drive-By Truckers, but his songwriting skills and sound were very similar to the work turned in by Drive-By Truckers—if not better. He questioned whether or not he was “country” during his performance; he certainly had a heavy Southern-rock sound, and he gained quite an audience.

Don McLean’s early-evening show on the Palomino Stage was not to be missed. The “American Pie” songwriter started off with a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue Got Married,” and followed with his song about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, “Jerusalem.” McLean had about half of the Palomino tent full, with multiple generations of festival-goers enjoying the show. One of the more interesting moments of his set was his cover of Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues,” which was given a country tinge thanks in part to piano. McLean explained to the audience he was an “accidental hit songwriter,” and was more of a performer who liked to interpret other people’s songs—a fact he showed by performing Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts.” Of course, when he began to perform the opening lines of  “American Pie,” more and more people ran into the Palomino Stage and began to cheer. While McLean’s performance was awesome, it was a shame that the crowd he gained while performing “American Pie” wasn’t there to hear him sing “Cocaine Blues.”

Crystal Gayle followed Don McLean with a set featuring hints of Leonard Cohen, Dionne Warwick, Sade and, of course, her traditional country sound. Her covers of Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days” and “Lean on Me,” and her performance of “Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” were all exciting and beautifully performed.

If there was a spectacle to be seen during Stagecoach’s Day 2, it was in the photo pit during Trampled by Turtles’ show. Independent contributor Kevin Fitzgerald told me that Ashton Kutcher was in the photo pit drinking, dancing and partying with some girls. As for Trampled by Turtles, the band's sound—complete with violin, cello and mandolin played at a fast pace—came across as true bluegrass with a modern spin; much of the crowd was into it from the very first note. The band gave a solid performance to close out the day’s proceedings on the Mustage Stage.

Back in the Palomino, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band closed out the night. Early in their set, the band played “Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble to Me” and “My Walking Shoes.” Before playing one of the band's biggest hits, “Dance Little Jean,” frontman Jeff Hanna explained that the four members had been married 10 times between them, and that they “worked hard for their divorces.” Also mentioned was how the band wrote “Working Man (Nowhere to Go)”: It was inspired by their friend Willie Nelson and Farm Aid.

Despite being from Southern California, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is one of country music’s ongoing gems. The band’s performance—which took place before Hunter Hayes and Jason Aldean had the entire festival to themselves on the Mane Stage—was the day’s highlight for many.

A Note on Handicap Access

Last year, I wrote about the fantastic experience I had with Goldenvoice and its ADA Access Center, which helps handicapped people enjoy the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals.

Unfortunately, my experience this year has been nowhere near fantastic. In fact, it’s been quite bad.

ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) ramps in the Mustang and Palomino tents were left without security on Friday and Saturday. As a result, many of the chairs were removed from the ADA platforms by festival-goers and left scattered through both tents. Therefore, many of those who were in need of seating, as well as companions assisting people in wheelchairs, were left without chairs on Friday night during shows by Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

There were also numerous people on the platforms who did not have an ADA wristband.

When I raised these issues with the ADA department on Friday evening, the people there seemed unaware that the platforms were without security, and said they would look into the issue. However, the situation was the same on Saturday.

As for the attitude of some of the festivalgoers who took chairs from the platforms for themselves? I questioned one such person on Saturday afternoon.

The response I received: “Who gives a shit? They’re handicapped!” 

Published in Reviews

Wind, a threat of late rain and cooler-than-normal temps didn’t dissuade the cowboy-boot-and-cowboy-hat crowd from reveling at the Empire Polo Club in Indio on Friday, April 25, during Day 1 of Stagecoach 2014.

Attendees were let into the merchandise-booth and lobby areas a bit early, but access to the stages was blocked off until noon sharp—when the gates opened, and the theme to The Benny Hill Show, “Yakety Sax,” played as everyone ran toward the Mane Stage to set up chairs and blankets.

At 1 p.m., The Wild Feathers had the honor of kicking it all off, on the Palomino Stage. The small crowd was blown away—and perhaps a bit uncomfortable—during the blasting Southern-rock sound of the first two numbers. However, when the band moved on to its honky-tonk-style material and California-inspired country sound, its became a crowd hit.

“It was beautiful,” The Wild Feathers’ Joel King said. “We toured all throughout the winter in the bad weather, so it was nice to get out here in the desert, and Stagecoach is cool, because it’s going back to the roots, and the whole vibe of the festival is real nice. The people are great here.”

It wasn’t long after that JD McPherson took the Palomino Stage. When he spoke to the Independent before Stagecoach, he discussed his ’50s rock ’n’ roll sound—with a hint of country—and how it had worked at various country festivals he had played in the past. Well, it definitely worked at Stagecoach. While some in the sizable crowd didn’t know what to make of his music, which sounded tailor-made for a ’50s sock hop, many of the older attendees were dancing happily.

As late afternoon approached, Shakey Graves appeared on the Palomino Stage. He first took the stage as a one-man act, with a setup that involved a kick drum he used to keep the beat as he sang. Eventually, he was joined by a drummer and a backing guitarist. His performance was unique in the sense that it bordered on folk music combined with the blues. His songs came off as deep, and he attracted a bigger crowd than previous acts; he held the crowd for his entire 40-minute performance.

When Shelby Lynne stepped onto the Palomino Stage in the early evening, some seasoned Stagecoach attendees thought back to 2008, when she broke down while performing and walked off the stage. Thankfully, she was in a much better place on Friday: She came out happy and ready to perform. Her band was tight, and the bass player had some nice grooves going on. It was a pleasure to see her at Stagecoach again; her voice was top-notch.

In the nearby Mustang tent, it was all about the harmonies when The Wailin’ Jennys walked onto the stage and sang a beautiful number a cappella. “If anyone came in here to catch Waylon Jennings, we apologize,” frontwoman Ruth Moody told the audience. Their harmonies and folk sound were captivating and perfect.

Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers showed up on the Palomino Stage as the sun was setting. They performed a much-anticipated set at Stagecoach last year, and this year’s set was similarly anticipated—and similarly performed. The Forest Rangers played the Sons of Anarchy theme song, and when Sagal came out, she was given a loud ovation. Her performances included Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Free Fallin’,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and lead vocals on The Band’s “The Weight.” The best performance by the Forest Rangers was a cover of Ziggy Marley’s “Love Is My Religion.”

Following Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers, Lynyrd Skynyrd closed out the Palomino Stage for the night. The crowd size—both inside and outside—was equal to the crowd sizes that Skrillex and Fatboy Slim had in the same tent last week at Coachella. Opening up with “Workin’ for MCA,” Skynyrd was all about the classics, following with “I Ain’t the One” and “Call Me the Breeze.” The late Billy Powell and the late Leon Wilkeson—two of the three founding members who were in the band after it reunited—were missed, but their spirits seemed to be present. Lead singer Johnny Van Zant commented that the band was now made up of three Southerners (one of whom is the only remaining founding member, Gary Rossington), three Yankees and one American Indian (guitarist Rickey Medlocke). After an amazing performance of ballads “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man,” Johnny Van Zant announced that he didn’t believe in set times, which is why the band decided to extend the set for “Gimmie Three Steps,” and an encore that included “Sweet Home Alabama” and, of course, “Free Bird.”

Eric Church closed out Friday on the Mane Stage. Throughout the day, I noticed some people wearing shirts that said “ERIC FU*KING CHURCH” on them; it turns out they were being sold in the merchandise booth and were a huge hit among festival-goers. Church has been known for his anti-establishment ways, which hasn’t pleased a lot of mainstream Nashville music execs. Despite the wind and the chilly temperature, fans stuck around. When Church opened up with “That’s Damn Rock and Roll,” he was giving the audience the bird. The band members who back Eric Church look like they could be metal musicians, and his amps were decorated in skulls. It was definitely a wild show for a mainstream Nashville star—and it appears Eric Church won’t be toning down his act any time soon.

Scroll down to see a photo gallery.

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Shelly Colvin is a natural performer; in fact, she has been performing since the age of 4, and she’ll be bringing her blend of Southern rock and folk music to Stagecoach on Sunday, April 27.

Shelly Colvin grew up in Huntsville, Ala., and her father was a Baptist minister of music. She was singing gospel songs in church before she even started school. Her mother and grandmother were her music teachers, and she even sang in a trio with her parents, touring churches throughout Alabama.

“I was singing in church; I was singing in plays; and I was real active in the community theatre,” Colvin said during a recent phone interview. “It was always a part of my childhood, but there was a period of time when I was in college where I wasn’t really performing much, and I just wanted to be with my friends. It’s always been something I’ve just come back to.”

When I asked her what growing up as the daughter of a Baptist minister was like, she joked, “How much time do you have?"

“It was great. My parents are amazing people,” Colvin continued. “I feel like it prepared me to be a very well-rounded person. He was a minister in a small country church in rural Alabama. It was very rural, and we lived in the city, and I went to city schools. I was around of a lot of different groups of people, and it was really helpful being around people in the country and city-folk. It prepared me for a lot of things and gave me some salvation, for sure.”

She also said her parents were not as strict as people may assume. “They were very open-minded people. … They were OK with me listening to rock ’n’ roll on occasion. They weren’t too overbearing with rules.”

While gospel music was a major influence on Colvin, other unique influences can be heard in her music.

“The Louvin Brothers were a huge influence for me early on,” Colvin said. “They were from Alabama, and I think listening to their records helped me learn how to sing harmony. I definitely gravitated toward the sound in that music. I feel like they were in the house all the time. I also listened to all the bluegrass players and a lot of country artists: I listened to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.”

She elaborated on how Emmylou Harris has influenced her. Her sound has been compared to the cosmic-country sound that Emmylou Harris was part of with the late Gram Parsons. She cited ’60s folk-rock groups as a big influence.

“I’m a huge fan of those artists,” Colvin said. “I think The Byrds were one of the biggest influences on our music today. Emmylou is for sure a big influence of mine. I’m sitting here with my little Yorkie, who is named after Emmylou.”

Her debut album, Up the Hickory Down the Pine, included the track “Pocket Change,” which has brought her some attention. She said producer Ken Coomer, formerly the drummer of Uncle Tupelo, deserves a lot of credit.

“It was a lot of fun,” Colvin said. “Working with Ken Coomer on that record, he’s such a great player. ‘Pocket Change’ is a little bit of a bar song; it’s an up-tempo kind of a vibe. (Ken) heard that and just spoke out and said, ‘I think we can make this a really big John Bonham kind of vibe on the drums.’ We recorded it, tracked it, and I needed a roots element to really ground it.”

Shelly Colvin made a promise to Stagecoach attendees.

“It’s going to be one hell of a band, I’ll tell you that. We’re going to soak up any minute of time that we have,” Colvin said. “When I play, I don’t like to play the song as it is on the record, so there will be some surprises. We’ll extend the songs and have a lot of fun.”

Published in Previews

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