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The 12th iteration of Stagecoach kicked off Friday—and festival attendees had one less stage to enjoy than they’ve had in previous years.

The Mustang Tent—which hosted many bluegrass, folk and alt-country bands over the years—is gone. There are now only two stages with music going at any given time, and the alt-country, bluegrass, folk and classic-country acts have been scaled way back. The Mane Stage opens later in the day (the SiriusXM Spotlight stage fills the gap before 4 p.m.), and the Palomino Tent is smaller. Considering previous Palomino headliners like the late Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd drew crowds that could fill the current Palomino Tent way beyond capacity, this may or may not have been a good decision.

Does this mean Stagecoach is no longer any good? No, it doesn’t; Stagecoach on Friday was still a fantastic time—even if some of the cutbacks, leading to a less-diverse set of acts, were disappointing.

I primarily hung around the Palomino Tent on Friday. Here are some highlights:

• Banditos started things off in the Palomino on Friday afternoon. The Birmingham, Ala., outfit known for mixing things up with Southern rock, garage rock and bluegrass—with a touch of psychedelia—was a hit for the early-afternoon crowd. Vocalist Mary Beth Richardson had a Bohemian look, and her singing was top-notch. Considering this band once played 600 shows over three years, the members know each other—and it shows.

• Joshua Hedley most likely felt the high temperatures as he stepped onstage in a green suit, embroidered with a tiger and an alligator. Some fans in the crowd were shouting “JOSHUA!” in between songs, to which Hedley replied: “That’s my name; don’t wear it out. I know you are, but what am I?” Hedley just released his first album, Mr. Jukebox—and his Stagecoach performance was an epic celebration.

• The queen of outlaw country, Tanya Tucker, took the stage decked out in what appeared to be white denim with a white Ralph Lauren American flag T-shirt. She came out with swagger and a rather catchy intro before singing “Some Kind of Trouble.” Tucker played to a packed house; even Guy Fieri came down from flavor town to witness Tucker’s set and was shown on the video screen in the crowd. Tucker noted that she had years of hits and not very much time to perform them all—but she did well during her 45-minute set, and even played a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

• When Molly Hatchet took the Palomino stage on Friday evening, the band made the audience sit through Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” before a rather dramatic classical choir intro—complete with sounds of thunder. Sadly, things went downhill from there: Singer Phil McCormack didn’t seem to be on top of his game, and his vocals didn’t come through well over guitarist Bobby Ingram and bassist Tim Lindsey. People began leaving shortly after the performance began—leading to a sparse crowd later on.

Check out some photos from Day 1 below, by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

When you hear the word “Banditos,” perhaps you think of the Frito Bandito. Or maybe you think of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club.

However, you really should be thinking of an awesome rock ’n’ roll band—because that’s exactly what the Birmingham, Ala., six-piece is. See for yourself when Banditos play at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival on Friday, April 27.

I was blown away by how many different things I heard in the sound when I listened to Banditos’ self-titled record from 2015. You hear the Rolling Stones in slower songs, ’60s rock with a kick in the ass on others—and all the songs have an Americana/outlaw country vibe, including banjos. The band’s newest release, last year’s Visionland, sounds as if the members were channeling Ty Segall and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

During a recent phone interview, vocalist and banjo player Stephen Pierce said the band’s varying styles provide a lot of great songwriting opportunities—and fun recording sessions.

“I think it makes it easier at the end of the day, especially with having different influences,” Pierce said. “We all kind of have the same influences, too, which makes it all over the place. One of us will say, ‘I want to do a boogie kind of thing,’ or, ‘I want to do a Bobby Darin smoother kind of jam.’ We all kind of get the same language that we’re speaking when we don’t really have the right words to say to each other, and we just come up with abstracts--and we know what we’re talking about. I think we’d sound even crazier if we were just one style of music, and only played country or something like that. We’d go insane, and the well would run dry real quick.”

Banditos quickly became known for the band’s marathon of tour dates—600 over three years—before putting out the 2015 self-titled debut.

“It was grueling, but totally fun,” Pierce said. “It was a time when we were rarely home, and we had places we kept our stuff at, but not anything really set up; we didn’t own animals or plants or anything like that. That was just out of the picture. It was a lot of time in the van, a lot of meeting a lot of people—and it was a lot of highway, for sure. It was a lot of hitting places for the first time and being a big question mark, and being surprised, because we had a big team behind us pushing these shows as well. It was great to see the returns we would get. We played the Southeast a ton, and we had gone up through New York and out toward Austin, Texas; those places were really good to us. Colorado and California have been great as well. One of our stronger markets is probably Oakland.”

The band has also had the pleasure of touring Europe.

“It was overwhelming. It was so cool, and people really appreciate this music over there,” Pierce said “We’ve really only been in Scandinavia, but this next European tour we’re going on (this fall) is more spread out through Europe. But as far as Scandinavia goes, they are the most respectful crowds, and everyone is pretty quiet—still rowdy, but quiet when you’re playing. We didn’t feel like we were animals in the zoo; we felt like they were really appreciating this stuff and taking it in. I think they have good taste, for sure. I’m sure we’re interesting to them, being a bunch of Alabama folks getting out there and freaking them out.”

An endorsement from Taco Bell’s “Feed the Beat” campaign helped get the band food while they toured—and also gave the band a little promotion. John and Bridgette Seasons of Haunted Summer also took part in the campaign, and told me that Taco Bell did not make for good band food. Pierce laughed when I told him this.

“I would certainly agree! But we just can’t get away from it,” he said. “You always feel like the dog that got in the trash afterwards and think, ‘Oh, God, why did I do this?’ But it was so good at the time.”

Like many musicians, past and present, the members of Banditos moved to Nashville.

“It was not that hard of a decision. It just was a kind of thing that happened,” Pierce said. “We had been living for a year in Birmingham; we’ve known each other since we were kids, and we were all living in one house. Things got a little too easy in Birmingham. We were comfortable in our home, comfortable in the bars, and we knew everyone in our town. We wanted to have things to do and make it a bit more difficult, to light a fire under our asses. Nashville was the most obvious choice. … It’s been a fantastic move for us.”

Pierce said there is one type of venue where he and his bandmates don’t like to play.

“There have been a few shows in our earlier years when we would play those sit-down dinner kind of places—where you play for three hours, and you’re the band,” he said. “Those felt more difficult to get rolling, because they’re sitting down eating, and you could be anyone up onstage, and they just want noise going on. We haven’t had much of those in the past couple of years, though.”

While Banditos have a “T” in their name, and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club a “D,” the band members are asked quite a bit about the motorcycle club’s feelings about the name.

“We’ve come across a few of (the Bandidos) at shows in El Paso and Laredo, and some in California, too,” Pierce said. “We, for sure, try our damnedest not to act like we’re affiliated with them, because that’s never our intention. But they’ve had a pretty positive response to us and have bought a sticker and a shirt. One guy put one on his bike and was like, ‘THIS IS PRETTY COOL!’ They’ve been pleasant, and we hope to keep our relationship with them that way. We’re definitely not out to step on their toes.”

This will be the first time Banditos are playing at Stagecoach.

“It’s going to be wild,” Pierce said. “We’re really looking forward to it, because we’re huge ’90s country fans, and fans of country music in general. A lot of names on there we’re excited about, for sure. It’d make my world to meet Garth Brooks.”

Published in Previews