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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What a treat, going to my first Stagecoach.

I have many pleasant memories of past Coachella fests, and I was fortunate enough to attend the legendary Desert Trip, so the grounds were familiar to me—but here, they were just a little more country, as the Osmonds like to say.

I saw lots of guys wearing $21.95 straw cowboy hats from a company that makes tractor supplies … and I must confess that I bought one, too, solely for the UV protection. I only spotted one MAGA hat—worn by a college-age lad sporting his finest preppy look. But everyone was friendly and pleasant, even when I bumped into people rushing to the stage.

On Friday, Kane Brown started his 7:30 p.m. set with “Cold Spot”: “It’s 4:30 Friday; I get off at 5. I come into your place, you come into mine. Got a bottle of Jack and cheap red wine; yeah, our own little world. Wanna open ’em up, close all the doors, spin you around on that kitchen floor.”

Brown then pivoted: “This song goes back to the ’60s. Are you ready?” he asked as he introduced “Stand by Me.” He then changed gears again with “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill and “Jump” by Kriss Kross. “Used to Love You Sober,” the 2015 single that helped lead Brown to the Mane Stage, was followed by his wonderful song “Heaven.”

After his set, I moseyed on over to the Honky Tonk Hall—which was incredible. They had me at the ice-cold AC. Dancers two-stepped as DJs pumped tunes by Luke Bryan.

I then moseyed back to the Main Stage to see Luke Bryan himself. Kicking things off with “Country Girl” and a request for him to “shake it”—he obliged on the edge of the stage—Bryan then introduced the audience to the new delish song “Knockin’ Boots.”

Bryan shared fan favorite “All My Friends Say,” adding: “You gotta be kissing upon someone tonight.”

A jubilant Bryan bantered: “Stagecoach, what’s up? Good God, there’s a lot people here. Pace yourself; I don’t know how you drink. Raise your hands if you have to pee right now. … I played with Phil Mickelson today; he whipped my ass.”

A bit later, Bryan asked the audience: “Do you want to do some old-school country music tonight?” before performing a cover of Alabama’s “Mountain Music,” with the heartfelt words, “Oh play me some mountain music, like Grandma and Grandpa used to play. Then I’ll float on down the river to the Cajun hideaway.”

Clearly having fun, Bryan sang “Rain Is a Good Thing,” with those drunken lyrics: “Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky … we hunt our hunnies down; we take them into town.”

Luke’s headlining performance was a great way to end Stagecoach’s first day. As I left the grounds, I observed many fans in apparent physical distress due to their new cowboy boots—but they still had smiles on their faces.


Saturday was another great day—Sam Hunt put on a fine show, but the highlight was arguably Lynyrd Skynyrd’s likely final Stagecoach appearance, which you can read all about here.

On Sunday, Terri Clark informed her Palomino Stage audience: “This is a festival with lots of beer, so if you are not involved now, you will be by the end of the night.”

She continued: “I get letters about this song. A husband made a headboard out of wood with the title of this song,” before performing hit “Now That I Found You.”

Illness-related cancellations by Mark Chesnutt on the Palomino Stage and Jordan Davis on the Mane Stage led to some schedule changes. Danielle Bradbery moved into Jordan Davis’ time slot—and she wound up being one of the weekend’s highlights. Just 22, she dominated the Mane Stage with her magnetism and vocal talent. “Red Wine + White Couch” was fantastic, as was her cover of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.

Whitey Morgan personified the music your grandpa or grandma would play back in the golden age of country. Stage props included an old Valvoline oil can—and I suspect the gents on the stage were very capable of changing their own oil.

I ran over to see Lauren Alaina on the Mane Stage; she has a popish country sound and is an incredible performer—still true to her country roots.

Oh … and then there was Tom Jones performing on the Palomino Stage. As I walked over, two women sitting on a planter asked me to their picture. They said they saw Tom Jones back when they were 19, a few decades ago.

I was worried about going into the photo pit and suffering a possible injury caused by thrown undergarments—but this was Jones’ gospel-musical act, and fans restrained themselves. After talking about singing with Elvis, he sang Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” He has not lost his touch; the women in the audience were all eyes and ears as his voice launched musical love arrows with his original song “Sex Bomb.”

Old Dominion was awesome on the Mane Stage, featuring popular songs such as “Be With Me, “Hotel Key” and “Not Everything’s About You.”

Jason Aldean headlined on Sunday, to a sea of people in every direction. His set included “Rearview Town,” released as a single earlier this year. He also sang my favorite song of his, “Any Ol’ Barstool,” from his seventh studio album, They Don’t Know. But his song “Crazy Town” really hit home, because it reminded me of this festival with the words: “Hollywood with a touch of twang, to be a star you gotta bang, bang, bang.” It was a metaphor, perhaps, for the beauty and the glitz—but more importantly, it was a reminder that you have got to bang, bang, bang that hammer, or that computer, to pay your dues and make it in this thing we call life.

I literally ran into Diplo in the Mane Stage photo pit on Saturday—but I couldn’t really get close to him for his Sunday after-party. It got there early, and it was already packed. Access to the photo pit was closed to all media—which hinted at a few surprises, as VIPs replaced media photographers. An hour earlier, I’d run into a model from L.A. who said she’d heard Miley Cyrus was going to perform—but instead, we got her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, with Lil Nas X. Diplo was enthusiastic, saying, “I can’t believe how many people stayed so late,” but the Palomino was packed with people wanting to party. As a light rain started to fall, everyone was dancing to the genre-bending remix of “Old Town Road.”

Stagecoach did it again—creating a joyous and well-organized festival that was inclusive to all.

Published in Reviews

The last time Lynyrd Skynyrd performed at Stagecoach in 2014, the band performed for an overflowing crowd in the Palomino Tent.

For Stagecoach 2019, Lynyrd Skynyrd was again scheduled to perform in the Palomino Tent … and the more things stay the same, the more things change.

First: The Saturday performance is likely to be one of the legendary band’s final performances. Guitarist Gary Rossington, the only remaining original member, is having health issues related to his heart, so the band’s current farewell tour is likely to actually be a farewell tour.

Second: The Palomino Tent is about half the size now as it was back in 2019. Goldenvoice apparently didn’t take this decrease in supply and increase in demand into account.

A huge crowd was already packed into the tent late in the afternoon. Sammy Kershaw performed the set prior to Lynyrd Skynyrd—and few people departed when he finished, while more and more people continued to arrive. By the set’s scheduled start time of 7:40 p.m., the crowd was overflowing—on the sides and far out the back.

When Skynyrd finally took the stage, the band started with “Workin’ for MCA”—a well-known Skynyrd tune, even if it isn’t one of the band’s big hits. It’s been included on many of the band’s compilations and live albums and is a fan favorite. The band followed up with “Skynyrd Nation,” “What’s Your Name?” and “That Smell.”

A live performance of “Tuesday’s Gone” is always a special treat—and just about everyone was singing along to it at Stagecoach. During “Simple Man,” archive footage of some of the deceased band members was shown on the video screens.

The final two songs have been the same at every Skynyrd show for years: “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird,” which included a video intro by the late Ronnie Van Zant explaining the song’s meaning being about freedom.

Lynyrd Skynyrd has long been a rock institution, easily recognizable with pop-culture references galore. It was the Southern rock band that made The Who and the Rolling Stones envious back in the ‘70s.

Of course, the band also has one of the most tragic stories in all of music—a rise to fame that was suddenly derailed by a 1977 plane crash that took the lives of original frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines and three others, while seriously injuring the other band members. Original members Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell have since passed away, as have other contributing members over the years.

It was great to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at what is likely to be the band’s final Stagecoach—although it was a little sad, too. Regardless, the music and legacy of this band, the creator of the Southern rock genre, will always live on. (Scroll down to see some photos from the show.)

Setlist

Workin’ for MCA

Skynyrd Nation

What’s Your Name?

That Smell

I Know a Little

Saturday Night Special

The Ballad Of Curtis Loew

Tuesday’s Gone

Don’t Ask Me No Questions

Simple Man

Gimme Three Steps

Call Me the Breeze

Sweet Home Alabama

Freebird

Published in Reviews

Stagecoach has changed in the past couple of years; the lineup is shorter—but Goldenvoice is still including smaller Americana bands and classic country acts while Nashville’s big stars take to the Mane Stage.

Here’s a list of acts I certainly won’t miss at Stagecoach.

Friday, April 26

Cordovas

When I listen to Cordovas (right), I picture them playing in one of those smoky country-Western bars shown in films during the ’70s and ’80s. The band performs country music with a bit of the Grateful Dead and the Band thrown in. Cordovas will help you start off Stagecoach right—along with a cold beer and a comfy seat on a blanket or in a lawn chair.

Cody Johnson

There’s something enjoyable about many country singers from Texas—and Cody Johnson definitely has that certain something. On just about every album of his, you can hear the rodeo, and you can hear the honky tonks. Many of his songs have some grit, while his ballads can bring a tear to your eye.

Bret Michaels

Poison was one of the hardest-partying bands in the ’80s glam-metal scene—and the band is still going fairly strong. While Poison is known for anthems about partying and bagging chicks, there were moments later in Bret Michaels’ career when he showed a softer side—almost in the form of country or honky-tonk ballads; heck, he’s even started to adopt a more country-style appearance in recent years. It’s no wonder, then, that he’s also put out country songs as a solo artist and appeared on recordings with country stars such as Kenny Chesney. Bret Michaels took a long time coming to Stagecoach—but he should fit right in.


Saturday, April 27

Charley Crockett

Charley Crockett has said that he prefers timeless songs as far as songwriting goes. When you listen to him, you’ll hear some of that vintage Hank Williams sound, some old rock ’n’ roll, and even some ’70s-style country. He will be performing criminally early—at 12:30 p.m.—on the Palomino Stage, so be sure to arrive in time to catch his set.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

This will probably be the last time you’ll see the famed Southern-rock outfit play at Stagecoach, because the band is on its final farewell tour—and unlike most of the bands that do these types of tours, it seems as if Lynyrd Skynyrd is really ending for good. You probably know the band was in a plane crash in 1977 that killed original frontman Ronnie Van Zant, as well as guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. Since then, all the other original members of the band have left, save one: guitarist Gary Rossington. He’s kept the band going with Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny Van Zant, but it feels like this is the right time for Lynyrd Skynyrd to bow out. If the band indeed calls it quits, this will be your last chance to sing along to “Freebird,” so don’t miss it.

Cam

Cam’s country-music roots come from right here in California: She was born in Huntington Beach and spent time in San Francisco and Oceanside. Her career has been consistently on the rise since she started in 2010; she’s also written music with Sam Smith for his album The Thrill of It All. I highly recommend checking out her 2015 album Untamed for an idea of what to expect.


Sunday, April 28

Jimmie Allen

Jimmie Allen’s music career was bumpy before he really got started. He was struggling so much that he was living in his car; he auditioned for America’s Got Talent and didn’t make it past the preliminary auditions; he auditioned for American Idol and didn’t make it to the live-voting rounds. But the man’s work and talent has finally paid off. He released his debut album, Mercury Lane, in late 2018, and his career has nowhere to go but up after finding success on country radio.

Tom Jones

This is a bit of an odd fit for Stagecoach, but considering The Zombies, Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, and Eric Burdon of the Animals have all played at Stagecoach … why not? Jones should have no problem winning over the crowd at Stagecoach—plus it’ll be interesting watching people in Stetsons and denim swaying to “It’s Not Unusual.”

Diplo

Yep, that’s right … I’m saving the most interesting Stagecoach act for last. The man behind Major Lazer and his own EDM material is stepping out of the dance-music to perform at Stagecoach’s “Late Night in the Palomino” at 10:55 p.m. Sunday night. Having seen Major Lazer at Coachella, I must say: It’ll be interesting to see what Diplo does for country fans at Stagecoach.

Published in Previews

Coachella and Stagecoach are just around the figurative corner—but March is bringing local music fans a lot of amazing shows to tide them over.

The McCallum Theatre’s fantastic season just gets better: The theater is dark just two days in March. At 8 p.m., Monday, March 6, you can experience Benny Goodman’s legendary 1938 concert with the Salute to Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall. This all-star tribute features some of today’s most talented jazz musicians. Tickets are $37 to $77. And now for something completely different: At 3 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 12, John Cleese of Monty Python fame will be appearing. The comedy legend will be telling stories from his autobiography, which also covers some of his best work, such as Life of Brian, The Holy Grail and A Fish Called Wanda. Tickets are $57 to $97. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 31, Art Garfunkel will be performing. In 2014, I attended his performance at Fantasy Springs and enjoyed his mix of poetry, solo songs and well-known Simon and Garfunkel hits. Tickets are $47 to $77. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

If you thought Fantasy Springs Resort Casino’s February lineup was great, the events in March are just as spectacular. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 4, singer-songwriter Paul Anka will be performing. “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “My Way,” and “(You’re) Having My Baby” are just a few of the Canadian crooner’s hits. Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 24, Saturday Night Live alumnus Dana Carvey will take the stage. Carvey is also well-known for the sketch-turned-film Wayne’s World and a handful of other comedy movies. Party on, Garth! Tickets are $39 to $59. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 25, you’ll be happy to know that former Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers will be returning to the Coachella Valley. Rodgers was also part of Free, as well as The Firm, and performed with the surviving members of Queen. Tickets are $49 to $79. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 31, smooth-jazz superstar Kenny G will break out the sax. Kenny has sold 45 million records, and if you’ve ever been in a dentist’s chair to have a root canal, you’ve heard Kenny G. Tickets are $29 to $59. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente has a packed March. At 9 p.m., Friday, March 3, Southern-rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd will be performing. After losing three members in a plane crash in 1977—including original frontman Ronnie Van Sant—Skynyrd kept going and found new life when Van Sant’s brother, Johnny, took over on lead vocals. Sadly, the band has continued to tragically lose original members, and guitarist Gary Rossington is now the only one left. However, the band is still fantastic and puts on a great show. Tickets are $96 to $126. At 9 p.m., Friday, March 24 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 25, country great Alan Jackson will take the stage. Jackson has had a string of hits, and he’ll always be remembered for his post-Sept. 11 song, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” Tickets are $130 to $160. At 7 p.m., Monday, March 27, Placido Domingo will be performing with the L.A. Opera Orchestra. Domingo has made more than 200 recordings, and is one of the world’s most popular opera tenors. Tickets are $65 to $400. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

It’s a trend: Spotlight 29’s March is also filled with great shows! At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 11, heaven help us all, because Michael Bolton is back. Wasn’t he just here? Anyway, tickets are $56 to $86. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 18, country singer Martina McBride will perform. She’s had six No. 1 hits and has sold more than 18 million records. Last year, she released her 13th studio album, Reckless. Tickets are $99 to $139. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 25, get ready to dance, because Kool and the Gang (above left) will be stopping by. After 45 years in the business and 70 million records sold, they are still fantastic. At one of my former workplaces, we had a saying: It wasn’t “That’s cool”; it was “That’s Kool and the Gang!” Tickets are $45 to $65. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 31, country singer-songwriter and actor Dwight Yoakam will be coming back to the Coachella Valley. I admit: I’m a big fan. You must listen to his Dwight Sings Buck, his tribute album to the late Buck Owens. Tickets are $55 to $75. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

While Morongo Casino Resort Spa’s lineup is not as insanely good as those at the other local casinos, it sure isn’t bad. At 10 p.m., Saturday, March 4, P.O.D. will be stopping by. P.O.D. was one of the first Christian-metal bands to receive significant acclaim. The video for “Rock the Party” went to No. 1 on MTV’s Total Request Live back in 1999, and the band toured as part of OzzFest in 2000 and in 2002. After the success peaked, the group went back to making music for a more conservative Christian crowd. I don’t know what Jesus would say about playing a show at a casino, but rock on! Tickets are $20. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has some fine shows leading up to the craziness of April. At 9 p.m., Saturday, March 4, queen of the high desert Jesika Von Rabbit will be performing; also on the bill are the Yip Yops. Von Rabbit, chosen as the Best Local Musician by Independent readers, has enjoyed more widespread success recently thanks to her new single, “Going Down,” being played on KCRW. Tickets are $15. At 9 p.m., Friday, March 10, pop-punk band Joyce Manor (below) will be performing. The Epitaph Records band has become quite popular after the 2014 record Never Hungover Again became a hit. A new album, Cody, dropped in late 2016. Tickets are $15. At 9 p.m., Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real will be returning to Pappy and Harriet’s. The entire band backed Neil Young on a recent tour, which included both weekends of Desert Trip. Lukas and his brother, Micah, are Willie Nelson’s sons; do you need any other reason to go to this show? With or without Neil Young (and who knows when he’ll show up?), Lukas and the boys are great. Tickets are $25. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

Meanwhile, in Indio, The Date Shed has a couple of events on the slate. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 11, Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band Righteous and the Wicked will be performing. I’m not a big fan of tribute bands, but they can be fun sometimes—and any band willing to take on the Chili Peppers songbook must be pretty cool. Tickets are $10 to $15. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 31, Date Shed regulars Fortunate Youth will be back. Tickets are $20 to $35. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699; www.dateshedmusic.com.

Published in Previews

May means the big festivals are behind us, and traffic is starting to ease. Unfortunately, May also usually means a drop in entertainment offerings at our local venues. This month is indeed a little slow, although there are still some great events going down.

The McCallum Theatre will host a few shows before signing off until the fall. At 3 p.m., Sunday, May 8, An Afternoon at the Popera is a presentation by the Coachella Valley Symphony and the California Desert Chorale featuring selections by artists from Bublé to Bizet. Sounds like a great local event! Tickets are $27 to $67. At 4 p.m., Sunday, May 15, the McCallum will close out the season with a performance by the All Coachella Valley High School Honor Band. You’ll get to hear a selection of music picked by guest conductor H. Robert Reynolds, of the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, performed by 70 talented high school students from throughout the Coachella Valley. Tickets are $12. See you in the fall, McCallum! McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has several of events worth mentioning. At 8 p.m., Saturday, May 14, the man with hoes in different area codes, Ludacris, will be stopping by. While he may have three Grammy Awards, Ludacris has managed to piss off a lot of people on his way to the top, thanks to his explicit content. He also earned the scorn of Bill O’Reilly! Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Saturday, May 28, Mexican pop-rock group Camila will take the stage. Mexico has a lot of great rock bands, and Camila is one of Latin music’s biggest success stories, with more than 2 million records sold. What do Camila and Ludacris have in common? They both have three Grammy Awards! Tickets are $39 to $79. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

The good news: Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has a great schedule for May. The bad news: Two of the best shows, featuring comedian Gabriel Iglesias and Jackson Browne, are sold out. However, as of our press deadline, there were will tickets left for Lynyrd Skynyrd (upper right); the Southern rock legends are performing at 9 p.m., Friday, May 20. That’s right: Get ready to scream “Free Bird!” all you want, and be sure to hold your Bic lighter in the air when the band plays it … at the end of the show, of course. Tickets are $86 to $126. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 is hosting two big names in May. At 8 p.m., Saturday, May 7, get ready to croon with Michael Bolton. Every housewife went crazy for Bolton in the 1980s and jettisoned him to success. Just in time for Mother’s Day … I guess this is something to which you can take your mom. Tickets are $55 to $85. At 8 p.m., Friday, May 27, Ziggy Marley will be performing. He started out with the Melody Makers in 1979 when he was only 11 years old, and performed with them until 2002, when he decided to go solo. Tickets are $46 to $76. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace was the place to be in April thanks to all of the events in the orbit of Coachella. While the month of May represents a bit of a slowdown, Pappy’s is still hosting some great shows. At 9 p.m., Friday, May 6, punk-band the Bronx will be bringing alter-ego project Mariachi El Bronx (below) to Pappy’s. When you listen to the Bronx, it’s hard to believe that these same people can turn around and perform mariachi music—but they do both quite well. Their brand of mariachi includes both humorous songs and works that may just bring a tear to your eye. Tickers are $15. At 8 p.m., Saturday, May 7, Four Tet will take the stage. Four Tet is an electronica musician who has written jazzy and folk-sounding tunes, while also remixing songs by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Aphex Twin, Explosions in the Sky and many others. Tickets are $25. At 9 p.m., Saturday, May 14, soul singer Charles Bradley will be performing. Bradley has sort of an odd story: He spent many years as a James Brown impersonator while holding down various jobs (he was a cook, for example) and playing small shows. In 2011, well into his 60s, he released his first album, No Time for Dreaming. Shortly thereafter, he was the subject of a documentary called Soul of America, which told his story. Now late in his life, he’s become a smash success. Last year at Coachella, he brought the house down on the Main Stage, performing a spectacular set. Tickets are $22. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

Published in Previews

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.

Published in Reviews

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

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

Friday, April 25

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 26

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 27

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

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

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

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

Published in Previews