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Keith Urban may be from New Zealand, but his brand of country music is as American as it gets.

On Saturday night, Keith Urban returned to Stagecoach for the first time since 2010—a day after releasing his new album, Graffiti U.

Despite blustery winds on Saturday night, Urban put on a magnificent performance. When he started his set by playing the first few chords of “Somebody Like You,” the excited welcome from the Stagecoach crowd was just as loud as the music.

The wind was a challenge for Kacey Musgraves, who performed just before Keith Urban and appeared frustrated a few times—but the wind didn’t seem to faze Urban. As the wind blew Urban’s hair all over the place, he joked with the audience, “This was exactly what I was looking for tonight, Stagecoach.” He added a little later that it “smells like it’s pretty cool down in the front,” before singing a few lines of the Brothers Osborne’s “Weed, Whiskey and Willie” a cappella, and then playing “Never Coming Down.”

While the daytime heat and the intense winds that came on early in the evening hindered the day for some, it couldn’t stop the beer-drinking, barbecuing, dancing and great music that took place throughout the day and into the night.

Here are some other highlights from the day:

• Ronnie Milsap’s afternoon performance in the Palomino tent was sort of bittersweet. While it was a delight to see him, his voice is simply not what it used to be; it was difficult for him to the hit high notes in some of his songs. He told the audience that a recent CD compilation included a lot of his hit songs from the ’70s and ’80s, and said, “My life is condensed into 21 CDs, or 100 8-tracks.” Personally, I loved his performance of “What Goes on When the Sun Goes Down.”

• When Jason Isbell appeared in the Palomino, he told the nearly packed house, “Personally, I feel like we’re playing on the best day of the festival,” noting that Dwight Yoakam would be playing later in the evening. Isbell talked about touring with Yoakam, saying that he couldn’t wear tight jeans, because Dwight was better than him at that. “I don’t have an airbrush, so I’m not going to beat him,” he quipped. The former Drive-By Truckers guitarist has definitely gained much-deserved appreciation among the rock and country crowds. His wife, Amanda Shires, backed him on violin, and really shined.

• Dwight Yoakam packed the Palomino tent beyond capacity and put on the best live performance I’ve ever seen from him. He paid tribute to the late Merle Haggard and performed “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.” Of course, he also performed his collaboration with the late Buck Owens, “Streets of Bakersfield.”

See some photos from Day 2 below, from Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

Stagecoach has always offered attendees a lot of variety in terms of country-music subgenres—but this year, the lineup seeks to skimp on alt-country, Americana and old-timers (like Willie Nelson).

Still, there is a lot to see. Here are my Stagecoach recommendations.

Friday, April 27

Jade Bird: It’s shocking, yes, but this young woman who excels at Americana … is British. Regardless, she has one hell of a voice. Her music would perhaps better fit a Coachella crowd, but she’s likely going to be awesome at Stagecoach. Her main showcase is her vocals. I highly recommend her single “Lottery” and her song “Something American.”

Joshua Hedley: It’s no surprise Joshua Hedley was named one of the “10 New Country Artists You Should Know” by Rolling Stone in 2016. He’s a throwback to the era of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. He’s a purist, thank you very much, and does not wish to change anything about his vintage sound. Jack White’s Third Man Records will be releasing his debut album, Mr. Jukebox, on April 20, which will make this show pretty sweet.

Molly Hatchet: For country fans who have a bit of a rock edge, Molly Hatchet can’t be missed. The band is certainly one the edgier Southern-rock bands with an extensive history, but it is down to only one original member, bassist Tim Lindsey. If you’ve ever longed to hear “Flirtin’ With Disaster” or “Gator Country” live, here’s your chance.

Saturday, April 28

Tyler Childers: Country music has long had a dark side, and Tyler Childers is continuing that tradition by telling the stories of hardships and day-to-day challenges in his native Kentucky. Fun fact: Sturgill Simpson produced his album Purgatory. Considering storytelling via songs that were darker in nature made the careers of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and many others, Childers should be a hit at Stagecoach.

Ronnie Milsap: Here’s one of the relatively few old-timers! Ronnie Milsap had one hell of a ride in country music in the ’70s and ’80s, when he took Nashville by storm. His sound was a hit with both pop-music and country audiences. The music from his heyday was absolutely unique for its time, and there is not anyone like him. The good news is he’s still going strong. His set will definitely be a highlight of the weekend.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: One of the most-recognized songwriters in the alt-country music scene, Jason Isbell found new life after leaving the Drive-By Truckers in 2007. He found sobriety in 2012 after an intervention that included his management, his wife and singer-songwriter Ryan Adams—and he’s made three fantastic records since. Isbell has played Stagecoach before, and he’s always been welcomed by a large audience.

Sunday, April 29

Colter Wall: He’s from Canada … but there’s a lot of great country music coming from Canada these days. Colter Wall (below) has a rough-and-tumble voice, but his songwriting is top-notch. He has a lot of high-profile fans, from professional wrestler Brock Lesnar, to Shooter Jennings, to Lucinda Williams.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real: I must have caught Lukas Nelson on a bad day last year when I interviewed him before his show at Pappy and Harriet’s. Regardless, he’s one of the best young artists in country music. Yeah, he’s Willie Nelson’s son, but he and his band have accomplished a lot on their own—including backing Neil Young, and doing so marvelously. He’s sure to have a big crowd waiting for him.

Gordon Lightfoot: One of Bob Dylan’s most-comparable contemporaries is Gordon Lightfoot—a true folk-pop icon. Bob Dylan has even covered some Gordon Lightfoot songs, so that says something. Lightfoot has put out more than 200 recordings, and he’s a legend in the business. If you go to Stagecoach and don’t take in Gordon Lightfoot … what was the point of going in the first place?

Published in Previews