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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Chris Shiflett is best known as the guitar player for the Foo Fighters—but he’s been spending an increasing amount of time writing and performing country music.

His solo country project, Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants, will be playing at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, March 30. During a recent phone interview, Shiflett talked about the recording of his third country album, West Coast Town, slated for release on April 14.

“I made it last summer out in Nashville,” Shiflett said. “I went out there and worked with a producer named Dave Cobb. He’s been a producer for things I’ve been a big fan of, like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and a lot of other stuff. It was a pretty different experience for me. The way Dave Cobb operates is a bit different than how I’ve made records in the past. It’s a good effect.”

Shiflett explained his newfound interest in country music.

“It was just like anything else. It was a slow progression,” he said. “You like one thing, and it sort of leads you down the rabbit hole. I think once you start playing with people who are into playing the same thing you’re into, you start getting turned on to music you might have missed. I just wasn’t around or even really paying attention to it.”

While his solo country records are unlikely to bring him significant mainstream success, Shiflett said he enjoys making them.

“All I hope with each record that I do is that it gets more out there and gets me established a little more,” he said. “I don’t kid myself that this is a mainstream record that’s going to be getting airplay in mainstream outlets. We’ll see what happens. All I want to do is just keeping making records.

“I guess my dream was always to play music one way or another. But when I was a little kid, I never imagined myself being Eddie Van Halen, or even Buck Owens. Things change as you get older. In a way, I feel like I’m starting over with this record. I feel like this was an important record for me to make, given the last one was mostly cover tunes, and it had been awhile since I made an album of originals. I felt like I had to make a statement with this record, and I really dug deep and wrote the best songs I’ve ever written and made the best record I’ve ever made, as far as my solo stuff.”

Did Shiflett listen to country music at all while he was growing up?

“Not at all,” he said. “I had older brothers, and I pretty much listened to their records. We were just little hard-rock kids—‘70s and ‘80s classic rock was more along the lines of what was going on in my house when I was growing up.”

I asked Shiflett about his favorite country record. “That’s a tough one. There are just so many … probably something by Merle Haggard or Buck Owens. I really like that West Coast honky-tonk stuff going on during the mid-to-late ’60s.”

His most recent solo album, All Hat and No Cattle in 2013, included a cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”

“That’s an interesting song. I remember being fascinated by that song, because that song is like the ultimate in songwriting to me: It is literally just two chords. It literally never changes. There’s no chorus, and it’s not even that hook-y, really,” Shiflett said. “There’s just something about that song that gets people moving. When you play that song live, it always gets the dance floor moving. They just start grooving on the floor. That’s a really difficult thing to achieve, and you really have to hand it to Waylon Jennings and whomever he was playing with at the time. If you really listen to that song, it’s simplistic in arrangement. … It goes back and forth and tells that great story. You can’t miss that groove. I love playing that song live, because you can stretch it on forever. Everybody gets a solo. Bass solo! Drum solo! Everybody gets a solo!”

I asked him if he’s felt like the Foo Fighters have ever incorporated any sort of country into their sound. After all, the band recorded a song with Zac Brown on its most recent record, Sonic Highways, and has seemingly included some country elements here and there.

“I think if you were to ask Dave (Grohl) that question, he’d say no,” Shiflett said. “But the thing about country music and rock ’n’ roll is that they’re pretty closely related, style-wise, especially in modern country music. I don’t think those genres have a whole bunch of space between them, personally. But I don’t think the guys in the Foo Fighters listen to a lot of country. Maybe it’s seeped in there somehow, but I don’t know how overt that would be.”

I mentioned the country-sounding song “Keep It Clean” that the band performed on a flatbed truck in Kansas City, Mo., in 2011 outside of a concert venue. The intended audience: Westboro Baptist Church members who were protesting their show.

“Ah, yeah. I guess you got it there,” he said, laughing. “No denying it on that one.”

Shiflett is no stranger to Pappy and Harriet’s, having played there in the past, and he said he’s excited about his upcoming show there.

“I just love Pappy and Harriet’s. I always tell people it’s one of my favorite venues in the whole wide world,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad show there. It’s always great, and always make us feel welcome. They always take care of us. Whether it’s playing our own shows or playing at the Campout with Camper Van Beethoven, it’s always a good time out there. There’s something about that room and that location that makes sense with this kind of music.”

Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants will perform with Brian Whelan at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 30, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $10 to $12. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.

Published in Previews

With the temperature surpassing 100 degrees, the Empire Polo Club was a challenging place to be during day 2 of Stagecoach 2013. Nonetheless, the people showed up ready for another day of country music … but that music came a bit belated.

While the gates were supposed to open at 11 a.m., general-admission attendees were held at the entry gates until noon on the dot. Nobody announced why fans were held up for an extra hour, but from the sound of it, sound checks were running late.

“Taps” played throughout the festival grounds as fans finally made their way in.

Ray Cammack Shows, which operates the Ferris wheel, was kind enough to allow photographer Erik Goodman and I to start off the day with a ride. With a grand view at close to 200 feet, we could watch attendees entering the grounds, with a stunning view of the mountains and most of Indio in the distance.

How many people have ridden the Ferris wheel during the three festival weekends?

“As of today, it’s approximately 31,500 people,” said RCS’ social media representative, Daniel Mejia. “It will be approximately 35,000 by the end of Sunday.”

The Ferris wheel—one of Coachella and Stagecoach’s most popular attractions—is especially in demand after sunset.

It’s a fun experience for the people who work for Ray Cammack, too.

“It’s crazy that we get time away from our carnivals that we go to each year and get to come to this spot and be like the main part of it. It’s pretty awesome,” he said.

For festival attendees who feel a patriotic duty to support American products and jobs, Keep America has them covered. Founded by CEO David Seliktar, the company has been in operation since March 2012. Keep America’s small tent in the festival lobby offers an array of products, from American-made sunscreen and T-shirts to can cozies.

Dina Rezvanipour of Keep America expressed passion about the business’ purpose.

“We decided to come here because we’re country-music fans, and we know that everyone here truly believes in what we’re here for and what we stand for,” she said.

She also makes a suggestion for consumers to consider.

“If every consumer were to spend $30 a month (more on American-made products), we could create over 1 million jobs here. That is the message we are trying to get out—simple numbers.”

As for the music, the Americana presence was strong on Saturday.

The festival kicked off with an energetic performance at 12:45 p.m. in the Palomino Tent featuring Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants. Shiflett, a member of the Foo Fighters, had only a small crowd at first due to the late entry, but people continued to show up through the beginning of his set. In what sounded like a mixture of the mainstream Nashville sound combined with Americana, he started his set with “Guitar Pickin’ Man."

Shiflett was playful with the audience, pointing out two fans.

“You guys are my favorite Stagecoach people; (tattooed)-guns-on-chest guy, and mustache man,” he said, with much laughter among the crowd.

Shiflett was also honest about the heat.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t complain about this heat, but we could really use some of those little fucking misting fans right now,” he said.

He closed his set with Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” Shiflett may be a guitarist for one of the world’s biggest rock bands, but he proved he’s one heck of a country performer as well.

For fans of Americana and a little something different, the Palomino Stage was the place to be, featuring some of the biggest names in alternative-country subgenres and Americana.

The Inland Empire’s Honky Tonk Angels Band took the stage after Shiflett. With a thunderous intro that proved the band’s set would get crazy and loud, the Angels proved themselves to be a band that could play either Stagecoach or Coachella.

Oh, and you could really hear that cowbell in their opening number!

The Honky Tonk Angels Band is a talented group of performers with great guitarists. The best way to describe their sound would be if the Supersuckers and the Black Crowes teamed up. Kurt Ross, the group’s vocalist, has one hell of a stage presence that got all of those in attendance riled up. There was even a group of people line-dancing on the left side of the stage.

The band announced they were celebrating their 25th anniversary as a band.

“We have three rules to be in this band,” Ross told the audience. “You have to like George Jones; you have to like the Rolling Stones; and you have to like tequila.”

This band is one hell of a good time, and it’s amazing that after 25 years, they seem to be off the radar. This gig was well-deserved.

When I later asked Ross how he felt about the group’s performance, he was speechless.

“I’m at a loss of words. It was amazing,” he said.

After the Honky Tonk Angels Band, Justin Townes Earle—the son of Steve Earle—took the stage a few minutes late. Earle, wearing a white suit, was a perfect fit, continuing the Angels’ momentum in a slightly mellower way.

His sound at times sounded like vocal jazz with a bit of the blues. He paid a tribute to his mother, declaring that she likes to go home early and that young people are up to no good if they’re out after the sunset, before covering Wolf Parade’s “You Are A Runner and I Am My Father’s Son.”

Before playing “Harlem River Blues,” he talked about how fans have told him they want to jump into the Harlem River. He advised against that, given how polluted it is.

Following his performance, Earle said the show felt good.

“I seem to have a really good feeling playing when it’s really hot,” Earle said.

And speaking of hot, Nick 13 of Tiger Army took the stage after Earle, wearing a light-green, embroidered suit. The anticipation of Nick 13’s performance could be felt throughout the day, with fans wearing his T-shirts congregating in the tent during previous performances.

The upright bass sound and the Americana style made Nick 13 a popular sight; he’s a serious performer who has never considered himself a novelty act. He played his single “Carry My Body Down,” announcing that the music video was shot here in the Coachella Valley.

Before playing “101,” he made a special dedication: “I’d like to dedicate this song to everyone who still listens to real country music,” he said.

He played an Americana-sounding “In the Orchard,” from Tiger Army’s catalog, dedicating it to the late George Jones. He also played his new single, “Nighttime Sky,” having just released the video earlier in the week.

When I caught up with Nick 13 after his performance, I asked him if he was annoyed by the heat—especially in the suit he was wearing.

“Nope, mind over matter,” he said with a smile.

For fans of the Bakersfield sound, Dwight Yoakam took to the Palomino Tent 10 minutes late, at 6:55 p.m.

Yoakam wore a blue denim ensemble that included his trademark skin-tight jeans, while his band members were in flashy, sparkly black suits. He opened with an unrecognizable song that was played at a fast pace while they were obviously still mic-checking. When he followed with “You’re the One,” he already had the audience rocking, and that would continue, with a fast-paced take on every song he performed. Even the slow numbers had energy behind them.

During “Streets of Bakersfield,” he stopped the song halfway through.

“That’s not right. … I spent time some time in San Bernardino. … I spent some time in Coachella!” he said, which resulted in an eruption of applause as he resumed the song.

The spirit of the Bakersfield sound was alive for the rest of the performance. Unfortunately, Dwight didn’t play “Stuart Drives a Comfortable Car” like I was hoping he would.

Lady Antebellum managed to pull in an even larger audience than Toby Keith did the night before the “Mane Stage.” They’re one of the hottest groups in country music, and the performance was sort of a homecoming for the group, who played on the Mane Stage at the 2009 festival, but not as headliners.

The group’s flashy intro played on the video wall, and was followed by the intro to their song “Downtown,” leading to a roaring ovation as the group took the stage. Vocalists Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley worked well together throughout, despite technical difficulties during a stretch of songs; the sound was barely audible for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on where you were standing.

“Our Kind of Love” nonetheless offered a perfect performance. The group also sampled a new song off their upcoming album, Goodbye Town. Lady Antebellum proved to be solid headliners throughout, not letting the technical difficulties sidetrack them.

As for the death of George Jones, it was still a relevant and hard-to-avoid subject during day 2. Many of the artists paid tribute to him in some way. 

Photos by Erik Goodman

Published in Reviews

Stagecoach always features many of the biggest names in country music on the main stage, but the festival also offers a broad variety of artists within country music’s subgenres: Americana, alt-country, folk music, the “California sound” and some sounds that can’t quite be described.

Here’s a list of performers whose names appear in smaller print on the Stagecoach poster, yet they are great performers in their own right. Whether you’re roaming around the Empire Polo Club trying to find something different, or you’re looking for something in between performances on the main stage, here are some performers for your consideration. (And passes are still available.)

Friday, April 26

The Haunted Windchimes: This five-piece folk group from Pueblo, Colo., has a distinctive sound; they don’t define themselves as Americana, country, blues or bluegrass—but one still manages to hear all of those styles in their music. This is a band that has perfected the art of harmonies, and have written beautiful songs of redemption; I guarantee they will reassure you that the Americana sound is alive and well. They have performed on Prairie Home Companion and have a faithful following within the country-music underground that makes them one of this year’s Stagecoach bands not to miss.

Hayes Carll: Hayes Carll is what you get when you mix the writings of Jack Kerouac, the outlaw anthems of Waylon Jennings, and a bit of the softer sounds of Neil Young. An artist in the Lost Highway stable, he’s recorded some eccentric tunes that have made him popular across the music spectrum. He’s not afraid to sing about the dark places that were once popular in the outlaw-country days, in songs such as “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” He also does a very nice cover of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” He made his first Stagecoach performance in 2008 and has also performed at Bonnaroo and SXSW. He’s a delight for country fans who also appreciate rock music and/or eccentricity in songwriting.

Old Crow Medicine ShowOld Crow Medicine Show: This old-time string band was discovered busking on the streets of Boone, N.C., by Doc Watson’s daughter, and it’s been a hell of a ride ever since. After performing on Coachella’s main stage in 2010, they’re now making their first appearance at Stagecoach. They have also performed at the Grand Ole Opry, been an opening act for both Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, made an appearance at the 2003 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Their song “Wagon Wheel”—co-written with Bob Dylan and later covered by Darius Rucker—will bring a tear to your eye.

Saturday, April 27

Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants: Most country-music fans wouldn’t think that Chris Shiflett, who plays guitar in the Foo Fighters, would be appearing at a country-music festival. On an interesting note, Shiflett has been known to sit in with the Traveling Sinner’s Sermon at Slidebar in Orange County that consists of Charlie Overbey of Custom Made Scare, Steve Soto of The Adolescents, and Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham of Social Distortion. “Chris writes from the heart and sings his guts out, and I really respect that,” said Overbey via e-mail. “Chris is obviously a great rock guitar player in Foo Fighters and his prior bands, but it takes real versatility to front his country band, and he does it easily with style and grace.”

Honky Tonk Angels Band: According to the band’s MySpace page (who still uses MySpace?), they’re from the Inland Empire, so they’re a semi-local band playing a major country-music festival, which is always a nice surprise. When I scrolled through the band’s general info and saw that they answered their “sounds like” section with, “A drunken, Dixie fried roadhouse knife fight set to music,” I couldn’t help but to give them a listen. Sure enough, that’s exactly what they sound like … and it sounds awesome; they sound like an edgier, non-jam band version of The Black Crowes. I’m curious to see how they perform live, and how they interact with the audience, but I don’t think there’s much to worry about.

Justin Townes EarleJustin Townes Earle: When one hears the names “Townes” and “Earle,” one thinks country legacy. Justin Townes Earle is the son of troubadour Steve Earle; his father gave him the middle name of “Townes” in honor of Townes Van Zandt. Justin Townes Earle doesn’t have the same type of left-wing-themed songs as his father, and instead has his own unique style that melds rockabilly, Americana, ’50s rock ’n’ roll and early folk music. Like his father, Justin has had problems with addiction, but has seemingly put them behind him. His voice has soul, and you can feel the emotion.

Sunday, April 28

Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers: Jeff Bridges and John C. Reilly aren’t the only well-known actors performing at Stagecoach. Katey Sagal is best known for playing Peg on Married With Children and currently has the role of Gemma on Sons of Anarchy, but she actually started in the music business as a backing vocalist in the ’70s, and sang with people from Bob Dylan to Gene Simmons of KISS. It’s no surprise that she has been singing some of the songs that have appeared in various Sons of Anarchy episodes, including a cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire.” The Forest Rangers have also played on some of the cover songs on Sons of Anarchy, most notably the cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimmie Shelter” with Irish vocalist Paul Brady.

Riders in the Sky: Riders in the Sky are another group returning to Stagecoach from the 2008 lineup. They formed in the late ’70s and are purists of the early country-Western style similar—but they aren’t afraid to include some comedy routines in their act. Bassist Fred “Too Slim” LaBour is credited by Rolling Stone as being mostly responsible for the “Paul (McCartney) is dead” rumor that turned into an urban legend after publishing a satirical piece while he was attending the University of Michigan. This trio has performed several times at the Grand Ole Opry, once had a children’s television show, and contributed “Woody’s Roundup” to the Toy Story 2 soundtrack. This is one performance that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

Charley Pride: Charley Pride is one of the best-known names in country music—and he’s also one of the few African Americans in country music. He originally intended to become a professional baseball player and even played for the Boise Yankees, once a farm team for the New York Yankees. After a stint in the Army and an arm injury, he abandoned his baseball career and started his music career. Pride struggled during the early years of his career due to Jim Crow laws; his early recordings were never released with pictures of him. In 1967, he became the first African-American performer to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. He is one of country music’s most well-respected and influential performers; this is definitely a great experience for anyone who wants to experience a performance by a legend.

Published in Previews