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The first Stagecoach Country Music Festival was back in 2007—meaning this is the 10th anniversary of the country companion to Coachella.

There are a lot of familiar names on the bill this year … and there are some serious oddities, too. To help attendees plan, I’ve come up with a list of acts I certainly won’t be missing.


Friday, April 28

John Moreland

I interviewed John Moreland in advance of his 2015 appearance at Stagecoach after hearing about him in the underground alt-country forums. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow spoke highly of him on her show, in part because he’s modest, down to earth and soft-spoken. Oh, he’s mega-talented, too: This singer-songwriter who spent his teenage years playing and touring in punk-rock bands is truly special. Even though he stays seated during his entire performance, Moreland offers folk/Americana songs that enter the depths of your soul. He’s mesmerizing as a performer and a songwriter; you truly won’t want to miss John Moreland.

Son Volt

This is one of my personal favorites. Front man and singer-songwriter Jay Farrar spent seven years playing in Uncle Tupelo with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco before they went their separate ways. While Tweedy and Wilco went on to become famous, Jay Farrar’s Son Volt received more critical acclaim (if, alas, not more record sales)—because Farrar’s songwriting evolved into something truly great. Farrar is of the same ilk as Woody Guthrie and is a purist when it comes to Americana music. Son Volt recently released a new album, Notes of Blue, and not long ago toured playing debut record Trace in its entirety. It’s great to see Son Volt finally on the Stagecoach lineup.

The Zombies

This is one of those aforementioned Stagecoach lineup oddities. The Zombies were part of the British Invasion during the ’60s, and had a sound that was very psychedelic—even for that time. Hit song “Time of the Season” is a psychedelic-rock staple, as is the band’s other big hit, “She’s Not There.” The Zombies broke up in 1967, and the only remaining original members are lead singer Colin Blunstone and organist Rod Argent. It will be great to see The Zombies … and it will be interesting to see how the band is received at Stagecoach.

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis, now 81 was, announced as part of Stagecoach’s 2013 bill—before he cancelled without explanation. Hopefully he will be there this year. While Jerry Lee Lewis is most remembered for the scandal surrounding his December 1957 marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin, there is actually much more to talk about than that. Jerry Lee Lewis has recorded some of the best songs in rock history, such as “Great Balls of Fire,” “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Breathless.” He’s also the last man standing of the Sun Records legacy. I’m still laughing at the joke Beavis made in Beavis and Butt-head about how he “did the piano and kicked his cousin.”


Saturday, April 29

The Walcotts

I love the fact that I can picture The Walcotts (pictured right; photo by Max Knight) playing in some smoky honky-tonk with chicken wire to protect them from flying objects. However, this group throws in some rock ’n’ roll0, too. This Los Angeles outfit should be a treat for those who arrive at Stagecoach early. I also highly suggest checking out the album Let the Devil Win, because it’s quite good.

John Doe

John Doe of the punk band X is also a solo artist—and like his X bandmate Billy Zoom, Doe is a fan of country music. Doe is actually quite multi-faceted; he’s also dabbled in acting and poetry, and just released a book, Under the Big Black Sun, about the Los Angeles punk scene from 1977 to 1983. You won’t want to miss John Doe—because he will definitely put on a great show.

Tommy James and the Shondells

One has to wonder what Goldenvoice is thinking with all of these psychedelic rock bands from the 1960s on the bill. Don’t get me wrong, though; I am not complaining. Tommy James and the Shondells can be heard on oldies radio quite often with “Crimson and Clover,” “Mony Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now” (which was covered by Tiffany in the ‘80s) and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” It will be interesting to see how this group is received, too.


Sunday, April 30

The HillBenders (Performing The Who’s Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry)

OK, things keep getting stranger here. The HillBenders are a relatively new bluegrass band from Springfield, Mo., and the group is going to perform The Who’s Tommy, a rock opera … but in a bluegrass style. The band released a recording of this in 2016, and has been touring with it recently, so arrive early to check this one out. It sure is odd to hear bluegrass versions of “Do You Think It’s Alright,” “Fiddle About” (no pun intended), “The Acid Queen” and “Pinball Wizard.” I’m wondering if we’re going to see bluegrass versions of the characters performing in the background as the band plays.

Cowboy Junkies

This one isn’t all that weird: Stagecoach is actually the perfect place for the Cowboy Junkies, who have been putting the “alt” in alt-country since 1986. Cowboy Junkies has made some downright dark originals and some haunting covers; in any case, Margo Timmins’ voice is just beautiful. The band has recorded numerous albums, and put out a series of four albums known as the Nomad Series from 2010 to 2012. If you’re a fan of alt-country, make sure to check out Cowboy Junkies.

Los Lobos

Because a lot of people love Los Lobos (below), myself included, I think this performance will go over well at Stagecoach, and the fact that a Latin band from Los Angeles will be performing at Stagecoach is fantastic. One of my favorite albums of all time is Los Lobos’ By the Light of the Moon, and the band’s live shows are always interesting—because you don’t know if you’re going to get a lot of originals, or if you’re going to get a lot of jam-band-style covers. Having seen Los Lobos before, I can say you’ll walk away at the end very happy.

Published in Previews

The biggest month for music in the Coachella Valley is here, thanks to Coachella and Stagecoach—and even if you’re not going to either of the fests, there are still plenty of other things to do.

The McCallum Theatre has a variety of shows in April, the last big month in the theater’s 2016-2017 season. At 8 p.m., Thursday, April 6, the daughter of Lucy and Desi, Lucie Arnaz will be performing her favorites from the Great American Songbook, backed by the Desert Symphony. Tickets are $67 to $115. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 7, get ready to laugh with Rita Rudner. Rudner is a legendary comedienne and will have you in stitches. Tickets are $37 to $87. At 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22, actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth will perform songs from Glee, Wicked and various Broadway standards. Tickets are $57 to $97. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a great April schedule. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 7, Kenny Loggins will be performing. Loggins has had quite a career, including “Danger Zone” from Top Gun (and, more recently, Archer), “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack, the main song for the Footloose soundtrack—and a lot of hits that weren’t in movies. Alas, when I interviewed Loggins at Stagecoach in 2013, he was more interested in the M&Ms he was eating off of a napkin than my questions. Tickets are $39 to $69. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 8, Creedence Clearwater Revisited will be returning to the desert. The PR rep told me the group has a new singer, Dan McGuinness, who had subbed at various times for former vocalist John Tristao. Tickets are $39 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 21, David Crosby will be stopping by for a solo performance. On top of his work with Crosby, Stills and Nash, he was a member of The Byrds, and he’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with both bands. Tickets are $39 to $59. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 800-827-2946; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa is hosting several sold-out shows in April, but as of our press deadline, there was still one show with tickets left: At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 22, actor and comedian Kevin James will be appearing. James had a successful run on the show The King of Queens, and achieved some degree of movie fame by playing Paul Blart: Mall Cop. It seems in recent years that he’s been in too many bad projects produced by Adam Sandler. It should be interesting to see how his stand-up comedy will be after years of sitcoms and films. Tickets are $65 to $95. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 casino has a couple of events to consider. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 22, ’80s/’90s R&B sensation Keith Sweat (upper right) will be performing. Some of the best R&B music of that era was written and performed by Sweat; he’s released 12 albums and won the Favorite Male R&B/Soul Artist Award at the 1997 American Music Awards. Tickets are $25 to $45. I can’t believe I am about to write this sentence: At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 29, Extreme Midget Wrestling will be returning to Spotlight 29. I honestly don’t know what to say here. Like anyone else, people with dwarfism are doctors, scientists, actors and actresses—yet people often first think of crap like this when it comes to dwarfism. Also, most people with dwarfism prefer the term “little people.” Whatever entertainment floats your boat, I guess. Tickets are $20. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa, much like Agua Caliente, is hosting a lot of great April shows that are already sold out. Get ready for glistening beefcake when Thunder From Down Under returns at 8 p.m., Friday, April 7. Tickets are $25—and the show was close to selling out as of our deadline, so act fast. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 28, Jana Kramer will take the stage. You may know her from One Tree Hill or (gag) Dancing With the Stars, but both her albums have reached the Top 5 on the U.S. country charts. Tickets are $29. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is the place to be in April, especially during Coachella and Stagecoach, when a lot of the festival acts stop by. At 8 p.m., Thursday, April 6, the band named after a KCRW DJ, Cherry Glazerr will be performing. Considering KCRW has been playing the band quite a bit, and Chery Glaser herself said she’s honored by the band’s name, it’s worth going to check them out. Tickets are $14. At 4 p.m., Saturday, April 8, Brant Bjork will be bringing back his Rolling Heavy-sponsored Desert Generator festival. On the bill this time are Earthless, Orchid, The Shrine and Black Rainbows. Tickets are $55 to $295. At 9 p.m., Sunday, April 30, hot off a Stagecoach performance, Son Volt will perform. Tickets are $25. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

Take note of this Coachella-related event: At 9 p.m., Thursday, April 13, Goldenvoice and FYF will present Young Turks in Palm Springs at the Palm Springs Air Museum. The show will feature Ben UFO, Four Tet, Francis and the Lights, Jamie xx, Kamaiyah, and Sampha with special guests PNL. Tickets are $30. Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs; 760-778-6262; aeglive.com.

The Date Shed has one event scheduled. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 8, Katchafire (below) will be performing. The reggae band from New Zealand is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the stop at the Date Shed should be pretty epic. Tickets are $25 to $35. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699; www.dateshedmusic.com.

Published in Previews

Two decades ago, former Uncle Tupelo frontman Jay Farrar released the album Trace with his then-new band, Son Volt.

Today, Farrar is on tour performing the album in its entirety to celebrate the anniversary—including a stop at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Thursday, June 16.

Uncle Tupelo came out of a band, first called The Plebes and later The Primitives, that Jay Farrar started with his brothers, Wade and Dade; drummer Mike Heidorn and Jeff Tweedy would later join the group. Tweedy was influenced by punk—which was not exactly popular at the time in their hometown of Belleville, Ill., part of the St. Louis metro area. The group played blues songs at fast tempos during their early gigs.

After Wade and Dade left the group, the remaining members changed the band name to Uncle Tupelo. The combination of vintage-country and folk influences with punk rock was unique, and Uncle Tupelo would release four albums before the group split in 1994. Farrar went on to start Son Volt, with more of an Americana and roots-music sound, while Tweedy went on to form Wilco.

Farrar also recorded one album with Anders Parker under the name Gob Iron.

I recently spoke to Farrar via telephone. He has a reputation as a difficult interview; his answers are brief and to the point. I asked him whether he thought people playing his kind of music had it harder when Uncle Tupelo formed 1987, or today.

“I think surprisingly, in many ways, the current climate out there now reminds of what it was like in the early ’80s,” Farrar said. “There’s not a lot of major-label support for music like this, and only a handful ever really breakthrough. I see it as a period of struggle in many ways for a lot of people out there. But I also think from an artistic standpoint, things will be better for it down the line. I think there are some better things on the horizon.”

Does Farrar listen to any of the new alternative-country or Americana acts out there today? The answer is, surprisingly, no.

“I pretty much concentrate on learning more about what has happened in the past. I’m not up on what’s new and happening out there,” he said. “Recently, I’ve been getting really into Junior Kimbrough’s first recordings, if that tells you where my head is at right now.”

Farrar explained what makes Saint Louis a great city for music.

“It’s a crossroads, and there’s certainly a lot of musical history here,” he said. “Musical ideas historically travel up and down the Mississippi River from New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis and then up to Chicago. It was a melting pot of musical styles coming through, especially blues.”

One of the most interesting albums Farrar has done is a collaboration with Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, One Fast Move or I’m Gone, the soundtrack for a documentary with the same name focusing on beat writer/poet Jack Kerouac. The songs featured lyrics directly from the pages Kerouac’s Big Sur, as well as concepts that came out of the book.

“That approach represented something I had never actually done before—taking lyrics from a book, or just concepts from the pages of the book itself,” he said. “It was a challenge in a way, although I had worked with some of Woody Guthrie’s lyrics prior to that, so that gave me the confidence to forge ahead and see what could be done with the work of Jack Kerouac. I found it to be really inspiring, being able to step aside and work in that framework. It was a great experience, and working with Ben Gibbard was great. We had never met before, and we met through the work of Jack Kerouac.”

Some artists have worked with lyrics penned by Woody Guthrie that he never made into complete songs. Farrar actually recorded an entire album of songs based on those lyrics. For Farrar, Woody Guthrie is still a big influence.

“For me, it goes back to my childhood and going through my parents’ record collection and pulling out Woody Guthrie records,” he said. “It’s fundamental and elemental in that way for me. Of course, he’s still relevant today.”

Of course, Guthrie is well-known for his protest songs.

“I think there will always be a need for protest songs,” Farrar said. “The best protest songs get written when there’s a real need for them. They will always be there.”

Farrar said we can expect to hear many protest songs should Donald Trump get elected president.

“Absolutely!” he said. “I get the feeling people are already preparing for that.”

Is there anything Farrar would change about Trace when he looks back on it after 20 years?

“I don’t know. Things sort of happen organically, and it’s the only way to make a record,” he said. “Listening back, it sounds good and visceral to me, and the band doesn’t sound too polished. The impetus for me as a songwriter at that time was getting to work with a fiddle player and a pedal-steel player. Getting to explore that at the time was great.”

Performing the album in its entirety has been a positive experience, he said, and has given him opportunities to tweak the songs.

“I wanted to have the songs presented more stripped-down and boiled down to the essence. I felt that was the best approach,” he said. “In some cases, I get to rework the songs, but all while still acknowledging the release of the album 20 years later. Currently, (we’re performing as) a three piece: myself; Gary Hunt on guitar, fiddle and mandolin; and Eric Heywood will be back after walking the Appalachian Trail, playing pedal steel.”

Farrar said there’s more to come from Son Volt in the near future—and there could even be another Gob Iron album.

“It is in the works. We’ve recorded 10 songs as a power trio, but it’s still in the works, and ideally released next year,” he said about a new Son Volt album. “We just need to find a home for us.

“Anders and I have also been in contact about doing something with Gob Iron. We talked about recording some songs over the summer, and we’ll see if that comes to fruition.”

Jay Farrar will perform at 9 p.m., Thursday, June 16, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

Published in Previews