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Sat12152018

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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

The winds were up and the temps were down during Day 2 of Stagecoach 2014—but the music was spectacular.

Former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson kicked off the day on the Mustang Stage. Watson’s set was a prime example of the diversity offered at Stagecoach when attendees get away from the Mane Stage area. Watson offered a traditional sound, switching between banjo and guitar. His one-man folk act was impressive.

The Spirit Family Reunion appeared on the Mustang Stage mid-afternoon. The America band has appeared on NPR and has earned write-ups from various Americana-related publications—and the group is certainly worthy. With a sound similar to that of the Felice Brothers (minus the accordion), Spirit Family Reunion had crowd members dancing and clapping along. “Mainstream” country music is becoming more diverse with bands such as this gaining an audience, and the modern sound—mixed with a traditional, rustic approach—of Spirit Family Reunion was a real delight for those who caught the band.

Former Drive-By Truckers guitarist Jason Isbell appeared on the Palomino Stage late in the afternoon. He’s spoken in detail about his drug battles and the fact that he does not remember much about portions of his tenure with Drive-By Truckers, but his songwriting skills and sound were very similar to the work turned in by Drive-By Truckers—if not better. He questioned whether or not he was “country” during his performance; he certainly had a heavy Southern-rock sound, and he gained quite an audience.

Don McLean’s early-evening show on the Palomino Stage was not to be missed. The “American Pie” songwriter started off with a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue Got Married,” and followed with his song about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, “Jerusalem.” McLean had about half of the Palomino tent full, with multiple generations of festival-goers enjoying the show. One of the more interesting moments of his set was his cover of Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues,” which was given a country tinge thanks in part to piano. McLean explained to the audience he was an “accidental hit songwriter,” and was more of a performer who liked to interpret other people’s songs—a fact he showed by performing Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts.” Of course, when he began to perform the opening lines of  “American Pie,” more and more people ran into the Palomino Stage and began to cheer. While McLean’s performance was awesome, it was a shame that the crowd he gained while performing “American Pie” wasn’t there to hear him sing “Cocaine Blues.”

Crystal Gayle followed Don McLean with a set featuring hints of Leonard Cohen, Dionne Warwick, Sade and, of course, her traditional country sound. Her covers of Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days” and “Lean on Me,” and her performance of “Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” were all exciting and beautifully performed.

If there was a spectacle to be seen during Stagecoach’s Day 2, it was in the photo pit during Trampled by Turtles’ show. Independent contributor Kevin Fitzgerald told me that Ashton Kutcher was in the photo pit drinking, dancing and partying with some girls. As for Trampled by Turtles, the band's sound—complete with violin, cello and mandolin played at a fast pace—came across as true bluegrass with a modern spin; much of the crowd was into it from the very first note. The band gave a solid performance to close out the day’s proceedings on the Mustage Stage.

Back in the Palomino, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band closed out the night. Early in their set, the band played “Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble to Me” and “My Walking Shoes.” Before playing one of the band's biggest hits, “Dance Little Jean,” frontman Jeff Hanna explained that the four members had been married 10 times between them, and that they “worked hard for their divorces.” Also mentioned was how the band wrote “Working Man (Nowhere to Go)”: It was inspired by their friend Willie Nelson and Farm Aid.

Despite being from Southern California, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is one of country music’s ongoing gems. The band’s performance—which took place before Hunter Hayes and Jason Aldean had the entire festival to themselves on the Mane Stage—was the day’s highlight for many.

A Note on Handicap Access

Last year, I wrote about the fantastic experience I had with Goldenvoice and its ADA Access Center, which helps handicapped people enjoy the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals.

Unfortunately, my experience this year has been nowhere near fantastic. In fact, it’s been quite bad.

ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) ramps in the Mustang and Palomino tents were left without security on Friday and Saturday. As a result, many of the chairs were removed from the ADA platforms by festival-goers and left scattered through both tents. Therefore, many of those who were in need of seating, as well as companions assisting people in wheelchairs, were left without chairs on Friday night during shows by Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

There were also numerous people on the platforms who did not have an ADA wristband.

When I raised these issues with the ADA department on Friday evening, the people there seemed unaware that the platforms were without security, and said they would look into the issue. However, the situation was the same on Saturday.

As for the attitude of some of the festivalgoers who took chairs from the platforms for themselves? I questioned one such person on Saturday afternoon.

The response I received: “Who gives a shit? They’re handicapped!” 

Published in Reviews