It’s a little bit hard to follow an event as epic and multi-faceted as Coachella or South By Southwest. Their diversity lends to a very insane ride, a perfect storm for genius to occur. Stagecoach had some large boots to fill and fell a little short this year. Although touted as America’s largest Country music festival boasting heavy-hitters like Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert, curve balls like Steve Martin and Chris Isaak, and living legends like Kenny Rogers and Dr. Ralph Stanley, it didn’t have the magic it deserved to match it’s mainstream music festival competition.
Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones
Warming up the Stagecoach crowd was Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones, an LA-based roots-rock quartet focused on heart-wrenching music about the hardest of times, featuring songs like “4th of July” and “Marie Marie”. Featuring an amazing female drum solo and wailing guitar, Alvin brought a lot of soulful blues to an otherwise twangy affair.
Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys
The legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley proved that after 66 years in the business, he’s still got it. The audience cheered and in some cases, line-danced as the 80-something year old bluegrass singer stood performing alongside his grandson and his three other Mountain Men, never stopping to sit once. They performed standards like an eerie acoustic version “O Death”, featuring Ralph Stanley’s gravely vocals, the uptempo “Orange Blossom Special”, and the recently rekindled “Man of Constant Sorrow”, made popular by the critically acclaimed film “O Brother, Where Art Thou”.
If the Rembrandts and the Proclaimers had a baby and then that baby were raised in Nashville, you’d get the Minneapolis band, the Jayhawks. Their hybrid 90s alternative rock mixed with country was definitely unique. Unexpected progressive chord changes abounded while folk influences were heard in their performances of “Pray for Me”, “Closer To Your Side”, “There’s A Heaven Somewhere”, and “Mockingbird Time” from their current album with the same title.
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
It’s safe to say that Steve Martin stole most of the Jayhawks’ thunder, sharing a similar time slot on two different stages. Ironically, the comedian-turned-bluegrass superstar spent most of his stage time in a dead pan expression. However, who could blame him when sound issues like feedback plagued his performance. The show must go on, however, and Martin rolled with the punches joking, “That’s the sound I’m going for. It’s the new bluegrass sound.” and “Only 30 more songs to go and we’re half way done!”. Besides his great performance, a show highlight was the song, “Daddy Played the Banjo”- a song Steve co-wrote with Gary Scruggs, featuring Woody Platt on vocals.
Chris Isaak absolutely doesn’t age. Stepping on stage with a vibrant purple rock-a-billy-Nash-Vegas suit and bouffant hair, he looked fresh out of an Elvis review, his entire entourage dressed like his accompanying swing-daddy band members all in sunglasses. Isaak rocked it out, making women of all ages swoon. With impeccable vocals, he was still able to hit high notes and gyrate his hips in songs like “Did A Bad Bad Thing”, “Somebody’s Crying”, “Please Don’t Leave Me On My Own”, “Pretty Woman”, and of course “Wicked Game”. Having unending energy and crowd-pleasing charisma, Isaak even got off stage and ran amongst his crowd of fans. He also kicked out several other legendary artist’s songs like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”, and the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody”. Look out Bruno Mars, Chris Isaak still holds the rock-A-billy crown!
Everybody loves a train wreck and- as could be expected- Blake Shelton, the train wreck, seemed customarily drunk or at least, he was drunk when his awkward set list was created. Unfortunately, Stagecoach is NOT Coachella. People are actually in attendance to listen to country music and any derivative therein. Blake evidently didn’t get the memo. Opening with “Footloose”, as made famous by the recent remade film of the same name, he then warbled on with a pointless story (as far as Stagecoach is concerned) about his being raised in a household where they “listened to everything”. He went on to sing drunken karaoke versions of “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown and “Play That Funky Music White Boy” by Average White Band. Of course, he DID inject his own hits, “Honey Bee”, “Drink On It”, “Kiss My Country Ass” and “God Gave Me You”, but he continued to make things more awkward with his long-winded, pointless, shameless plug of NBC’s “The Voice”. He recalled memories of the first time he met “The Voice” judges Adam Levine, Cee-Lo, and Christina Aguilera, spending so much time on each uneventful story that it seemed they were soon to appear on stage. Instead, he described how the first thing that came “through the door were Christina Aguilera’s boobs” and started singing, “Hey sista, soul sista, gotta smoke that bowl sista”. He also sang an unfortunate cover of Cee-Lo’s “Forget You” to the stupor of all the sunburned shirtless cowboys in the audience.
Beginning her show with a video montage of fierce women in music from Tina Turner to Loretta Lynn set to Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls)”, Miranda came out sporting a form-fitting black leather skirt, knee high boots, and a pink microphone on a mic-stand shaped like a rifle gun. Saturday night’s headliner, Miranda Lambert did NOT come to play games, she came to give sass and….ramble on about “this little show called The Voice”? By this time, it began to sound like The Voice had Shelton-Lambert family in a choke-hold and it was VERY detracting. Lambert performed her hits “Over You”, “Only Prettier” and “Kerosene”, but her surprise guest was her “little favorite”, RaeLynn, the recently ejected contestant from where else? “The Voice”. Together, they sang a country-fied duet of Maroon 5’s “Wake Up Call”, in which it was hard to decipher the two voices. To tie husband and wife together, she ended her set with Blake Shelton joining her in an acoustic duet of the song “Home”.
Sporting one of the longest beards of any performer at Stagecoach comes one of the youngest solo artists in the weekend’s lineup. With more adoring fans in attendance than some of his older counterparts, Purdy could be single-handedly revitalizing the trail that Dr. Ralph Stanley first blazed over 66 years ago. His indie vibe gelled perfectly with the wise-beyond-years folk element he brought to the table and the crowd ate it up, screaming “I Love You, JOE!” at every chance they could get. Very likable, Joe interjected a few jokes like “this song is dedicated to my wife….I’m just fuckin’ with y’all, I don’t have a wife.”, and “I wanna play a piano song. I don’t have a piano but…” before pulling out his harmonica, getting audience laughs along the way. “4th of July” and “The Sun” were crowd favorites.
Taking the old and twisting it with the new, Greensky Bluegrass are changing the face of country by bringing a little rock to bluegrass. The young Kalamzoo quartet was loads of fun, as evidenced by the incessant line-dancing of some audience members during their set. Almost every band member sings and their harmonies blend perfectly. Front man Paul Hoffman didn’t spend much time bantering, but he did promote their new album, “Handgun”, as well as engage the crowd in a quick round of Marco Polo by yelling out “Marco!” with the audience responding “Polo!” and breaking into laughter. They wowed fans with their original songs “Jaywalking” and “Handgun”.
The Band Perry
If the Jonas Brothers and Taylor Swift joined alliances with Sugarland, you would have the Band Perry; a perfect mix of contemporary country, pop and rock with a family-friendly edge. Hyping the crowd up with a video montage and recording of them saying “We’re the Band Perry and we play country”, the teen band bounced onto the Mane Stage, the crowd roaring with cheer. Front-woman Kimberly Perry shined as her powerhouse vocals echoed throughout the entire Polo Fields grounds. Their songs “If I Die Young”, “Sugar Sugar”, and “Miss You Being Gone” were flawless, along with their a cappella harmonies. Other highlights included their cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” and unexpected cover of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”.
Performing songs like “Love’s The Only House”, “Wild Angels”, and “Blessed”, soccer soms and families fresh out of Sunday school breathed a sigh of relief when Martina McBride and her squeaky clean set took the stage for her first ever Stagecoach performance. “I’m gonna look like Alice Cooper by the time this is done,” she joked referencing the 100 degree heat as she continued to sing songs like “Anyway’, “Broken Wing”, “This One’s For The Girls” and a spirited cover of Train’s “Calling All Angels”. Very aware of her intended audience, she even joyfully asked, “How many of you have teenage daughters?” before singing her song of the same name. Overall, she was Stagecoach’s most straight-laced performer, bar none.
Kenny Rogers is so much more than delectable down home chicken dinners: before that, he was a country music legend. Covered by many, revered by many, and adored by many. If anyone needed any proof, all they needed to do was try to catch a glimpse of his show. The small Palomino Stage was PACKED with fans in every direction, standing on top of hay bails, sitting on each other’s shoulders, attempting to hold their cameras above people’s heads in hopes to at least RECORD a glimpse of him. The only audience that got clear views of the legend were those parked there for at least 30 minutes to an hour beforehand. Clearly Stagecoach underestimated the power of Kenny Rogers! The entire tent vibrated with chants of “KENNY! KENNY! KENNY!” just before his arrival. With his Vegas-style country band, Rogers, in his iconic white bearded glory, sang hits like “Have A Little Faith” and “Islands In The Stream”. When he sang “The Gambler”, every last member of the audience chimed in, sounding like the “Kenny Rogers Choir”. At the end of his show, a young on-looker in the crowd excitedly said, “That was everything I thought I would be!”
While Kenny Rogers ruled the Palomino Stage, Sheryl Crow rocked the Mane Stage at just about the exact same time slot. Out of all the women that performed at Stagecoach, Sheryl Crow, the surfer girl from California, was hands-down THE most gritty balls-to-the-wall female performance. Deafening applause almost tore down every fixture in the Polo Fields for her Mane Stage performance. Fitting all that badassness into painted on red jeans, Sheryl Crow was there to play music, not games. Wearing aviator glasses, she and her band revved the crowd up with the high octane song “Steve McQueen”. Not waiting too long to take the audience on a trip down memory lane, she quickly followed with “All I Wanna Do” and the crowd ate it up. For her performance of the bluesy, Bonnie Raitt-sounding “Favorite Mistake”, she hopped on the organ and played. Mid-way through the set, she brought out the special guest, Brad Paisley and they performed “Real Gone”. Closing her set, like a BEAST, Martina McBride made a surprise appearance during Crow’s cover of with Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good”. The concert series could have easily ended after Sheryl’s performance and the audience would have been satisfied.
The night’s golden boy was finally at bat to wow the audience of Stagecoach and properly bring it to its highly sensationalized end. Performing a 15-song set with a one song encore, Brad Paisley fit everything he possibly could in his set. It begged the questions: “Why?” and “What year is this?”. It started off interestingly enough with a laser outline of Paisley’s body performing in real-time as he performed the song, “ Camouflage”. He promoted his “Virtual Reality” tour and sang his song “Online”, scrutinizing social networking and protesting the current direction of the music industry (“What year is this?”). He also had tabloid-style fun in his song “Celebrity”, made jabs at Kim Kardashian’s 72 hour wedding to Kris Humphries, and what appeared to be a had giant cartoon puppet version of himself ran around on stage (“Why?”). Hits like “I’m Still A Guy”, “Old Alabama”, and “This Is Country Music” were amongst crowd favorites. The ace up his sleeve came from the surprise duet with a virtual Carrie Underwood on their song “Remind Me”. A virtual William Shatner dressed in Star Trek garb also joined the fun, mistaking Kim Kardashian for a Romulan, telling him to go into “Warp Speed”, which was then followed by a ridiculously fast fiddle and guitar bluegrass melange (again, “WHY?”). While sonically, he was great and his show was indeed entertaining, it was really stretching to make a lasting impact.
Story by Aisha Humphrey, Photos by Bonnie Tilley