Some people thought we were nuts for heading back to the desert the week after Coachella for the first annual Stagecoach Country Music Festival. Those some people were us! But we went anyway, and as it turns out, Stagecoach was the cleaner, friendlier and easier of the two. It also happened to be more revelatory since most of the performers were ones we didn't know as well as, say, Hot Chip. After the jump, check out our photos and coverage from our first, and definitely not last, Stagecoach.
The first difference we noticed between Coachella and Stagecoach was the preparedness of the attendees. Where Coach kids came with a case of beer and maybe a condom or two, Stagecoachers could've stayed for weeks. The entire main parking lot was filled with house-sized RVs with pools, grills, patios, extenda-room things and enough beer to blackout a small college. There were confederate flags, NASCAR flags, POW flags, beer flags. Real flaggy this bunch. We saw a shirtless cowboy dancing on the roof of his RV but he got down when he saw us or had to puke or whatever.
Stagecoach also pampered the road dawgs. If you came on a bigass motorcycle you got to roll right up to the main entrance and park under the flowers, presumably because you would need to get out quickly after stabbing someone. Just kidding. They were really good about checking for blades at the entrance.
We can only hope some dude drank a whole beer trying to figure out this sign.
The Burning Man art was left after Coachella, and since there were a lot fewer people clogging the thoroughfares, many stopped to ponder their meaning. This one meant someone made a tree out of metal. It spun around.
Our first formidable act was Lucinda Williams. She opened strong with "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" but because Stagecoach is scheduled as frustratingly as Coachella, we had to run before she finished her third song to see someone else.
Earl Scruggs, snitches! Already tearing it up with his band including son Randy. Earl's lost a pluck or two in his old age (the crowd wished him a happy 83rd) but it was still great to watch him play with Randy looking over his shoulder following his lead. This was our first time in the Apaloosa tent which was also our first encounter with another behavior unique to Stagecoach: sitting comfortably. In the tents, the organizers removed the photo row from the week before and put up hay bales so people could sit on the grass or in their lawn chairs (many, many highly-focused lawn chairs: built in footrests, tables, backpacks, etc) and stretch their legs out. It gave all the stages except the Mane main stage a state fair vibe very different from the sweaty throngs of Coachella.
After the Scruggs' shredders we went over to the Mustang stage and watched the Riders in the Sky for a second. Here's their routine: "You're kinda dumb," said the dude in the turquoise satin. "You're dumber and this is why, 'cuz you just said somethin' stupid," said the bass player. "Oh yeah, well there's a statue of a beaver eating a fish over there. Let's play a song." Pretty awesome Will Rogers style cowboy humor.
Behind the audience at that stage was the cowboy art gallery. This was a mixed media piece of a drunk Mexican. It was priced at $3000 and pretty much the most racist thing we saw all weekend.
We then walked back over to the Palomino stage for some Willie Nelson, who was the only repeat performer we saw from Coachella (Sorry Nickel Creek, we missed you at both). This is what we hoped everyone at Stagecoach would look like, but this guy ended up being one of a kind. We predict bandaged hands will be huge next season. He was in the midst of staring at this girl's boobs for ten minutes when we snapped this gem.
Willie was way more stoked to be playing for this crowd on a smaller stage instead of a bunch of a-holes on the Main stage last week. He was waving and smiling at everyone and playing a few deeper cuts.
The open-air Palomino stage's crowd was its largest of the whole weekend for Willie's set, and people were subtly freaking out.
Especially this little kid in the front row. She stared at Willie like that weird chick on TV stared at Sanjaya. She was sitting on her mom's shoulder's and Willie kept waving at her and everytime she'd blow him clumsy kisses by smacking an open hand against her face and throwing both hands in the air. Willie kept singing right to her. Really rad to see as many little kids and older folks at Stagecoach compared with the fairly narrow demographic of Coachella.
We managed to make our way over to the Mane stage at the end of the night to catch Alan Jackson, that's his heavenly image on the jumbotron, and George Strait. Other than "Chattahoochee," which is pretty great, the only song worth noting was "Where I Come From." So for each show, Alan's touring production company drives around whatever city and makes a video of all the local spots so that when Jackson is singing about being an American and praying and pledging allegiance, the audience is freaking out because the giant screen is showing the local burger joint and stickers of Calvin pissing on "Bin Laden" and stuff like that. (Full disclosure: We were amped when they put up local pub Beer Hunter which has a sign with a beer mug with antlers on it. Question though, what do you drink after a long day of hunting beers? Think about that, dudes.) The whole thing was kinda weird and uncomfortably exploitive and lazy, but whatever, big rappers and pop stars do the same shit. From what we heard the next day, Neko Case played a set for a handful of people at this same time on the outdoor stage.
Day two we hung out until Ramblin' Jack Elliott came on spinning yarns and singing stories. Cool enough, but probably the first minor letdown of the weekend. A few years ago we watched The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack which rightly paints him as the link between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, so to see him sitting there, bummed by the booming systems of adjacent tents and giving a drab performance was a slight bummer. Still, just to hear him rattle off a string of killer songs that he'd picked up along the long road was amazing.
FADERbro Alert! Marty Stuart straight killed it. Along with a handful of his own hits, Stuart and his scraggly band played a cover of oldass Appalachian folk tune "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" and a song dedicated to Stuart's mentor and friend Johnny Cash called "Dark Bird" that he prefaced with a story about buying the Memphis property that Cash bought from Roy Orbison after Orbison's son died that silenced the crowd and exemplified Stuart's deep respect for and solid position in the history of country music. Unbelievably awesome.
Followed by a little known singer-songwriter named Kris Kristofferson. At this point, we were convinced we were in the midst of the greatest stretch of live music in the history of forever. Kristofferson sang "Sky King" about his old Army buddies, "Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down" about everything, "Help Me Make It Through The Night," "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," etc etc. Fucking unreal. He talked shit about Bush and the war. He stood onstage by himself. He sang lyrics about kids cussin' at the cans they were kickin'! Real talk! Okayplayer, here's your storytelling rapper right here!
Garrison Keillor told a joke about somebody's daughter with rings in her nose and lips with the punchline: "It looked like she'd tripped and fallen face first into the tackle box." Uproarious laughter. Riff central.
Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock back together as the Flatlanders, a group they'd formed in Lubbock, Texas in 1972. We knew more about Gilmore for his role as "Smokey" in The Big Lebowski and some solo joints and Ely toured with the Clash in the '70s, but all three are generally considered Texas music badasses. Good old fun times, but nothing spectacular, which is actually probably their aim.
There was something settling about seeing Emmylou Harris after a long day of these not necessarily macho but definitely masculine musicians. Even after Keillor, we got kinda tired of hearing about women and needed to hear from them. Emmylou was the one woman at Stagecoach with the same gravity and presence (no offense to Lucinda or Neko), and it was actually the one time when the schedulers put the right performer at the right time, not at odds with anyone but Sugarland who we weren't interested in anyway.
Then we ate meat and beans.
And to close out our first Stagecoach, we headed back over to the open-air Palomino stage for the other FADER artist we saw ove the weekend, and this was the scene. Maybe two hundred people. The glaring difference between Coachella and Stagecoach is that most of the people are there for the main stage acts and there's very little crossover to the smaller stages. So, when Drive-By Truckers took the stage in the middle of Brooks & Dunn's set, this is what they got, which is pretty amazing considering there were probably 40 or 50,000 people there and you could see a great band like this in an atmosphere that felt more like a neighborhood barbecue than a giant festival. The band really seemed to appreciate it too and interspersed taunts toward the main stage which riled everyone up. They were also the only band we saw all weekend that wasn't overwhelmed by the main stage sound. You couldn't hear anything but Truckers songs. Pretty amazing.
So we watched their set (sans Jason Isbell) and walked out past the hordes of people in front of the main stage who were staring at color bars on the jumbotron in between Brooks & Dunn and Kenny Chesney. We were too tired to make any grand assumptions about what that meant for the state of country music, plus we honestly don't know enough to talk shit. But we can tell you that the Shop Boyz' "Rock Star" was playing over the PA to deafening levels and no one was hating so maybe you can draw your own conclusions.