Blog from Coachella

The Press-Enterprise  

The inaugural Stagecoach festival proved that it’s possible to bottle a little of the magic of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and sprinkle it on a country crowd. The Empire Polo Field may have skewed a little older and featured a few more cowboy hats than it did last weekend, but passionate music fans and interesting performers were almost as plentiful. The weekend was filled with more than 50 acts, but beyond that there was art, poetry, barbecue and people-watching to enjoy. The temperatures were cooler — low 90s both days — and the crowds were smaller — 30,000 a day compared with 60,000 – which made traversing the immense grass fields a bit more tolerable. For fans of country music and cowboy culture, this was an experience that encompassed it all. Here are some of the observations made by staff writers Vanessa Franko, Matt Calkins, Fielding Buck and Paul Saitowitz:

Most Alluring Performance: Willie Nelson was on top of his game. As he took the Palomino Stage dressed in black with trademark ponytail, bandana and white beard, he broke into “Whiskey River” and owned the set from that point on. From “Me and Bobby McGee” and “I’ll Fly Away” to “On the Road Again” and “Always On My Mind,” the 74-year-old Texas-born legend played a slew of hits and standards that delighted all and made most of the day’s other performers pale in comparison.

Best imaginary friend: Jimmy Buffett When Alan Jackson played “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” on Saturday night, the video screens, which were showing the live feed, switched to the video for the song. When Jackson got to the line, “At a moment like this, I can’t help but wonder, What would Jimmy Buffett do?” the screens cut to the music video from 2003, with Buffett singing along to the song.

Most Impressive Showing: Earl Scruggs At 83, Earl Scruggs may have been the oldest performer on Saturday, but man can he pick a banjo. The bluegrass legend, who joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys back in 1945, is still very much in command of his syncopated, three-finger picking style. The highlight of his 50-minute performance was a rendition of “Ballad Of Jed Clampett” (theme from “The Beverly Hillbillies”), a song he wrote for the TV show back in 1962.

Pleasant Surprise: Yonder Mountain String Band When this group took the stage in the Appaloosa tent, its members looked like typical 20-something college kids … jeans, T-shirts, beards … somewhere between hippies and hipsters. When they started playing, though, the energy in the tent swelled as they delivered intricate harmonies over note-heavy mandolin and banjo solos that were more upbeat than anything else in the tent all day. Basically sounding like a cross between a jam band and a traditional bluegrass outfit, Yonder Mountain has created a sound of its own.

Most Attitude On Stage: Lucinda Williams This award goes to Lucinda Williams hands down. With a pink cowboy hat and a voice filled with as much vinegar as sugar, the alternative country queen played with a purpose. In between songs, she complained about the sound bleeding from other stages, and during songs, she belted to make sure she was all you were hearing. Part country, part rock and part punk, Williams stood out from the rest of the days performers with aplomb.

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