Saturday, May 3, 2008

Stagecoach Country Music Festival 2008 review

Yesterday I was back at Empire Polo Field for Day 1 of the Second Annual Stagecoach Festival. The crowd skewed older than Coachella. People tended to bring their whole families (kids and grandparents too). Some stayed overnight in RVs for the entire event. There’s reserved seating in front of the Mane Stage and folding chairs are allowed inside the grounds. It’s an altogether different, more relaxed vibe.

Shooter Jennings provided the musical equivalent of a shot of whiskey with his potent outlaw country tunes on the Palomino Stage. Waylon’s son moved from guitar to keyboards during a 35-minute set highlighted by a fiery “This ‘Ol Wheel” from latest CD, “The Wolf.”

The smell of the BBQ Cook Off wafted through the air as I made it back to the Mane Stage for Coachella Valley resident Shelby Lynne’s bizarre performance. Apparently no one told her there was a large reserved VIP section located directly in front of the stage (price for all three days of Stagecoach: around $500). She was ticked off at the sea of empty seats at 5 p.m. (VIPs always arrive fashionably late), raised a middle finger and said, “F*** Stagecoach.” Now distracted, the rest of Lynne's sedate set suffered. Tunes from her current Dusty Springfield covers collection (“Breakfast in Bed,” “I Only Want to Be with You”) proved pleasant, yet unassuming. The band picked up the pace at the end for “Jesus on a Greyhound.” By then, it was too late to salvage things.

Trisha Yearwood was a complete contrast. Gracious to be at the event, she exuded class all the way. Her honeyed voice was in fine form whether it was belting the title track to latest disc “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love,” big country hit “She’s in Love with the Boy” or “How Do I Live” (from the film “Con Air”). Unfortunately, hubby Garth Brooks didn’t appear for a duet.

Taking the Mane Stage 15 minutes late, John Fogerty concentrated on CCR material as well as a handful of lively solo songs. The energetic performance saw the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer working the entire stage and doing some impressive guitar licks. His excellent backing band was anchored by veteran drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp), guitarist Billy Burnett (Fleetwood Mac), a fiddler and backing singers. Among the many standouts: “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Proud Mary,” “Fortunate Son,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” “The Old Man Down the Road” and optimistic new tune “Don’t You Wish it Was True” (from last year’s “Revival”). Fogerty got a rousing response from the totally inebriated crowd.

Earlier this year, The Eagles (pictured, above) won their first country music Grammy Award and scored their first country hit with “How Long.” Appropriately enough, the band opened with it on Friday night. More new songs from successful 2007 comeback album “Long Road Out of Eden” frontloaded a nearly two-hour set (“Busy Being Fabulous,” “I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore,” “Guilty of the Crime”).

The crowd went nuts when “Hotel California” was dispatched early (ousted guitarist Don Felder was sorely missed on the double neck). Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh proved those heavenly group harmonies have remained intact, especially during “One of the These Nights,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”

There were several strong numbers from “The Long Run” - namely the title track and “Heartache Tonight.” Walsh's rock chops were prominently displayed on "Life in the Fast Lane." As in the tour stop I caught a couple years ago in Anaheim, I would have traded the solo material from Henley (“Dirty Laundry,” “The Boys of Summer”) and Walsh (“Life’s Been Good,” The James Gang’s “Funk #49”) for some deep album cuts, more hits or yes, even more from the new double album. Henley capped the night, as usual, with a heartfelt “Desperado.”

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