Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stagecoach Festival review: Day 1 (afternoon)

My review originally appeared in the OC Register's Soundcheck blog.

photo by Robert Kinsler
There's no need for horses at Stagecoach. The second that gates open, concertgoers carrying blankets and chairs stampede over to the primary Mane stage to stake their claim on a primo viewing spot. It's quite a sight. 

Over at the Toyota World of Wonders tent (aka the Gobi tent at Coachella) several carnival-type activities have kept early arrivals busy.

A line of guys and gals vying to get their names on a "heavy lifters" board from trying to pull a Tundra truck was short. No surprise there: Who wants to zap all their energy when the temperature is in the mid-90s? 

Relaxing in the Palomino tent was a far less strenuous activity. That's where Brett Shady kicked off the festival's music proceedings with his top-notch band. 

photo by Robert Kinsler
The L.A.-based singer-songwriter (pictured, left), a former member of Northern California indie rockers Golden Shoulders, turned in a highly satisfying set culled from his excellent 2010 effort The Devil to Pay.

His easygoing Americana music set was characterized by rich harmonies, often reminiscent of the Band (on songs such as "Somebody Else" and "Waltz for a Girl in South Carolina"), as well as tasteful electric guitar solos (on "Jerome, AZ") and a sense of honesty that evoked Jackson Browne. 

Robert Ellis followed Shady in Palomino with a solid solo acoustic guitar performance.

On his concept album Photographs, Ellis groups the songs into two halves like a vinyl record: dark, folksy finger-picking ones and tributes to classic country artists. The former category translated well live, especially on "Comin' Home" and "Westbound Train."

photo by David Hall
He also offered up a couple of George Jones covers, no doubt the first of many tributes to the late county legend as this weekend festival progresses. 

Haunted Windchimes, a quintet out of Pueblo, Colo., played acoustically, too, gathering together at the center of the Mustang stage and sharing a microphone. 

Their old-time country music was often delicate (as on "Earthquake" and "Cryin' Like the Rain") yet more forceful when needed (as with "Lordy Lordy" or the call-and-response vocals of "Say You're Sorry"). Adeptly rotating lead-singer chores, the band dedicated its Leadbelly cover "Ship to Zion" to Jones.

View more photos by David Hall at

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