Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Stagecoach Festival review: Day 3

My review originally appeared in the OC Register's Soundcheck blog.
Live photos by David Hall.

American flags are a common sight at Stagecoach, yet I didn’t actually spot one from a state other than California until Sunday evening, when a guy wrapped in an Arkansas diamond logo banner danced around to Charley Pride inside the Palomino tent.

Only one real gem emerged from the third day of festival proceedings: Blue Sky Riders. The Americana/pop group comprising '70s and '80 soft-rock hit-maker Kenny Loggins, plus esteemed singer-songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman, displayed the purest vocal harmonies heard all weekend.

A key example came right away, as the trio and backing musicians introduced their inviting set with “I’m a Rider” and a couple lines done a capella. Blue Sky Riders’ solid debut Finally Home, co-produced by music legend Peter Asher, came out this past January.

The ominous, Cajun-tinged “Feelin’ Brave,” with Middleman on dulcimer, proved enticing, while the rollicking “You’re Not the Boss of Me” found Loggins and her happily sharing a microphone before a decent-sized Palomino crowd. Other ebullient highlights included the slinky “I Get It,” a folksy “How About Now” (revamped from Loggins’ same-titled 2007 CD) and the indelible melody in “Just Say Yes.”

Blue Sky Riders had a comfortable, humorous rapport together (Burr and Middleman have been a couple for years) and told stories behind several songs. The most inspiring came via “Dream,” a low-burn number about following your muse at any age.

Earlier in the day, Florida Georgia Line kicked the Mane Stage's party level into high gear with a boisterous blend of randy rock, country and rap. The extremely popular duo, a double recipient at the recent ACM awards, currently has a pair of Top 10 tunes on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and a gold-certified first album.

Despite a muddy sound mix that made the blaring guitars overwhelming, FGL appeared to be the perfect soundtrack for downing alcohol in the sweltering heat. To quote “Round Here,” they were “ready to raise some hell.” Concertgoers went bonkers when co-singers Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley made an excursion into the general admission area during – what else? – “Party People.”

Elsewhere, “It’z Just What We Do,” “Tip It Back,” “Here’s to the Good Times” and snippets of Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” and Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” all got rousing responses. The guys closed with chart-topper “Cruise” (also in a new remix featuring the rapper).

Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott provide ample sparks together during romantic ballads, but Thompson Square (pictured, left) has 'em beat in the authenticity department.

Taking the Mane Stage to the upbeat, driving country pop of “Here’s to Being Here,” real-life husband and wife Keifer and Shawna Thompson had more smoldering chemistry as they sang songs like current hit “If I Didn’t Have You” and “I Can’t Outrun You” face to face.

Thompson Square’s satisfying set included the bluesy “Getaway Car,” the sprightly “Just Feels Good” and a fun run through “Testing the Water.” Their takes on Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and a nice revamp of fun.’s “Some Nights” worked well, but a later segue from the booming “One of Those Days” into Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” was tepid at best. Finally, “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” prompted a loud crowd sing-along.

Two country music veterans who notched more than a dozen No. 1 country singles during the '70s also turned in back-to-back sets at the well-attended Palomino.

Last year, Don Williams, 73, returned after an eight-year recording absence with And So It Goes, boasting guest shots by Keith Urban, Vince Gill and Alison Krauss.

Seated and playing acoustic guitar with his band, the Gentle Giant’s low-key performance defined “comfortable.”

The easygoing 1980 hit “Good Ole Boys Like Me” flowed like a breeze and “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” spotlighted his low baritone.

Conversely, the plaintive “Back in My Younger Days” showed that Williams’ honeyed upper register remains intact.

Introduced by American Idol judge Randy Jackson, Charley Pride’s rare Southern California appearance drew an appreciative crowd of admirers who didn’t seem to mind that many songs were whisked away in medleys.

Battling sound problems and in merely adequate voice, it was often hard to discern one tune from another, except for old-school country faves like “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger,” “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)” and “It’s Gonna Take a Little Bit Longer.”

Darius Rucker was a real crowd pleaser during a fine dusk set on the Mane stage. He opened with a rousing "Heartbreak Road," the first of several fresh tunes debuted from the upcoming album, True Believers (due on May 21). Other new ones, including the title track, "Radio" and current #2 Billboard country single "Wagon Wheel," provided a good taster on what's to come on CD.
Older chart topping hits like "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," "It Won't Be Like This For Long" (dedicated to all parents in attendance), "Alright," "This" and "Comeback Song" all got enthusiastic reactions from the crowd.

Before doing his frequent concert cover of Hank Williams Jr.'s "Family Tradition," Rucker urged anyone who wasn't familiar with the tune to go and download it. The singer's spin on Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" was also plenty fun.

View more photos by David Hall at

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