The 10th annual Stagecoach – California’s Country Music Festival boasts another high octane lineup. All the headliners have served that duty in the past. Eric Church (whose “Mr. Misunderstood” was among the best country albums last year) battled heavy winds onstage in 2014; the same year Luke Bryan closed the proceedings. Carrie Underwood’s last appearance at Empire Polo Field in Indio (just outside of Palm Springs) was 2011.
While similar music events around America have either gone on hiatus or fallen by the wayside, Stagecoach is still going strong, drawing a varied mix of concertgoers that ranges from children to grandparents.
For those who need a break from listening to the 77 acts and DJs on four stages, attractions include the Honky Tonk Dance Hall, Half-Pint Hootenanny (for the kids), Toyota Thrill Ride & Drive and the always popular BBQ Championships (Texas style, chili).
Beyond the big names, Stagecoach will welcome respected old timers (Billy Joe Shaver, Johnny Lee), young bucks (Sam Hunt, Chris Young), rising newcomers (The Deslondes, RaeLynn), old school rockers (John Fogerty, Doobie Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band) and more.
Read on for my “can’t miss” recommendations…
|photo by Drew A. Kelley|
Latest album: “Eric Paslay” (EMI Nashville)
Best known songs: “Friday Night,” “She Don’t Love You,” “Song About a Girl”
Backstory: When Paslay played the Shipkicker Festival in Long Beach, Calif. last year, he nearly stole the show with strong renditions of songs from his solid self-titled debut, as well as Tom Petty and Stones covers. The Texas native has a stellar resume, having co-penned #1 hits for Eli Young Band, Jake Owen, Love & Theft and Rascal Flatts. His words have also graced releases by Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes and Charles Kelley (“The Driver,” also featuring Dierks Bentley). Paslay’s second album “Dressed in Black,” featuring recent single “High Class,” is due this summer.
Latest album: “Southern Gravity” (Streamsound)
Best known song: “Trailer Hitch”
Backstory: Jennifer Nettles gets the lion’s share of attention in Sugarland, but her musical partner Bush co-wrote, sang and played on most of their hits. Before that, he landed some minor Adult Alternative radio hits with folk/rock duo Billy Pilgrim. The singer/guitarist exudes a laid-back and playful country/rock sound on his earthy 2015 debut album, with assists from brother Brandon (Train) on piano and Travis McNabb (Sugarland, Better Than Ezra) on drums. Currently, Bush is working on a follow-up effort and can be heard singing the theme song to TLC reality show “Say Yes to the Dress.”
Latest album: “Saturday Night/Sunday Morning” (Superlatone/Thirty Tigers)
Best known songs: “Hillbilly Rock,” “Little Things,” “Tempted,” “Burn Me Down”
Backstory: The five-time Grammy winner and accomplished photographer cut his musical teeth as a member of bluegrass master Lester Flatt’s band while still a teenager. During the early ‘80s, Stuart backed Johnny Cash on tour. His solo career really took off in the ‘90s with nine top 20 country singles. Two of those (“The Whiskey Ain’t Workin,’” “This One’s Gonna Hurt You”) were duets with Travis Tritt. In 2008, The Marty Stuart Show, a musical variety program on RFD-TV in the vein of Hee-Haw, was launched. “Saturday Night/Sunday Morning,” 2014’s double disc set with longtime backing group The Fabulous Superlatives, features Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and George Jones covers, traditional country numbers and honky tonk originals. Spiritual selections make up the second disc. Guests include Mavis Staples and Tommy Emmanuel.
Latest album: “The Music of Nashville: Original Soundtrack, Season 4, Vol. 1” (Big Machine)
Best known songs: “If I Didn’t Know Better,” “Fade into You” (with Clare Bowen)
Backstory: The British actor/singer used to front the band Salt Water Thief and was in the West End musical Dreamboats and Petticoats. He started portraying aspiring musician Gunnar Scott on “Nashville” when the ABC-TV drama debuted in 2012. Alongside Clare Bowen as off-and-on girlfriend Scarlett O’Connor in fictional duo The Exes, their songs smolder with sensuality, often recalling The Civil Wars. A James Taylor fan, Palladio got a tweet of approval from the man himself when a show episode earlier this month gave a shout out.
Lee Ann Womack
Latest album: “The Way I’m Livin’” (Sugar Hill)
Best known songs: “I Hope You Dance,” “A Little Past Little Rock,” “The Fool,” “Ashes By Now,” “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”
Backstory: Since starting her career in the late ‘90s, Womack has amassed a pair of gold and platinum albums, nearly a dozen top 20 country singles and multiple awards (two well-deserved CMAs were for 2005’s “There’s More Where That Came From”). With a traditional country sound that has occasionally veered into pop, she’s been compared to Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. On 2014’s “The Way I’m Livin’” – Womack’s first effort in six years – her song choices often contain spiritual-tinged lyrics, comforting arrangements and a solid take on Neil Young’s “Harvest” nugget, “Out on the Weekend.”
Latest album: “Tarpaper Sky” (New West)
Best known songs: “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried,” “After All This Time,” “Above and Beyond,” “She’s Crazy for Leaving,” “If Looks Could Kill,” “Shame on the Moon”
Backstory: If someone did a Six Degrees of Separation game using Crowell, he’d connect with several Stagecoach acts. He first gained prominence during the mid-1970s as part of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band; then the singer/guitarist launched a solo career and married Roseanne Cash. 1988’s Grammy-winning “Diamonds & Dirt” spawned five No. 1 country singles. Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Bob Seger, Womack and countless others have all had major success with Crowell tunes. A creative streak that began in 2011 with the memoir “Chinaberry Sidewalks” was followed by four more albums (two with Harris). Vince Gill and Chely Wright provide harmonies on “Tarpaper Sky.”
Also noteworthy: Sam Outlaw, John Fogerty
|photo by Drew A. Kelley|
Latest album: “Where It’s At” (Broken Bow)
Best known songs: “Cowboys and Angels,” “Where It’s At,” “Hell of a Night”
Backstory: The first time I saw Lynch live was opening for Keith Urban at the Hollywood Bowl. He had no trouble working that large stage like a pro. Lynch went on to open for Luke Bryan and Little Big Town. His fun sets usually give a tip of the cowboy hat to influences; both expected (Garth Brooks) and unpredictable (The Weeknd).
Latest album: “Meat and Candy” (RCA)
Best known song: “Break Up With Him,” “Snapback”
Backstory: With ties to Virginia, Old Dominion members have co-written songs for The Band Perry, Tyler Farr, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney and others. They opened for the latter on a stadium tour last year and put out an impressively catchy debut album.
A Thousand Horses
Latest album: “Southernality” (Republic Nashville)
Best known song: “Smoke”
Backstory: Although the band emerged with its eponymous major label debut CD in 2010, it didn’t gain much traction. Five years later, they returned with a winsome Black Crowes-meets-Tom Petty-and-Oasis-type sound and found favor at country radio for the Dave Cobb-produced “Southernality.” They’ve toured with Darius Rucker and Greg Allman.
Also noteworthy: Johnny Lee, The Doobie Brothers
For updates, lineups and more details, go to www.stagecoachfestival.com
My article originally appeared at www.musicnewsnashville.com