I blame Adam Lambert for what I am about to reveal to you all: I’m headed to a Taylor Swift concert tonight. That’s right, Taylor Swift. Insidious curiosity got the better of me.
But why do I blame Lambert, you ask? Because I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of country music recently. Instead, thanks to my new, bizarre obsession with Lambert, in the past month I’ve pulled out old Queen, Bowie, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. And I’ve listened to more My Chemical Romance, Pink and even Def Leppard than anything resembling country. So, of course I thought of Swift. Because, when you think of hard rock, isn’t Swift the first person who comes to mind?
(Save your ears, don’t listen)
I’ve also been tuning into rock radio, a rarity for me, to see what’s popular these days. Lo and behold, wouldn’t you know, Taylor Swift is also a rock artist (in addition to being a country, pop and heavy metal artist). She’s regularly squeezed in between All American Rejects and Green Day on my local station. And let me tell you, nothing sounds more rock than a re-mix of Love Story. Don’t you agree?
But you have to give credit where credit is due. This girl has everyone fooled. Re-mix, re-package, throw in a few guest appearances with John Mayer and Def Leppard, form a friendship with Miley Cyrus, and suddenly, wow, you appeal to every demographic (under the age of 20). I gotta admit, I’m impressed. I’m also curious how a tall, gangly misfit, with a precocious attitude, who can’t sing, has made it work. So, I’m headed to a concert tonight and will report back here because I actually know that many of you consider Swift a guilty pleasure. Wish me luck.
But no worries. I also have a number of saner concerts scheduled later this summer. I’ve already got tickets to see Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith and Buddy Miller; as well as tickets to see Gary Allan and LeAnn Rimes (if she doesn’t cancel, which she’s done on me twice). I’m also still holding out for Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson tickets, but I’m sure that one is going to work out.
Summer concert season is around the corner.
Who are you planning on seeing in concert this summer?
As I was scouring the neighborhood around 9pm last night after work looking for an open pet store, I flipped through the local radio stations looking for something new and interesting. I really didn’t expect to find much, but after awhile, I finally hit something with a cool beat and lyrics. Something that I hadn’t heard before and sounded different. I kinda liked it, but couldn’t place it.
It turns out that the station was previewing the new Green Day album, 21st Century Breakdown, (due out in stores and online today). I consider myself somewhat of a Green Day fan, despite the fact I only own Dookie and American Idiot. (And there’s a good, somewhat funny concert story related to the band mixed in there as well.) As such, I’ve been cautiously optimistic about their new album.
Fortunately, from what I heard in between futile stops at closed pet stores, it sounded pretty good, and I decided to buy it today. But as I made that decision, I realized that there are very few albums coming out soon that I’m genuinely looking forward to with anticipation and excitement. And I was truly surprised by how ambivalent I really felt about this release by a band that I know I like. Maybe that’s because as we get older, we become more picky and more frugal. Or perhaps we just haven’t heard anything awesome in such a long time, we figure it might be best to wait and see if we hear some buzz before we cautiously download a song, much less an entire album.
What I do know, is that the only albums I can currently recall that I am looking forward to are the upcoming Patty Griffin, Charlie Robison and Levon Helm albums. Griffin is always fantastic. Robison’s album has good advance buzz and is bound to be interesting given the time period in his life in which he wrote it. And I’m a recent Helm fan. But, help me out…there’s gotta be more!
Which albums coming out soon are you most looking forward to?
X6EF&pf_rd_t=301&pf_rd_p=477111071&pf_rd_i=steve%20earle”>Steve Earle's newest album, Townes, to your collection for only $2.99!
Although Earle has covered Townes Van Zandt's material throughout his career, this is the first time he's put together an album entirely dedicated to Van Zandt's songs. A master covering a master can only yield brilliant results, right? I'll be reviewing this album later on, but check it out and let me know what you think!
One of country music's gifts is its ability to evoke strong images and feelings through its relatable lyrics. And nothing engenders intense, occasionally conflicting, emotions like your hometown. Whether or not your hometown is a reflection of who you are or have become, it is an integral part of your personal history and has influenced you in ways perhaps too obscure to realize.
I love hometown songs because of the obvious emotion behind the lyrics. That emotion is always imbued with a sense of nostalgia or longing (for what was or what could be or what might have been), even if the lyrics don't necessarily shine a positive light on the hometown. It's an irresistible combination, especially for country music listeners.
I have no doubt that I am a product of my hometown. Despite being couched between two large sprawling metropolis', it's an intimate and friendly place, a beach town where you can't leave the house without running into somebody you know. I babysat the girl tearing my ticket at the local movie theatre, my neighbor's son takes my order at the restaurant down the street, and a few minutes spent strolling through the local grocery store or Target is akin to a high school reunion; a verifiable “who's who” of my past and present.
I love the fact that I can wear flip flops pretty much anywhere, and that the people are open, laid back and affectionate. I love that my old high school has a highly ranked surf and bodyboarding team, and it's still considered cool to own a volvo station wagon (hello, the board fits in the back!). I also love that it has maintained its quirkiness despite a certain amount of gentrification, and that the locals still devoutly support their favorite hole-in-the-wall taco shops and music stores.
Of course, it's not quite so small that “everybody dies famous” (it's definitely more than a
“single stop light town”). And while it's not remotely in the American heartland, I spent plenty of days “suckin on chili dogs outside the tastee freeze” and cheering on my local team “from the cheap seats.” It also has its very own marquee, but I can't say that “when people leave town, they never come back.” If people do ever leave town, they nearly always come back. (I did.)
Although every hometown song makes me a wee bit nostalgic for my own, given that I didn't grow up in the South or the Midwest it's hard to find a country song with direct application. Ironically, the country song that most reminds me of my hometown is Kenny Chesney's “Anything But Mine” (the only Chesney song on my iPod).
Summers in my hometown have always been signalled by the start of the local fair in June. I still recall that tingling excitement back in my school days that came with the opening of the fair. The fair meant that school was nearly out and an entire summer of fun in the sun awaited.
Chesney's song refers to a beachside Boardwalk, e.g. the Santa Cruz boardwalk, but my local fair is essentially located where the surf meets the turf of the fairgrounds, so these lyrics always have the ability to make me smile and reminisce:
You can hear the cries from the carnival rides
The pin-ball bells and the ski-ball slides
Watching the summer sun fall out of sight
There's a warm wind coming in from off of the ocean
Making its way past the hotel walls to fill the street
Mary is holding both of her shoes in her hand
Said she likes to feel the sand beneath her feet
I still remember summer as a time for fleeting crushes, orange slushies, giant ferris wheels and late night bonfires at the beach. Great memories. And this song manages to bring all of them back.
Anyone who reads Bob Lefsetz' “The Lefsetz Letter” knows that Lefsetz is a fairly new country music fan, but a passionate one all the same. I frequently disagree with his current assessment of country music, particularly country radio (although recently he has clued in to its frequent vapidness and monotony), but he's a fantastic voice out there championing country music.
In a recent letter, he made some interesting statements about his desired role for the future of country music (i.e. the classic rock of the future). After approvingly citing the recent Newsweek article which bemoaned the current state of country music, Lefsetz stated:
blockquote>Country used to have an edge. My buddy Pete Anderson would love to bring it back. But I’m thinking we’ve just got to move the needle a little bit, and suddenly we’ve got the rock business we used to have, the one that triumphed in the seventies.
He went on to state:
If they just took off the cowboy hats and lost the banjos they’d be closer to Lynyrd Skynyrd than Dolly Parton or George Jones. When are the country acts going to go after their rightful audience, boomers who lived through the seventies and younger people who want melody!
The future is in country, or something quite like it.
It’s not the final resting place for has-beens like Bon Jovi or wannabes like Jessica Simpson, but a phoenix ready to rise if it’s taken seriously, adds a bit of true cred, emphasizes electric guitars and is willing to have an edge.
As fans of country, new and old, how do you feel about this assessment of the future of country music?
What a difference a day makes. With Day One’s mishaps still fresh in my mind, I set out for Day Two of the Stagecoach Festival with a renewed sense of purpose and new insight on the day’s upcoming adventure. Keeping in mind lessons learned on Day One, I grabbed a map from the front desk of my hotel, set out early, purchased a chair on sale for $8 at Target, bypassed the long line in front of the main entrance to the Festival, and located a too-good-to-be-true back entrance to the parking lot. Amazingly, within five minutes of arriving at the polo fields, I was on my way to the Mane Stage with my new chair and re-filled water bottle in hand. (Kudos to Stagecoach for being so eco-friendly!)
As soon as possible after depositing my chair and blanket between a large stack of hay bales and the largest speaker I could find, I split for the side stages. With fewer people on the grounds, I finally realized how big the Festival actually was—it was huge! It had everything, from a CMT sing-a-long tent to a bucking bronco ride. It even had an abhorrent t-shirt tent full of homophobic and xenophobic t-shirts (an anomaly at an otherwise pretty classy event). Thankfully, on Day Two I also discovered the heart of the Festival: the bands playing in the two large tents off to the side of the Mane stage. The crowds weren’t nearly as large—at the beginning of the day, the large airy tents were mostly empty—but the smattering of hay bales were packed, the audience enthusiastic and the artists often times more talented than their famous peers on the Mane stage.
My first act of the day on the Palomino Stage was James Intveld, an artist I had previously never heard of. As such, I did a slight double take when Intveld walked out on stage. With his slicked back hair, old-fashioned black suit with white piping and arm slung around the back of his guitar, my first thought was: Johnny Cash impersonator? He’s not. What he is, is a very talented artist with a strong voice and a broad range of styles. He moved easily between rockabilly, honkytonk and Southern California country rock. And with songs like “This Place Ain’t What It Used to Be,” “All the Way From Memphis” and “Cry Baby,” a song he wrote for Rosie Flores, Intveld was the perfect way to start the day.
On stage immediately after Intveld was The Duhks (pronounced “ducks”) from Winnepeg, Canada. Although I had previously not heard their music, I fell at least halfway in love with The Duhks halfway through their opening number, “Mighty Storm,” when fiddler Tania Elizabeth suddenly went into a fiddle breakdown. Seemingly in her own world half the time, swaying to the music, she was incredible. The only person more intriguing in The Duhks is lead singer Sarah Dugas. What a voice. Strong and bluesy, she carried the band across a multitude of languages and a fusion of musical styles. Unlike the traditional bluegrass coming from the Mustang Stage, The Duhks are impossible to classify as anything other than extremely talented. For a nearly an hour, I was entranced by their songs, which included “95 South,” “Fast Paced World,” “You Don’t See It” and “Les Blues De Cadien/Whole Lotta Love.”
Once again proving that country music knows few boundaries,Jerry Jeff Walker took to the Palomino Stage after The Duhks. He could not have been more different in appearance and style, but, in addition to the new fans that flocked to the stage to see him, many of the same folks who checked out the Duhks and Intveld stuck around to check him out. I didn’t catch Walker’s entire performance, but it’s clear the man is a legend, and his concerts a lot of fun. Essentially, a Jerry Jeff Walker concert is like hanging out in your favorite Irish pub. The entire audience not only knows the words, but they know their parts and when to chime in. As I walked out, I wasn’t sure who was doing more singing—the audience or Walker himself.
By the time I arrived back at my chair in front of the Mane Stage, the sun was high in the sky. While not quite as hot as Coachella last weekend, Day Two of Stagecoach was definitely a bit of a scorcher, and it was going to tak
e a lot of work by the Zac Brown Band to get the sunburned and slightly lethargic audience to its feet. Fortunately, the Zac Brown Band was up to the challenge. Equal parts college jam band and seasoned pros, the Zac Brown Band thoroughly entertained the audience from the opening “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” to the closing “Chicken Fried,” which earned perhaps the biggest sing-a-long of the Festival. In between, ZBB threw in some Bob Marley (“One Love”) a lot of coconut-fried Kenny Cheesiness (“Toes,” “Where The Boat Leaves From”), and a healthy dose of feel good earnestness (“Free,” “Highway 20 Ride” and “Whatever It is”). I don’t know if ZBB will ever make it big, but they can surely put on a fun show.
Lady Antebellum took to the stage next and picked up where the ZBB left off. I’ve never been a huge Lady A fan, but their catchy R&B flavored pop-rock tunes were ridiculously enjoyable on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood kept the audience rockin’ with a number of the songs from their self-titled debut album, including “Lookin’ for a Good Time,” Loves Lookin’ Good On You,” “Slow Down Sister,” and “I Run to You.” Scott took the tentative lead on “Home is Where the Heart Is” and “All We’d Ever Need,” but it must be said that Kelly is the bona fide star of Lady A. In addition to a magnetic stage presence, his deep and raspy voice has soul and power. While Scott holds her own, her slightly off-key twang definitely sounds best when complementing Kelley. By the time Lady A closed their set with “Love Don’t Live Here,” I got the strange feeling that along with Miranda Lambert, they're going to show up the main attraction (Chesney) on tour this summer.
Rounding out my first Stagecoach Festival experience was Miranda Lambert. Compared to Lady A, I had high expectations for Lambert, and, for the most part, she didn’t disappoint. Dressed in aviator sunglasses and tight blue jeans, Miss Thang kicked off her set with “Kerosene” and a lot of attitude. Lambert continued with a nearly twang-free version of “Guilty in Here” and then picked up her acoustic guitar for “New Strings.” Lambert killed her new single, “Dead Flowers,” but her trademark growl is growing increasingly more hard rock than country. She continued growling through “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Down,” before stepping back to Lindale and bringing out “Famous in a Small Town,” one of my all-time favorites. A nice segment in the middle of the set featured “More Like Her,” “Me and Charlie Talkin'” and “Dry Town,” but the calm interlude didn't last.
In addition to “Dead Flowers,” Lambert introduced another song from her new album coming out in September, which she dedicated to “all the rockers” in the audience. The lyrics were difficult to understand, but musically the dedication said it all. Lambert also turned to “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” to supplement her own material, and tapped into her inner soul for rousing renditions of “Stay With Me” by the British rock group (featuring Rod Stewart), Faces, and “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett. If Miranda's vocals, cover choices and first two songs are any indication, her next album is destined to be a straight up rocker. I'm looking forward to the album regardless of its direction, but I have to admit that while not completely fair, I'm already feeling little nostalgic for the old Miranda. We shall see.
Since I had to be in the office bright and early Monday morning, I didn't stick around to see Kid Rock and Kenny Chesney. No big loss in my book, although I did gain a certain morbid curiousity about the former as the night wore on (especially to see how the throngs of non-cowboy boot wearin' fans that arrived soon before he took the stage mingled with the country folk).
All in all, I had a fantastic time. Festivals are brutal, but they are a great way to take country music's temperature. My only regrets of the festival were missing the Infamous Stringdusters, Poco and Jim Lauderdale. Maybe next year…
Live and learn. I did a lot of living and learning during my first day (ever) at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, California.
First lesson:Don’t rely on MapQuest. I didn’t take the large black freeways on the map to the beautiful but bizarre desert retirement slash resort community that hosts Stagecoach. Or the smaller blue lines, or even the teensy red ones. I took the non-existent purple ones through the backcountry past unusual rock formations and the odd farmhouse. It was just me and the random tanker truck going mach negativo.
Second lesson:Show up early. The tanker truck and purple lines aside, I didn’t plan well. And any plans I did have were shot to h*** as soon as I arrived at the polo fields and, well, circled the fields at a crawl (which is a generous term) for nigh two hours before entering the parking lot. So, as I slowly watched the thermometer inch up towards 100 degrees on my dashboard, I kissed goodbye my plans for The Infamous Stringdusters and Lynn Anderson. I’m sorry, guys.
Third lesson: Don’t presume anything about country music fans. While I was very slowly making my way into the parking lot, I took notice of the cars around me. There was a BMW in front of me, a Porsche on my left and a Mercedes behind me. Hmmm…didn’t they hear that polo was cancelled this weekend? But no, the fancy cars were full of college kids, a large family and an old couple…all dressed in cowboy boots and hats and headed to the festival. I’d say welcome to country music, Southern California style: cowboy boots and Gucci purses, but that would cheapen the genuine spirit of those who attended the festival. While not precisely diverse, I doubt you will find a more overall wholesome group of people anywhere. You can only have organized chaos in a group this large with people like this.
Fourth lesson:Bring a chair. Who knew? As the only person not schlepping a chair around, I might as well have had “Stagecoach virgin” stamped on my forehead. The chair guarantees you a position among the sea of people somewhere in the proximate vicinity of the stage. Proximity to the stage being relevant, of course; as long as you can see the big screens, you’re fine.
Fifth lesson:Sit near a speaker. Darius Rucker and Little Big Town both suffered from poor sound (as compared to Brad Paisley, whom you could hear clearly from the parking lot). They come off as incredibly sweet people, but if they’re not going to sing or talk any louder, you definitely need a large speaker nearby. This was particularly tragic during Little Big Town’s set. While large venues may help this band garner new fans, they are a band made for intimate venues. The intricacies of their harmonies get lost in stadium sound.
Sixth lesson:Try to forget lessons one through five and just enjoy.
Darius Rucker was on stage as I arrived. He has a pleasant voice and a laid-back stage presence that goes down easy, even if neither is particularly spectacular. He comes off as a quasi-country Jack Johnson, although slightly more interesting. Like LBT, he might be worth checking out in a smaller venue. His biggest moment, ironically, came when he sang Hank William Jr.’s “Family Tradition.” He had everyone in line at the hamburger stand about a mile away from the stage singing along. I heard later on that Brad Paisley joined him on stage for that particular number. The crowd ate it up.
ize-full wp-image-905″ title=”little-big-town-fl” src=”http://www.countryuniverse.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/little-big-town-fl.jpg” alt=”little-big-town-fl” width=”108″ height=”98″ />LBT took the stage singing “Good as Gone.” I was incredibly excited to see this group for the first time. Unfortunately, I feel as if I still haven’t heard them; properly, at least. However, I did hear enough to know that this isn’t the venue to fully appreciate them as a band. Despite having songs in their repertoire that rock, like “Good Lord Willing,” this isn’t a country-rock band built for conquering tens of thousands of people. And despite being beautiful singers, their harmonies don’t stand up well in the face of a brisk wind in an open setting. Still, what I did catch of their set, which included “Fine Line,” “I’m With the Band” and “A Little More You,” left me wanting more, even as I wondered during their closer, “Boondocks,” if they’re ever going to reach those heights again.
Reba McEntire took to the stage as the sun set over the desert, and as if rising for a queen, the sea of people took to their feet. Suddenly, it felt like I was at a concert, and a country one at that. With a killer band, vocals and stage presence, I have to admit that by the time Reba launched into “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” I had forgiven Mapquest and forgotten the parking situation. The best and worst part about a Reba show, is that she has so many hits, that you are inevitably going to hear some of your favorites, and miss out on others. Perhaps recognizing this, part way through her set McEntire launched into a medley of hits, including “Somebody” and “Love Revival.” Reba also played her new single, “Strange,” which didn’t sound out of place among her older material, including “Ring On Her Finger,” “I’m a Survivor” and “Fancy,” but didn’t rise to the same level either.
The thing about Reba, and to a certain extent Brad Paisley, the evening’s final performer, is that even if you knew nothing about country music, you would know they were among the genre’s stars. They both have that intangible “it” factor. What Reba has, that Paisley doesn’t have quite yet, however, is an extensive catalog. Therefore, if you’ve been to a Paisley concert in the past couple of years, you had already seen the show he put on at Stagecoach. A Paisley concert is an extravaganza built for the mainstream radio consumer. With high-tech screens in the background, it’s chalk full of radio friendly sing-a-longs, from the cutesy “Online,” “Alcohol,” “Ticks” and “Celebrity,” to the heartfelt “Letter to Me” and “Waitin’ on a Woman.” With his guitar flung over his shoulder, Paisley throws himself into both styles with equal aplomb, but I came to the realization last night that I much prefer Paisley in heartfelt mode. He’s fun on the ditties, but truly shines when he slows it down.
As it was the last stop on Paisley’s recent “Paisley Party” tour, Paisley promised at the beginning of his set to break all the rules and play until the sun rose. Being not entirely sure if he was going to follow through on that promise, and recalling how long it took to get into the parking area, I left a little early. It truly didn’t matter. I heard the rest of the concert as I spent 45 minutes looking for my car and another hour or so exiting the parking facility. Like I said earlier, Paisley had excellent sound.
Live and learn. At some point near midnight as I was crawling out of the parking lot, tired, a little cranky, wishing I had brought a chair and had one of the RVs parked in the adjoining lot to crash in, I wondered if the entire day had been worth it. My immediate answer: Reba had been worth every second, and Paisley was icing on the cake.
It has finally cooled off here in Southern California, so I'm headed out to the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California this weekend, April 25-26! The country cousin of Coachella, Stagecoach is now in its third year and will be playing host to nearly 40 acts, including Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band and Miranda Lambert.
I'm excited for the festival, particularly because it hosts a mix of country music, from mainstream country to bluegrass, folk, roots rock and alt-country. With three different stages – appropriately named “Mane,” “Palomino” and “Mustang” - set on the beautiful Empire Polo fields in Indio, the Festival provides a fantastic opportunity to check out the entire gamut of styles and personalities in country music.
This year, Stagecoach is featuring the following artists:
I'm setting out to review as many of the performances at Stagecoach for Country Universe as possible, but I recognize that it may be hard to hear every single act. So, I am asking you guys, the readers, to help me out:
Which five (5) acts performing at Stagecoach do you most want to read about here at Country Universe? Any burning questions you want answered?
“Love, love, love, love…” crazy love? Unfortunately, no. There is a brief moment at the beginning of “Dreaming Love” where you think Kate & Kacey might break into Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” But no, we’re not that fortunate.
Kate & Kacey do have some songwriting chops. In fact, they have a co-write with Jamey Johnson coming out on George Strait’s upcoming album. However, “Dreaming Love” is not a shimmering display of those abilities. Overall, the song is plagued with a pretty but forgettable tune (slightly reminiscent in parts of Heidi Newfield’s “Johnny and June”), decidedly unmemorable vocals and unimaginative lyrics expounding on that n’er-written-about subject, love.
In some ways, “Dreaming Love” feels like the beginning of the “Taylor Swift era” in country music, where young female singer-songwriters inspired by Swift’s success share their diaries with the world through heartfelt lyrics and music that has a hint of country but would never be out of place on a Disney soundtrack. The funny thing is, this song would not only be more interesting with Swift singing, but you know she would have written a more interesting song to begin with … who da thunk?
Emily West’s latest single “That Kind of Happy” genuinely makes me “that kind of happy” while somehow managing not to be “fake happy” (i.e., “country radio happy”) in the process. Finally, someone got it right. West shows us that a fun song, a fascinating vocal performance chalk full of personality and genuine talent are not mutually exclusive. This is far and away my favorite single of the year so far.
I wasn’t sold on West’s music with her last single “Rocks in Your Shoes,” but I was sold on the artist. Her personality was infectious. This time around, I’m sold on the music as well. Her appreciation for older artists isn’t superficial and that comes across in her production and vocal choices. This single is very modern, yet at the same time feels surprisingly traditional. It’s a good combo and it works very well for West.
This is the kind of song that initially drew me into country music in the 90s. If you feel like country has lost its spark in the past few years, download “That Kind of Happy” and join the unofficial Emily West fan club by requesting this song on your local station. For those who need help finding their local radio stations – perhaps you’ve forgotten about them in the past few years – try this: Radio Locator.