Monday, April 27th, 2009
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…