By Lisa Morgan
The wagons have all pulled out of town and the dust is just beginning to settle over the Empire Polo
grounds. Over the last three weeks, Goldenvoice has flooded the Coachella Valley with line-up of
incredible musical talent that has bordered on the absurd with the final display being the Stagecoach
Music Festival. I have to say that being a music lover in this town is pretty damn awesome with our
easy access to these festivals as well as the plethora of local original music we are treated to year round.
While I am in love with music on pretty much every platform, at heart, I am a country girl. So when it
comes to Stagecoach, I’m like a kid in a candy store.
I think the resounding theme this year could easily be tagged, “Hollywood Goes Country”. On the
smaller stages, you were serenaded by actors Jeff Bridges, John Reilly and actress Katey Sagal, while
sightings of Ashton Kutcher thoroughly engrossed in the music of Brown Birds, The Charlie Daniels
Band and Zac Brown caused many a ripple. The best kept secret was the appearance of American Idol’s
Randy Jackson showing up on the Palomino Stage to introduce the legendary Charlie Pride. There was
also a strong showing of artists genre hopping. Norah Jones, Kenny Logins and Chris Shiflett seemed
to fly a bit under the radar of many as they poured out their country offerings, all of whom delivered
One person cannot physically attend every performance at Stagecoach and the schedule had you
running from one end of the polo grounds to the other. Having put in the miles, I thought I would share
my personal experience that left me overwhelmed and grateful for having been in attendance.
Stagecoach has confirmed one thing for certain. Jeff Bridges, though he has played many roles, will
never live down his identity from the movie The Big Lebowski as “The Dude” or “His Dudeness” or “The
Dudarino. He walked on stage to the sound of many people calling out, “Duuuuude” while others
shouted one-liners signature to the cult hit’s main character. Neither his sun glasses nor his hat could
mask the distinctive way this man carries himself or the unique way he works his mouth when he
speaks. He walked up, strapped on his guitar and rang out a few riffs that said without words, “Yeah,
I play”, greeted the cheering fans and went to work. His voice rang out with the seasoning of an old-
timer, perfect in pitch and tone but crusty and wailing as is expected of those with longevity in this
genre. One can’t help but watch him and wonder if he’s tapping into a character as an actor, or if this is
the music that compels his soul. Whatever the case, he’s worked at this and he pulled it off like a pro.
You can definitely identify the influence of his longtime friend Kris Kristofferson in his style. He drew
quite a crowd and time will tell if his music or his fame was the draw. Either way, the Dude abides.
Trace Atkins came on stage like an action figure, with his booming baritone voice and VERY TONED
physique. He’s been slinging the weights around, looks good and he knows it. Trace has had a lot of
success in recent years with songs like “Badonkadonk”, “Swing” and “Hot Mama”. They’re fun songs
for sure, but represent a commercial, white bread version of country music that I’m not a huge fan of
but seem to be Nashville’s money maker because a lot of people are. He sang all of those with gusto to
the cheers of the crowd who sang loud and proud along to all of them. Just as I turned to walk away, he
reached deep into his early material and pulled out “Every Light in the House”, a deeply touching and
well delivered song that highlighted his beautiful deep register and the part of his music that made me a
fan of his in the first place years ago.
The Little Willies was an amazing feature at Stagecoach that surprisingly didn’t draw the stampede one
would expect with the fabulous Norah Jones on piano and vocals. Other Little Willies members are
Richard Julian on vocals, Jim Campilongo on guitar, Lee Alexander on bass, and Dan Rieser on drums.
They’ve been performing classic country favorites together since 2003. It was not a Norah Jones concert
by any means. This was a beautifully balanced blend of guitars, acoustic bass, drums and upright piano
supporting nostalgic songs with ear melting harmonies. Still, that signature sultry voice flowing out
of the mouth of the beautiful brunette at the piano could not help but stand out, capture your full
attention and completely enchant you.
Bocephus, aka Hank Williams Jr., came out and did his job with the help of thousands of voices chiming
in to sing with him. He didn’t banter with the crowd or do much of anything else but play guitar and
sing. I’m thinking that is ok. After being born into this industry 64 years ago, he’s earned that right.
Besides, his songs tell you everything you need to know about him. With the news of the loss of
beloved country music founding father George Jones, one has to take note that our troubadours do not
live forever and we need to bask in their presence while we can.
Toby Keith preceded his entrance onto the stage with a somewhat tedious video. I guess nobody has
the guts to tell him that he’s kind of a bad actor. But that might be considered part of his charm. Still,
the comedic timing seemed awkward and we were all glad it was over when he came onto the stage
with fireworks and flames bursting to the stomp of his magical foot. Toby Keith is like everybody’s
drinking buddy and nothing gets a Stagecoach crowd going like drinking songs. Audience voices boomed
as they sang loud and proud to the tunes that have become party favorites. It did feel a bit awkward,
and maybe it was just me, when Toby sang “Made in America” underneath the Stagecoach banner
sponsored by Toyota, but that’s not Toby’s fault I guess. All in all, it was a good kick off to the rest of the
country music weekend.
Chris Shiflett (lead guitarist for the Foo Fighters) and his band, The Dead Peasants played a mix of
original songs along with covers from Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty. They brought an upbeat
tempo to the classic country songs. Shiflett knows how make that guitar speak, and he plays his
country with a definite pop influence. “You guys are the real fans, not those lazy fans still asleep in their
RV’s” he said to those present for the lead off show of the day. He knew how to work the crowd and
those sleepyheads definitely missed a good show.
The Inland Empire band, Honkytonk Angels, brought a hard rocking southern country sound reminiscent
of Lynyrd Skynryd and Molly Hatchet. With three hard driving guitarists bringing enough power to
blow your hair back and melt your face, it’s nice to see a semi local country band that can get your feet
stamping and blood pumping.
Justin Townes Earle, son of longtime music notable Steve Earle, showed his contribution to the
industry. You might not classify Justin simply as country. He has a voice reminiscent of Ricky Nelson
and the like from the fifties and sixties, with a smooth vocal quality that captures your attention and
holds it. Looking a bit like he could be Jimmy Fallon’s little brother with glasses, his appearance was as
eclectic as his apparent musical influences. Like his father, he is an original.
I have come to believe that Marty Stuart is not of this world. As he played in the 100 degree heat,
dressed from chin to boot in black, the man didn’t even glisten, his silvery hair kept its perfect form and
his energy level never waned. Marty Stuart has been playing and making music for more than 43 years,
long before the days of Pro Tools, when you actually had to sing and play the notes the way they would
be heard on the record. His delivery was flawless and I was reminded of what a fantastic songsmith
he is. When he whipped out the mandolin, I had to check with a friend asking, “Is that a regular old
mandolin?” I had never, in my life, heard anyone play a mandolin like he did. To top it off, he brought
his wife and childhood sweetheart on stage to join him.
On this day, Saturday, April 27, many of us woke up to the news that George Jones had passed. As I
walked under the Palomino tent to see Dwight Yoakam, the Ol’ Possum’s voice rang loud and true over
the sound system. Without much ado, Dwight got on stage, and began playing. Donning what I could
only assume were the same tight jeans he wore in his early days, the women went wild as he performed
his signature moves to his now iconic music. They guy’s still got it.
On the main stage, Deirks Bently did what it seems country music does best; after playing a full
energetic set he ended with the song that got him nominated for Best Country Solo Performance-
“Home”. Flags waved and the crowd cheered patriotically. It was quite a touching moment. He was
followed by the country pop trio, Lady Antebellum, composed of Hillary Scott (lead and background
vocals), Charles Kelley (lead and background vocals) and Dave Haywood (background vocals, guitar,
piano, mandolin). The Grammy, CMA and ACM award winning group delivered a tireless performance
reminding us all of how many hit songs this fairly new group already has. Hillary Scott was quite
impressive and seemed to never let her currently very pregnant state get in the way.
Day three for me was a line-up that left me dazed and seeing stars, literally. It started with Brown Bird
and my first Ashton Kutcher sighting. Brown Bird, a fusion of Middle Eastern folk rock with a classical
kiss, was breathtaking. The band consists of two people: David Lamb on drums, guitar and vocals
and Morgan Eve Swain on upright base, cello, fiddle, and vocals. It was a performance of amazing
craftsmanship between the two both vocally and instrumentally, and in the construction of their music.
I was entranced, until out of my peripheral I spot a handsome cowboy leaned up against a haystack.
“Holy cow that’s Ashton Kutcher” I say to myself. He seemed to be really tuned in and enjoying the
band. When Morgan caught a glance of him, she did a little double take and would glance back as if to
check if that was really him. She didn’t miss a beat, but her big eyes gave her away. This band goes
down as my personal favorite, new find from the festival.
By the time Florida Georgia Line was scheduled to play, it wasn’t just hot, it was sweltering, and the
black stages and backdrops were even hotter. Never the less, Florida Georgia line didn’t just walk on
stage, they ran. Florida Georgia Line came out like a headliner, sweating in the heat, but seemingly
unfazed. They saw the VIP section empty, so they went out into the crowd. Absolutely fabulous
performers! If the crowd didn’t already love them before, they are lifetime fans now. Any band that
will work that hard to reach their crowd, dragging all the photographers scampering behind during the
hottest part of the day, is alright with me.
Blue Sky Riders unbeknownst to many is Kenny Loggins’ new band. Fat with beautiful harmonies and a
powerful female singer, they delivered some really great music. Kenny shared that when he approached
others in the industry about starting a new band, he was told he was too old to recreate himself. Good
thing he didn’t listen, because he, along with accomplished singer/hit songwriters Garry Burr and
Georgia Middleman have the chops, refined skills and experience, not to mention a killer vocal blend, to
bring a whole lot of great music to their fans.
The rest of the day seemed to me a tribute to country music landmarks new and old. Don Williams
came on the stage, sat in his comfortable chair, set his feet on a box (both of which look as though they
have traveled with him over most of his musical miles) and began to play. When he opened his mouth
those beautiful crystal vocals proved that time had not stolen a thing from him. His peaceful, graceful
demeanor matched his soothing crooning as with hit after hit he showed off his artillery of musical
Darius Rucker brought one of the most inspiring and energy infusing solo performances to grace the
main stage over the weekend. Right off the bat, he poured out everything he had in “True Believer” and
“Shine” from his newly released album. It was obvious as I watched him from the photo pit, right below
him, where I could see his facial expressions and feel his energy, that his music had a message he hoped
to communicate to every single person listening. On the other side of the polo fields, Charlie Pride
showed he still has that spark. Pride was the first black performer to appear at the Grand Ole Opry since
harmonica player DeFord Bailey and has garnered a long list of country music awards during his career. I
found it somewhat poetic that I was able to see both Rucker and Pride perform on the same day. Randy
Jackson made a surprise appearance as he introduced the beloved artist. While he fumbled the lyrics a
bit on his opening song, it was easily forgiven. One can only hope to be as vocally sharp and physically
spry as this 75 year old icon.
The always phenomenal Charlie Daniels Band ran late due to sound check issues, but came on like a
fire cracker much to the pleasure of his fans including Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher was so enthralled, he
missed the first three songs of headliner, Zac Brown and band who were the grand finale of the festival.
The Zac Brown Band showed me exactly why this man has won the respect of fellow artists and fans
across the genres. He, in my opinion, is one of the very best newcomers to the country music family
rich with great songs and fantastic musicianship. From where I stood, I could see a fire in his eyes as he
performed, telling me The Zac Brown Band is here to stay.