By Lisa Lynn Morgan

I have a confession to make.  Country and Americana music are my heart’s wheel house, but I haven’t tuned into contemporary country radio for a while now.  I’ve been listening to Americana Radio on my iTunes or the Outlaw station on Sirius Radio.  I’m not alone in my age bracket.  The truth is, I’m getting older, and country music is skewing younger.  I don’t drink and party these days or drive a truck, so I don’t find the apparent standard formula of new country relatable often times.  I absolutely refuse to “Shake It” for Luke Bryan or anyone else for that matter (the exceptions being our local bands, Long Duk Dong, a killer 80s tribute band, and The Ghost Notes with their tip of the hat to the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, and The Band). I’ll be the first to tell you that Nashville is putting out the best pop music in America, but short of a token banjo in the background and an artist leaning heavy on country slang and drawl, Twang Town hasn’t put out a whole lot of country music, at least in the way I have always defined it.  Therefore, this year’s Stagecoach lineup is full of names I’ve never heard of. 

As an artist, I was raised with fierce loyalty to the “K.I.S.S.” music theory (Keep it Simple Stupid) when it came to production, and have always cherished the ideal of “three chords and the truth,” being the truest definition of country music, demanding clever songwriting skills.  I love my outlaw country icons, Waylon, Willie and Merle and their kids.  I love the way my friend Travis Meadows can pen tunes that etch their lyrics into my soul (“Riser” recorded by Dierks Bentley, “Better Boat” by Kenny Chesney, “What We Ain’t Got” recorded by Jake Owen, to name a few), and I hate that he isn’t on one of these stages.  So when my publisher asked me to write a Stagecoach round up my personal picks, I have to admit that I was at a loss for a country minute. 

I had a bit of a wakeup call recently.  I was riding shotgun while being towed to a shop in Yucca Valley and the conversation with my 20 something driver turned to music.  He shared that he didn’t like country music radio either.  He preferred the classic stuff.  I felt validated and said, “Me too! Nobody writes like Haggard, Willy or Waylon.  He looked at me and said, “Uh, I don’t really know their stuff. My grandparents listen to that stuff. I’m more into Tim McGraw and George Straight and stuff like that.”  I had the same sick feeling in my stomach that I got when I heard Pearl Jam listed as “classic rock.”  I realized I was going to have to turn in my “I’m way more hip than your grandma” card or make a change in my perspective and attitude.  I began listening to our local country stations.  I found songs that I loved among some that made me want to throw my radio out the window.

Stagecoach may be the best festival at allowing someone to find new country music loves in a setting that is more intimate than the larger arenas.  Frequenting the Palomino and Mustang stages can expose you to newer artists as well as some timeless icons you may never get another chance to see. The Sirius Stage is a great discovery location as well. I’m going to go with an open mind this year. I encourage my fellow 40 and 50 somethings to do the same. I’m going to take some time to learn more about these newer artists without prejudice. After all, they are all badasses in my book just for having the guts to turn their dreams into realities. And no one gets to one of these stages without working their ass off.

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There are however, artists in the lineup I will make sure to not miss seeing:

FRIDAY

Ashley Monroe: This young Grammy Nominee has an early spot at the Palomino Stage, Friday at 2:25 pm.

Cody Johnson was a new voice with an old school feel and strong songs I discovered on our local country radio station.  Funny how I always find myself parked at the Palomino Stage.  He goes on Friday at 4:55 pm.

Joe Diffie:  BECAUSE HE’S FREAKING JOE DIFFIE! He was one of my 90s country staples and I’m grateful to Goldenvoice for giving me a chance to see him here.  Palomino Stage, Friday at 6:15 pm.

Bret Michaels:  See my interview and subsequent article on this glam rock icon for a slew of reasons to be present for this show.  Palomino Stage, Friday at 7:40 pm. 

Kane Brown:  This kid intrigues me and I’m sorry I’ll miss him as he’s on at the same time as Bret Michaels. I love his song, “Good as You.” His performance on a morning show recently bled genuine earnestness, and I love that in a young artist. He’s on the Mane Stage, Friday at 7:30 pm.

Saturday I figure I’ll park at the Palomino again: Rita Wilson, Aubrie Sellers, The Wild Feathers, and Whiskey Myers have my attention, and the iconic Sammy Kershaw and Lynyrd Skynyrd get a respectful, “Hell Yeah!” complete with fist in the air out of this Oklahomafied, Southern rocker; 1:30 pm – 8 pm. Then I’ll happily move to the Mane Stage to catch Luke Combs and Sam Hunt.  Their golden voices pack some powerful songs.

Sunday makes it official – the Palomino Stage is my favorite.  Ruby Boots, Parker Millsap, Terri Clark, Whitey Morgan, one of my favorite songwriters of all time – Mark Chesnutt, followed by Tom Jones who is…well, he’s Tom freaking Jones.  These artists play between 2:25 pm and 7:40 pm, at which point I’ll book it over to the Mane Stage to see Old Dominion

Nikki Lane:  I’ve seen her in her hometown of Nashville touring with Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the real.  There is something a bit punk rock about this tiny thing.  Her songs are honest and her spirit authentic. She is intriguing, a skillful songwriter and very personable. She plays Sunday at the Horseshoe Stage at 6:30 pm. 

Bands to NoteCopper Chief is playing Stagecoach Friday night.  If you miss them or want to see them again, they’ll be playing at Big Rock Pub, Saturday, 8:30 – 11:30 pm.  The same opportunity goes for the talented ladies of Honey County who will be featured at Big Rock Pub’s Country Brunch on Sunday from 12:30 – 3:30 pm.

Perhaps with a fresh attitude, a foot massage and pedicure, I’ll walk away from this year’s Stagecoach with a less curmudgeonly attitude and some new country flavored inspiration. 

Author, Lisa Lynn Morgan, is founder, front woman and vocalist for the CV Music Award winning Country Band, Lisa and the Gents.  She has been writing for CV Weekly for 6 years.