In which we celebrate
Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Poco, James Burton, Jim Lauderdale and, uh,
By Scott Dudelson
Although Stagecoach and Coachella are held at the same
venue, and produced by the same promoters, the similarities between the two
events more or less end there.
While Coachella is all about showcasing the biggest and
brightest in the alternative / indie world, and draws a young hipster crowd,
Stagecoach is largely about mainstream country and brings in diverse crowd of
all ages. This third annual event
featured headliners Brad Paisley, Reba, Kenny Chesney, Kid Rock, Charlie
Daniels Band, Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum and former Hootie and the
Blowfish singer, turned pop-cowboy singer, Darius Rucker, and these are the
acts that nearly 40,000 fans trekked out to the desert to see. But the promoters are no dummies, and
understand that while Chesney and Paisley will bring in the crowds, its the
traditional country acts on the bill that make Stagecoach one of the most
interesting and well rounded country music festivals in the country.
This year the promoters brought in two titans of country
music to headline small side stages – Earl Scruggs & Ralph Stanley. Scruggs closed out the Mustang stage on
Saturday night, and a couple hundred fans turned out to watch Scruggs and his family
band (led by sons Gregg and Randy), churn out some of the meanest bluegrass
this side of Appalachian Mountains.
Although Scruggs looked a healthy 85 years old, his role was that of a
figure-head rather than a bandleader, and he allowed his band to lead the
charge through standards “In the Pines” “Foggy Mountain
Breakdown,” and a cover of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’
Nowhere.” However, the scant few
times Scruggs did pick the banjo, the small crowd would erupt, causing Scruggs
to flash a devilish smile (which, coincidentally, was the only time Scruggs
showed any emotion on stage).
The 82 year-old Ralph Stanley, on the other hand, looked
frail and weak (and sported a bandage over his left eye), but sang in a
powerful voice during his entire 50 minute set. Stanley wasn’t just a figurehead on stage
-he was the man. Like Scruggs, Stanley surrounded himself with
family and friends, and half way through the set invited Jim Lauderdale up on
stage to run through a couple songs from their Grammy winning collaboration,
Lost in Lonesome Pines.
Other highlights included Lauderdale‘s own set, which
featured support from an amazing band that included rock and roll hall of fame
guitarist James Burton, and Doug Pettibone, Dusty Wakeman & Dave Roe from
Lucinda Williams band. Lauderdale, dressed in his trademark Nudie suit, invoked
the spirit of Gram Parsons (who died in Joshua Tree, only 20 minutes up the
road from the festival grounds) during his hour-long set, while James Burton
filled in some of the tastiest country licks of the festival.
Although more in line with the mainstream vibe of the
festival, one of the most interesting performances was that of early 70’s
Southern California country band Poco. Although Poco has been touring non-stop
for the last 40 years in various combinations, this show was the first in
nearly the same amount of time that featured original members Richie Furay, Jim
Messina, Timothy B. Schmidt, George Grantham, and Rusty Young. The band played all their hits, including
“Crazy Love,” “Rose of Cimarron”
and “Heart of the Night,” in addition to
classics from Furay and Messina’s Buffalo Springfield days (Childs Claim to
Fame, On the Way Home, Kind Women).
Although these traditional / alternative acts were merely an
aside to the contemporary country that dominated the festival, there is no
doubt that the promoters have succeeded massively in creating an event that
will not only endure, but will also be recognized as the premier country music
event in the Southwestern United States.
[Photos by Scott Dudelson]