Stagecoach Festival Report: Friday
Stagecoach's 7th edition rolled into Indio on Friday (4/26) amid changes for both the landmark country festival and its dance and indie rock cousin, Coachella.
This year, Coachella expanded to two weekends, packing the Empire Polo Grounds across two weekends with enough people to populate Reno, Nevada. For its part, Stagecoach fleshed out its Friday schedule while making changes to the festival's camping rules that initially drew an outcry from some regulars of the camping party universe that organizers say was just getting too wild and reckless.
The early morning news that country music legend George Jones had died didn't shake much of the party spirit from the festivies--after all, one would have to wonder how many of the young crowd would be able to name two songs of his--but Jones' influence and indeed, his songs revealed themselves in several setlists.
Being that the festival is staged with artists playing concurrently on separate stages across the festival grounds, much of the experience involves hop-scotching through portions of sets to cover as much ground as possible, and that's how we played it as well.
Connie Smith, a consistent purveyor of 60's and 70's Nashville styles, has managed to keep her voice remarkably strong and true to her early sound at 71. A quick hit through her set included a swinging rendition of her 1966 hit "Ain't Had No Lovin'," the newer, but instantly classic honky-tonk beer-crier "Ain't You Even Gonna Cry," hopping to a gospel side of the fence for Rode Foley's 1951 song "Peace In The Valley." Smith's husband, Marty Stuart, is scheduled to take the stage on Sunday.
Toby Keith hit on a theme hard straight out of the gate with a one-two punch of "American Pride" and "Made In America." Backed by the standard country-rock back line plus horn section and backup vocalists, Keith's ensemble sounded arena-hardened from the outset.
Keith called an audible early on, tributing George Jones with a heartfelt introduction to Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care" and "White Lightning."
Some of Keith's best-known material veers toward novelty, and he knows where his bread is buttered, for example stretching "Red Solo Cup" into marathon sing along territory normally reserved for the likes of "Sweet Caroline."
The band finished big, with a roaring "A Little Less Talk" that segued into Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold," featuring loads of fretboard fireworks from the band and bookended their opening theme with Keith's standard encores, "American Soldier" and "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue."