Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reflecting on the 2007 Stagecoach Festival in the Coachella Valley

As a Country and Western music fan in Los Angeles, we have watched KZLA exit the radio market and KMZT and KKGO shuffle around classical and country western music to provide Go Country at 105 on the FM dial. When Goldenvoice, the promoters of the Coachella Music Festival, announced last Fall that they would do Stagecoach, a family-friendly country western festival with an emphasis on big stars, alt-country, and bluegrass, my wife and I were among the first to buy a weekend pass when they went on sale earlier this year. For those who missed the Stagecoach event during the first weekend of May, mark your calendar for next year. The organizers went all out to provide activities for children, and those willing to take the chance on the first year were well-rewarded with a variety of children actitivities and entertainment geared to the younger set. This being the first year, the crowds were not as large as the prior weekend with Coachella, but the weather was much more pleasant. The previous weekend, the Coachella Music Festival had 108-degree weather, while Stagecoach was around 85 degrees on Saturday and around 93 degrees on Sunday. The festival was well-organized, the food was great, and you could even pay for a pedi-cab ride to save yourself a long walk back to the vast parking lots.

On Saturday - day one of the festival - we stayed away from the commercial Mane Stage, and got up close and personal at the alt-country Palomino Stage, the bluegrass Appaloosa Stage, and the cowboy Mustang stage. What we didn't realize is that people were parking their lawn chairs at the Mane Stage wandering around to the other stages, and then coming back at different times of the day to catch the big stars. With so much going on among four stages, there were big choices to be made. For example, on Saturday choosing between Miranda Lambert and Nickel Creek.

If money was no object, a special pass for prime seats is available for the front of the Mane Stage. When George Strait played on Saturday night, there were probably 20,000 people in attendance, and then on Sunday night when Brooks and Dunn played, there were probably 30,000 having a great time. Most watched from the two huge screens that were set up. You could bring a camera as long it was a point and shoot model, no SLR's unless you were under contract by Goldenvoice and a member of the press. Picture taking was great from the smaller stages, as one could get extremely close. The lighting was a bit difficult inside the two tented stages with bright sunshine directly behind the stage. Using my cameraphone, I was also uploading pictures directly to Flickr all weekend. One treasured photo from the weekend, is my wife and I having our picture taken with Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek whom I have previously written about in the ExperienceLA blog when she and Sean Watkins had Tift Merritt as their guest at the Largo in Los Angeles. Nickel Creek is taking a hiatus, while its members - Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins, and Chris Thiele - pursue their solo careers.

On Saturday, we saw the entire performances of the Old 97's, Cowboy Nation, Grascal, Yonder Mountain String Band, Nickel Creek, Willie Nelson, Robert Earle Keen, and Neko Case. I also caught pieces (and from a distance) of Sara Evans, Alan Jackson, and George Strait. My main disappointment was not seeing Lucinda Williams, as we were in line (and then eating) at a great barbeque from the Texas Barbeque folks. And I also caught one song from Chris Hillman, former member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds, who many years ago played with one of my favorite songwriters and performers, the late Gram Parsons.

Then on Sunday, we parked our chairs at the Mane Stage for Carolyn Dawn Johnson, watching the first commerical artist on tap, and then onto the smaller stages for Cowboy Celtic, Abigail Washburn, and John Doe. For the rest of the day, we did not move from the Mane Stage, and saw great performances from Gary Allan, Sugarland, Brooks and Dunn, and Kenny Chesney, with the exception of seeing half of Emmylou Harris' set on the Palomino Stage. Seeing Emmylou Harris (who also recorded with Gram Parsons) took me back to seeing her many years ago at a Cal State University Country Blue Grass Festival in 1974 or 1975, when all she had out was her Boulder to Birmingham Record. In the 80's, I saw Emmylou Harris perform at the Palomino Club in the Valley.

There was even western-influenced art from several of the galleries of Downtown LA, including the Higgins Gallery, that was on exhibit during Stagecoach. The other connection to Los Angeles of the festival is that AEG, who is building LA Live, is a partner with Goldenvoice on the Stagecoach and the Coachella Music Festivals. The lead picture of this blog entry is me with Sean Parr and Robin Banks from Go Country 105. Their sister station promotes