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

Monday, May 14, 2007

Interview: Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans

Contributing writer Daood recently sat down with Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans, the artistic director for Kittsville Youth Foundation Dance and Cultural Arts Program.

Daood: Hello Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans. I want to first congratulate you and the members of the Kittsville Youth Foundation for maintaining the vision!

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: Daood, thank you for your interest and appreciation of our organization, Kittsville Youth Foundation. Your kind of inquiry helps us to clarify and sustain our focus.

Daood: You started dancing with Eartha Kitt at the age of 12 at a dance studio in Beverly Hills. Could you share with us that experience and your relationship with Eartha Kitt?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: My mother, Ella Evans, read about Ms. Kitt teaching dance as fitness for adults and she decided to take 12-year-old me. Since she did not drive, it was a long bus ride from 92nd and Stanford Ave. in South LA to Robertson Blvd. in Beverly Hills. I was the only child and African American in the class, but that did not deter my mother... She recognized the specialness in me being under the tutelage of Ms. Kitt and she knew I could handle it, even though I wanted to stay home and play with my friends. My Mom's gut instinct was always right on. She listened to what she saw in us more than to what we said. Eartha took to my mother and me right away. Immediately we became guests at her home and often she took us back home. I studied with Eartha for awhile and then she was off traveling across the country performing and I was doing what I loved to do; hanging out with my friends, whom I was not allowed to tell what I was doing. My mother was always pretty private and protective of things we did too until she felt it was 'safe' to share. This initial relationship with Ms. Kitt started in Beverly Hills, but after a break of a few years, at 16, through a newspaper article, I discovered she was teaching at the Mafundi Institute in Watts. This time I decided to get on the bus and go take her class. From this reconnection after studying and teaching at the final Watts location, Jordan Downs Housing Projects Recreation Center, she put me on scholarship with two renowned dance teachers, Claude Thompson, Jazz and Gene Marinaccio, Ballet. This was at The Rainbow Studios on Yucca and Vine in Hollywood. With lots of other steps in between, I eventually ended up understudying Ms. Kitt in the touring Broadway show of "Timbuktu!"

Daood: When did the passion for dance initially take place for you as a young girl?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: The passion for dance took place for me when we started doing Kittsville in the Gymnasium/rec room at Jordan Downs. I loved the community that came from the projects and all over. I loved the Conga drumming of the late Modesto Duran and Lazaro Valdez. I am compelled to move when I here drums. Especially Cuban drumming, I loved that we had audience from the local to Eartha's friends and acquaintances as well as the media. I learned that I loved sharing my movement expression with an audience. I loved trying to match Ms Kitt's energy at the end of every class.

Daood: What is your historical perspective of the evolution of dance to the present?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: What a big question. In some ways dance reflects the physical, psychological, emotional and cultural healing of a community. It often serves as a barometer. When we didn't have a common language for expressing and or understanding what was going on around us and within us, our music, also reflected through our movement, kept us connected to the real, the necessary, and often times the best in us. If we observe our youth, we discover all kinds of pictures; however if we put it all together, we see there is a lot of disjointedness, loudness, disregard for other, borrowing, mis-understanding and re-discovering of ancient movements, the brilliant, the phenomenal think dance continues to serve as a barometer of where we are and need to go; what we need to keep and to let go of. Today, more of us understand that movement belongs to everyone and it serves best, those who appreciate it.

Daood: Aside from the physical developments and learning how to dance, what other attributes and characteristics are nurtured and cultivated subsequently?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: As I stated above, dance directs us on how to look at ourselves and others. It is an engaging mirror. It allows community, joy, and it shows historical development, often more truthfully than words.

Daood: Are there any current events in which we can look forward to attending this year?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: We will have a culminating summer program that shares the activities the regularly attending students have been doing. The date is t be announced. Also, we are planning a Fund-raiser for Kittsville that will feature a tribute to Eartha Kitt.

Daood: Is there a website and phone number for more information such as children participation, organization donations and for people who would like to volunteer their services?

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: Our current workshops are Ballet, Hip Hop, Dunham/Modern Dance Technique and Capoeira (African/ Brazilian Martial Arts through dance). These classes are geared to students age 10 to 18, but adults are welcome to join in. The classes continue to be free (for the last 42 years) and registration is on-going. We are always looking for volunteers; so for this and more information go to and or email us at or

Daood: Before we start with my free lesson I would like to inform you that I know how to "Drop it like its Hot," and "Harlem Shuffle"….at the same time!

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: Well, we welcome your kind of skills and 'courage' in class. Bring it on!

Daood: It's been a pleasure and thank you!

Ms. Wanda-Lee Evans: It has taken me a long time to finally get to and through these questions. Once I got going, it was a pleasure, Thank you.