Sunday, July 06, 2008

Catching Up With Stagecoach 2008 and Up Close Performance Pictures

With the 2008 summer outdoor festival season in full swing, and Carrie Underwood coming to the Nokia in Downtown LA and Dwight Yoakim coming to the Greek Theater in Griffith Park, lets look back on Stagecoach 2008 held during the first weekend in May in Indio, California at the Empire Polo Grounds.

Last year, after contributing to the local Coachella Valley economy by staying in a nice hotel, we decided to join the RV set (for the first time in our life) and camp at the Stagecoach Music Festival. With what appeared to be a significant expansion of RV camping opportunities, there were definitely growing pains for the organizers and the City of Indio. The City of Indio did absolutely nothing to help the enormous number of RVs coming in off the freeway, and thus what should have been a 15 minute drive was a 2 hour marathon. There were no traffic control officers, law enforcement, or even special lane creations as we arrived on Friday afternoon. Once on the Empire Polo Grounds, the organizers in looking back can also learn how to more rapidly get people parked. Due to overselling the main camping area, we ended up in the family campground, which turned out to be a nice quiet experience, albeit a long walk to the festival entrance. Although one day, we did take a pedicab ride to the entrance. Pedicabs work on tips only, so they don't get classified as a taxi, and the franchise went to a group from Arizona. Also great about the campgrounds were the deluxe showers brought in and the WiFi hotspot and phone recharging stations.

Each day we would set up our folding chairs at the Mane Tundra Stage upon arrival and wander the grounds and move between the 3 stages, and even the new children's tent. As compared to last year, there was one less stage, but they elevated the children stage into a more prominent position. By putting the Palomino and Mustang stages at the other end of the Polo Field, it cut down on sound bleed from the Mane Stage. The following is a chronology of the musical performances that I partook in over the 3 days. More on each as I move thru my photo essay.

Friday, May 2 (all at the Mane Stage): Shelby Lynne, Trisha Yearwood, John Fogerty, and the Eagles

Saturday May 3 (all 3 stages) Jypsi, Hayes Carll, Ryan Bingham, Riders in the Sky, Greencards, Taylor Swift, Dwight Yokim, The Judds, and Rascal Flatts

Sunday, May 4 (all 3 stages) Wylie & the Wild West, Krista Smith, Ian Tyson, Trace Adkins, Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, Carrie Underwood, and Tim McGraw
As I look back at the schedule, I realize that we spent too much time watching the big draws and not enough time at the smaller stages. Also, there seemed to be a reduction of alt-country performers as compared to last year. During the afternoon, the Palomino and Mustang stages were able to attract significant crowds in their shaded tents, but at night, the old-timers who really needed to be heard, had a hard time attracting an audience. Not an old timer, but who has been around since the punk days of LA, was Dwight Yoakim who played to an overflowing tent, while Dierks Bently played on the Mane Stage. Dwight's playing of the Bakersfield sound in recognition of Buck Owen could easily have been placed on the Mane Stage. And in the crowd, were Gram Parson tshirts and signs.

But there were issues having to open on the Mane Stage with the sun shining brightly, even with quite pleasant temperatures through the entire weekend. Shelby Lynne, late on Friday afternoon, playing to vast rows of empty reserved seats, was quite upset and vowed never to come back. However, Jypsi, a young family band reminiscent of Nickel Creek, i.e the Sara and Sean Watkins, were a real discovery of AEG/Golden Voice that loved the opportunity in playing on the big stage early on Saturday afternoon and were recently featured by Randy Lewis in the LA Times. Nickel Creek had played Stagecoach and Coachella in 2007.

Throughout the weekend, it was interesting to watch how the promoters were handling the crowds around the Mane Stage. When the Eagles closed Friday night, you aleady knew that Stagecoach Year 2 was going to be much bigger than the first year. The opening night crowd looked to be double of what we saw when Kenny Chesney closed Stagecoach in 2007. But the crowds became enormous on Saturday night around the Mane Stage, maybe 50,000 and the fire lanes became obliterated, so that it was almost impossible to navigate out of the area to the food, beer, and restrooms. And if you did get out of the area, good luck trying to find your seat during the performance. With the enormous crowds, these things needed to be addressed.

Thus, the next day, the California Department for Fire Control responsibility put down fire lanes that would last the entire day, and additional staffing to maintain them. Sunday late afternoon and into the evening was a much more pleasant experience, even with a crowd that might have been at 60,000. The organizers did not bring up the house lights between the two final acts on Saturday and Sunday, keeping people in their seats.

When Trish Yearwood played on Friday, she joked with the crowd that no one ever asks about Garth. But for those who want to know, Trish said, "Garth's back home doing the laundry." Maybe next year, AEG/Golden Voice will getGarth will play Stagecoach. Garth did all those shows earlier this year for charity at the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles. Following Trish on Friday was John Fogerty, who brought us all back to the days of Credence Clearwater Revival and Woodstock, with the realization that CCR at Woodstock was not featured in the film.

Closing Friday night were the Eagles, a band that also brought back memories of the mid-1970's, and hearing their Hotel California album as I made my way overland around the world in 1977 - 1979. Their new album, New Road Out of Eden, showcased at the opening of the Nokia Theater last Fall, recreates the sound of what we so loved about them, i.e. Country Rock. While watching them perform, I also remembered attending a political fundraiser at Don Henley's house in the Hollywood Hills back in 1986 and getting a personal tour of his house. The Eagles were one of several bands over the weekend that also evoked memories of Gram Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers who had a major influence on this genre of music along with providing songs that others would make famous.

The Mustang stage was the place to find singing cowboys and bluegrass. Two of the crowd pleasing singing cowboys that I caught were Riders in the Sky on Saturday and Wylie & the Wild West on Sunday. Riders closed out their set with "Happy Trails" and played a number of the old Gene Autry standards and even did the theme song from Rawhide. They even did rap cowboy music which they coined "Crap" and did their unique form of be-bopping. Wylie Gustafson, who is made some spare change, providing the Yahoo sound for the brand, joked about making enough money from the licensing rights to pay for a few quarter horses. Everyone had a good time listening to these acts, and as expected, the crowd was a litle older for these performers.

As for bluegrass, one of the other major finds for the festival in addition to Jypsi, were the Greencards who were primarily from Australia. Bluegrass from Australia reminded me of my other alt-country favorite, who got her start singing American Roots music but was from the Outback of Australis, i.e Kasey Chambers, someone else that might be worthy of getting a future Stagecoach invite.
The Greencards with 3 CDs out, told the crowd that they were big fans of Patti Griffen. Borders provided a store location at the festival and you could buy everything that was available by CD, many of which, can be hard to find at most outlets. I did pick up 2 of the Greencard CD's later that week at Amoeba. But then there was Jpysi with their content only for sale as downloads online, although it looks like a CD will be released later this year.
With the Eagles might highlight performance for Friday, my highlight performance on Saturday night on Saturday was Taylor Swift who went on to win several major awards over the next several weeks after Stagecoach. It was a year ago that my daughter introduced me to the music of Taylor Swift with her "Tim McGraw" chart topper, and it was quite evident with the teens pushed up front, that she is on her way to really big things. Taylor's on stage muscial entourage is huge considering this has been her first year on the road promoting her album, all of this during her senior year of high school. There was even a sign from the crowd, "Take me to the Prom." Later that evening, promised reunion of The Judds occured. Naomi's advice to Taylor Swift was "Get a good lawyer and save your money." What made this special was the mother daughter interaction of Naomi and Wynona. Closing Saturday night was Rascal Flatts.

Where people were lining up to buy their personal hand held misters on Saturday, Sunday was much cooler, but the Mane Stage featured the a line-up that kept people entertained from late afternoon with Trace Adkins, followed by Gretchen Wilson which included a duet from John Rich(who is looking for the next Miranda Lambert, Stagecoach 2007, now a judge on Nashville Star). Big & Rich then opened their own act with 3 songs by Cowboy Troy with them finally taking the stage to great applause. The evening cotinued to build, reaching a crescendo with Carrie Underwood, and Tim McGraw bringing the house down. I've watched Carrie Underwood on stage accepting many awards, but it appeared that she was not yet in her element interacting with a crowd of what felt like 60,000.

One of the food highlights of Stagecoach is the Barbeque Competition, this year expanded to include chicken. For $10 you got five 2 oz taste from among 30 or so vendors who had come from all over the US to compete for various cash prizes in their category. We tasted some great brisket, tri-tip, pulled chicken, and thighs. Best to check out the barbeque competition earlier in the afternoon, as the more popular ones sell out early. The picture below is of an extinct CasaQue smoke oven made from space age ceramic which is treated with loving care by its owner.
So next year we will be back and look forward to a wide spectrum of country music performers and will close with thess photos of Taylor Swift and her adoring fans.

No comments: