To answer the most burning question: No, the Stagecoach Festival did not have a Hank Williams or Lefty Frizzell hologram, to compete with the Tupac recreation that'd appeared on the same stage at the Coachella Festival the preceding two weekends. You were hoping for a digitized Keith Whitley? Sorry.
It did, however, have an attack of the virtual 50-feet women. On Friday night, headliner Jason Aldean sang a duet of "Don't You Wanna Stay" with the mammoth projected image and pre-recorded voice of Kelly Clarkson, as he does every night on tour. Sunday night's headliner, Brad Paisley, did the same thing when he traded lines with a virtual Carrie Underwood on "Remind Me" (replacing the half-on-tape "duet" he used to do with Alison Krauss nightly).
The field adjoining the Stagecoach main stage is so vast, though, that many of the 55,000 attendees thought these faux duet partners were really on stage. Palm Spring's daily paper even reported that Clarkson had showed up in person for the Aldean duet. And your reporter can personally vouch that when Underwood's voice and image came on, there were squeals of delight in the rear part of the crowd that Carrie had graced the fest with her presence.
If a concert is so big that half the people in the audience have no idea if the people represented on stage are really there or not, you could argue that it's too big. Then again, you could also argue that the main stage proceedings at Stagecoach aren't so much a concert as a late spring-break blowout that happens to have big-screen TV accompaniment. As one attendee was quoted as saying in the Palm Springs paper (accurately, we presume), "It's not about the music, it's about the party."
And sometimes the stars forget that the party-ers at this particular fest are not your typical middle-American country music audience. That became clear when a couple of this past weekend's performers threw out questions that would have been red meat for red-staters but drew a muted response with Southern California's beer guzzling college kids.
Martina McBride was one of the featured acts on the main stage Sunday. In introducing her recent single, "Teenage Daughters," she asked: "Does anybody out there have, or has raised, a teenage daughter?" There was no discernable response. Country radio may be known for appealing to a 35+ suburban emale demographic, but you wouldn't know that at Stagecoach, where most of the 55,000 attendees are barely dressed twentysomethings, guzzling beer and enjoying a spring-break-type atmosphere. Most of the women on hand were not many years removed from being teenage daughters themselves.
Then there was the appearance by Pistol Annies during Miranda Lambert's headlining set Saturday. "Any hunters here?" asked Angaleena Presley, one of the Annies, introducing their song "The Hunter's Wife." Again, almost no discernible response. A Southerner like Presley probably hasn't thought about it, but Southern California is just not the wild game headquarters of America.
That's not to say that the crowd didn't go nuts when Paisley opened his festival-concluding set with "Camouflage," even if no one in the massive audience was clothed in those particular shades. California's young country fans love hearing about (or at least drinking to) the lifestyle, even if it's not exactly the one they're living.
Steve Martin at StagecoachRegardless of whether they were paying attention to the music or treating the festival as a meat market, no one could complain they weren't getting their money's worth when it came to the bill. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert did the headlining duties on Saturday night (dueting with each other rather than videos of MIA costars), and the main stage also had sets by the Band Perry, Sheryl Crow, Alabama, Martina McBride, Luke Bryan, and Justin Moore, among others.
T was a place at the festival for serious and half-sober music fans, too, and that was over at the two side tents. One of those stages featured country legends and alt-country upstarts; the other focused on bluegrass. Over in that far less populated part of the festival, discerning roots musicologists could take in the likes of the Jayhawks, Ralph Stanley, Chris Isaak, Steve Martin, Roy Clark, Dave Alvin, Sara Watkins, and the newly reunited Mavericks under delightfully intimate circumstances.
A few of our favorite moments from a weekend full of field- and tent-hopping:
Blake's buffoonery. Perhaps overplaying the hillbilly card for somebody who does spend a good part of the year working in L.A. now, Shelton said he'd looked forward to playing this Palm Springs-area festival so he could get some time in by the seaside. "Much to my dismay, this is freakin' desert," he griped.
Miranda and Blake's foreplay. Lambert ended her set Saturday night by bringing the better half out to duet with her on his hit "Home." The acoustic rendering and sober nature of the song didn't keep them from getting randy with it, although, unusually for this couple, it was her doing more of the messing around. ""We'll be all right, 'cause I'm going on his tour bus tonight," she improvised at the end of the tune.
Miranda making amends with a girl Blake dumped from The Voice. Lambert and the 17-year-old upstart she described as "my little favorite" from her husband's show, RaeLynn, banded together for a duet of Maroon 5's "Wake Up Call."
The Band Perry reinventing themselves as '70s glam-rockers. Okay, it was just one song — the new "Night Gone Wasted," from the forthcoming sophomore album they're working on — but it was so effectively heavy, it momentarily made you forget they were ever a primarily acoustic act.
Sheryl Crow's mating checklist. "You know, I'm still looking," Crow mentioned in the middle of the early '90s oldie that asked, "Are you strong enough to be my man?" Some guys in the audience showed off their six-pack abs as proof they could fit the bill. "Are you? You say that now," she responded. "I'm just looking for a nice young man. Somebody who drinks Bud on the weekends." (Wow, I've got a shot! thought 30,000 guys.) "Somebody's who got a job." (Still in the running!) "Somebody who makes more money than me." (Uh…) "No, that's not true. Somebody who doesn't spit as much as me." (Back in!) "Somebody who drives a hybrid and recycles." (Damn...)
Crow's collaborations. She brought out McBride to close her set with a duet of "You're No Good." But before that, she had another guest, Paisley, who she said was "helping with" (producing?) her first country album, now in progress. If it's anything like the version they did of "Real Gone," with him adding the fieriest licks ever to accompany a Sheryl Crow song, it'll be worth having waited the more than 10 years that have transpired since she first said she planned to go country.
Steve Martin's drollery. The comic actor's one-liners helped enthrall a packed tent filled with young people who'd probably never been to a bluegrass show before. He made note of the unusual material that was used for a barrier between the stage and audience in that particular tent. "Mike," said Martin, talking to one of the Steep Canyon Rangers, who accompanied him, "some of the people behind the speakers can't see you. Could you just run along the hay bales?"
Roy Clark at StagecoachRoy Clark's chutzpah. The 75-year-old Hee Haw star finished his set off by playing at least the third version of "Orange Blossom Special" of the weekend. (Steve Martin and Ralph Stanley had also done the bluegrass favorite in their back-to-back sets.) "Charlie Daniels, ha ha!" exulted a competitive Clark after putting down his fiddle at the end of a furious solo.
J.D. Souther's genre-crossing. Much of the audience probably didn't know who this legendary songwriter was, especially when he was putting his jazzy trio to work on "Ain't Misbehavin." Then he got into the Eagles classics he co-wrote, like "Heartache Tonight, which had a particularly jazzy piano solo. "That's the New Orleans version," he explained. He also sang "The Best of My Love," which he described as "a song so old, my nieces think it's a folk song." Mostly he kept things on the slow side because, as he explained in the 98-degree heat, "It's too hot to play any faster than this."
The Mavericks, making up for lost time. The newly reunited group, just signed to Big Machine Records, revived the ghost of Duane Eddy as well as their own no-longer-contentious spirits in a thrilling comeback set that, deliberately or not, was also easily the festival's loudest.
Sara Watkins' solo renaissance. Nickel Creek's former fiddler is releasing her second solo album on Nonesuch next week, and it's one of the year's best, with exceptional covers of Willie Nelson, Everly Brothers, and Dan Wilson tunes as well as her own material. Seeing what was working with an audience in the heat of the afternoon, Watkins figuratively threw the set list away, trading in reflective Americana rock for spirited bluegrass, and eventually launching into the most appropriate possible cover, John Hartford's "Long Hot Summer Day."
Paisley's conflicted relationship with booze. Brad has always said he's a teetotaler, despite writing anthems like "Alcohol." What's in it for him? Does he have stock in Jack Daniels? Hard to know, but as he noted late Sunday night, "You're all skipping work tomorrow, obviously… It's kind of fun knowing that none of you are going to remember this. You'll know you had fun, but you're not going to remember any details about it."
Ah, but that's what YouTube, Pinterest, and this story are for.