I’m gonna try to keep the folksy Dan Ratherisms to a minimum this weekend, PopWatchers, but yee-haw, it’s Stagecoach! Coachella’s country music cousin kicked off Friday by filling the polo fields with more straw hats than a barn full of upside-down camels, and once again, the transformation from youth-of-the-nation cesspool into family-friendly hootenanny took me a while to get used to. No more Outdoor Stage– hello, barbecue cookoff! No more pup tents– hello, NASCAR fans! The beer has switched to Bud, the Burgerito stand has moved inside VIP, the cops I spoke to actually called this weekend “enjoyable.” And yes, the trance forest is now deserted, nothing more than a slightly ominous circle of pod structures inside which, I noticed, few dared to tread.
Then again, at Stagecoach, few tread much of anywhere, instead choosing to take advantage of the fact that lawn chairs are permitted and beer can go anywhere to plop themselves in front of the mainstage and never move. Me, I keep getting lost in the field because they rearranged the tents. I was also not prepared for the massive crush of traffic at the gates, which caused me to miss Shooter Jennings’ entire set as I inched along a dirt road behind an RV; once I finally parked, I rushed into the festival as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played “Fishin’ in the Dark,” took a couple pictures of a strong-voiced if somewhat somnambulant Trisha Yearwood during “Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love,” then realized I forgot my glasses. Since I am not Shooter Jennings and therefore cannot get away with wearing prescription Ray-Bans after dark, I dashed back out to my vehicle during “How Do I Live” and “She’s in Love with the Boy,” then dashed in while Mike Ness (of Social Distortion fame) put a thick drawl on “Ball and Chain.” All three of these songs sounded excellent at a distance. Possibly because I have them memorized and was hearing the radio versions in my head?
After the jump, the rest of the extraordinarily temperate and almost chilly Stagecoach Day 1, including and in fact rather limited to John Fogerty, Glen Campbell, and the Eagles (pictured, left). But Glen Campbell did cover U2, so that’s something.
addCredit(“Don Henley; John Shearer/WireImage.com”)
Don’t know how many of you read my blogs from last weekend, but I’d say the theme of this year’s Coachella for me was “Why don’t the bands ever just play the hits up front so we can leave and catch somebody else instead of being stuck here waiting for that song we like?” Well, god bless John Fogerty. After all those years of rancor surrounding Creedence, there he was on the mainstage just as the sun set, blasting through “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising” (complete with acknowledgement of the bathroom on the right) “Green River,” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” back to back. He seemed in good spirits, chatty and plenty aggro with his guitar, but for some reason (okay, thanks to my photo pass) I have noticed that even when John Fogerty is in focus, he is still a bit blurry. I think it’s his eyes. They’re beady little things, and they glow like lasers from within, washing the rest of his face out into a smooth, featureless plane. If John Fogerty didn’t write such instantly-familiar songs, I might be a bit frightened by him.
Once Fogerty kicked into “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” I decided that my hit luck couldn’t hold, and took off for Glen Campbell and his 11-piece family band. At Stagecoach, I am learning, age simply must be the trump card– who knows how much longer some of these legends will play on?– and though Fogerty’s in his sixties, Glen Campbell is a feisty 72. Even better, he was playing in last weekend’s perpetually-clogged dance tent, which I wanted to finally see from the inside. (Nice! Roomy!) I decided this was my Show of the Day™ when he told us he wanted to play some “new” songs and it turned out to mean covers of the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” (slowed to a two-step), Tom Petty’s “Angel Dream,” and U2’s “All I Want is You,” all three of which appear on the upcoming Meet Glen Campbell (amazingly, not produced by Rick Rubin). He did appear to need a teleprompter to remember the lyrics to this material… but then again, so does Bono, who should pray he’ll have the energy of Campbell in 25 years. The rhinestone cowboy jumped up and down, did an ongoing Minnie Pearl impersonation, donned a fan’s Oakland Raiders cap, and in the midst of “Wichita Lineman,” he played a lovely, lilting guitar solo that reminded me of growing up. Behind me, even the cops were smiling, and I looked into the center of the audience to see my colleague Chris Willman standing at attention, face upturned to Campbell’s dazzling, grinning light. I hope he enjoyed that show as much as I did. Willman had a hard day yesterday: Kanye West told him to kill himself.
I waited to hear the entirety of “Galveston” (oh, Galveston!) before checking in on Craig Morgan’s redneck yacht club and trucking off to the Eagles, and I’m glad I left early: Some special access sticker issues nearly kept me from getting shots of the band whose two greatest hits CDs were in my very first order of CDs (not tapes) from Columbia House back in 1992, and who contributed, indirectly, to my getting kicked out of high school (long story). Thank heavens I got everything resolved– otherwise, I could not have discovered that my John Fogerty Theory of Blurriness also applies to Don Henley, despite the fact that I think Glenn Frey is looking way more like Don Henley than Don Henley these days. This is neither here nor there.
The guys opened with their crossover Wal-Mart hit, “How Long”– I’d consider it the primary reason they’re now considered a “country” band– and they sounded great, all tight harmonies and whatnot, but as soon as I left the photo pit, the sound went back to doing that weird quiet thing from last weekend. After having most of “Hotel California” drowned out by the snakelike whisper-singing of those around me, I decided to spot-test the field to find a place where it sounded like a big ol’ rock show should. Back of the field, amidst the lawn chairs? Too quiet. Planted immediately behind a speaker? Too loud. In VIP? Forget about it. I finally fought my way up to about 100 yards away from the stage, slightly off to the right, and found a patch of grass where I could hear sufficiently. But honestly, I’d like to see the Coachella/Stagecoach organizers cave just a little bit less to the Empire Polo Fields-Adjacent Condo-Owning Sleepytime Block Association next year, so we can hear headliners as God intended: LOUD.
Anyway. What can you say about the Eagles, a band getting so up there in years that they’re making jokes about their bedtimes, their lapsed memories, and have one horn player currently sitting out thanks to a surgery of some sort (get well soon)? Well, you can say that, like Fogerty, they play the hits– at one point plowing through “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “I Can’t Tell You Why,” “One of These Nights,” and “Lyin’ Eyes” as a walk-up to Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” for crying out loud– but according to my sources, last night’s show was a rehash of the tour they’ve been doing for a while, and to a certain degree, no matter how close one gets to the stage, it’s still a bit like watching a giant DVD, or, yes, seeing a cover band. Things are polished to that level of sheen. I suppose three keyboard players’ll do that for you. I hit the parking lot during “Take it Easy,” and could barely hear the strains of their last song, “Desperado,” by the time I reached the car. Again, that is okay. I have heard “Desperado” before, too.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself– in fact, last night was just as pleasant, if different, from last week’s Prince experience. I knew the songs, I sang along, etc. Good times. But I’m looking for something a little scrappier today, PopWatchers, and hoping to find it in Dan Tyminski and Cross Canadian Ragweed, and even, maybe, little Taylor Swift. I know my boy Dierks will deliver. As for headliners Rascal Flatts? I AM KEEPING AN OPEN MIND… but “scrappy” isn’t the first word that’s jumping in there, no. Stay tuned.