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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Show Review: Stagecoach 2017 w/ Willie Nelson, Jamey Johnson, Margo Price & Nikki Lane

Margo Price and band prepares to take the stage at Stagecoach 2017, photo credit me.

Show Review:
Stagecoach 2017 w/ Willie Nelson, Jamey Johnson, Margo Price & Nikki Lane

  One of the major ironies of being a moderately successful pop artist is that your work day is everyone else's party.  Even for the biggest, most successful artists, touring is a grind.  The process of touring is a function of minimizing unnecessary costs over time, so if you are doing reasonably well as a touring musician, there are not a lot of days off- by design.  Every city you play is different, every lodging, every venue, you are playing in front of a live audience five out of every seven days, and then, to top it all off, every human you know in each city comes out and wants to hang.  Touring musicians, unless they are psychopathic-ally unable to be alone or chronic substance abusers or both, do not want to hang out with random people during their work day, they want to play their gig, maybe have a couple hours to relax, and then they want to go to the next city.  It's nothing personal, its basic humanity.

  No where is this dynamic more apparent than at a mid to large size festival, where you've got dozens of artists and camp followers, squeezed into unusual time slots, with a double or triple portion of friends and family from the surrounding area.  If you happen to be one of those camp followers, as I am, it should be more about the festival audience than whatever artist you may taking along behind.   I've long espoused the audience first perspective, and no where does that pay higher dividends than at the Stagecoach Festival, or "Cowboy Coachella" as members of Margo Price's band of trained killers were calling it over the weekend.

  Despite my love for the festival, I felt like it was over all a down year for the bill, particularly the headliners, with only the Saturday night Shania Twain post-Vegas headline slot feeling really festival worthy.  Dierks Bentley, and Kenny Chesney, headlining Friday and Sunday night respectively, were of no interest.  Friday had some "aww sorry I missed them moments":  Elle King, an ancient Jerry Lee Lewis, Maddie & Tae and John Moreland.   Sunday had Terry Allen, who I really did want to see.  But basically, Stagecoach 2017 was all about Saturday afternoon, with Margo Price, Tommy James, Nikki Lane, Jamey Johnson and Willie Nelson celebrating his 84th birthday, playing in that order between 4 PM and 8 PM.  

  In many ways, the 4 PM Margo Price set felt like the fulfillment of a promise made two years ago, when I came to Stagecoach for the first time.  It was in September of that year that Third Man announced the Margo Price record, that same week, my gf brought her into Monotone (who manage Jack White, who owns Third Man records) and then flash forward two years and here we are.  So it was satisfying to see it all go down, even if there was the normal frisson of anxiety that accompanies any live show by a band you care about.

  Obviously, the crowd at 4 PM was just filling in.  The Palomino tent for Stagecoach is the Sahara tent for Coachella, so it is a big space, and it can be half empty with a few thousand people watching.  The performance was workmanlike, not inspired.  I mean, how inspiring can you be at 430 PM on a Saturday afternoon?  I suppose it has happened, I can think of some memorable afternoon performance at Coachella- MIA's first performance was in the mid afternoon, but it's a tough sell.  The band was truly spectacular, a fact that everyone who watches picks up on, country fan or no.  I could just watch the band play for an hour without Margo at this point.

  The crowd was that amazing Stagecoach mix of races and classes, though mostly white with a sprinkling of darker skin tones and ethnic identifies subsumed by a unifying, American flag inspired visual aesthetic.   I'm hardly a member of that coterie of festival goers, but at least they aren't the annoying, drug-addled children who dominate the general population area of Coachella in 2017.  I would have liked to have seen more artists, period.  After Willie Nelson wrapped his set at 9 PM Saturday night, there was no one left to see except Shania Twain. It would be great if the second stage went a little deeper into the night.
Image result for nikki lane
East Nashville artist Nikki Lane also played Stagecoach 2017
  After Margo Price wrapped up, we ended up trouping over to the Mustang stage- to see Nikki Lane, who is something like an East Nashville rival- I'm using "rival" in a very casual sense not meant to fan the flames of gossip, but it would be ridiculous to not compare to East Nashville based artists who peddle similar varieties of vintage country.  For Lane, the emphasis is on the vintage. She sings with a twang that wouldn't be out of place on a Western Swing record from the 1940's.  She literally owns a vintage shop in  East Nashville.

  It's probably a leetle embarrassing that I've been following Margo Price and East Nashville so closely for the last year and a half and had yet to actually hear Nikki Lane sing.   And I was impressed by the voice, and the general look/style/aesthetic that she brings to the table.  But her band is not as good as the other East Nashville based bands I've heard.  Also, I think her twangy singing style is something that I personally enjoy but one that limits her upside.  The only place that twang has in contemporary Top 40 country is the accent of country artists who are belting out choruses or "rapping" in between verses.  I'm sure, though, that after Stagecoach I'll be paying closer attention, but my take is, based on the fact that she has three LPs out and the first one was in 2011, that it isn't going to happen for her in this iteration.   She needs a hit, and she didn't get one from the new record.  I'm saying this having heard the new Margo record and knowing that there is at least one, maybe two or three radio level hits on her next record.

  The Willie Nelson set was a total shit show, in the best possible sense of that term.  His set started out with 10 minutes of Bradley Cooper shooting for his Lady Gaga featuring Star is Born.  No sound, just Cooper "playing" on stage with a band.  The big story backstage was Neil Young literally driving up in his beater car.  He ended up hopping on stage for 45 seconds, alongside Margo, John Doe,  Jamey Johnson and others as Willie was serenaded with happy birthday.

  Afterwards, there wasn't much celebrating- we had gone early for the managers and bookers Stagecoach Brunch, so Shania's set would have required a full 12 hours at the festival.  The band did watch Shania Twain, then it was off to Tempe for the Sunday edition of the Stagecoach Spotlight tour with Jamey Johnson and Brent Cobb.  I would also like to again say that Brent Cobb is a very nice guy with an excellent attitude.

  A major difference between Stagecoach and Coachella is the artist village- for Coachella it's the beating heart of the industry scene, but for Stagecoach it is essentially deserted.  I sat in the artist area for hours, in the middle of dedicated trailers for Willie Nelson (he never even used it and eventually they turned it over to Steve Moakler), Maren Morris (she was there for about 15 seconds, sporting legit side boob), Margo, Nikki Lane and Brent Cobb and really it was only after the end of Nelson's set that anyone started hanging out.  Most of the main stage acts have their own tricked out tour buses and never leave, and the lesser artists were just stopping through Stagecoach on their own tours.

  Sunday I was disappointed that I didn't see Terry Allen.

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