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By Linda Saslow, April 30, 2012
There are few places in Southern California where you can hoist a Confederate flag. The expansive recreational vehicle lot at Stagecoach Festival is one of them. Stagecoach is billed as California’s Country Music Festival and it rarely misses the mark in catering to the genre’s fan base. The three-day festival presented by Goldenvoice is held yearly in the spring on the grounds of the Empire Polo Club in Indio.
This year’s seventh annual gathering of nearly 100,000 people was held on the weekend of April 27-29th. If you love southern rock, bluegrass and stadium-filling country music as I do, this is the best event of its kind in the greater Los Angeles area.
Even the most dedicated fan cannot catch all of the 37 musical acts. On Friday we arrived at the end of Alabama’s nostalgic performance. We worked our way closer to the Mane Stage for Jason Aldean’s crowd-pleasing mega-millions act. Us fortysomethings were called out as “old,” but that did not prevent a sassy girl in cowboy boots, Daisy Dukes and a skimpy top from asking the middle-aged record executive if she could get up on his shoulders. As his old lady, I had to step in and coolly and firmly tell the young woman that sort of frolic was out of the question. For many of the broad-shouldered young men and teenage women dressed in little more than rhinestone body decals, bareback rides the pit were part of the fun in the 90-degree-plus desert heat.
Fueled by domestic beer and fried pickles, we spent our Saturday and Sunday rotating between the smaller and shadier Palomino and Mustang stages with folks our own age. The best surprise was the reunion of the Inland Empire’s ‘80s country band The Unforgiven accompanied by a drum team. Lead-singer John Henry Jones alluded to their punk rock roots and the multiple electric and acoustic ensemble was reminiscent of The Clash. The reunion of Latino power-country masters The Mavericks lived up to our lofty expectations. Full disclosure requires the author to point out that her husband is lead-singer Raul Malo’s solo act record executive. Also on the conflict-of-interest list was banjo playing Steve Martin and his North Carolina bluegrass band The Steep Canyon Rangers. Marred by the venue’s over-taxed sound system, Martin’s masterful band is more suited to the Orange County Performing Arts Center where they recently performed.
On acoustic guitar and violin, singer-songwriter Sara Watkins shined as a bright spot for the early birds. Chris Isaak performing his own hits and covers of country standards brought out the Western dancers in force. We headed back to the big city by dinnertime Sunday and missed a late performance by the iconic Kenny Rodgers. Many in the older crowd in the RV lot were heading home on Monday just so they could catch a glimpse of the justly celebrated master.
There are some logistical details you need to work out in advance if you want to have a great weekend. Buy the $250 individual wristbands early for this sell-out event. Arrive on Thursday if you plan to stay in a RV, and pre-book your space. Don’t carry alcohol or even prescription medication into the festival or you will lose your stash by the TSA-level security. If you plan to stay at a hotel, pre-order your shuttle service ride from Palm Desert Shuttle Line. Our sweet-talking record executive got us on the bus even though they had sold the last pass early on Friday. The convenient all-day shuttle service is worth the $85 per person fare. http://stagecoachfestival.com/