Stagecoach journal continued….
Getting up on Sunday was much easier than getting up on Saturday. A good night’s sleep is such a relief. We didn’t have anybody in particular we wanted to see until Charlie Louvin at 4:40, so we figured we’d relax and take advantage of the house rental. A couple of people invited friends over and we did some grilling. I took advantage of the pool a little, but it was overcast and cool out.
Around 4:25 we headed over to the festival grounds for day three. Charlie Louvin was already on stage. Most people don’t have the good fortune of being healthy enough to tour when they’re 80 years old, and I really enjoyed seeing him up there. He kicked it off with “Great Atomic Power” which was a Louvin Brothers’ song. I actually heard Uncle Tupelo’s cover before I ever heard the original. Between songs Louvin was cracking jokes and completely charming. His voice has aged, but it really suits his songs. Another highlight was “The Christian Life,” which he introduced by telling a Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris anecdote. I only wish more people had ventured into the tent to enjoy the performance. Instead, we were forced to hear the sound bleed from Trace Adkins on the Mane Stage. Great start to the day anyway. By the way, The Louvin Brothers’ album cover for Satan Is Real is one of the best of all time.
Before the festival I was really looking forward to seeing the Carolina Chocolate Drops and then quickly dismayed by the fact that they were on at the same time as Louvin. Fortunately the stages were close so we were able to wander in and catch the end of their set. The Drops are a relatively young African-American stringband who play traditional fiddle and banjo music. It sounded fantastic on paper. When we walked in, the crowd was very enthusiastic and engaged. Unfortunately it came off as a little shtick-y to me. They totally lost me when they did a cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit Em Up Style” and one of the dudes was beatboxing. I was in the minority, because when they finished their set, the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
We wandered back over to the Palomino Stage and Billy Joe Shaver was performing. Shaver’s an outlaw country performer in the vein of Waylon Jennings (who covered a lot of Shaver’s tunes). You youngins might be familiar with Shaver’s voice from the theme song to Squidbillies. Anyway, Shaver’s a tough son of a bitch. I thought he sounded damn good and enjoyed seeing him play, but we decided to mosey on down the road.
We peeked our heads back into the Mustang Stage tent for a little bit of Michael Martin Murphey. Murphey’s a well respected songwriter who once had a band with Mike Nesmith and wrote some tunes for the Monkees. He did time in Austin and was active in the outlaw country scene. He’s written songs for Kenny Rogers and tons of others. You’ve all probably heard his hit song “Wildfire” without even realizing it was him. It was just him and an acoustic. His voice sounded nice, but being rocked that gently wasn’t holding our interest so we mosied on.
After a drink and a snack, we made our way back to the Palomino Stage for Jack Ingram. Ingram’s made his name playing Texas bars in mid-90s. After touring with Brooks and Dunn, he’s gotten a lot more famous. He was a good entertainer, but not necessarily my thing.
Poking our head back into the Mustang tent, we sat down for some Jerry Douglas. Douglas is an absolutely stunning dobro player. According to Wikipedia he’s played on over 1600 records - and it shows. Backed by a full band, it was like watching an amazing jazz band. I just sat down and enjoyed seeing a master at his craft. It was mostly instrumental, but completely engaging. Douglas is also a part of Allison Krauss’ band.
The act I was most looking forward to all weekend was George Jones. If pressed, I’d have a pretty tough time deciding if Jones or Merle Haggard is my favorite country singer of all time. I saw Haggard a number of years ago, and he was fantastic. I’d been warned to set my expectations a bit lower for Jones. At 76, Jones is no spring chicken (although he is four years younger than Charlie Louvin) and he’s abused the shit out of himself. The set was still pretty good. He didn’t do all the songs I wanted to hear, and cuts some of his best songs short, but I was still happy to see him.
We ended up leaving a couple of songs early to peak our head in on Ralph Stanley. All in all, Stagecoach is a superbly run festival. Attendance figures were reported at around 120,000 for the three days and everything seemed extremely smooth. I just wish the schedulers wouldn’t have put so many legends against one another. The way I figure it, you’ve got people there to see the modern stuff and people there to see the legends and less commercial stuff. Don’t make the people there to see the legends make such tough decisions.