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Critic's choice: Stagecoach Country Music Festival

This year's lineup features Ricky Skaggs, a rare appearance by Loretta Lynn and the West Coast debut of the Cleverlys.

March 06, 2011|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
  • Musician Ricky Skaggs will perform at this year's Stagecoach Festival.
Musician Ricky Skaggs will perform at this year's Stagecoach Festival. (Ed Rode, Associated Press )

The annual Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, which turns 5 this year, is always buoyed by the richly eclectic swath of music its organizers assemble. It's a glowing example of the possibility for peaceful coexistence between the hyper-polished acts that monopolize the country radio airwaves and the grittier acts that keep the soul of country music alive.

The former camp is well represented at the top of this year's two-day bill April 30 and May 1 in the Jimmy Buffett-soaked hits of Kenny Chesney, the relentlessly sunshiny pop-country of Rascal Flatts and don't-mess-with-me assertiveness of Carrie Underwood.

What makes this year's Stagecoach lineup particularly tantalizing is the first West Coast appearance in ages by country queen Loretta Lynn, who demonstrated forcefully with her Jack White-produced 2004 album, "Van Lear Rose," that she's still got a few surprises up those puffy ballroom-gown sleeves she adores. Another recently rejuvenated veteran who steps into the spotlight is Leon Russell, one of the first rockers to let his country-freak flag fly in the '70s with roots albums he made under the pseudonym Hank Wilson.

Ricky Skaggs, who helped usher in a new era of traditional country in the '80s, has focused in recent years on bluegrass and gospel music. But the multi-instrumentalist revealed recently that he's strapping on an electric guitar this year to revisit his deep trove of country hits.

Stagecoach also typically offers up bona fide left-field delights, and this year that includes the West Coast debut of the Cleverlys. This whimsical Nashville outfit applies no-joke instrumental chops and multi-part vocals to material including Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" and British prog-rock band Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Gentlemen, start your yodels.

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