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Reba, Paisley deliver one-two punch at Stagecoach

Indio, Cal., April 25, 2009

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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The day one lineup for the third annual Stagecoach Festival looked relatively weak on paper, as each of its three stages contained a few too many unknown or unexciting performers. However, the main stage (renamed with the pun, Mane Stage), featured nearly the best one-two headlining punch with Brad Paisley and Reba McEntire.

And while the other two stages (Palomino and Mustang, respectively) spotlighted some mighty fine music, careful selectivity was the order of the day.

With only an hour's stage time, which is not nearly enough to even cover her greatest hits, Reba did the best she should could, given these severe limitations. Some songs were relegated to a medley, such as Little Rock, whereas others, including the theme song to her recent TV sitcom, were performed in their entirety. And for the most part, Reba kept the mood upbeat and fun, whether with the gospel enthusiasm of Love Revival or the humorous communication breakdown, Why Haven't I Heard From You. Because Of You, was one of McEntire's few slow tunes, and The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia one of her rare, dead serious numbers.

Playing before the sea of fans on the Mane Stage would be a daunting task for most performers, as fans were huddled up in the cold, desert wind all the way back to the polo field exit. But Reba, who has performed in the theatre and hosted big time award shows, isn't any ordinary performer. She comes off entirely confident, stalking the huge stage from one end to the other, yet never sacrificing the folksy, Oklahoman sense of humor that makes her so doggone appealing. If anyone has earned such a large festival platform, it is Reba.

Paisley closed out the opening night with a healthy smattering of hits. But unlike Reba, Paisley's charm and sense of humor is much more subtle. Seeing Paisley at a local club a few years ago and thinking such a circumstance wouldn't last long, the man's songs are just too good to be relegated to smaller crowds. And while Paisley doesn't have the prize fighter mentality (think Bono of U2) to take charge of a stadium-plus audience like this one, he nevertheless turned songs, like opener Mud On The Tires and humorous social commentaries ("Celebrity, Alcohol) into populace anthems. Nevertheless, he'll always be a shy, unassuming kind of guy who looks more than a little out of place up on the Jumbotron.

The Palomino Stage was headlined by Charlie Daniels and his patriotic and spiritual brand of Southern rock. But he would have gone over equally well on the Mane stage, where Darius Rucker (remember Hootie & the Blowfish?) and Danielle Peck didn't yet belong. Kevin Costner & Modern West, the famous actor's pre-Hollywood band, performed a set of mildly appealing country-rock.

The true standout of this tent stage, however, was Lynn Anderson. Wearing girly pink and giggling much of the time when she talked between songs, this I Never Promised You A Rose Garden gal proved to be more than just a one-song pony. At one point she dedicated a song to a friend of hers, Betty Ford, whose clinic is not far from the stage on which she stood. Its lyric talks about rising from the ashes, and clearly refers to Anderson's relatively recent battle with substance abuse. The best part of Anderson's show, however, came when she sang a few songs her mother, Liz Anderson, wrote for Merle Haggard. These included The Fugitive and (All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers. Anderson's country roots go much deeper than many may realize. Also, it was a laugh when she recalled how Karen Carpenter (of The Carpenters) didn't want to record Top of the World because she thought it was a "dumb hillbilly song." But in Anderson's hands, there was nothing at all dumb about her sparkling set of "hillbilly songs."

Mustang Stage was headlined by Earl Scruggs. And being that he was one of the originators of bluegrass, this festival couldn't have picked anyone better to top the bill. But while Doyle Lawson, The Infamous Stringdusters, Chris Stuart and Back Country and Waddie Mitchell all performed admirably, there just wasn't the name value to pull many fans away from Mane Stage. If anyone was there earlier in the day, it was to get a little shade more than anything else.

Even for the dedicated country music fan, day one proved to be a long day of waiting for Paisley and Reba to arrive, with little else to keep the mind, heart and especially the ears engaged.