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Dale Watson, Knitters, Lauderdale provide music to die for

Indio, Cal., April 26, 2009

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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While day 1 lacked a lot of musical nutritional value, day 2 of Stagecoach 2009 was almost too much of a good thing. Although its headliners' name value, Kenny Chesney and Kid Rock, matched the top of the bill on opening day (Brad Paisley, Reba), neither of these second day performers have yet attained Paisley and Reba's high critical acclaim.

Chesney, like Paisley, still seems a little out of place on the big festival stage, even after all these years. Paisley handles it all with 'ah, shucks' charm, but Chesney seems to be trying too hard to live up to the hype. After a long and meaningless musical-visual introduction, which makes NBA basketball home team introductions look subtle, Chesney brought on all the hits, including his new single Out Last Night.

Many of Chesney's between song remarks just trailed off into nothingness, as though he really didn't know what to say to such a huge and adoring throng. He's obviously extremely popular - hundreds of male Chesney look-alikes were on the grounds. And for what it's worth, the parking lot cars with Chesney's name written on their windows far outnumbered those with Paisley's name. Chesney is a fan favorite for the partying set, but only time will tell he amounts to much more than that.

Ironically, Dale Watson's Palomino Stage headlining set began just as Kid Rock's Mane Stage set was ending. Kid Rock said the right things - about loving Hank Williams, Jr. and Southern rock and all that - while mixing country, Southern rock and rap into a fairly unique mix. But they call this the Stagecoach Festival, and not a country gathering, so genre-bending artists like Kid Rock can also be included.

But speaking of Watson, one of his songs was called Country My Ass, which easily could have applied to Kid Rock. Watson decided not to offend anyone present on the grounds, as he took a shot at Rascal Flatts in its lyric, instead.

One could easily have stayed at the Palomino Stage all day Sunday and been perfectly satisfied. There wasn't a dud in the bunch. In addition to Watson's Haggard-like professionalism, Jim Lauderdale preceded that man in black with a set mostly pulled from his recent Honey Songs collection. But the fun really began when he played Travelin' Man and Lonesome Fugitive, which each featured the great James Burton (the guitarist on the original recordings) on guitar. Lauderdale called this group his dream band, as it also included guitarist Doug Pettibone, drummer David Raven, steel guitarist Al Perkins and bassist/producer Dusty Wakeman. It was simply impossible to go wrong with a combo like that.

One also had the chance to catch The Knitters on the Palomino Stage where vocalists John Doe and Exene Cervenka were upstaged by Dave Alvin's smoking guitar work. Doe said from the stage that Alvin had spent much of the day in airports getting to the show, which may be why his aggressive guitar playing sounded so darn good.

Poco reunited with its original lineup for a nostalgic trip down memory lane and brought Lynn Anderson onstage a few times to celebrate with them. Like Poco, Pure Prairie League also placed a high premium on vocal harmonies and sounded particularly good this day. Jerry Jeff Walker turned in a spirited set of outlaw country, as well as performing the timelessly beautiful Mr. Bojangles, which he's probably required to do by law. And if all that wasn't enough, Canada's The Duhks mixed African music with bluegrass and other styles for the most eclectic set of the festival.

The Palomino Stage day began with James Intveld, who kicked off the day right with some heartfelt traditional country. Intveld later played with Watson's band, which brought his activities full circle.

The Mustang Stage lineup was nearly as good as the Palomino's. The trio, Hot Club of Cowtown, headlined with the most blistering brand of Western swing known to man. They were preceded by Ralph Stanley, whose a capella O Death was miraculously not drowned out by Miranda Lambert's overly amplified Mane Stage set. Ricky Skaggs paid tribute to the founders of bluegrass during his performance with Kentucky Thunder, his regular band, and Peter Rowan provided an equally reverent overview of bluegrass' history. Next to all these legends, opener Greensky Bluegrass was truly green. Even so, Paul Hoffman - this trio's mandolin player - played some amazing licks, proving they definitely belonged with these other icons.

For lovers of bluegrass and traditional country, Stagecoach's second day provided the sort of overdose to die for.