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ZBB, Charley Pride lead third day charge at Stagecoach

Empire Polo Grounds, Indio, Cal., April 28, 2013

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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You learn a few things at Stagecoach, such as the notion that drunken cowboys and cowgirls will line dance to almost anything with a beat, from Riders in the Sky's western swing to Thompson Square's more mainstream country-pop.

You also learn that some people just don't get it, such as the young hottie that unfurled a Confederate flag while sitting on her beau's shoulders during the Zac Brown Band's set. (Brad Paisley can be forgiven, but this bimbette can't). Most importantly, you learn how this annual festival continues to do a fine job of being all things to all country people.

The Zac Brown Band sent the closing night crowd home with a satisfying set of favorites, as well as a few surprises. As for the favorites, few songs in recent memory summon the warmth of Free, a tune Brown melds with Van Morrison's Into the Mystic in concert. Even though the repeated phrase, "No, we don't have a lot of money," may not technically be a true one for Brown anymore, this song about finding personal freedom, no matter the circumstances, continues to resonate. As for surprises, who knew the group had Metallica's Enter Sandman in 'em?

The 103-degree heat out in the field of the "Mane" stage made the 2 tent stages (Palomino and Mustang, respectively) all the more appealing. Of course, the high talent quotient should have been magnetism enough.

However, it appeared as though there were a lot more people watching these tent legacy acts and emerging artists, just to beat the heat. But hey, if it means exposing attendees to better music, thank goodness for the heat!

Although Charley Pride's warm reception was unsurprising - after all, he just doesn't tour these parts much - the loud and enthusiastic applause that greeted country music's answer to calming chamomile tea, Don Williams was a little unexpected. Sitting down the whole time, with his tapping cowboy boot representing the only performance movement, Williams' voice sounded perfect - just as it always has. He's like a baseball pitcher that doesn't need to throw the hard stuff. Instead, he picks his spots beautifully and accurately.

Pride, who was dressed semi-formally in a green shirt and green slacks, got to Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone early in the set, and except for one gospel song and one patriotic number, mainly stuck to the hits. He was both in good voice and good humor and also looked healthy with a slight spring in his step. It was particularly fun when American Idol's Randy Jackson introduced Pride for his late afternoon set. Jackson may be on a show that chooses new stars, but he remembers the ones that paved the way for many. An hour set wasn't nearly long enough to do the Pride's vast catalogue justice, but it was more than worth it to see and hear him. After just losing George Jones a few days prior, we need to treasure our country music icons.

Sunday's lineup also featured a couple actor/singers, as well. John Reilly is a great actor, but only a passable singer. However, when he sang Heartaches by the Number, in a set of mostly favorite old country and country-related songs, it sure sounded good. Sometimes a song's strength can overcome a vocalist's weaknesses.

When Katey Sagal, with her Forest Rangers, sang Leonard Cohen's Bird on a Wire, one had to wonder just what this "Married With Children" star was doing at a country music festival.

One thing Sagal had in common with Thompson Square was a love for Tom Petty's songs. She sang Free Fallin', while Thompson Square worked in Won't Back Down. Although it was fun to hear these covers, as well as Zac Brown's take on Enter Sandman, it would have been more appropriate for these artists to work up a George Jones cover or two, instead of crowd-pleasing classic rock.

Riders of two different varieties shared set times on differing stages early in the day. Blue Sky Riders, a trio that also features Kenny Loggins, created some beautiful harmonies that should appeal to most Lady A fans during songs like the emotional Little Victories, while Riders in the Sky mixed cowboy songs with "Toy Story" soundtrack tunes and a large dose of humor, and were a pure delight as always.

It was heartening to hear Zac Brown tip his hat to Charlie Daniels when he played Devil Went Down to Georgia. Daniels himself reminded those in the Palomino tent what a fine and underrated guitarist he is on some extended instrumental jams. And for haters that give him a lot of grief about being a redneck on Twitter, he has two words for them: thank you. He said this, and then went on to sing a song about how the world would be a better place with a few more rednecks in it.

Honestly, though, there weren't really many true Southern rednecks at this festival. For those crowded up front during Zac Brown's set, it looked more like a college frat party. Everybody was underdressed, over-sunned, yet clearly enjoying every minute of Stagecoach. If there are this many young country music fans, the future of the genre is bright, indeed.