As the 2015 Stagecoach Country Festival got underway Friday in Indio, the tour bus belonging to western swing band the Time Jumpers hosted an impromptu summit: three generations of acclaimed country musicians.
"We've got a special guest," Time Jumpers guitarist and singer Vince Gill announced, as he welcomed another visitor onto the rapidly filling confines of his bus. Walking up the short stairway entrance, he waved his hand toward a bench seat occupied by his fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Merle Haggard.
A moment later, fast-rising singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson appeared and took a seat next to Haggard, who is scheduled to close a strong trifecta on Stagecoach's Palomino Stage on Friday consisting of Sturgill, the Time Jumpers and Haggard with his band, the Strangers. On the bus, the elder statesman held court, regaling Gill and the other Time Jumpers with an anecdote about yet another highly regarded western swing guitarist, Eldon Shamblin.
"He was playing along, and I just put my hand on his guitar and said, 'I want you to tell me where you are, where you've been and where you're going,' " said Haggard, no slouch guitarist himself, recalling his attempt to figure out exactly what Shamblin was playing.
After a few minutes chatting with Simpson -- whose "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music" has earned him acclaim from critics, musicians and fans alike for its fresh perspective -- Haggard added his two cents' worth to the singer-songwriter's praise pile:
"I think he's just about the brightest star around right now."