Pop & Hiss The L.A. Times music blog
Neil Young, Stephen Stills back on stage together

Half a century ago, Neil Young and Steve Stills were regulars on the Sunset Strip rock scene with Buffalo Springfield.

They reunited on the Pantages stage a few miles east of their old stomping grounds Saturday night, delivering a short but powerful set to close out an autism benefit concert that also featured Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin and a raucous guitar auction won by Brad Pitt, whose $23,000 bid trumped that of auctioneer Jack Black and others to land him a Fender Stratocaster signed by all the performers.

Young, 69, and Stills, 70, played with chemistry and charisma, two Sixties legends who have somehow managed to reinvent themselves again and again, navigating the perils of rock stardom that felled so many of their contemporaries.

"We've been through some things together," Young sang, opening the nine-song set with "Long May You Run," the 1976 song from the short-lived Stills-Young Band.

Young's high tenor was strong, clear, melodic. Stills had more rasp in his voice, and those notes...

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Stagecoach performers, others get help staying sober at alcohol-heavy festival

In one short stretch Saturday on the biggest stage at the 2015 Stagecoach Country Music Festival, the Eli Young Band sang “Drunk Last Night” before Dierks Bentley got a huge cheer at the opening notes of his recent hit “Drunk on a Plane.”

Then headliner Miranda Lambert told a sea of at least 60,000 fans in front of her, “If you have a cold beer, raise it up -- we’re gonna do a drinking song,” as she started in on “Heart Like Mine,” in which she sings “Somehow I always get stronger when I’m on my second drink.”

There’s a long, proud history in country music of songs about drinking and its effects, positive and negative, on the drinker.

Literally and figuratively at Stagecoach, the signs are everywhere just how integral country music and alcohol are -- among the food and beverage booths are multiple stands trumpeting “Beer and Wine,” “Beer, Wine & Cocktails,” “Margaritas” and yet another stretch of a half dozen for “Cocktails.”

For most Stagecoach-goers, the biggest price to pay for overindulging...

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Stagecoach 2015: Nikki Lane boldly stakes her claim

The term "badass" gets tossed around a lot at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, but few performers have showed themselves as fully worthy of the adjective as neo-rockabilly-Western singer Nikki Lane during her afternoon set Saturday.

With her nimble quartet's support, Lane, who spent about seven years in Los Angeles pursuing dual passions for music and fashion before moving to New York and then Nashville, unleashed pipes of razored steel‎ on take-no-prisoners originals including "Man Up" and "Sleep With a Stranger."

She concluded with an edgy rendition of the Gram Parsons-era Byrds' arrangement of Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," then confidently told a few hundred onlookers that she expects to return to Stagecoach one day as a headliner.

"Think I'll work my way up to playing about 8:15 next year," she told The Times backstage after her midafternoon set. 

On Sunday she will return to Los Angeles to headline a "Hollywood Palomino" night show at the Roxy in West Hollywood. It's...

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Killer Mike advocates for more minority-owned labels at MIT lecture

Killer Mike, the rapper whose outspoken and eloquent thoughts on race relations have made him a cable news favorite on top of his surging music career, delivered a wide-ranging lecture to students at MIT on Friday and wasted no time tossing off thoughts that were profound even without the help of a beat.

Speaking about the music business, Mike said the relationship between major labels and their artists was like "sharecropping" and said more labels needed to be minority-owned. "We need more Rocafellas, we need more Bad Boys," he told the students, according to a Billboard report.

He continued: "If you want to pull out of that construct, you have to start your own farm. If you're an abolitionist, you're not going to get money from the federal government, so you have to get it on your own."

Mike also addressed an anonymous student blogger who had written a post in protest of Mike's appearance as part of the university's Hip Hop Speaker Series. The rapper made an obscene gesture and said,...

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Stagecoach 2015: Merle Haggard enjoys viral success, praises Django Reinhardt

Merle Haggard took a few minutes before his set Friday at the 2015 Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio to talk to The Times about "Django and Jimmie," his forthcoming collaboration with fellow vet Willie Nelson.

The record doesn't drop until June 2, but Haggard sounded delighted talking to his tour manager Frank Mull about the early response to the first song, "It's All Going to Pot." The official video, documenting the two country giants in the studio working on the song between puffs from what appear to be joints, was released Monday, April 20, a.k.a. 420, the international cannabis appreciation day.

Outlining the number of views it has logged in just three days‎ — about 4.5 million — Mull said there was already an unauthorized version posted on YouTube they were working to remove.

"That's what happens when you're hot," he said.

Haggard replied: "You know what they say, 'When you're hot, you're hot; when you're not, you pick up awards.'"

Haggard also shared a favorite anecdote...

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Stagecoach 2015: Merle Haggard, Sturgill Simpson round out an impromptu summit

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...

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