Pop & Hiss The L.A. Times music blog
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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Stagecoach 2015: Steve Earle on country music's maverick tradition

This year's edition of Stagecoach was Texas maverick singer and songwriter Steve Earle's first appearance at the sprawling country music festival in Indio, with a set that dipped into his latest album, “Terraplane Blues,” as well as going back nearly to the beginning of his recording career with the likes of “Copperhead Blues.”

Relaxing backstage in his trailer after his performance Friday, Earle, 60, noted that the new album “was No. 1 for 10 weeks on the Americana chart, which is an airplay chart. We’ve never had one stay there that long."

"The things that we have to judge it by are so different now,” he said, alluding to the steady downturn in sales of both physical CDs and digital downloads.

Ever the firebrand, Earle said “Mainstream country music has become … boy I’m going to get in trouble for this,” he said, shaking his head and wearing a determined smile before finishing the thought, “it’s become music for 20-somethings who can’t deal with hip-hop for whatever reason.

“When I was...

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Stagecoach 2015: With a new booker, festival attendance up 18%

The biggest difference immediately apparent at Friday’s opening day of the 2015 Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio is just how much bigger it's gotten.

By the time headliner Tim McGraw took the Mane Stage following performances by nearly two dozen acts spread out over the festival’s four performance spaces, the sea of yee-haw humanity stretched about as far as the eye could see in all directions.

It was no desert mirage: Where total attendance last year totaled about 190,000 over the three-day event (according to Pollstar, the concert industry tracking publication), this year that figure will be up more than 18% to around 225,000, Stagecoach’s newly appointed festival talent buyer, Stacy Vee, told The Times on Friday.

That breaks down to daily paid of attendance of 70,000, where sales were capped this year, plus an additional 5,000 each day in guests of various bands and others, Vee said.

By way of comparison, the Country Thunder festival in Florence, Ariz., which was just named...

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