Tempeh's out, pulled pork's in

Times Staff Writer

Naomi Judd had some advice for breakout star Taylor Swift during the Judds' sundown reunion set at the Stagecoach Festival on Saturday. "I remember when Taylor Swift said that winning her [2007 CMA award] was the highlight of her senior year," Judd said. "It's my job to tell you to get a good lawyer and save your money."

The line drew big laughs, but it underscored the difference between Stagecoach and last week's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. If the latter is becoming more about scoping breakout acts and celebrating youth (even Prince's and Roger Waters' headlining sets had airs of teenage retro-revival), Stagecoach values the experience of a long life spent in Cadillacs, divorce courts and empty highways.

That's the particular appeal of country music for the roughly 70,000 fans who turned up Friday and Saturday for the first days of the newly expanded three-day festival. Sunday's Palomino Stage headliner George Jones rode a lawn mower to buy booze while wife Tammy Wynette chased him down the street. We've all been there.

Still, Stagecoach is invested in the mainstream country virtues of family -- the tent where Does it Offend You, Yeah? performed last week at Coachella had been transformed into a "Half-Pint Hootenanny" guarded by a giant rooster statue.

Swift's set brought an especially telling demographic: tween girls who took to the 18-year-old's set as if she were the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Unlike "American Idol" alum Bucky Covington, who sings about having grown up in "a different world" at the ripe old age of 31, Swift is every bit a teenage country star, and her legion of still-in-braces fans knew every word to cheating-man hits like "Should've Said No."

The Judds elicited a similar reaction from those girls' mothers a few hours later, and like Glen Campbell's Friday set with his children on backing instruments, proved that country is almost the only genre resistant to generation gaps.

Not to say that all the activity at Stagecoach is appropriate for youngsters. Unlike Coachella, where the scene of exclusive after-parties is coming to define the festival's social life, the partying at Stagecoach starts at daybreak and stops when you fall over.

"Everyone passed out right after the show last night because we'd been drinking since 8 a.m.," said Lisa Osetek, a 23-year-old from Newport Beach who nursed a beer while lounging in an inflatable kiddie pool outside her RV camp around 2 p.m. on Saturday. "I haven't taken a shower today."

Anyone in the audience for Kenny Chesney's headlining set last year can attest that Stagecoach gets rowdy and occasionally a bit blue. Confederate flags abounded in the RV campground, and one popular T-shirt extolled mammaries, beer and heterosexuality in exceptionally blunt terms.

The dominant fashion for men was going shirtless with a vaguely menacing cowboy hat and giant belt-buckle combo, while the women outdid their Coachella peers in skimpy swimwear.

There were other key differences between last weekend's alternative rock-centric event and this weekend's tribute to country. For one thing, Coachella's organic tempeh-wrap stand was replaced by a fried catfish and pulled-pork shack. And while Coachella's on-site record store did brisk business in indie-rock sales, Stagecoach's Borders store stocked plenty of rustic-looking LP sets from George Jones, Willie Nelson and hot newcomer Hayes Carll that seemed like must-haves for a crowd enamored with the old South and West.

The much-vaunted vinyl revival apparently didn't extend to Stagecoach, however.

"They're more for aficionados," said Patricia Cripps, the district manager for Borders in the Inland Empire. "I prefer the big art and liner notes, but they're not big sellers here."

For a genre so steeped in tradition and exclusivity on its charts, Stagecoach's lineup is exceptionally multicultural. Last year's fest had a heavy Latino influence, with ace performances from Alejandro Escovedo and Raul Malo, and this year included sets from African American singer Rissi Palmer, the Canadian Ojibwa tribe singer-songwriter Crystal Shawanda and the Aussie and English via-Nashville bluegrass combo the Greencards.

"We've never played a mainstream country festival before, and we were kind of freaked out," said the Greencards' Australian singer-bassist Carol Young after their midday set Saturday. "But the thing about Americans is that they're music lovers. In England, you get smatterings of polite applause, but here we can give love and get it back."

Stagecoach hasn't quite learned how to get outlaw types and mainstream Nashville fans to interact, but honky-tonk roughneck (and former veteran of the L.A. hardcore punk scene) Dwight Yoakam might have figured it out. He covered Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," Ricky Nelson's "Garden Party" and Friday's headliner the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling" in the same set, while making all three songs his own.

"You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself," Yoakam sang during his Nelson cover. That's good advice for any future Stagecoach-goer. But they should remember that for every stud in a Stetson or teenage vixen, there's a grizzled old picker across the field with a different story.



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