Stagecoach 2013: Norah Jones, Jeff Bridges go country on the side

Jeff Bridges
Jeff Bridges performs with his band the Abiders during the Stagecoach Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio on Saturday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

INDIO -- With its elaborate network of traditions and signifiers, country music provides great cover for moonlighters eager to escape into a ready-made sideline. Quite a few part-timers are on the bill at Stagecoach this year, including the pop-jazz superstar Norah Jones, Chris Shiflett (of Foo Fighters) and the actors Jeff Bridges and John C. Reilly.

And on Sunday night, the main stage will feature Darius Rucker, who’s a full-time country act these days but reached Nashville only after scaling the pop chart with Hootie & the Blowfish.

Doing material from his self-titled 2011 album and from the 2009 film “Crazy Heart” (in which he played a washed-up country star), Bridges sounded fine Friday evening on the Palomino Stage, his craggy vocals a good match for the atmospheric grooves churned out by his four-man band, the Abiders.

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But nothing about the set felt exceptional in a musical sense; Bridges was merely hitting a bar that all of the acts at Stagecoach seem capable of hitting. What lifted the performance above business as usual were the bits that drew on his Hollywood background: the stories he told about working with Kris Kristofferson on “Heaven’s Gate” and with T Bone Burnett on “Crazy Heart.” And his lengthy do-gooder’s monologue on how too many American children are going hungry “even in this land of plenty.”

It didn’t hurt, either, when he introduced John Fogerty’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” as “a little Creedence from the Dude,” channeling his indelible character from “The Big Lebowski.”

Jones was more distinctive later Friday night with her country cover band, the Little Willies -- that’s what happens with a voice as readily identifiable as hers. Yet the group’s performance, with versions of traditional material such as “Delia’s Gone” and “Roly Poly,” felt woefully genteel, especially as sandwiched between appealingly cantankerous main-stage sets by Toby Keith and Hank Williams Jr.

FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2013


Singing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” about a woman beseeching the title character not to take her man, Jones wasn’t begging so much as she was making a polite request.

Nick 13 projected a similarly earnest vibe Saturday afternoon on the same stage. But the singer known to punk fans as the frontman of L.A.'s Tiger Army was far more energetic as he sang crisp Sun Records-style tunes about the dangers of love (“Cupid’s Victim”) and his devotion to California (“101"). His is a sideline  worth pursuing.


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Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood

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