Stagecoach 2014: Ashley Monroe makes the familiar seem fresh

Ashley Monroe performs Saturday afternoon at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.
Ashley Monroe performs Saturday afternoon at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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It felt like a scene from the ABC series “Nashville.”

Before a modestly sized crowd Saturday afternoon at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, Holly Williams performed an assured set of no-frills country tunes that might’ve won the approval of her late grandfather, the pioneering roots-music giant Hank Williams.

Then she gave the Mane Stage over to Danielle Bradbery, who after introducing herself as “Season 4 winner of ‘The Voice’” proceeded to cover Katy Perry’s “Roar” for an audience considerably larger than Williams’.

Scarlett O’Connor versus Layla Grant, anyone?

Retro and nouveau are in constant conflict at Stagecoach, as indeed they are in the wider world of country music. Some acts take sides, as Williams and Bradbery appeared to, while others find ways to inhabit a middle ground.


PHOTOS: Stagecoach 2014

That’s what Ashley Monroe did Saturday in her Mane Stage set, which followed Bradbery’s in what might’ve been the longest streak of female performances at this year’s bro-heavy festival.

“Obviously, I’m a big fan of traditional country music,” Monroe said, and to judge by the lived-in sound of her band’s arrangements -- organ, fiddle, mandolin -- that was true enough. “Two Weeks Late” had a rollicking backwoods groove à la Loretta Lynn; “You Got Me” was as dreamy as primo Patsy Cline.

But Monroe is no preservationist. In songs from her superb 2013 album “Like a Rose” she used that old-school sound to address themes that felt totally up-to-date: the family dysfunction at the center of the delicate title track, which she called “the story of my life,” or the self-conscious erotica in “Weed Instead of Roses,” her plea to a lover to spice up an uninspired sex life.

“This is my version of a love song,” she told the crowd before that one. “It ain’t all that bad.”

Monroe also did a couple of new tunes from a follow-up record she said she’s working on, including a winsome ballad called “Has Anybody Ever Told You?” And she knocked out a joyfully raucous take on “Unhappily Married” by Pistol Annies, the group she shares with her friend Miranda Lambert (who knows something about refreshing familiar forms).


It didn’t inspire a singalong equal to the one Bradbery earned with her uselessly faithful rendition of Pink’s “Try.” But it sure told you more about who Monroe is.


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Twitter: @mikaelwood