THROUGH THE LENS: Palomino Festival Revives the Golden Era of Country Music in Los Angeles
Morgan Wade - Palomino Festival 2022 - Photo by Peter Dervin
Los Angeles’ Palomino Club, opened in 1949 by western swing musician Hank Penny, was a showcase for a wide variety of roots music, from country to jazz to cow punk to alt-country. The Flying Burrito Brothers, Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, and Emmylou Harris were just a few of the regulars who both performed there and just hung out. It closed in 1995, and it is sorely missed. But its spirit was revived a couple of weeks ago during a one-day festival, aptly named Palomino Festival.
Held in the Brookside Park area, directly adjacent to the Rose Bowl, the fest’s two stages featured some of the most highly regarded roots musicians performing today. They included many who have been taking country music back to its roots, but in a non-bullshit manner that moves the genre forward. Column regular Peter Dervin, who seems to be spending his summer at festivals, was there to report on the action.
Palomino Festival 2022 by Peter Dervin
The idea to do another “country” music festival in Southern California — by the folks at Goldenvoice, who also sponsor the three-day Stagecoach fest — was a rather bold move. But unlike Stagecoach, Palomino cut out the flab and offered, in a single day on two stages (one named Pancho, the other Lefty), an invigorating mix of roots music that harkened back to the day when honky-tonk music was a vital part of the music fabric in Los Angeles.
In the 1970s, Los Angeles was known for the Palomino Club in North Hollywood and radio station KLAC. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I missed some of those legendary nights at the Palomino but KLAC was firmly set on the radio dial, and I, like many teenagers, lived vicariously though those radio waves. I could picture the many artists whose records I heard at the Palomino Club. I also had a vivid imagination for what must have been wild nights there.
The lineup for the Palomino’s namesake festival was an intriguing on two counts. First, there were quite a few artists I had heard about but had not listened to much or seen live. Second, photographing 20 acts in one day, on two stages a decent walk from each other, promised to be an exciting challenge.
While sets began at noon, the artists featured even in the earliest time slots could have been headliners at other fests. As Jason Isbell said during his evening set, “Most of the time on these festivals, there’s a couple people I don’t give a shit about. But today has been genuinely great.”
A mix of bluegrass stylings was presented well by Sierra Hull. She has blossomed into one of the great mandolin players in the bluegrass/country scene, regardless of age. Sierra Ferrell and her band presented a lovely set of old-time country musings that thrilled the growing crowd.
Amythyst Kiah once again proved why she is someone to be heard; her forceful vocals grab you and don’t let go. Jaime Wyatt had a sultry sound to go along with her stunning power blue attire. Low Cut Connie was one of my biggest surprises as they took the stage hostage. Their energy and vibrancy were explosive.
Langhorne Slim put on a frantic set of rockin’ Americana, so much so that he took himself into the crowd for a crazy fun time for all. Valerie June was, as usual, mesmerizing, but this time was she showed a feisty side! The stylish Nikki Lane, with a new album coming out, showed why she has become a favorite of many.
Abetted by her gripping songs, Morgan Wade has a sound and look that stayed with me long after I heard her. Paul Cauthen was amazing as he melted faces with his searing guitar riffs and Texas rock sound. With his traditional country sound complemented visually by one of his many country gentleman suits, this one powder blue with crocodile accents, Charley Crockett did not disappoint.
Following his successful appearance at Stagecoach, Zach Bryan already had a huge fanbase that sang the words to his songs and screamed their affections. The Turnpike Troubadours continue to bring out their fans, too, with a fantastic set of country music. The flamboyant Orville Peck had the enthusiastic crowd rockin’ in the early evening sunshine.
Old Crow Medicine Show were at their entertaining best as they danced and stomped around with great abandon. The legendary Willie Nelson & Family lived up to the anticipation as a younger generation was able to experience the magic of Nelson’s music. Joined by Lukas and Micah Nelson, their set was lively. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit followed with a blistering set of terrific songs. Isbell continues to be one of those songwriters whose musical stories speak truth to these times.
To close out the evening, Kacey Musgraves arrived on stage to an adoring crowd, shining as she sang her heart-tugging songs. I had not seen her since she won the Album of the Year Grammy in 2019 for Golden Hour. The heartache that she revealed in songs from her current album, star-crossed (ND review), had many in the audience singing passionately in unison, despite her calling it “fucking depressing” from the stage. The unexpected treat was Willie Nelson coming back out to do “On the Road Again.” We then knew why he had left it off his setlist. It was as if he was passing the torch.
One final observation: When looking out over the Palomino crowd, estimated to have been 15,000, I saw a sea of cowboy hats atop a relatively young audience. It was a nice sight.
Click on any photo below to view the gallery as a full-size slide show.