THROUGH THE LENS: Stagecoach and Moon Crush Show Festival Season in Full Bloom
Smokey Robinson - Stagecoach 2022 - Photo by Peter Dervin
To paraphrase the Stephen Sondheim-penned lyric from Gypsy, everything’s coming up roots music festivals this spring. If it seems that the Through the Lens column has been featuring an endless stream of them lately, it’s because they are abundant as May flowers.
This week features two roots festivals at opposite end of the country, the Stagecoach Festival in California and Moon Crush in Florida. Both are firsts for the column. Two frequent ND contributors were there to cover the action, Peter Dervin at Stagecoach and Boom Baker at Moon Crush.
Stagecoach Festival 2022 by Peter Dervin
While the first Stagecoach Festival, in 2007, may have been a bit top heavy with country music acts that had established their careers in the 1980s and ’90s, the years that followed have seen a much more diverse array of performers. This year continued that trend.
The festival site at Stagecoach is huge, spread out over the Empire Polo Yards in Indio, California. The parking lots are around the perimeter of the grounds, and you better have good walking shoes as nothing is close. It took me 20 minutes just get to the festival entrance.
As the stages are so spread out, I spent the first day focused primarily on the Palomino Stage, a covered stage with hay bales that made for cozy seating. First up was Amythyst Kiah, who absolutely nailed it with songs that ring true in the folk/blues tradition. One would not think that The Cactus Blossoms, with their harmony-rich songs that bring you back to The Everly Brothers, would be a natural act to follow, but their vibe was just as seductive.
Next were three flavors of country: Charley Crockett with his unique brand of honky-tonk; Tanya Tucker, hitting it on all cylinders in this second act of her career; and Maren Morris topping the night off with infectious country pop.
The next day, Molly Tuttle brought some fine finger-picked bluegrass that had everyone dancing. Colter Wall, with his deep baritone vocals, made you long to be in the saddle when he sang his songs about the life of cowboys. Margo Price — who rode up to the stage on a horse — brought her patented brand of renegade country that is both fresh and well-honed from years of knocking around Nashville’s bars.
On the festival’s final day, two powerful women artists of color demonstrated to all why they represent the future. Rhiannon Giddens, with banjo and fiddle, gave us chills as she delivered a powerful message within her vibrant folklore tales. Yola channeled that intensity one step further, blowing the roof off with a style, sound, and overall presence that was like baring one’s soul. Astounding.
Saving the best for last, Smokey Robinson, performing a no-stop set of hits, closed my festival. At the forefront of a Motown sound that not only influenced The Beatles but also rivaled their popularity in the 1960s, it was a Smokey lovefest. The crowd and Robinson were one.
Moon Crush 2022 by Boom Baker
Moon Crush bills itself as a “connected music vacation,” not just a music festival. Held at Miramar Beach, Florida, it is a unique experience: Attendees can spend the day at the beach, by the pool, or whatever floats their boats. Only as the sun begins to set in the late afternoon does the music begin.
Seating is not only reserved, but those seats are also situated in either a two-person or four-person “cove,” with an option to add another guest or two. There’s also personal food and drink delivery and air-conditioned restrooms. With a single stage and only three performances each night, and late afternoon “openers,” it is certainly a pampered way of enjoying roots music under the stars with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop.
How does Brandi Carlile do it? In addition to her own outstanding anthem-like songs that often spiral upwards into spirited crescendos, her two sets featured songs by Joni Mitchell, Elton John, and, unless my ears deceived me, Led Zeppelin. Perhaps the highlight of the fest was her cover of “Woodstock.” As the line, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden” soared into the heavens, it also served as a metaphor for all the places, times, and people we have longed for.
That first night was a “family” night, as it also featured a set by one of Carlile’s Highwomen bandmates, Natalie Hemby, and another set by “the Twins,” Carlile’s longtime bandmates and collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth. Carlile joined Hemby onstage to sing The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table.”
As they have been doing with their stripped-down Fireside Live Tour, The Tedeschi Trucks Band featured just four other band members. Their 16-song set included covers by Derek and the Dominos, Dr. John, Elmore James, Taj Mahal, Bobby Blue Bland, and Dan Penn.
Ben Harper’s solo set was filled with poignant songs and engaging dialogue, with an opening joke that all the instruments on the stage were for sale instantly charming an adoring crowd. Not to be outdone, bluegrass flat-picking phenom Molly Tuttle is hitting her stride with her new band The Golden Highway, who are far more than a backing band. They bring out the best in her, and in turn, she brings out the best in them.
Click on any photo below to view the gallery as a full-size slide show.