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Stagecoach: David Serby, Stealing Angels, the Cleverlys, Lukas Nelson bring twang to the desert

April 30, 2011 |  9:27 pm

00stagecoachlukas "You'll hear plenty of rock 'n' roll later today, trust me," Southland alt-country musician David Serby announced during his festival-opening set Saturday at the Stagecoach country music festival in Indio.

That was his rationale for ambitiously diving headlong into songs from his forthcoming album "Poor Man's Poem."

His folk-rooted songs about the struggles of working people indeed provided a striking contrast to the party-minded sounds of rising country group Stealing Angels, the first act to take the larger Mane Stage before tens of thousands of fans who'd planted themselves at the stage devoted to today's hottest-selling acts.

But Serby and his three cohorts in his Dirt Poor Folklore group initiated the day with welcome emotional heft.

Next-door to Serby, the Cleverlys leaned heavily on a rich vein of humor in their bluegrass reinventions of recent pop hits, including Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," and Cee Lo Green's notorious "Forget You." (And yes, this group of Nashville session pros chose to do the PG version for the appreciative country audience.)

But make no mistake, there's some good-natured subversion at work by these guys in opening ears that might otherwise give acoustic bluegrass music a chance.

Ex-Nickel Creek mandolin ace Chris Thile did without punch lines in his latest group, the Punch Brothers, but that didn't mean the quintet played anything straight. They work in the Sam Bush-Bela Fleck world that erases lines that separate country, folk and bluegrass from jazz and contemporary classical music with sophisticated compositions delivered with plenty of inspired improvisation.

Also early in the day, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real made good on Serby's prediction with a driving rock set that showed off Nelson's considerable chops as a guitarist while making clear that as a singer he's his father's son, the famous pater in this case being Willie Nelson. Lukas, however, shows more in common with another country scion, Waylon Jennings' son Shooter, who also likes to chart his own path.

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Critic's Choice: Stagecoach 2011

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Musician Lukas Nelson performs onstage during Stagecoach 2011. Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

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