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Stagecoach: Mel Tillis pleads to Ruby, 'Don't take your love to town,' Darius Rucker on the Mane Stage

April 30, 2011 |  9:59 pm

New-school and old-school country went head to head Saturday night as Day 1 of Stagecoach headed into the clubhouse turn.

At one end of the Empire Polo Field, 78-year-old Mel Tillis sang hits from his heyday in the '60s and '70s, much of it rooted in classic honky-tonk, while rock star-turned-country hitmaker Darius Rucker held forth on Stagecoach's Mane Stage before the teeming masses.

Rucker is an engaging front man and knows how to command a large crowd, thanks to his experience with the multi-platinum-selling Hootie & the Blowfish. He also recognizes how much country fans love it when rock stars come a-courtin', and tipped his ballcap to the Hootie past with a countrified version of "Let Her Cry."

He can write a solid country song as well, and has a jukebox classic in "All I Want You to Leave Me Is Alone." But too much of his repertoire simply recycles well-worn phrases, themes and song structures, case in point his hit "It Won't Be This Way for Long."

He also didn't give any indication he was aware that David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" was written by Steve Goodman as a lark, a light-hearted exercise in throwing all country cliches into a single song. Maybe he'll get the joke when he gets older.

Old school isn't by nature better or more authentic, and Tillis cruised through a few of his more undistinguished country-pop efforts before zeroing in on one of his signature compositions, "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love To Town)." His voice was strong from beginning to end, though, as he set the Palomino stage for one of country's greatest writers ever, Kris Kristofferson.

Rucker's set, too, included a few moments that brought to mind a Kristofferson classic: "Help Me Make It Through the Night."


Stagecoach: Vocal harmony from Secret Sisters, Rhonda Vincent, and Steel Magnolia

Stagecoach: Mel Tillis pleads to Ruby, 'Don't take your love to town'

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

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: A concertgoer naps between performances at the Mustang Stage at the Stagecoach Festival. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times