After a relatively low-key first day of the Stagecoach Country Music Festival on Friday, with just a half-dozen acts on a single stage, the music kicked into high gear Saturday. On the second day, all three stages were up and running with 17 more acts representing country, pop-country, alt-country and every other type of hybrid country music under the desert sun.
That's downright modest compared to the total sensory and schedule overload of the 143 acts that played the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for the two previous weekends, but still enough to create some hard choices among simultaneously scheduled performers.
For instance, do you catch 85-year-old bluegrass master Ralph Stanley at the expense of a rare chance to hear singer-songwriter J.D. Souther, one of the architects of the Southern California country-rock sound that's been the template for much of what's been coming out of Nashville for the last two decades? And then miss out on rising Texas singer songwriter Sunny Sweeney, who was on the Mane Stage at the same time as Stanley and Souther?
Such are the dilemmas of Stagecoach 2012.
One solution: in a music festival equivalent of culinary grazing, attempt to get a representative, if truncated, sampling of as many bands as possible.
Here are some highlights from the first two days:
-- Miranda Lambert: The sassy Texas singer-songwriter headlined on Saturday with a performance that firmly demonstrated why she’s become a full-blown star. All the elements are clicking for her: fresh and insightful songwriting, commanding stage presence and a wonderfully distinctive voice, all working together in service of celebrating and empowering the predominantly female crowd that makes up country’s core audience.
-- Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones; You'd be hard-pressed this weekend, or any weekend for that matter, to hear songs that reach deeper or ring truer than Alvin's portraits of people who often struggle without earthly reward for their efforts. Whether on his old Blasters/X classic "Fourth of July" or a more recent song such as "Black Rose of Texas," Alvin unfailingly hits the mark.