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Underwood leaves shallow shine at Stagecoach

Fairgrounds, Indio, Cal., April 30, 2016

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Saturday night of Stagecoach 2016 had arguably the best lineup of all three days, with three stages chock full of many 'can't miss' performers and a headliner in country queen, Carrie Underwood. And as always, some of the day's best musical moments occurred just out of the reach of the folding-chair-and-beer-koozie crowd.

Luke Bell was one example of the fine music presented in the Palomino tent. Bell does not only have the traditional country sound down pat, along with just a touch of early Elvis vocal stylings, but he also has matinee idol good looks. Much the same could be said of Sam Outlaw, who spiced up his country sounds with a strong dosage of mariachi hot sauce. These Wild Plains kicked off the Palomino festivities with tasty country-rock blend that must have made many in the audience question this act's Boston roots. The first big highlight from the Palomino stage came from Jamestown Revival, though, when the act performed a spot-on version of Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings."

Although Mo Pitney's late afternoon set was presented on the Mane stage, the same location of Underwood's eventual night-closing performance, this talented and humble singer/songwriter also saluted The Hag with a sincere "Big City."

John Fogerty, the last Saturday performer on the Palomino stage, took the prize of the classic rock, festival nostalgic favorite. By performing fan favorites, like "Green River," Fogerty had fans dancing and singing right along. Best of all, Fogerty has lost no enthusiasm for his hits. He roamed back and forth across the stage, much like the young man oftentimes presented in flashback on the venue big screen.

Sadly, many of those camped out to get their good view of Underwood, missed out on Lee Ann Womack's stellar set at the Palomino. Womack's 2014 "The Way I'm Livin'" album was not just a career-reviving release, but easily one of the best albums from a female artist that year. With songs that grappled with both the sinful and the saintly, Womack sounded truly invested in its songs. This night she sang the album's title cut, as though she was wrestling with the devil himself, before leading the crowd in a sing-along during her huge hit - and deservedly so - "I Hope You Dance."

Ironically, Rodney Crowell performed and extended version of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" during his stage-closing set in the Mustang tent. It was an unusual move for such a respected songwriter. While there's nothing wrong with Crowell showing Dylan respect - all true self-respecting songwriters cannot avoid old Bob's influence - but when you only have an hour to perform, with more great songs than time allows, such a cover seems like an unwise set list choice. Nevertheless, Crowell looked and sounded wonderful, as he always does, even without his recent eye candy partner, Emmylou Harris, who performed at the festival the day before.

Underwood closed out the day with her pretty (but tough) girl routine by performing chart songs like "Church Bells." And while there's no questioning Underwood's vocal chops, it all seems to come off like a rather disingenuous act after a while. It's as though she's started to play to her female audience's expectations, where her songs say all the right things these gals would just die to tell their ex's. Is this Underwood's true heart, or is she merely giving the people what they want? Tough to tell. She retained her star quality this night, but it was a shallow shine.

About 70 percent of Stagecoach is left-of-the-dial country music. And truthfully, much of its mainstream stuff is not all that bad - at least in small doses. With Chris Stapleton receiving a Mane stage slot, right along with Underwood and The Band Perry - where he was wrongfully relegated to a full-house tent at Coachella - should give country music fans hope that the whole bro-country movement may finally be in our rearview mirror.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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