he Palomino Festival is like the adventurous little brother to the Stagecoach Festival. Rather than having some radio-friendly artist headline it, the too-cool-for-radio Kacey Musgraves was top billed. Furthermore, many of the artists filling out the bill have more dedicated fans than radio hits. They're mostly all alt.-country, in the best sense of the term.
Musgraves apologized early on for the oftentimes depressing nature of her most recent album, "Star-Crossed." That's to be expected, though. Nobody puts out happy, post-divorce albums, anyhow. She sang to autobiographical "Good Wife" early on, which carries with it a strong sense of regret. Dressed in a pantsuit, Musgraves' band visually (at least) lightened the mood by wearing Hawaiian shirts. Musgraves has created a strong bond with audience. You get the feeling they'll follow her wherever her muse leads.
One big drawback with multi-artist festivals, like this one, is how performers are forced to perform shorter sets than usual. This is especially detrimental for Jason Isbell fans, as even during his regular length shows, he never performs everything everyone wants to hear. With that said, though, there was no faulting his nine-song setlist that included the reflective "Last of My Kind" and bluntly honest "If We Were Vampires." Even this small taste of Isbell's music was worth braving the SoCal sun all day.
Willie Nelson, who sits down to perform these days, was flanked by his two sons and performed as a kind of unplugged family band. Of course, he opened with "Whiskey River" (some things just don't change), and led audience sing-alongs with chestnuts like "Mammas Don't Let Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys." However, the smaller lineup gave this show a more personal, homey feel, which was welcomed by all.
For many, the returned-from-sabbatical Turnpike Troubadours was the day's main draw. Great songs, like "Gin Smoke, Lies" are just too good to not be performed live. The band did this one, and a nicely representative set from the group's catalogue.
Although his set didn't differ much from his recent performance at Stagecoach, Zach Bryan gave this audience (many probably still new to his music) a chance to take in wonderful songs like "God Speed" and "Something in the Orange."
Unlike mainstream country radio, where women are oftentimes exceptions to the male-dominated playlists, girls represented a big portion of this bill. Nikki Lane was one of the toughest girls present, presenting many fine tracks from her "Denim & Diamonds" album.
None tougher than "Born Tough." Speaking of tough, the multi-tattooed Morgan Wade sang her breakthrough song, "Wilder Days," and other straight-talking anthems. Sierra Ferrell, one of the most eclectic ladies in the park, mixed bluegrass, country and – yes – a little jazz into her set.
Old Crow Medicine show brought plenty of energy to their late afternoon set. You might even say they rocked, as they closed with KISS's "Rock and Roll All Nite." Strange, though, how this was the group's last song. They said they wanted to rock and roll all night, then left the stage.
Other highlights included Langhorne Slim, who enthusiastically wandered out into the audience while performing, as well as Orville Peck's full, white Nudie suit (worn even on such a hot day). Although not as extravagantly attired, Paul Cauthen's wonderfully low singing voice went over especially well.
Also, sets by Amythyst Kian and Valerie June, both artists of color, were a welcome sight in the mostly white country music genre (at least on radio).
On the downside, Sierra Hull's lone bluegrass inclusion was a reminder that (like Stagecoach) these festivals really need to incorporate more bluegrass into their lineups. Hull's set was well received, and audiences would most certainly appreciate more of bluegrass at these events.
Yes, this may have been like Stagecoach's adventurous little brother, but wouldn't it be fun to push the envelope even more by honoring some of SoCal's cowpunk acts from yesteryear? Oh well, we can always dream. Nevertheless, Isbell said it best when the noted how, with most festivals he plays at, there are "always artists I don't give a shit about." Not so this time, though. Not a dud in the bunch, which is as good of a recommendation as any.