n paper, the lineup for BeachLife Ranch Festival, went from good (Friday), better (Saturday) and best (Sunday). That was on paper though, which is why – as they say in sports – we play the game. It turned out Friday was much better than expected, while Sunday turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Overall, though, this was a wonderful weekend for fans of country and country-adjacent music.
The Lumineers and Hall & Oates headlined day one of this festival, with The Lumineers frail folk sounding pale in comparison to the more robust and authentic variety, as was strongly presented by Waxahatchee earlier in the day.
Although, Hall & Oates barely passes for Americana (If you don't believe this, just listen to some of their overproduced '80s MTV hits). However, Daryl Hall is one of our greatest blue-eyed soul singers. So, when this duo reached back for oldies, like "She's Gone" and "Sara Smile," it was truly magical. The man can still sing 'em!
Although John Oates is not the primary vocalist, he adds smart guitar licks and mighty fine backing vocals. It was also one of those rare moments when you needn't own a single Hall & Oates album to recognize every song they performed. There are just so many huge and familiar hits.
Peter Yorn somewhat belongs in the Hall & Oates (One of these things is not like the others category), in that he is more of an edgy, folkish alternative rock artist. With his aggressive acoustic guitar strumming, though, he quickly won over the shorts and flip flop crow attending his afternoon set. He even threw in the Stones "Dead Flowers," calling it the most appropriate stylistic number for this festival.
Jamestown Revival played a fine set, which was more country than this writer expected them to be.
The White Buffalo, with full band, rocked as much as mellowed out on the main stage, while Myron Elkins' Southern rock blues got the day off on the right foot.
The two best acts on day one, by a long stretch, were the John Doe Folk Trio and Old Crow Medicine Show. Although Doe was given an extremely early slot, he sang solo songs and many X favorites, while playing acoustic guitar and backed by a standup bassist and a drummer. He even worked in Merle Haggard's great "Silver Wings."
Better still, though, was Old Crow Medicine Show, which went on just as the sun was going down. They brought so much enthusiasm it was nearly impossible to keep still while they played. One of many winners, "Humdinger," also succinctly described this memorable set.
Day two featured headlining sets from a pair of Nashville stars, Dierks Bentley and Ashley McBryde. Bentley mostly stuck to the upbeat hits, which is what you do at festivals, but he threw a really nice curveball by performing his bluegrass song about temptation, "Bad Angel."
While Bentley's band was doing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," McBryde came on stage to sing the last few lines of the song (Miranda Lambert does it on the recording). She then stayed on stage to help sing "Bad Angel."
McBryde's own set was also a treat, as she appeared to be having a whole lot of fun. She sang hits like "One Night Standards," but also threw in the new "Brenda Put Your Bra On" from her upcoming "Ashley McBryde Presents Lindeville."
This second day featured Mike & The Moonpies twice. The fine band kicked of the day with a set of its traditional country sounds, than took the role of house band for the Waylon Jennings tribute later that night. This middle day featured many female artists, too. Tenille Townes, although she writes and sings heartfelt songs, has a voice that is just grating after a while.
Cam, who may need someone to help dress her, came out in a shiny, gold, loose-fitting jump suit of some kind or other. She writes smart music, like one called "Classic," and – of course – "Burning House," but she just gives off too many vibes of being a trippy chick. And that can be distracting. Infamous Stringdusters brought high quality bluegrass, while Chris Shiflett showed off his country chops, on a break from Foo Fighters.
The Waylon Jennings tribute was hit of miss. Most of the performers were not all that well known, and the marquee moment of Shooter Jennings and Lukas Nelson singing "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," reprising the roles of their famous dads, was spoiled by a missed key change near the end. Jennings blamed this on lack of rehearsal, but it was one unquestionably overt missed opportunity. Jennings redeemed himself, though, when he and Orville Peck simply burned through "Ain't LIvin' Long Like This." Peck was born to sing Jennings' songs, with that bellowing voice of his. The best moment of all, though, was when Jessi Colter came out at the end, then sat and played soulful piano, and sang "Storms Never Last." It created an indelibly memorable moment.
Brandi Carlile and Wilco were the co-headliners for day three, which featured the best top to bottom lineup of the three days. While Carlile basically presented a slightly shortened version of her recent Greek Theatre show, it felt more like a rerun than her usual surprise-filled appearances. No guest artists, and no unlikely song choices.
Wilco sang "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" early on, but it seemed like the Jeff Tweedy-led act was trying more to break our expectations. Songs would be both folky and avant-garde-y, sometimes within the very same song. Best moment of the set was the lightly lilting "California Stars."
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, though, was the star of the day. He sounds just like his dad, and he writes nearly as well, too. Songs like "Four Letter Word" and "Just Outside of Austin" had the audience hanging on his every word.
Drive-By Truckers took home loudest-of-the-festival honors with a beautifully noisy set. Greensky Bluegrass was this day's bluegrass entry, and Jackie Greene sang some sweet folk-blues to begin the day. A few duos also made positive impressions. The War And Treaty's husband-and-wife soul music approach brought church to the beach. This pair even ventured out into the audience, like Sunday preachers being moved by the Spirit. Maddie & Tae looked and sounded sharp, especially on their true love song, "Trying on Rings."
There was a lot of goodness baked into this first BeachLife Ranch Festival. Think of it as Stagecoach, only with a bit more spice. We can't wait for seconds, thirds and more.