Stagecoach: Closing out with Rascal Flatts, k.d. lang, Leon Russell

Leon Russell
On Sunday night, the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death was handled quite differently on the two stages where music was still under way at the Stagecoach country music festival in Indio.

On the Mane Stage, where the vast majority of about 50,000 festival-goers were gathered, Rascal Flatts member Jay DeMarcus let the audience know several songs into the group's headlining performance.

Several minutes earlier, while Leon Russell was performing across the Empire Polo Field on the Palomino Stage, the Oklahoma rocker was informed by a crew member of the Al Qaeda leader's death and relayed the message to several hundred people gathered for his set.

“We're just getting word that Osama bin Laden has left this world," Russell said, before offering up a rendition of the gospel standard “Amazing Grace" that he dedicated to U.S. troops.

Musically, this year's festival wrapped up with performances by two spiky haired singers at opposite ends of the Empire Polo Field in Indio, and at very different places on the musical spectrum.

Rascal Flatts didn't dwell on the night's international news, quickly shifting back to the show as planned and its storehouse of Country Lite pop hits. The trio started out as a boy band with a drawl in the heady days of 'N Sync and Backstreet Boys, and you have to hand it to them for surviving, and thriving, long after the straight pop acts faded from the scene.

Singer Gary LeVox shares the fascination of so many pop and R&B singers with bending words and syllables into pretzel-like shapes. More often than not, it simply showcases—showboats?—his vocal dexterity rather than underscoring the words or emotions of the song at hand. And the songs themselves are generally the fluffliest brand of country imaginable.

They have well-defined melodies and hooky choruses, but what can you say about a group that scores a hit wistfully reminiscing about missing “Mayberry," a fictional town invented in Hollywood?

Contrast that with the wondrous k.d. lang, who held court with her Sis Boom Bang band at the other end of the grounds. She also has a technically exceptional voice, which she applies with equal facility to country, pop, soul and jazz-inflected songs. Mostly, she sings of romantic longing, and she channels the deep ache of yearning with the power of her voice in soaring ballads such as “Constant Craving."

After a weekend of dozens of performances across the broad spectrum of everything related to country, lang's performance provided an eminently satisfying conclusion.

Final attendance figures have not been released by festival promoter Goldenvoice, which expanded the cap it set on each day's attendance from 50,000 last year to 55,000 this year after opening up an additional five acres for festival use.

Indio police spokesman Ben Guitron said Monday that 43 people were arrested Saturday and 45 on Sunday, for a total of 88. The vast majority were alcohol-related arrests, with a smattering of assaults and trespassing violations. That compared to 79 over the course of the recent three-day Coachella festival.

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