Merle Haggard, Tom Petty honored at Stagecoach festival

Lyndsey Parker
Merle Haggard, Tom Petty honored at Stagecoach festival

Many artists at the Indio, Calif., country music festival Stagecoach performed classic cover songs this weekend. But neotraditionalist Americana icon Dwight Yoakam practically turned his Stagecoach into a tribute to his hero Merle Haggard, “one of the great native sons of Bakersfield,” performing four Haggard songs in a row while headlining the Palomino Stage on Saturday.

“Let’s see how serious about Merle and Bakersfield you are!” Yoakam cheerfully challenged the tent’s roaring capacity crowd, as he launched into “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I Started Loving You Again,” “Mama Tried,” and “Okie From Muskogee” and entertained with anecdotes about hanging out with Haggard and Willie Nelson on smoke-filled tour buses. He later explained with a shrug, “Indio is part of greater Bakersfield!”

Yoakam’s Haggard homage came two days after the launch of his new SiriusXM channel, “Dwight Yoakam and the Bakersfield Beat,” which celebrates the Bakersfield country-rock sound that has influenced Yoakam’s own work. His hourlong Stagecoach concert also included covers of Buck Owens’s “Streets of Bakersfield” and “My Heart Skips a Beat” (the latter mashed up with a snippet of “Don’t Bogart That Joint”), along with Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister,” Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man,” and Joe & Rose Lee Maphis’s “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music).”

Later in the night, over on the Mane Stage, Yoakam got his own tribute of sorts, when Keith Urban brought out Brothers Osborne for a first-time rendition of Yoakam’s own California classic “Fast as You” — and when the second verse kicked in, Yoakam himself (or “Dwight Frickin’ Yoakam,” as Urban announced him) strutted out to join in. The crowd erupted as Urban’s wife, Nicole Kidman, watched from the wings.

Haggard wasn’t the only dearly departed artist receiving a Stagecoach tribute Saturday. Austin alt-country hipster trio Midland, a band directly influenced by the ’70s/’80s Cali sound, performed a rollicking and faithful version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” during their afternoon Mane Stage set (along with covers of David Lee Murphy, Alabama, and Bob Seger songs); contemporary country singer-songwriter Granger Smith also played Petty’s the perennial crowd-pleaser “Free Fallin’.”

Saturday was Stagecoach’s most Americana-leaning day, with other standout performances by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Kacey Musgraves, Ronnie Milsap, and Brandy Clark. Yahoo’s final day of our Stagecoach live stream kicks off Sunday at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET with Florida Georgia Line, Brett Young, Lee Brice, Gordon Lightfoot, Luke Nelson + Promise of the Real, and more.

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