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Palomino Festival 2022

What defines country music? Wikipedia defines it as a “genre of American popular music that originated in the Southern United States in the 1920s.” It goes on to say that country music “often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms and harmonies accompanied by mostly string instruments.”  I can’t argue with those statements, but they also don’t explain what country music is. Urban Dictionary does a slightly better job when it says country music “used to be a deep, earthy, and universally respected genre of folk music embraced by people from all walks of life and performed by heartland poets who wrote touching melodies and thought-provoking but subtle messages about life, love, and loss.” The key phrase there is “used to be.” The site blames record companies for turning the genre into a “vapid, money-grabbing business plagued with mediocrity.” I can’t argue with those statements either, but I do believe there is still a thriving country music scene that continues to exist outside the corporate stronghold that pollutes the airwaves. John Moreland, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, Jamey Johnson, and Lydia Loveless are just a few names that come to mind. Those artists have very different styles, but they all have one thing in common…they make authentic country music. I cannot provide a definitive definition of what that means. I just know it when I hear it.

The paragraph above were written for a review I did of the Hollywood Palomino Night at The Roxy in Los Angeles in 2015. I thought it was appropriate to use for the first Palomino Festival. A single-day festival held at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, the Palomino Festival crammed nineteen performances onto two stages for eleven hours on a sunny Southern California day. A lofty feat that was mainly successful if you are ok with sampler sets from the best of the new “outlaw” country.

What worked:

Quick and easy entrance.

Rotating the sets from stage to stage ensured there was zero overlap between acts, allowing fans never to miss a performance.

Adequate shade to take a break from the blazing sun overhead and avoid heat stroke.

Central location that was easy to get in and out of.

What did not work:

25-minute sets for many of the artists. 

The festival would have been better spread across two days.

Overpriced drinks and running out of many options well before the show ended.

Long lines and long waits to get food and drink.

Logan Ledger had the unfortunate task of kicking off his short set at the same time gates opened, which did not allow many people to arrive in time for his performance. I was able to catch a few of his songs on the Pancho Stage, including the great “Starlight” from his self-titled debut album, but I heard most of his set from the line and while wandering around to get my bearings.

Partial Logan Ledger Setlist: River of Fools, Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me, Starlight

Jaime Wyatt was the first to perform on the Lefty Stage. It was smaller than the Pancho Stage but was preferable due to having more shade toward the back. Styling a baby blue suit, Jaime mainly stuck to selections from her latest album, “Neon Cross,” but wrapped up with her prison romance, “Wasco.”

Jamie Wyatt Setlist: Goodbye Queen, Rattlesnake Girl, Neon Cross, Hurts So Bad, Wasco

Philly’s Low Cut Connie was the oddball band of the bunch, leaning heavily toward garage rock; the only shred of country came from a scantily clad farmer’s daughter with a fiddle. I can’t say I was a big fan of their music, but the frantic energy was infectious. I was sweating pretty good during their set, so I left a little early to grab a beer and post up in the shade for Sierra Hull.

Partial Low Cut Connie Setlist: Me n Annie, Death and Destruction, Boozophila, Shake It Little Tina

Sierra Hull and her band were the sole traditional bluegrass act of the day. They mixed some instrumental jams with newer tracks and an Earl Scruggs cover. It was a fun set to enjoy from the comfort of the shade under a tree while sipping an $18 cocktail.

Partial Sierra Hull Setlist: Chasin’ Skies, Over the Mountain, I Feel the Blues Movin’ In

Having just gotten used to the short sets, which I was enjoying quite a bit because I was getting a sampling of artists I wasn’t familiar with, I was left wanting so much more from Sierra Ferrell. Arguably one of the most popular artists to perform, cutting her off so quickly felt like a crime. She filled every precious moment, though. She and her band were in sync and on fire from start to finish, from “In Dreams” to “Jeremiah” and everything between. Somehow fitting seven songs into a swift twenty-five minutes, she left the crowd in awe and in a futile attempt to cheer for more.

Sierra Ferrell Setlist: In Dreams, Give It Time, Bells of Every Chapel, Why’d Ya Do It, Silver Dollar, Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, Jeremiah

Maybe it was because she had to follow Sierra Ferrell, but Tennessee’s Amythyst Kiah was one of my least favorite performances of the day. She has a fantastic voice, and I enjoy her songs, especially her rendition of “Black Myself,” but there was something subdued about her set. It just didn’t move me. The good news is that the set that followed was one of the day’s most unhinged.

Amythyst Kiah Setlist: Hangover Blues, Wild Turkey, Fancy Drones, Black Myself, Sugar

The rowdiest performance of the day came when Langhorne Slim took the stage with “Cinderella.” Extremely excited to be there, Slim was busting at the seams with energy as he sold depression to the crowd as if it was the new designer drug. It was exactly the pick-me-up I needed as the sun had started draining me. Making his way through the packed crowd, he put himself among the people while preaching “Love Crimes” before making his way back to the stage for “Change” and “Morning Prayer.” The too-short performance ended with “Past Lives,” and ironically, the first real lines started to form at the bar as soon as the sober Slim left the stage.

Langhorn Slim Setlist: Cinderella, The Way We Move, Love Crimes, Changes, Morning Prayer, Past Lives

The heat peaked during Valerie June’s set on the Lefty Stage. Luckily that high was only 88 degrees, which isn’t that hot. It felt hot in the direct sun, though. This was also the time when the crowd started filling in. As more and more people arrived, it was still possible to walk to the front of the stage, but it was getting more difficult. Lines were getting longer for drinks as well. But none of that mattered while Valerie was up there doing her thing. She is one of the happiest performers I’ve ever seen. Singing, dancing, kicking her legs in the air; she always seems to be in a state of estacy. I understand why her voice isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I wasn’t surprised when I overheard a few guys who didn’t get it, but I’ve always loved her style, and her set at Palomino was a great time.

Partial Valerie June Setlist: Rain Dance, Shakedown, Workin’ Woman Blues, Astral Plane

The Highway Queen herself, Miss Nikki Lane, was the common denominator between the Hollywood Palomino Night at The Roxy and the Palomino Festival in Pasadena. Not only did she use her time to perform a bunch of songs off her upcoming album, she also offered her vintage clothing line at the Stage Stop Marketplace, allowing all the concrete cowgirls to outfit themselves with appropriate boots and hats for a hot summer day of country music.

Nikki Lane Setlist: Highway Queen, Born Tough, First High, Good Enough, Black Widow, Demin and Diamonds, Jackpot

Morgan Wade was the last of the 25-minute sets, and she took advantage of it to showcase half of her debut album, “Reckless.” Adhering to the mantra of less talk, more rock, she kept the banter to a minimum as she cranked through seven songs that all sounded like hits. Morgan has rough edges that were unfortunately smoothed over in the production of her album but are on full display in a live setting. There is no doubt she has lived the songs she sings. This was my second time seeing Morgan; like the first time, she left me wanting more.

Morgan Wade Setlist: Don’t Cry, Last Cigarette, Reckless, Matches and Metaphors, Take Me Away, Run, Wilder Days

Paul Cauthen and his band were the day’s first performance that felt big enough for a large festival stage. Part rock star, part jokester, and part shit-kicking cowboy, Cauthen might rub some people the wrong way, but I think those people take him literally. I’m not sure how you can take songs like “Cocaine Country Dancing,” “Country as Fuck,” and “Fuck You Money,” seriously, but they are seriously fun. I have been a big fan of Cauthen since seeing him open for Cody Jinks back in 2017, and it was great to see him doing his thing in front of a large crowd. A caricature of a radio-friendly country, Cauthen isn’t going to make any friends among the Florida Georgia Line fans, but he was a perfect fit at Palomino.

Paul Cauthen Setlist: Cocaine Country Dancing, Caught Me at a Good Time, Country as Fuck, Champagne & a Limo, Holy Ghost Fire, Fuck You Money

Charley Crockett is from another time. The Texas native literally rides the rail across the country, and he is the sound of a forgotten America. Traditional county, honk tonk, Nashville sound, Texas blues…he picks it up along the way and makes it his own. Rocking nudie suits like they never went out of style; Crockett is a stand-out among standouts. I had seen him a few times in the past, so I used the last part of his set to grab some food and stand in the ridiculously long line for a drink, only to be disappointed when I was told the whiskey and IPAs had been tapped. The drink options were becoming sparse, and the festival hadn’t even hit the halfway mark.

Charley Crockett Setlist: Music City USA, Welcome to Hard Times, Goin’ Back to Texas, Run Horse Run, Midnight Run, Lesson in Depression, The Valley

The late addition of Zach Bryan was welcome. By the size and enthusiasm of his crowd, I bet Zach alone helped sell quite a few tickets for the festival, especially considering his headlining shows are selling out instantly and selling for a fortune on the secondary market. Even though he only performed for a half hour, it was a unique opportunity to catch one of the hottest artists in this realm of country music. As always, the humble Bryan seemed highly grateful to those who came to see him, and he was taken aback by the fact that he was essentially opening for Willie Nelson. It was crazy to hear the crowd sing along with every word of every song by an artist who was completely unknown outside a specific circle just months ago.

Zach Bryan Setlist: Open the Gate, God Speed, Condemned, Highway Boys, Oklahoma City, Heavy Eyes, Heading South, Something in the Orange, Revival

After Zach Bryan, I searched for something besides a margarita to drink. It turns out that Golden Road Brewing still had a selection of beers available, even though they weren’t as cold as I would have liked. I grabbed a couple and found a spot in the shade to chill out and listen to Turnpike Troubadours from a distance. Another hard ticket to get, they drew one of the largest crowds to the Lefty Stage. The Oklahoman’s brand of red dirt isn’t my thing, but they were enjoyable enough while I waited for the masked cowboy to take the main stage.

Orville Peck doesn’t show his face, but he is a showman. Decked out in a matching white hat and nudie suit, adorned with roses that matched his red mask, Peck was a highlight of the day. He had an incredible band who backed him up as he transitioned from guitar to piano, including a female guitarist/keyboardist who did a great job filling in for Shania Twain on “Legends Never Die.”

Orville Peck Setlist: Daytona Sand, Turn to Hate, The Curse of the Blackened Eye, Lafayette, C’mon Baby Cry, Drive Me Crazy, Any Turn, Legends Never Die, Dead of Night, Bronco, Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)

Old Crow Medicine Show is the only band I skipped. I don’t like them. I grabbed some food and met a bunch of people during their set. I’m glad they were booked because it gave me a much-needed break after catching fifteen performances.

Willie Nelson & Family were up next. Willie is a legend, and I have been lucky enough to see him quite a few times over the years, but he has a hard time performing these days. The man is 89 years old and just released his 98th record on his birthday. He still loves doing what he does, and I hope he can do it until the day he dies (hopefully, a long time from now) but he doesn’t sing most of his songs anymore. He relies on his family for that. There were a few exceptions, “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” being a highlight, but seeing Willie Nelson in 2022 is more about being in the presence of greatness than it is about seeing a great show. There were quite a few kids in the crowd, and I imagine they will be stoked to have seen him. I am glad I got to see him again, but I’m guessing it will be the last time.

Willie Nelson Setlist: Whiskey River, Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer), I Never Cared for You, Texas Flood, (Die When I’m High) Halfway to Heaven, Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, Good Hearted Woman, You Were Always on My Mind, Movie It on Over, I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die, Write Your Own Songs, Just Breathe, It’s Hard to Be Humble

Having seen Jason Isbell a couple of dozen times (counting his shows with Drive-By Truckers), I take him for granted. Consistently releasing excellent albums, continuously touring, and incessantly updating social media (“if you want to know more about me, you can check the internet, and you’ll know more than you wanted to know”), the guy seems to be everywhere. So it is hard to get excited about seeing him again. But he blows me away every time. It never fails. I go in thinking, “this should be good,” and I walk away singing his praises the way I did when I heard “Southeastern” for the first time. It was no different at Palomino. I’d seen all the songs countless times before (except the Sadler-led Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ cover of “Honeysuckle Blue”), but they all seemed as fresh as the first time. I would never have expected Jason Isbell to be my personal highlight of the fest, but I underestimated him once again.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit Setlist: 24 Frames, Hope the High Road, Dreamsicle, Overseas, Traveling Alone, Honeysuckle Blue, If We Were Vampires, Last of My Kind, Cover Me Up

When Prince’s “When Doves Cry” flooded the PA to introduce the night’s headliner, I had been watching live music for ten hours and had consumed more than my fair share of beer, whiskey, and the odd margarita or two. The sun, sounds, and alcohol made for a great day in Southern California, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty exhausted by this point. So much so that everything gets a little fuzzy after a good run of “Golden Hour” material, followed by a duet of “On the Road Again” with Willie. The set was as classy as Kacey herself, but I remember stepping away from the crowd during her “9 to 5” cover to give myself some space, then I remember debating leaving during “justified.” I remember wondering why she wasn’t playing anything from her older albums. And I think I remember slowly making my way to the gates during “Slow Burn.” It was about a half-hour walk to my hotel. It was an easy walk. I was propositioned by a guy in a passing car, but other than that, it was an uneventful walk. I took the elevator up to my floor, slid my card into the slot, and was asleep in seconds.

Kacey Musgraves Setlist: star-crossed, good wife, simple times, breadwinner, Golden Hour, Butterflies, Lonely Weekend, High Horse, On the Road Again, 9 to 5, justified, there is a light, Rainbow, Slow Burn