Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson and More Create Lasting Memories on the Pancho Stage At Palomino Fest
LOS ANGELES, CA- Country, roots, and Americana from established and rising stars in music were on full display at Goldenvoice’s Palomino Fest in Pasadena, California on July 9, 2022. The one-day music festival was held at Brookside at the Rose Bowl and featured 19 artists whose performances were spaced across two stages. With the legendary Willie Nelson slated to perform, the producers named its two stages after Willie’s 1983, honky tonk album with Merle Haggard “Pancho & Lefty”.
The “Pancho Stage” was designated as the main stage, and “The Left Stage”, which was appropriately staged left of the Pancho Stage, was the secondary stage. Below are some thoughts on each performance Blurred Culture was able to catch on the Pancho Stage. Don’t forget to click through the artist’s image to check out their full photo gallery and some found fan-video from the performance!
If I hadn’t gone down the digital rabbit hole, I wouldn’t have discovered that Logan Ledger, the first act up on the main stage at Palomino Fest, is a native Californian. He is Nashville-cased these day, and that’s California’s loss. California could always use more country artists they could claim its own.
Logan’s 2020 self titled debut album is a solid effort that produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett. Rumor has it, T-Bone was so impressed with Logan’s classic honky-tonk sound that he put off retirement to specifically work on the record. It’s a breezy collection of easy going music that highlights Logan’s classic sounding voice. Those comparisons to Roy Orbison that I picked up on are well deserved. That timbre and subtle vibrato definitely give those Roy vibes.
Logan’s set was a mellow one, perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon. His baritone voice massaged the “just relax” ethos for the weekend warriors in attendance. While the thematic mood of his set was generally filled with the “cowboy blues”, I don’t think the crowd necessarily picked up on those topics. After all, isn’t “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me” a song about the preponderance of death? LOL. No … the crowd was there to enjoy the scene and atmosphere. With the sun shining bright on a glorious day in LA, the moody songs simply did just that. They set the mood.
What the holy fuck did I just walk face-first into? That’s what I asked myself when I got back to the Pancho stage where the raucous punk of a nouveau Jerry Lee Lewis was standing on his piano while a posse of fantastically thick ladies crushed the backup vocals. And before you even think about branding my description of the women onstage as some male gaze chauvinist objectification — that was the point. That was the intent.
To be sexy on the stage through an entirely uninhibited display of musical prowess and powerful bodies. This was something visual to behold. And it was a lot. Enough that I wondered whether there’s even much listening to Low Cut Connie once you’ve borne witness to the live experience. While the women on tambourine and guitar celebrated their thighs and high energy showmanship, Low Cut himself channeled a blues rock with echoes of George Thorogood’s but with a little more Little Richrard than Bo Diddly.
And to whom does Low Cut offer his dedication as the patron saint and GOAT of live performance? Tina Turner. Of course. Tina Effing Turner. Shoulda seen that coming. All you have to do is imagine her iconic pivot in Proud Mary and you get a feel for why she is the ethos personified of everything happening here. Tradition. Rupture. The energy and awesomeness of Low Cut; the radical and raw of the ladies backing him up — the whole band always about to go off the rails but somehow staying on track.
Of course, none of this would be all that shocking if I was more intimately acquainted with his oeuvre. After all, the song titles of his most listened to tracks spell out the screenplay for all that shall pass at a Low Cut Connie show: “Revolution Rock n Roll”, “Shake it Little Tina”, “Big Thighs, Nj”, “Boozophilia”, “Get the Lotion Out” … swear I didn’t look that up until after I wrote this. You see them live and you live it. Experiential rock at it’s finest. Now, to be fair, I do love Low Cut recorded. It’s just that seeing them live is like flying first class. Hard to go back.
I’m not sure how I got introduced to Sierra Ferrell, but sometime during one of those god forsaken Covid lockdown, I caught wind of a breezy, old-timey song titled “In Dreams” by Sierra Ferrell. There was something about its musicality that intrigued me. While it harkened back to traditional musical themes, there was something just innately fresh about it. That single was like a Jambalaya of musical deliciousness; a crock pot with dashes of bluegrass, jazz and country.
That single led me to her full debut album, Long Time Coming, and it was love a first listen. Perhaps I was a bit influenced by all the rave reviews that other publications and critics had published, but I’ve listened to that album straight through on multiple occasions, and it’s a pleasure to listen to every time. The creativity involved in writing new music through the lens of the traditional is something that’s done effectively only on rare occasions. Sierra’s album just knocks it out of the park. It’s a classic sound for the modern day, and I absolutely dig it.
Sierra’s performance was a joy to watch. Honestly, if I had my druthers (and wasn’t wearing about 30 pounds of camera gear), I could have easily laid down on the festival lawn, propped a beer on my torso and zoned out to her music. With her band set up around her in a tight traditional bluegrass formation, she breezed through her set with a nonchalant ease that only enhanced the mood of her songs. Dreamy and effortless. Classic yet modern. I’m a fan.
Oh dear, Langhorne. A man of my heart. If you have half an hour, please listen to his interview on NPR. The dude is so fascinating and honest, and he has a magical way of making the darkness of his own radical experience feel relatable to those of us who suffer the more pedestrian trials and tribulations of civilian life. Which is why I think he works so well live.
It begins with the music; he crushes it straight out of the gates. From moment one, a mad frenzy of keyboards and drums launch the afternoon into a delightfully controlled chaos that’s held on course by the reckless but perfect beauty of his vocals. Vocals drenched in celebratory angst; a proverbial wall of sound, a sonic rainbow – both auditory and visual – that shoots from the microphone, ricochets off your earhole, and lands somewhere between the nadir of your bowels and the apex of your heart. He elevates. And yet… he wants to relate. He wants to connect. He wants to annihilate the inherently hierarchical structure that’s baked into live performance: artist above, audience below; artist in the light, audience in the dark. No, that’s not Langhorne.
For him, artist and audience is we and us, not us them. That’s why he can’t be more than a song or two into his set before he leaps down from the stage to sing to the crowd, from the crowd. In a moment between songs, his voice cracks in ecstatic agony: “Music is the most divine medicine we have … to share and lift our souls.” Can’t tell if he’s telling us or pleading with us. And it’s a soundbite that might sound cliche from any other artist but certainly not from Langhorne and certainly not now. Not when it’s possible that anywhere from 30 to 60% of THIS crowd on THIS day, is at their first music festival — possibly their first concert — in upward of three years. It’s a message that hits hard in what for many has been an emotionally hard time.
Oftentimes I’m looking for a sensei in my artists. A guide to follow. In Langhorne, not so much. Instead, I see a friend. A man to hug because, dammit, we all need one … to embrace as an equal; who’s been through a lot more of some shit, and a little less of some other. That’s in part because there’s an uncertainty that feels very conscious during his performance where it’s unclear whether he’s sharing his pain or reflecting your own. Either way it works because he’s flattened the landscape between you and him. He’s stepped down from the pedestal. Even in his reflections on sobriety, there’s an awareness of communal ethos.
“I’m not against booze and drugs … but wanna leave some for you, because I was doing them …ALL.” His story is your story is our story, albeit different degrees of intensity. Can’t say I’ve ever tried to do ALL the drugs. But his impulse control and the hurt behind it — a hurt that drove him all the way to LA, only to realize when he ran out of land that he was still just himself but “in a sunnier place”. Well… count yourself lucky (or in denial) if you never struggled with something akin to that. As he walks his anthems of pain, joy, and sadness straight into the middle of the crowd, the audio and the visual begin to integrate with the tactile. One hand on a shoulder, one hand on the mic. My shoulder, your shoulder, our shoulder. Oof, that third dimension of sensory experience is so powerful when done properly, from the heart. When he screams “I ain’t dead” could it be anywhere else but from the middle of the crowd, a horde of heartbeats, holding and being held by the audience around him?
Nikki Lane is a pro. She’s always been good. But now she’s a pro. And that makes this an interesting and low-key delicate turning point in her career. She’s cut her teeth as the lovable bad girl, the fallen angel of a beauty queen who lost her wings and tiara somewhere near the bottom of a whiskey bottle. I think she described herself once as girl/friend who’s a whole lot to handle but always worth it. Probably a messy paraphrase but the gist was that she’ll bring the party but there might be a lot to clean up the next day. Although the odds of her pitching in are better than 50/50.
A country punk but with a heart of gold. And she’s always seemed to revel in being a sort of alpha in the margins, in that Groucho Marx fuck any club that would have me as a member kind of way. But what now? She’s an increasingly bright light that’s hard to hide. Things are looking a little more polished. She has a brand — High Class Hillbilly, a vintage clothing boutique with brick and mortar in Nashville and a mobile team that sets up at most her shows. That way, if you like the way the sound feels, you can look the way the sound feels.
Throwback. Sexy. Comfy. Perfect for pulling up to an Echo Park dive bar in a 1978 Ranchero. I don’t know. She’ll be just fine. Because you still see the hustle in her. You still see the smile and the grit and get a sense that as sweet as it may be to achieve “success” as defined by money and sales and all the metrics, if her friends aren’t having a good time, she’ll tear it all down and start from scratch.
His drummer was wearing a James Worthy jersey. Enough said. Fort Worth tapping into some Showtime / Chili Pepper energy for this LA performance. It was a good start before they started. When the set did begin, I realized that I recognized everyone on the stage: The dude who’d been hanging in the crowd who was noticeably taller and a bit bigger than most – that’s Paul. The smaller dudes milling about who had seemed a bit too sexy and cool for the gen-pop crowd, they were up onstage too. Welcome the band.
I’ve only seen Paul play once before and it was the same thing – if he and the boys aren’t on stage, they’re in the crowd. Because it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s him headlining the SHOW, if he’s playing the show, it’s Paul Cauthen’s PARTY.
So let’s party. Hard.
Paul opened the set with “Cocaine Country Dancing” and it absolutely ripped. Texas and California will always lock horns in an existential battle for western state primacy (if we can, for the moment, call Texas west) but there’s so much mutual love buried in that competition. There’s a sexiness to the idea of Hollywood that infatuates Texas. And a romance to Texas that has always gripped Hollywood. These guys gotta love being out in LA, and I’d wager LA loves them right back. The crowd most certainly did.
The beauty of Paul is that his voice is 100% country. Irretrievably country. Like a plug of Waylon’s beard was cultured in a radioactive petri dish and grown out into a 6’5” 240 beast with a guitar. He can rock as hard as he want and you’ll still know who it is. You’ll still know where it’s from.
Between songs, as if the stage was a construction site or a barn, Paul thumb-blew some snot followed by a fat luggi and I’m not sure anyone even noticed. And why would they. He exudes an authenticity that paves over any incidental bodily functions. Too much awesome to sweat the small stuff.
Don’t need to know his music to love his songs. Don’t need to care whether he’s fetishizing or making farce of the devil’s talc and debauchery. Every song sounds like you’ve been screaming along with it for years. Whether it’s a ballad or a scorcher, you accept big man’s invitation to cocaine cowboy church.
As this literal bear of man gyrates on stage it’s impossible to not get intoxicated — literally or by proxy — with the brute sexiness of this honky tonk disco rock. He’s a devil and an angel and I think likes being both. He’s big velvet.
One of the hottest country acts right now is Zach Bryan. Kacey Musgraves and the legend Willie Nelson aside, Zach drew a huge crowd to his performance on the Pancho stage. He has 6M+ listeners a month on Spotify and it felt like bunch of them were there at Palomino Festival.
People know his shit. Every word. Throughout the duration of his performance, whether they were up at the railing at the front of the stage or waaaay back casually sitting at the rear of the lawn with their toddlers wearing protective headphones, everybody was singing along. A lot of bros with arms around bros belting out the lyrics.
Zach is a second-generation Navy vet out of OKC. Maybe that’s part of it. The brodeo clowns are super into it. And I say that with mad respect for artist and audience both. Saw a shirt in the crowd that read “Fuck Pop Country”. Bryan bridges that gap. He’s not pop at all. But he’s not difficult. He’s easy to access. Familiar in sight and sound. And what do you get with 8 years in the Navy? Honesty. Sincerity. Truth. It’s a sound you recognize and a sound your trust. When you sing those lyrics, you’re singing some version of the truth, and you trust the version that Zach sings.
The South African mystery man by way of Canada. Dressed like Roy Rogers with his face always hidden behind a tasseled fringe mask that looks like it was patched together from a fistful of pasties. The irony is that the gimmick almost distracts from the independently beautiful talent of his vocals. Almost. Close your eyes for half second. Just long enough to distance the pageantry of the display. Take a second to simply FEEL what he’s sharing. Isolate the voice and soak it in. But then open back up — don’t deny yourself the full package. A delicate waive of the hand, acrobatic karate kicks a la Nick Cage in Wild at Heart, and the lingering question mark of the man behind the mask.
He bends the angst of a blue collar genre toward the heartache and alienation of those who may feel themselves pushed further to the edges of society’s margins. And that’s precisely wherein Orville connects the dots from Cash to Morrissey. The nexus is in the weird. Whatever the works might mean or feel to each of us, permission is granted to activate our individual and collective freak by putting on or taking off our own tasseled masks. Fringe, baby. Wear it. Live it. Be it. Like Nick Cage as in Lynch’s magnum opus: This here jacket is a symbol of my individuality and belief in personal freedom. Orville is where country meets punk and rock, not in sound but in ethos. Paul Cauthen says fuck you by literally saying “I have fuck you money”. Orville does it by making the beautiful slightly kinky and the slightly kinky slightly sublime. As the enchanting warble of his throaty voice power croons through “Dead of night” the performance is only as stunning as the sun setting over the Rose Bowl while the moon rises over Palomino fest.
He blends and builds a sound that has echoes of Chris Isaak but is all Orville. It all works and it only works because the man can flat out sing.
What can be written about Willie that hasn’t already been said? Really. Suffice to say, the patron saint of Palomino and the sweet crown prince of the Pancho stage was as legendary and classy as one could hope. The gentle crispness of that voice — THAT voice, so delicate but ever able to cut through the thickest fog — Willie was as irreverent and charming as he’s been for generations. Literally. Pushing 90 and still a force of nature. People with their children and their grandparents all there to see a man who hit them in a different way at a different moment in each of their lives and showed up at Palomino to get hit again. And god will again and again.
There’s not much else that we can write about this legends performance… so the least we could do is scour the web for some found video of the performance which includes Willie covering Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”. CLICK HERE TO ENJOY.
The last performance to close out the day-long festival was the current queen of country music, the lovely Kacey Musgraves. With this performance being the last one of her “Star-Crossed: Unveiled” world tour, Kacey gave her fans a solid 14-song set that included most of hits (“Rainbow”, “Butterflies”, “Slow Burn”, “Golden Hour”, “High Horse” and “justified” among others. She also included her cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”, which she had also performed earlier in the year at her performance at Crypto.com Arena.
But perhaps the highlight of her performance, was when she invited Willie Nelson on stage to duet his staple “On The Road Again”. With her actual grandfather in the audience, she joked that she was bringing out her “other grandpa from Texas” onto the stage.
This wasn’t the first time that Willie has performed live with Kacey, but this duet performance of a Willie Nelson classic felt like a once-in-a-lifetime, probably never gonna happen again, moment. Sure, Willie still plays “On The Road Again” during his sets, but I can’t see when another opportunity to have Kacey and Willie perform that song again will happen unless it’s at an awards show or something of that nature. Honestly, that moment alone was worth the price of admission.
Kacey’s set was virtually flawless. Having toured and performed so much over the past year, her voice and her band hit every song with the kind of professional ease you’d expect a 6x Grammy Award winner to deliver, and it was the perfect conclusion to a fantastic day of music at Palomino Festival.