Gig Review - Wagon Wheel Festival

Gig Review - Wagon Wheel Festival

For those watching sporting events at The Diamond, the headgear of choice is usually a baseball cap. On Saturday, it was cowboy hats all the way as the Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival returned to the Lake Elsinore stadium. A few thousand concertgoers (in V Festival Tickets) enjoyed sets by six acts –- including stellar turns by Lee Ann Womack and Dierks Bentley.

Deejays from Go Country 105 FM in Los Angeles served as emcees (an unusual choice, given K-FROG is the Inland Empire’s main country music station). While the weather was mild and breezy — a far cry from Wagon Wheel’s sweltering temps last year –- many people stayed in the shaded general admission seats throughout the afternoon. Once the sun went down though, nearly everyone was on the field or in the VIP area.

Canada’s Emerson Drive delivered a solid performance, heightened by singer Brad Mates and guitarist’s Danick Dupelle’s dual harmonies on the contemporary country/pop-leaning “You Still Own Me” and their top 10 singles “I Should Be Sleeping” and “Fall Into Me.” Mates dedicated the moving ballad “When I See You Again” to a former Emerson Drive bassist that committed suicide. A fan, fast-paced hoedown vibe encompassed “Countrified Soul” and “Testify”; fiddler David Pichette got quite a workout amid a cover of Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (interspersed with Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”).

Jimmy Wayne dealt with a cold and some sound issues early on, but didn’t let that affect him. Totally gregarious and fan-friendly, Wayne continuously signed hats, shook hands and went into the audience while singing. Earnest ballads (“I Will,” “Stay Gone,” a stripped down take on Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile,” “Where You’re Going,” prefaced by the inspiring story of his hard luck upbringing) took overall precedence over a handful of rockin’ country numbers.

Womack’s rare area appearance was worth the price of admission alone. In fine voice and backed by a top-notch, eight-piece band, her nuanced tunes often recalled the classic 1960s and ‘70s country sounds of Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette (“Never Again, Again,” “I May Hate Myself in the Morning, “The Fool”). Womack even paid tribute to onetime duet partner Willie Nelson by doing a jazzy “Night Life” and Patsy Cline on “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Other standouts included the twangy “A Little Past Little Rock,” the big, cascading strains of “You’ve Got to Talk to Me,” sweeping No. 1 single “I Hope You Dance” and upbeat, powerful version of Rodney Crowell’s “Ashes by Now.”

Bentley and his group began in a semi-circle, backs to the crowd, singing into a lone microphone, for the bluegrass tune “Up on the Ridge.” The title track to his exceptional CMA award-nominated album (it lost to Miranda Lambert on Wednesday) was both riveting and feisty. Then the front VIP section suddenly became a sea of white cowboy hats: a bunch of guys raised their beers in a nod to the good time party tunes (a good portion slow danced with their significant others during the ballads). All the prominent hits were represented and played with verve (“Free and Easy,” “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do,” “Settle for a Slowdown,” “Feel that Fire”). Before “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes,” Bentley recalled his time spent in Arizona and invading our Southern California beaches every summer; the somber “Long Trip Alone” was dedicated to military personnel. Finally, the main set closed with “Sideways,” a refreshing change with programmed and sampled sounds.