Stagecoach 2024 – Full Coverage


A sell out crowd enjoyed another weekend in the desert, with plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’ to satisfy all lovers of country music.

Friday was the weakest of the three days, and not just because the wind stirred up dust and some crotchety feelings among many attendees. Dwight Yoakam brought his singular version of the Bakersfield sound to the Palomino Stage, all swagger and twang intact. He was the highlight of Day One.

Eric Church, the headliner of the evening,  disappointed plenty of eager fans. He played a set filled with Church (the Sunday kind) classics backed by a gospel choir. While sitting on a barstool on an altar-esque stage, he opened with his rendition of Hallelujah, and quickly followed it with “This Little Light of Mine.” Everyone knew the words to both songs and sang along, anticipating an upbeat transition. However, Church did not deviate from the gospel theme or the barstool and continued with what left many disappointed. While the musical range he displayed was impressive, he skipped over most of his punchy hits which led to many of his fans deserting to snag a prime spot for everyone’s favorite country band, Nickelback.

Saturday was excellent. The weather cooperated, and the musicians uniformly delivered.

Maddie and Tae did a great job as the early edge of Golden Hour unfolded, full of the trappings and themes of the genre captured by their “Dyin’ From a Broken Heart.” For their third Stagecoach appearance the duo looked sharp in the requisite skirts, cowboy boots and cowboy hats, but more importantly delivering consistently lovely harmonies.

Over on the Palomino Stage, where consistently I have had my favorite moments at Stagecoach, Trampled By Turtles brought their wooden-instrument acoustic sounds in fine style. With the high harmonies undoubtedly perfected on the porches of Duluth, the band was excellent. Dave Simonett‘s Townes Van Zandt T-shirt certainly pointed to the band’s style of heroes. The all-string quintet needed no drummer for rhythm or keyboards for melody. Instead, the strumming formed the basis of their bravely traditional sound.

Whether intentional or not, their visual backdrop was a gentle rebuke to anyone wanting to push the “Don’t tread on me” flags often floating around, instead this was a fully intact snake with the accompanying logo “love and love and nothing else.” Hard-core fans undoubtedly enjoyed the synchronicity of the band’s fifth album: the perhaps aspirational title Palomino was released exactly 14 years ago. This chart topping bluegrass sauna-loving band is the real deal.

The great thing about Stagecoach is they don’t eschew the roots of country music. Each year has a few stalwarts, and Willie Nelson is the undisputed poster boy in that regard. But early Saturday afternoon those lucky folks who wandered into The Mane Stage (or knew the necessity of doing so) were treated to the smooth Western swing sounds of Asleep at the Wheel. Plenty of steel guitar, fiddle and sax had folks kicking up the dust. Folks of a certain age imagined themselves at the Armadillo World Headquarters, and others wish they had been around to do so back in the day. Classics like “Milk Cow Blues” and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” were well-received. “Hot Rod Lincoln” was assayed in honor of Commander Cody. Lo and behold, toward the end of their set Asleep at the Wheel proved my roots point above by covering Willie’s “On the Road Again.”

Luke Grimes continued the twangy sound heard thus far on Saturday, but at a decidedly slower pace. His soulful “Ain’t Dead Yet” was the most soulful song of the evening. I loved his lyric:

Ain’t much with words, ain’t got a lot of money

But I got a lot of lucky when I got you, honey

You’ll never have to worry ’bout where I’m gonna be

‘Cause I meant what I said when I was down on one knee

I’m gonna love you ’til I die, and I ain’t dead yet

‘Til the wheels fall off, ’til my very last breath

Won’t leave your side ’til they lay me to rest

Gonna love you ’til I die

And I ain’t dead yet

Grimes splits his time between the concert stage and sound stage (Fifty Shades of Grey iterations and Yellowstone). But in Indio, Grimes was all-in on music.

Willie Nelson can still pick his nylon string guitar with aplomb. His handsomely weathered face paired well with Trigger, his equally well traveled guitar. Willie’s voice was only a bit ragged around the edges, and he sometimes did more of a Johnny Cash talk/sing approach. He pulled no surprises for his set of classics, but a cover of Eddie Vedder’s “Just Breathe” was thrilling.

It was great seeing the vast age range of attendees for Nelson’s set; having your art appeal across generations must be a wonderful feeling. He brought on a bunch of fellow travelers for the inevitable “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” including Charley Crockett, Ernest, Jelly Roll and a granddaughter. Willie’s son Lukas was in fine form throughout.

Not much more can be said about this American institution, other than Willie will be celebrating his 91st birthday in a couple days. You read that right. 

Post Malone changed up his usual approach with a set of country covers. The highlight was when he predicted fucking up a song, only to have Dwight Yoakam bail him out on a cover of Yoakam’s “Little Ways.” Overall the vibe of Malone’s set was a loose road house gig with a bunch of friends sitting in, except this was on The Mane Stage in front of tens of thousands and the various friends have sold millions of records. Malone covered George Strait, Tim McGraw, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley. Indeed, Paisley joined the festivities and added some solid fretwork.

Sunday’s headliner was the unstoppable Morgan Wallen, but before we got there, mention must be made of a few other acts. The War and The Treaty delivered a heartfelt set during the Golden Hour. The harmonies of the husband and wife duo are sweet, bringing an appealing RnB flavor to their country-inflected sound. If the sounds that emanated from the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio appeal (think Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Etta James), then you were in heaven with The War and The Treaty. In July it will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts when the couple returns to SoCal and opens for The Rolling Stones. Hang on, the Stones recorded several key tracks from Sticky Fingers at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio!

To close out the weekend, the preeminent country star of the moment showed why he has escalated himself into super stardom. No one seemed to notice all the dust kicked up from a dance filled evening packed with Wallen’s unreleased upcoming tracks and some early Wallen love songs. About half way through Wallen took a long walk to a small stage in the middle of the sea of people and did a four song acoustic set. Lucky for us, we were 25 yards from the action and got to see close up how talented Wallen really is. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical to see how his voice would hold up. He is recovering from a throat surgery and some videos have been floating around the internet showing how the operation led to some not so perfect country tone. To my surprise and pleasure, Wallen’s pipes were better than expected and he carried the crowd and his special guests through some amazing sing-along classics. To close out his set, Post Malone returned to debut the heavily anticipated and front runner for song of the summer, “I Had Some Help,” which is set to be fully released on May 10th.

Additional reporting from Luke Hazel, Carly Auerbach and Joy Auerbach…it’s a family affair.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.