Stagecoach 2019: Observations From a Rocker

Stagecoach continues to assert itself as the country’s preeminent well, country music festival. With their usual foresight Goldenvoice booked the talent months ago, and many of the artists at Stagecoach #13 dot this week’s Billboard Hot Country Songs.
I last attended Stagecoach for its sophomore iteration (lured by a then-rare Eagles appearance) and after a decade’s worth of Coachellas I thought I’d compare the two festivals.
This year, Friday’s Stagecoach rolled in with a bit of a breeze as the sun set behind the signature Goldenvoice Ferris wheel; I saw more than a few dudes chasing their cowboy hats. And speaking of authenticity, I wonder how many guys dusted off their otherwise rarely used cowboy hats (or recently bought them).
Regardless, this is undoubtedly the highest concentration of bandanas, blue jeans and boots in the country.
The ratio of gals in cowboy boots and shorts diminished a bit as the weekend progressed; sandals or sneakers proved a bit more logical.

Cole Swindell’s penultimate slot on Friday’s Mane Stage was well-received. Anthemic sing alongs kept the crowd engaged. His arrangements relied on a booming bass and drum rhythm section, which filled the desert sky.

Cole Swindell

The variety of barbecue on offer exceeded most county fairs this side of Texas, but many vendors had thin lines until Saturday. The ID check booths were less plentiful than last seen at Coachella, perhaps to the chagrin of the beer sellers.
Other differences between the two festivals are that:

  • you can roam freely at Stagecoach with alcoholic beverages
  • all the other stages end before the last two Stagecoach headliners
  • the port-a-potties are far more gender neutral
  • Stagecoach designates blanket and chair sections so folks can stake out their turf and kick back in a minimalist fashion.

Luke Bryan

The genetic re-engineering process in country music continues unabated (can anyone say ‘Old Town Road’). Luke Bryan’s intro was a rap-inflected stomp, followed by a rock locomotive instrumental as his band took the stage as Friday’s headliners. He then kicked into a knees up set led by ‘Country Girl Shake It For Me.’ The song has little chance of being embraced by any political candidate, but that was of little concern to the happy crowd, most of which followed the song’s request. He introduced a new song ‘Knocking Boots’ that went over well.

Sammy Kershaw

Speaking obliquely of politics, Sammy Kershaw dabbled in Louisiana politics a decade ago, but had he won office he would have had less time delivering his string of Cajun-inflected songs. In fact on Saturday he declared that he hears very little country music on the radio (meaning the headliners), but admitted you can’t argue with success. On the Palomino stage Kershaw filled his setlist with his charting hits from years gone by. He included a cover of his hero George Jones’ ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’

Boy howdy, it’s Lynyrd Skynyrd playing “Free Bird.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd closed the Palomino on Saturday with an overflow crowd. I last saw the band in 1974 (opening for ELP), and as with most bands playing then, the current iteration of Lynyrd Skynyrd contains far fewer founding members. Judging by the crowd’s response, the band abides. Sam Hunt finished up Saturday’s lineup, but before he took the stage he chose a trio of rap songs to warm up the crowd. The incongruity was as perplexing as it was enjoyable.

Sam Hunt

PC issues were not always a concern

(artist photos courtesy of Stagecoach, the last by Brad Auerbach)

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.