Stagecoach 2022

The pent up demand after the Covid clampdown brought out the Stagecoach fans to Indio. Although the green grass from Coachella was mostly trampled down from the two preceding weeks, there was plenty to like at the nation’s pre-eminent country western festival.


Charley Crockett loped onto the Palomino Stage mid-afternoon on Friday to kickstart our weekend. His throwback style brought out the Dwight Yoakam fan in me. (In fact the first time I saw Yoakam in concert was at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, whence the name of the stage in Indio and a forthcoming festival in Pasadena).

Crockett’s lyrical terrain covers Friday nights, jukeboxes, broken hearts and the need to wander from home. His crack band (The Blue Drifters) was excellent. Nathan Fleming’s steel guitar twang anchored the band’s sound. 

A midset cover of a sluggish Jerry Lee Lewis’ song slowed the pace a bit much, but soon keyboardist Kullen Fox pulled out his trumpet and quickened the pace. Fans showed their appreciation with the self-referential “Jukebox Charley.”

Crockett’s set was fully satisfying. 

Jordan Davis took the Mane Stage at 6pm sharp. His approach of deploying a rock and roll edge is understandable, it has moved many an artist up the county charts. His poignant “Buy Dirt” triggered a massive sing-along. Springsteen-esque extended guitar codas and a big bass drum beat boomed across the long shadows of the Golden Hour. 

Indeed, hours later Friday’s headliner Thomas Rhett and his band essentially eschewed cowboy hats in favor of baseball caps. Other than Rhett’s drawn out syllables, his line to traditional country was long and winding. But there is apparently no arguing with success!

Midland delivered a superb set in the middle of the Golden Hour. Their more sublime arrangements were the perfect tonic in the transition to the evening sets. The band’s bevy of guitars (five!) belied the smooth melodies delivered by the band’s core: Mark Wystrach, Cameron Duddy and Jess Carson. The tasty harmonies and infectious songs put many older folks pleasantly in mind of Poco, one of the criminally underrated bands of the last half century. Midland assayed the excellent title track of their forthcoming album (“The Last Resort”), which sounded more like early Eagles than the latter’s different song of the same name. 

Tanya Tucker had several more decades of touring miles than many of the artists playing Stagecoach, and she brought that experience with a heartfelt set. With two Grammys and myriad #1 hits, she had a deep, rich well from which to draw. She had an ‘aw shucks’ reaction to the packed audience’s adulation, both of which seemed quite real. 

Tucker seemed a bit unconcerned with the generally crisp timelines set by the promoter, coming on a bit late and meandering happily in her between song patter. 

At one point it seemed she was drifting too far when she asked a roadie for her cell phone. But she finally got her call connected and brought more than a few tears to the audience when Brandi Carlile answered. Tucker had taken Carlile’s slot when the latter came down with Covid a couple days earlier. 

Elsewhere in the set Tanya pitched her Cosa Salvaje branded tequila, probably not on offer at the merch tent. She later passed the tequila bottle over to Guy Fieri, toe tapping in the photo pit. The bottle was later seen in the hands of a security guard, who was checking drink wrist bands and pouring shots. 

Tanya’s daughter Presley Tanita provided perfectly delicate harmony vocals, and the rest of Tanya’s band was sterling, again anchored by an evocative steel guitar. 

Drifting past the published set time, she called an audible and pulled down half the band to her microphone for an a capella version of her 1991 hit “Down to My Last Teardrop.” That was a segue into a finely tuned medley of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

She wrapped up her set with the opening verses of “Amazing Grace” followed by a pregnant pause and then her monster hit “Delta Dawn.” She launched her career with that song at age 13, fifty years ago. Orville Peck was seen lurking stage left, and made his way out to finish the song with Tanya, in keeping with a tradition of myriad unique pairings on these grounds over the years. 

Peck would be back 26 hours later to close out the Palomino Stage on Saturday. 


Lee Brice ushered in the Golden Hour with the raucous rock sound that keeps on selling. “If You” stakes out Brice’s turf not far from strict adherence to the Second Amendment. It echoed the sentiments of the earlier song by Mitchell Tenpenny, which proudly defiantly insisted on ‘no longer dealing with bitches no more.’ A few folks tracking the lyrics wondered what’s so funny about grace, love and some tolerance. 
But Brice fired up the crowd with songs about “I Drive Your Truck,” perhaps to a “Parking Lot Party” while a member of the “Drinking Class.” At one point I believe they opened a song with the intro of Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time.” Was I crazy in the desert heat, or did anyone else recognize that melody from 1976 and the second biggest rock debut album in history? (The biggest debut album was from Guns ‘n Roses, more on that in a moment).
Brothers Osborne turned it up mostly to 11, with scorching lead guitars, rolling thunderous drums and some stomping rhythms. 
Although Carrie Underwood brought pyrotechnics and a bull horn to close the Mane Stage on Saturday, hers was a pleasant flip side to the testosterone fueled sets that preceded her. She previewed her next album, due in June, and also dipped into her bag of hits. Adding to the list of surprise duets, Axl Rose (he of said biggest debut album ever) joined Underwood toward the end of her set. 

By the time the weekend was over, the collaborations would also include Lana Del Rey with Nikki Lane, The Beach Boys’ Mike Love with Locash, Ashton Kutcher with Thomas Rhett and Jon Pardi with Midland.


The Mavericks kicked out the jams and delivered extended dancehall versions of their big hits. It was the highlight of the weekend. Raul Malo was aided and abetted by scorching guitar work from Eddie Perez. Multiple musicians (dubbed The Fantastic Five) sporting brass horns and a crucial button accordion peppered the playlist. The band’s unique Americana/roots fusion of country, rock and Tejano/Tex-Mex influences culminated two years ago in their “En Español” album. It proved to be a groundbreaking project, uniting fans across cultures, genres and languages: the album captured #1 debuts on Billboard’s “Latin Pop Albums” chart, the iTunes and Amazon Latin Music charts and became the first-ever album landing simultaneously in the Top-10 of the Americana and Latin Music charts. It was brilliant that such cross-pollination resulted in such a receptive welcome by the ecstatic Stagecoach crowd. 

Even the jaded camera operators were seen bopping along to gloriously expanded versions of “All Night Long,” “Back in Your Arms,” “Loving Tonight,” and traditional set closer “Bring Me Down.” 

Smokey Robinson followed on the Palomino Stage, once it cooled down from the previous set. He opened with a dip into his vast and deep catalog, but he may have been better shelving the late night seduction of “Quiet Storm” for another gig. The Motown hits for which he is responsible represent one of the greatest American songbooks, and for this crowd’s appetite that was just the ticket.  By the time he eschewed the ballads and swung into the likes of “My Girl” and “Tears of a Clown” all bets were off and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. Several generations were singing along, confirming that his songs have become cemented in the culture. 

His set seemed somewhat abbreviated, based on the printed schedule and the songs he has written. 

At The Mane Stage the Black Crowes charged through a straight ahead set of gutbucket rock and roll. It is easy to understand why Jimmy Page hooked up with the band long after Led Zeppelin played its last chords. 


It is commendable that Goldenvoice was ambitious enough to program the simultaneous diversity of Smokey Robinson and Black Crowes at a country music festival. In fact, a closer scrutiny of the lineup revealed a share of black and gay performers undoubtedly more representative of the audience than generally believed (or admitted). Kudos to Goldenvoice for providing an array of performers stretching beyond what can seem a narrow definition of what is acceptable in country / western music.

In any event, the most common theme for non-musician T-shirts were pro-Trump and anti-Biden. 

Commendably, the most common musician T-shirt was overwhelmingly Johnny Cash. 

It would be interesting but impossible to measure how many of the cowboy hats and boots will rest until they are dusted off again next year. 

Non-aerial photos by Joy Auerbach, otherwise courtesy of Stagecoach

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.