Stagecoach 2023 – Complete Coverage Y’all

Stagecoach 2023 – Full Coverage

Each year Goldenvoice fine tunes things to make Stagecoach even smoother. With this their 15th year, it was certainly not their first rodeo. A subtle detail for those taking the shuttle bus, which I am confident was well received by many over-indulgers: This year you get a little sticker on your pass while boarding the shuttle bus to identify where you got on the bus. Judging by a bit of off kilter cadence, some folks will appreciate that confirmation after the last note rings.

Courtesy of Stagecoach / J Domingue

Elle King was first to grab the Golden Hour on Friday. Her classic country chanteuse vocals were underpinned by a propulsive rhythm section. At the beginning of her career the four time Grammy winner commendably eschewed her Dad Rob Schneider’s last name and Elle has built her career without any leg up. He crisp 35 minute set was well done. 

Riley Green Courtesy of Stagecoach / M McDonald

Riley Green dipped into Dire Straits’ songbook with some shredding extracted from “Money for Nothing.” The former collegiate quarterback commanded the stage admirably.

Melissa Etheridge Courtesy of Stagecoach / J Bajsel

A pair of vintage musicians went back to back at The Palomino Stage: Melissa Etheridge was followed by ZZ Top. She left the crowd enthralled with her versatility across many instruments. As one of the longest running power trios, ZZ Top did not stray far from their swamp boogie gut bucket blend of blues and rock. New member Elwood Francis admirably filled the bass duties left by dearly departed Dusty Hill, as was the latter’s request.

Everything is bigger in Texas: bassist Elwood Francis of ZZ Top Courtesy of Stagecoach / J Mulka

The sun was setting across La grange, er…the desert as the lil ‘ol band from Texas churned through hits like “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.”

By now ZZ Top is a well oiled machine, delivering on time and as expected. 

Jon Pardi Courtesy of Stagecoach / J Domingue

Jon Pardi last year made guest appearances during sets from Thomas Rhett and Midland; this year Pardi and Rhett they flipped positions. Parodi’s set was a solid lesson in hitting all the right themes: dance floors, night shifts, California sunrise, etc. “Heartache On The Dance Floor” and “She Ain’t In It” were Pardi’s highlights. He does a great job of respecting country traditions while still injecting some fresh rock elements. In any event, Pardi was honored at the end of his set by being the first native Californian to be inducted into the Grand Ol’ Opry, forever solidifying his country bona fides. 

Luke Bryan Courtesy of Stagecoach / J Baura

Luke Bryan delivered a rousing closing set on Friday. His midset trio of “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,” “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every” and “Country On” perfectly captured his ethos. The latter song was not far in demeanor from Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Both are anthemic tunes built around escalating blazing guitars.

In terms of attire among the 80,000 attendees, thankfully there were very few displays of Dixie flags. Whoever has the “Let’s Go Brandon” merch rights (no one, actually) has likewise seen a decline in sales. As early as Friday afternoon fashion-conscious folks were seen carrying their cowboy boots. There is no way to tell how many of the cowboy hats only previously saw sunshine at last year’s Stagecoach, but there were plenty of dudes who looked very familiar with that choice of haberdashery. 

Marty Stuart and you know who Courtesy of Brad Auerbach

If you were looking for professionals with almost endless stage experience, The Palomino Stage was the place to be as the Golden Hour started on Saturday. Marty Stuart bounded onstage a bit early, eager to get underway. His well named band The Fabulous Superlatives are a trio of well honed musicians: Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Harry Stinson (drums) and Chris (grandson of Earl) Scruggs (bass). Smooth harmonies and an excellent songbook are a powerful combination, and this band was overflowing with both. Add some sparkly Nudie suits and all is well with the state of county rock. Indeed, in 2018 it was Stuart and his band who were asked to fill out the 50th anniversary of The Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, the Rosetta Stone of country rock. 

Indeed drummer Stinson came to the front of the Palomino stage to sing a great track from that album, Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.” Stinson’s vocal prowess included a pointed repetition of the song’s wise observation:

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

Vaughan later switched to a Rickenbacker, burnishing the guitar twang. The echoes of Roger McGuinn and George Harrison were not far away. “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'” was a definite crowd pleaser.

Stuart has over 20 albums under his belt and over 30 visits to the Billboard country charts. He has worked with legends like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, George Jones, Emmylou Harris and Carl Perkins. At Stagecoach Stuart won over many new fans and confirmed what many already knew: he is the real deal. 

Bryan Adams was as proficient, but the competently delivered meat and potatoes of his rock canon were less inspiring. Still, the crowd overflowed from The Palomino, so no disappointment there. Guitarist Keith Scott was superb. 

Old Dominion Courtesy of Stagecoach / M McDonald

Meandering to the Mane Stage as the lights lowered we heard the improbable strains of “Low Rider,” War’s classic from L.A. Old Dominion sauntered onstage as the song founds a way to its home garage. A slew of their hits followed, including “Written in the Stars” and “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart.”

Kane Brown Courtesy of Stagecoach / B Saravo

With a pulsing bass tuned to piercing laser beams it could have been mistaken for a Pink Floyd opening. But Kane Brown soon jumped into a set that explored the outer edges of the genre that has become country music. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but plenty of folks enjoyed it.

Parker McCollum Courtesy of Stagecoach / J Domingue

Many folks decided to claim their turf for the second half of the last day in front of the Mane Stage. That seemed like the wisdom of crowds, as Parker McCollum kicked off that delightful transition from late afternoon through twilight. He delivered great renditions of his hits “Pretty Heart,” “To Be Loved By You” and his current radio single “Handle On You.” Each were thoughtful compositions, delivered with the right touch. But he finished his set with the searing triple guitar attack (think Lynyrd Skynyrd) that belied his earlier songs. 

Brooks & Dunn Courtesy of Stagecoach / J Domingue

Brooks & Dunn ambitiously dropped in a couple acoustic ballads that nicely counterbalanced their more raucous numbers. “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” had a nice steel guitar that unfolded across the balmy dry desert evening, but it was a bit ironic that the sound dropped out during the refrain. Fellow Mane Stager Lainey Wilson came out to add her vocal prowess to “Cowgirls Don’t Cry.”

Chris Stapleton Courtesy of Stagecoach / S Thrasher

Similarly, festival closer Chris Stapleton strapped on his acoustic guitar for his third song, “Starting Over.” It was a great way to modulate the set list and provide some dynamics amidst the more vigorous songs. He followed in a similar vein with “Millionaire,” with the poignant lyrics:

I got a woman with eyes that shine
Down deep as a diamond mine
She’s my treasure so very rare
She’s made me a millionaire

He was joined by his wife Morgane for the ballad penned by Kevin Welch.

Stapleton assayed a wide variety of guitars, but if that accounted for the delays between songs he should stick to fewer guitar changes. Still, he was easily the best guitarist singing lead on the Mane Stage all weekend. Marty Stuart garnered that accolade for The Palomino. 

Stapleton was confident enough to tackle a solo version of “Free Bird” (the first couple verses) as a segue into “The Devil Named Music.”

Towards the end of his set he explored some of the territory carved out by jam bands with an extended instrumental. The song prompting the most bootleg shirts at the venue (“Tennessee Whiskey”) was understandably left for the show closer, after which most everyone headed home on the range.

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.