Photos by Vince Gutierrez
Stagecoach Country Music Festival was held in Indio, California on April 27 - 29, 2018
Banditos started things off in the Palomino on Friday afternoon. The Birmingham, Ala., outfit known for mixing things up with Southern rock, garage rock and bluegrass—with a touch of psychedelia—was a hit for the early-afternoon crowd. Vocalist Mary Beth Richardson had a Bohemian look, and her singing was top-notch. Considering this band once played 600 shows over three years, the members know each other—and it shows.
Joshua Hedley most likely felt the high temperatures as he stepped onstage in a green suit, embroidered with a tiger and an alligator. Some fans in the crowd were shouting “JOSHUA!” in between songs, to which Hedley replied: “That’s my name; don’t wear it out. I know you are, but what am I?” Hedley just released his first album, Mr. Jukebox—and his Stagecoach performance was an epic celebration.
The queen of outlaw country, Tanya Tucker, took the stage decked out in what appeared to be white denim with a white Ralph Lauren American flag T-shirt. She came out with swagger and a rather catchy intro before singing “Some Kind of Trouble.” Tucker played to a packed house; even Guy Fieri came down from flavor town to witness Tucker’s set and was shown on the video screen in the crowd. Tucker noted that she had years of hits and not very much time to perform them all—but she did well during her 45-minute set, and even played a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
When Molly Hatchet took the Palomino stage on Friday evening, the band made the audience sit through Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” before a rather dramatic classical choir intro—complete with sounds of thunder. Sadly, things went downhill from there: Singer Phil McCormack didn’t seem to be on top of his game, and his vocals didn’t come through well over guitarist Bobby Ingram and bassist Tim Lindsey. People began leaving shortly after the performance began—leading to a sparse crowd later on.
Keith Urban may be from New Zealand, but his brand of country music is as American as it gets.
On Saturday night, Keith Urban returned to Stagecoach for the first time since 2010—a day after releasing his new album, Graffiti U.
Despite blustery winds on Saturday night, Urban put on a magnificent performance. When he started his set by playing the first few chords of “Somebody Like You,” the excited welcome from the Stagecoach crowd was just as loud as the music.
The wind was a challenge for Kacey Musgraves, who performed just before Keith Urban and appeared frustrated a few times—but the wind didn’t seem to faze Urban. As the wind blew Urban’s hair all over the place, he joked with the audience, “This was exactly what I was looking for tonight, Stagecoach.” He added a little later that it “smells like it’s pretty cool down in the front,” before singing a few lines of the Brothers Osborne’s “Weed, Whiskey and Willie” a cappella, and then playing “Never Coming Down.”
While the daytime heat and the intense winds that came on early in the evening hindered the day for some, it couldn’t stop the beer-drinking, barbecuing, dancing and great music that took place throughout the day and into the night.
Ronnie Milsap’s afternoon performance in the Palomino tent was sort of bittersweet. While it was a delight to see him, his voice is simply not what it used to be; it was difficult for him to the hit high notes in some of his songs. He told the audience that a recent CD compilation included a lot of his hit songs from the ’70s and ’80s, and said, “My life is condensed into 21 CDs, or 100 8-tracks.” Personally, I loved his performance of “What Goes on When the Sun Goes Down.”
When Jason Isbell appeared in the Palomino, he told the nearly packed house, “Personally, I feel like we’re playing on the best day of the festival,” noting that Dwight Yoakam would be playing later in the evening. Isbell talked about touring with Yoakam, saying that he couldn’t wear tight jeans, because Dwight was better than him at that. “I don’t have an airbrush, so I’m not going to beat him,” he quipped. The former Drive-By Truckers guitarist has definitely gained much-deserved appreciation among the rock and country crowds. His wife, Amanda Shires, backed him on violin, and really shined.
Dwight Yoakam packed the Palomino tent beyond capacity and put on the best live performance I’ve ever seen from him. He paid tribute to the late Merle Haggard and performed “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.” Of course, he also performed his collaboration with the late Buck Owens, “Streets of Bakersfield.”
Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson) and his band, Promise of the Real, started off their set in the Palomino by dedicating their set to his father, who was celebrating his 85th birthday on Sunday, and performing “Turn Off the News.” Nelson at one point mentioned he had written a song about alien life; he said he really wanted to meet an alien, and that he’d written that song while watching an episode of Rick and Morty. Hmm. Anyway … Nelson’s performance was a combination of country, psychedelic rock and folk music—and it was fantastic. Fans were hanging on through every minute of it.
Folk-icon Gordon Lightfoot was the final act to perform in the Palomino on Sunday.
Garth Brooks finally headlines and it was as epic as you would expect.
For 11 years, 2 days, 10 hours and 25 minutes, the Stagecoach Country Music Festival faithful had been waiting for those opening guitar notes.
And on a windy Sunday night at the Empire Polo Club near the end of his main set, they were rewarded as Garth Brooks, the biggest country star who hadn’t yet headlined the festival until its 12th year, started the intro to one of the greatest drinking songs of all time, “Friends in Low Places.”
Instantly, the field of a record 75,000 attendees turned into the neighborhood bar as everyone sang along, even the not-as-familiar third verse, slipping on down to the Stagecoach “OH-ay-sis” again and again.
As Beyoncé turned sister festival Coachella into Beychella, this was Garthcoach.
During his nearly two-hour-long set – and “Friends in Low Places” came just ahead of “The Dance” and then it was encore time – Brooks reminded the crowd repeatedly that it was all about the song. And Brooks has dozens of them.
He started off the night with a 1-2-3 punch of “Rodeo” into “Two of a Kind Working on a Full House” and “Two Piña Coladas” before slowing things down with “The River” and in the crowd, the tens of thousands of cellphone lights went on, almost like whitecaps among waves of people.
Brooks talked about how long it had taken him to get to the festival, explaining that he had taken time off to raise his kids with wife Trisha Yearwood. When their daughters were grown, Brooks and Yearwood toured together for three years so 2018 was the first time Stagecoach could become a reality. Yearwood, who had played Stagecoach in 2008, was among the people who told Brooks he would love performing at the event.
And while he’s been an arena star for decades, even the seasoned performer was clearly feeding off the massive crowd’s energy.
“I am looking forward to the the fact that the walls are gone and the ceiling is off tonight,” he said after wrapping up “Papa Loved Mama.”
After a run of “Unanswered Prayers,” “The Thunder Rolls” — which almost didn’t need a sound effect the way the winds buffeted Brooks’ microphone — and 2016’s “Ask Me How I Know,” Trisha Yearwood came out to do a mini set of her own.
Before Brooks took the stage she rejuvenated the audience with “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl),” ballad “How Do I Live” and “She’s in Love with the Boy,” during which Brooks played rhythm guitar.
Their band, made up of seasoned players who have been with Brooks and/or Yearwood for decades, didn’t miss a beat, even more impressive when you think about how rarely they’ve played lately. But being that locked in as a group might be a little easier since the “rookie” member has been with Brooks since 1994.
In an interview a couple of hours before he took the stage, Brooks said he planned to switch some things up for Stagecoach.
“This evening, these people love music so they’re gonna get a dose of it, but they’re gonna get (stuff) they never knew was coming but they’re gonna know it when it hit. That’s what I love,” he said, promising some familiar covers.
While he did “Face to Face,” “Ireland” and throwback “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” Brooks took a moment to enjoy being “the old guy in the business” and invited Lee Brice, who preceded him on the Mane Stage, to come up and do “More Than a Memory.” There was even a wonderful little moment where Brooks seemed a little unsure about who should start and had Brice take the first vocal. And after more hits like “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” “Shameless” and main set closer “The Dance,” Brooks delivered on that promise in the encore.
Then the crowd got fired right back up again after the ballad with Brooks’ cover of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark” and he finally shut the party down with “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up).” He could have played until the sun came up and the crowd would have still be right there with him
It was another year of great music at Stagecoach. See you all next year!
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