Best in the West - Stagecoach 2016

Best in the West - Stagecoach 2016

by JasonBryan / May 16, 2016 / 0 comments
Friday, 29 April 2016 to Sunday, 1 May 2016

The 10th Annual Stagecoach Festival went down last weekend on the Empire Polo Fields in Indio CA, where it was honored with the ACM for “Festival of the Year” during Old Dominion’s set on Sunday. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s take it back to day 1.

The challenge for me at a multistage festival is how to be in 3 places at once. I love live music. I love hearing a band I’ve never heard of make me a new fan. I love hearing bands I know all their songs play their deepest cuts, and I love hearing a one hit wonder play that one song I’ve always loved. And every year, a festival like Stagecoach has all the elements to achieve all these things. But how can you be in 3 places at once? The secret is to keep moving. Yes, you don’t always see all of someone’s set, and sometimes you miss the song you most want to hear, sometimes you linger and some times you make the move. You just have to follow your feelings. One thing I’ve realized is, with the shorter sets the bands play compared to if they were headlining their own tour, I look at it as I’m seeing this band play Stagecoach instead of seeing that particular band in concert. If they impressed me at the festival I’ll see them again when they come around on their own tour.

The first band I caught was Cody Jinks on the Mustang stage. He’s got the classic country sound and has got quite a following, with a good group of people singing along. His track “Hippies and Cowboys” pretty much sums up all of California outside of the metropolises. I went to grab a beer during his set and heard the beginning of Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues” coming from the Palamino stage and had to run over there for the closing number of The Malpass Brothers. Throughout the day on Friday I think almost every band I saw played tribute to the recently deceased legend, and I couldn’t have loved it more. The minute I got back over to Cody Jinks on the Mustang stage, he covered a Haggard song. These 40 minute sets go by quick and in a blink I was back on the Palamino Stage catching Dale Watson.

Dale Watson seems poised to step in and fill the void left by the ever-increasing list of lost legends. He plays guitar like Waylon Jennings and sings like a hybrid of Waylon and Johnny Cash, and has every bit of the true country sound. He’s been around, paid his dues, and I get the feeling he’s about to start getting bigger than he ever was. He of course played tribute to Merle.

Then it was a jump across the polo grounds to the Mane stage to catch Jana Kramer, an actress and singer that seems to be riding just underneath megastar in both ventures. Her stage presence is very much rock and roll and despite her set time, being in the bright sunshine, she definitely enjoyed playing to the crowd. One fun thing about festivals is there are so many bands and sometimes you get the “Oh they sing this song”, which happened to me with Jana when she played “Why You Wanna”. The highlight of her set for me was her cover of Meridith Brooks “Bitch” which I hadn’t heard in years.

Then it was back to the Mustang stage for Billy Joe Shaver. I was really surprised by his stage presence. He stood up front, no guitar and did this little hip shake and wave, it was like half of the cabbage patch dance, but he sang every word with a smile, and didn’t come across nearly as worn and weathered as I expected from listening to his albums.

Then back to the Mane stage for Eric Paslay. Anyone who follows my reviews knows I love cover songs, but you know what I love even more than a good cover song? Hearing the songwriter play his song that was originally released and made famous by another artist. Paslay delivered with two of my favorites, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”, and “Even if it Breaks Your Heart”, released by Jake Owen and Eli Young Band respectively. Country music’s formula of songwriters writing hits for other artists, and then getting their own shot, is a throwback to the early days of rock and roll, and I for one like it.

Then a quick gallop over to the Mustang stage for Marty Stuart. I’ve always liked Stuart’s music, and the only other time I saw him was ten years ago at the first Stagecoach. I only caught the first half of his set, because Kris Kristofferson set overlapped on another stage. This time I was determined to see Marty in his entirety. He still has the same signature wild hairstyle except its 100% gray, and he was nothing but fun on the stage. He played some big hits early “The Whiskey Ain’t Working”, and “Tempted”. Then went into tangents featuring all the members of the band, letting each member share the spotlight, and one point singing “Happy Birthday” to one of the band mate’s toddlers as the kid carried an acoustic star on stage. He even brought out Dale Watson to help cover some Merle Haggard. He finished the show with a solo mandolin number of the fiddler player’s anthem “Orange Blossom Special”.

Emmylou Harris closed the Palomino stage on Friday night and had one of my favorite moments of the festival. Albeit she wasn’t on stage when it happened. She played with 3 other musicians, a young man playing stand up bass, and a pair of ladies playing the full utility of everything else: guitar, mandolin, drum, etc. A little bit into the set, Emmylou introduced these ladies. (And I apologize for not knowing their names now. I thought I’d be able to find them on the internet.) The ladies announced they were in an old indie rock band and then played one of their songs. There was a moment where the blonde woman kicked her foot out and spun around a little bit, and I could tell she still felt this song as much as she did when they wrote it. And moments like that are why I love live music. Of course I couldn’t stay long, I had to go back to the Mane stage.

Chris Young has been belting out chart topping songs for the last several years, and this was my first chance to see him perform. He laid out a barrage of hits focusing on his deep voice that just makes you fall right into his love songs. Stagecoach has become something of spectacle within country music. Earlier in the night while I was at Emmylou Harris, Sam Hunt brought out Snoop Dogg. And now Chris Young brought out Cassadee Pope for their duet “Think of You”. Young squeezed a little ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” into his set, which only reminded me that they were at Stagecoach last year. It was a fun set, and he is definitely one of those artists that everyone knows all the words to his songs, because so many of them have had generous airplay on the radio stations.

It was finally time for the first headliner; Eric Church. Just two years ago Church headlined Friday on a windy desert night. The weather was much more amiable this year. Church took the stage with his eyes hidden behind his signature aviators, but he wasn’t wearing his baseball cap. There’s a first time for everything. I know two years ago I was slightly disappointed in Church’s set, I blamed it on sound distortion caused by the wind, but tonight I had nothing to complain about. He came out firing on all cylinders cranking out some of my favorites in the first half dozen songs, “Cold One”, “Creepin”, “Drink in My Hand”, “Give Me Back My Hometown”. And then just kept the tunes coming. One draw back to a full day of music is people do get tired at the end. And I heard no shortage of people mumbling they just wanted to hear “Springsteen” so they could call it a day, but it was clear that “Springsteen” was going to be the closer, and Church’s performance was solid enough to keep even the most tired and drunk concertgoer on their feet till the end. It was the best performance I saw on Friday, he rocked. Total redemption from how I felt about the set two years ago.

As the moon sets on a night of partying the sun rises and brings with it a new dawn and a new day of non-stop music. Friday is always a little laid back as people straggle in for the weekend. Saturday the alcohol starts flowing early. People often ask me other than country music what’s the big difference between Stagecoach and Coachella, the answer is; Stagecoach is for people whom alcohol is their drug of choice. And Alcohol is consumed with every breath on a Saturday at Stagecoach. I took my time getting into the festival and got in for a little of songwriter Caitlyn Smith’s set. I then stopped by the Mustang stage for Pokey LaFarge. The Mustang’s central location, no frills vibe, and music that was almost always new to me and always damn good, made it a favorite place to enjoy the moment.

Before I knew it, it was time to catch Chris Stapleton on the Mane stage after the end of Mo Pitney. Stapleton is as close to modern pop country gets to the classic country sound, and its great to hear that the modern audiences are into it. He came out on stage and went right into two of his biggest hits; “Nobody to Blame”, and “Traveler”. I was glad the songs I wanted to hear the most came out early, because I had plans to see Lee Ann Womack.

And with that I was practically running across the polo fields to the Palomino stage. Womack’s song “I Hope You Dance”, is about as inspirational as they come and one of those songs that doesn’t just move you, but moves mountains in the process. She played it about halfway through her set, and I wanted to text everyone I care about right after and let them know I’ve got there back whatever happens in life.

It was once again time to get all the way across the venue to see Joe Nichols, someone I’ve liked several hits of over the years and never seen. A quick stop for a beer and slice of pizza and a much needed moment to rest my feet while I ate. Joe Nichols started playing before I was back to the Mane stage. I had to put some pep in my step. I was also about to face the biggest scheduling dilemma of the day if not the weekend: John Fogerty, one of my all time favorite musicians, was about to start playing on the Palomino stage. I told myself I’ll give Joe Nichols three songs and hopefully he’ll play my favorites. He didn’t, but he was having fun while he was playing. That said, though I’ve seen John Fogerty more than a half dozen times, he was pulling me in. As I ventured away from the Mane stage, Nichols started playing a slowed down acoustic version of a favorite song from my youth, Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back”, I lingered until it was over and then had to sprint.

Once Fogerty took the stage and strummed the first chord of “Travelin’ Band” I knew I made the right choice. No offense to Joe Nichols, but he’s a successful second tier country singer, and John Fogerty is a rock and roll legend. And he played longer than the designated set time giving the fans a full length Fogerty show.

By the time I started making it back to the Mane Stage I could hear The Band Perry’s first hit “If I Die Young” floating over the desert. At this point in the evening only the Mane stage has music, so if you tune your ears you can hear the bands from anywhere. By the time I got back to the Mane stage, the band was covering Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls”, one of my all time favorites.

In a flash it was time for the final act, Carrie Underwood, to take the stage. When I was a kid my parents all talked about how you’ll never forget where you were when JFK was killed, I’m pretty sure when we got Bin Laden is our generations “never forget” assassination moment. I was at Stagecoach watching Carrie Underwood sing. Five years later and her current hit, “Heartbeat” is my favorite song of hers. She’s been one of country’s top acts for a while, and its easy to forget how many chart toppers she’s had. The number of men in attendance proclaiming “that’s my girlfriend” and the number of girls channeling every line of every song was a sight to see. I’d say there must have been “something in the water”, but I think it was the booze.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. After my first time, which was the very first Stagecoach, I knew to take every opportunity to rest my feet throughout the weekend. But by Sunday my feet had had it. I’m going to look into vendor relations about bringing in a foot massage tent for the three festival weekends next year. On Sunday the bands start and finish earlier than they do the rest of the weekend.

The first band I was settled in for was Old Dominion. They came right out with their current hit “Snapback”, and then more or less book ended the set with their other big hit, “Break Up With Him”.

I then ran into some drinking buddies from the campsite on their way to the Honky Tonk. I’ve rarely ventured into the center of the festival grounds so I thought I’d check it out. It was kind of amazing to me, that with all this live music going on in 3 stages outside, there was a giant airplane hanger sized venue with a DJ that was packed mid afternoon. I failed miserably at learning a dance, and went back to the music.

It was time for long-lived classic rock mainstays The Marshall Tucker Band. They played a relatively short set, but it was like they knew there were so many bands for people to see, they just wanted to give them what they wanted. By the third song they went right into their biggest hits with “Fire on the Mountain”. Then right to their most famous tune, “Can’t You See,” which featured a lot of audience participation and a break down of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends”. They closed their set with “Heard it in a Love Song”. Wham bam thank you mam, and I was off to the Mane stage for A Thousand Horses.

I got there just in time to here a rendition of The Black Crowes cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”. These guys put off a similar southern rock vibe as the afore mentioned Black Crowes throughout their set. Fortunately I still caught their first big hit “Smoke”, which is one of the better country songs to get airplay over the last year.

After a quick bite, beer and foot rest, it was time for Dustin Lynch to take the Mane stage. He came out, drink in hand, with a 10 gallon smile to match his cowboy hat. Like many other acts on the Mane stage, he’s got more than enough radio hits to fill the set list and the audience was in full on sing-along mode, where they would stay for the rest of the night. Like Eric Church and Luke Bryan he was just at Stagecoach two years ago, and despite having my favorite song on the radio right now, “Mind Reader”, I took off to catch the Doobie Brothers after only 4 songs. This was my first big dilemma of the day, and possibly my biggest regret of the day. Not only did I depart before he played my three favorite songs of his, he brought the band Lit out to play “My Own Worst Enemy”, which is a song I instantly related and fell in love with the first time I heard it nearly two decades ago. But I’ve never seen the Doobie’s and they are a piece of rock & roll royalty.

The Doobies have gone through many a line up change over the years, but they’ve also got genre spanning hits from the forty years they’ve been rocking. I’m not a religious man, but I was in full hip shaking sing-a-long mode when they opened with “Jesus is Just Alright”. A few songs after “Rockin’ Down the Highway”, I started getting the hankering to see Little Big Town. So back to the Mane Stage I went.

Little Big Town has been one of my favorite country acts from the first time I heard “Boondocks” and then they followed it up with, “A Little More You”, (which was not on the set list this evening). They opened with an acappella “When Dove’s Cry” tribute to Prince. Which just set the pace for the quality of harmonies this band is capable of. They went into “Pontoon”, which is a laid back summer anthem if there ever was one. They closed their set strong with “Day Drinking”, “Girl Crush”, which is one of the biggest hits in country music over the last year, and their first hit “Boondocks”. Despite the long weekend of partying, and the infinite multitude of sore feat, the crowd was amped for Luke Bryan.

Only two years ago Luke Bryan was the closing act for Stagecoach and his popularity has continued to grow making him a logical choice for the 10th anniversary of the event. Just five years ago, he had songs topping the chart and was playing in the daylight at the festival. His set list went back and fourth between party anthems and heartfelt love songs. He’s currently on tour with Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch, and they brought a bit of their road show to the festival as he brought both of them out to join him. First he had Karen Fairchild come out and fill in for Hillary Scott on the duet, “Home Alone Tonight” before bringing out the rest of Little Big Town to the stage. He joked that they are such good singers it doesn’t matter what you sing it sounds good, and then basically had them sing whatever nonsense he said. He was right they can make anything sound good, but the bit went on a tad too long. They eventually went into a medley of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and Marvin Gaye’s “Lets Get it On.” Then Dustin Lynch came out and did a medley of Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country” with a little bit of Brooks & Dunn’s “Play Something Country” thrown in. All the while, Luke Bryan is promising a never ending party. Now this is one of my pet peeves with concerts, so many acts make this claim, yet they all end at the scheduled time, and when they leave songs un-played, it can discourage several fans. On the way out I heard some gripes about this from other concert goers, but once you embrace the fact it’s them playing at a festival not them on their tour, anything goes. And in years past at stagecoach I can remember Chris Cagle being cut off in the middle of the song because he went over. There is also a lot of people behind the scenes working at these events and it is important that things run on schedule, no one likes being told they have to stay at work longer. Besides, Luke Bryan knows how to throw a party. He closed with “I Don’t Want This Night to End”, and a heavy dose of The Weekends “Can’t Feel My Face” thrown in the middle of it..

At this point I couldn’t feel my feet but after 3 days of walking, dancing, and all out partying, they were ready for the long walk out of the venue. No sooner did I turn my back on the Mane stage than I found myself eagerly awaiting the announcement of next year’s line up.

Check out the photo gallery from the festival.

Rating out of 11: