Dig In Your Spurs It’s Stagecoach 2017

Dig In Your Spurs It’s Stagecoach 2017

by JasonBryan / May 13, 2017 / 0 comments
Friday, 28 April 2017 to Monday, 29 May 2017

Goldenvoice delivers another quality Stagecoach Festival. A great line up with easy amenities. I’ll get to the bands in a second, but as someone who’s been to almost every Stagecoach I want to do a quick look at how its grown over the years. This is the 4th major festival on the Polo Grounds in the last 7 months, and Golednvoice’s overhaul of the surrounding area to make it all part of the festival experience is slowly paying off in the organization of getting in and out of the festival. Looking forward to seeing how their logistics continue to improve. Inside the gate I never waited in line more than three people deep at any point, not for beer, food, or the bathroom. Not sure if it was due to attendance being lower, but they did move the restrooms to the left of the Mane stage to a new location, leading me to believe it was not a coincidence. My only real complaint is that the standing section at the Mane stage has slid back. Even if you’re up against the barrier at the front of the GA standing section the bands are too far away for even a hint of intimacy. Which is a bummer for the earlier bands opening the day playing to a hundred yards of empty seats. The standing corral in the front does seem to get some diehards for most of the acts. I only hope they can figure out a way to close that gap for the first few bands every day. There are an ample amount of screens that are hard to see in the bright sun, but are more than adequate at night. However the camera’s mostly stayed on the star. There was very little cutting to the drummer or lead guitarist as they were featured on the songs. But then its really about the music, and the sound system at the Mane stage is top tier.
The Palomino (2nd stage) has amazing acts, offers shade, and gives you the opportunity to get close to some big names in classic rock and earlier country. And the Mustang stage has lesser known acts, but very good music. So many people park up at the Mane stage and miss out on the joy of the other two stages.

Now for the reason a music festival exists: the music. This year’s line-up was pretty solid at times there were bands playing on all 3 stages at the same time that were on my list of acts to check out. And I apologize now to all the bands I missed, keep touring, I’ll catch you sooner or later.

I got a later start than intended on Friday and Elle King was the first artist I saw. The Palomino stage was packed. (I’ll be honest my desire to be close to the stage gave me the impression that all but the earliest acts were packed throughout the festival.) Her style of blues based rock plays well to the Stagecoach crowd, and the angst in her lyrics of love and break-ups plays well as an anthem for young women. I saw many a mother and daughter bonding over the experience. I always like to point out cover songs, they truly are a great way to get the attention of a listener that’s not familiar with your music, as well as share your musical tastes with your fans. Elle King did not disappoint. Early in her set she played Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” in which she yelled “Oh, shit!” when she screwed up the lyrics. And then played The Beatles “Oh! Darling“, which she introduced as her all time favorite song. She closed her set with her top ten hit “Ex’s and Oh’s”.
The proximity of the Palomino stage to the Mustang stage gavea me the chance to check out the end of John Moreland’s set, it was just him and another guitarist, but it had that old timey real country feel. I literally caught just the end.

I actually slowed down for a minute and parked myself at the Mustang stage, because Anderson East was next, and he was on my shortlist of must see acts. I can’t say enough good things about his album Delilah. What I can say is that I don’t consider him country at all, but Stagecoach is far from exclusively a country festival . Anderson East is more oldies and soul in sound, and he brought a high energy front-man vibe and let his band fill in the grooves. His set was a mix of his songs and soul covers, but he let the southern vibe of the festival get to him when he covered Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Give Me Three Steps”.

I hustled over to meet some friends at the Mane stage to catch the end of Maddie and Tae’s set, in 2015 they were the first band on the Mane stage on Sunday, and in just two years they’ve closed the gap to the headliners. They closed with their hit “Girl in a Country Song”, and I was racing across the venue to check out….

…The Zombies on the Palomino stage. I’d just seen the Zombies a few months ago so I was okay being late, but if you are a classic rock fan I would consider them a must see. I got there just in time to hear them close the set with “She’s Not There”, my favorite song of theirs, perfect timing on my part.

I stayed put for my #1 draw for this years Stagecoach, the Legend, the Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis. The fast life he lived has taken a little toll on him over his 81 years, but he brought it. His set was short, just about 30 minutes, but it had all the elements you’d want. He played the piano lightening fast. Which was really interesting on what I’ll call a standard, “See, See, Rider”. The song was slowed down, but his piano flourishes were so fast, it was an interesting to hear a song so regularly played done in a way that was both fast and slow. He followed it up with a nearly double timed version of “Rollover Beethoven”. He didn’t go into anywhere near as many songs of his as I would have liked, but he “Played Great Balls of Fire” with all the pizzazz he ever did. I can truly respect his choice to play a short set that still meets his standards of a Jerry Lee performance, instead of stretching himself out to make the show a little longer, but sacrificing the intensity. For all in attendance there was no doubt he killed it.

I have a soft spot for Randy Houser so I loped over to the Mane stage to catch his set. I like to think everyone has a spot in their heart for the first song of an artist that caught their attention. And I was disappointed that I he didn’t play “Anything Goes”, but I was also in the standing GA area and realizing for the first time how far back it is. I went back to where my friends were hanging out for a rest, and actually thought I was waiting for Dierks Bently to come on before I realized Cole Swindell was on this stage next, and I should have been over at the Palomino catching 38 Special, but than Cole started and I decided to stay put.

Cole Swindell has written and performed a handful of big hits in recent years, and my favorite part of his set was when he played a medley of songs he wrote, but hit the charts with other performers. “Get Me Some Of That/Roller Coaster/This is How We Roll”. I enjoy his music and his performance was more than adequate, but I did feel he’s not quite rocking enough to be the second to last act on the Mane stage. But it could have been that Jerry Lee Lewis left me a little breathless for the level of rock to expect.

Dierks Bentley headlined Friday night, and despite not having the same pedigree as Shania and Kenny, he’s been a hit maker since his first single “What Was I Thinking” hit the airwaves more than a decade ago. It must still be his biggest hit, because he closed the night with it. My favorite part of the set was when he challenged a concertgoer to shotgun a beer and whooped his ass. There’s a pretty big drinking atmosphere in country music, and its fun to see someone show its not just lyrics to them.

He’s currently touring with John Pardi and Cole Swindell and brought them up on stage for a couple of numbers. On one hand I like how Stagecoach procures acts that are touring together, but on the other hand when that tour comes to town later I’m less desirous to see it. Even though I know there is a difference in performance from festival to venue. In this case the last 3 acts were on the Mane stage were also on tour together, so it was a little on the nose. Jamey Johnson, Margo Price and Brent Cobb are on tour together and they all played Saturday, but Cobb was on a different stage, and Price and Johnson didn’t play back to back.

On Saturday we got in when the gates opened, and I watched the ridiculous spectacle of people racing to set up blankets hundreds of yards from the screen. I found it comical, but to each their own.

Ruston Kelly opened the day at 12:30 on the Mustang stage. Before he came on an old man, I didn’t catch his name, but he was the MC introducing bands on the Mustang stage all weekend, came out and recited a story poem. It was long with enough lyric worthy of a Bob Dylan song. Later in the weekend I heard him reciting the same poem between bands, I’m sure he rotated through a couple, but it was a really cool way of entertaining the audience between bands. Ruston Kelly took the stage before a couple dozen fans and another couple dozen early goers. Going on early in the day on such a long day of music and partying takes some grit, and he never let it get him down. He played with just him an acoustic guitar, a girl singing harmony and a guy with a slide guitar accompanying, and I really like the way the slide guitar was often played subtly. There were times when I felt it was playing the piano parts.

After Ruston I wondered over to the Palomino stage as I thought I heard some familiar rock and roll sounds. Aaron Lee Tasjan was on the stage, and they were my favorite discovery of the weekend. All of their songs had a familiarity, one song would remind you of Three Dog Night, the next would remind you of The Beatles. They were all original songs, that just captured the vibe of classic rock.

I spent all of Friday listening to music, so decided to do a lap around the venue and see what food and other features they had. There was a lot of food options, a craft beer barn, Budweiser had a faux barn where you could play corn hole and wait in line for a leather coozie with your initials stamped on it. There was a frozen rum bar (My only complaint was they were playing modern dance music or something in there). I even went and watched some line dancing in the Honkey Tonk dance hall. Stagecoach has so much going on its literally impossible to do one thing without sacrificing something else. Which is a good thing unless you suffer from FOMO, then no matter how hard you try you’re missing out on something. All that took about 90 minutes and I feel like I missed 6 bands playing.

I went over to the Mane stage, mainly to find some friends to establish where basecamp was for later in the evening. Caught the beginning of Tucker Beathard, but literally one song in I was off across the venue to check out Margo Price. I dig how she’s kind of a hippie throwback to classic country in both look and sound.

Then back across the festival for Maren Morris. Her song “This is My Church” is an instant classic from my perspective and this, Stagecoach, is the perfect place to finally get the chance to see her play it live. The entire festival congregation was well aware that they were in the penultimate cathedral of country music.

This window of time was actually the trickiest in the whole festival whatever schedule demon decided to put Margo Price, Maren Morris and Nikki Lane with overlapping schedules on all three stages at the same time on Sunday clearly either doesn’t know my musical taste or wanted to laugh at my frustration. And to boot Tommy James and the Shondells are also playing in that overlap, fortunately I’d seen them a few years earlier. Of course Maren Morris played her big hit last. And then I raced across unsure if I wanted to catch the end of Nikki Lane or the end of Tommy James. I cut across the grounds, and into the closer Mustang tent. Nikki Lane was playing an unfamiliar song, and I thought that her set finished slightly after Tommy James, so I continued on to the Palomino. On the way I could here “I Think We’re Alone Now”, and picked up my pace. I got into the tent for the second half of the classic and then they went into “Mony Mony”. The place was rocking. Tommy James is one of those oldies bands that people don’t know by name, but know every word to a half-dozen of their songs. Casual concertgoers had been worked into a frenzy as this unraveled in front of them. After the traditional lyrics to the verse and chorus were completed, Tommy James approached the front of the stage to get closer to the audience. With some determined gesturing he demanded that the stagehands get him something to climb down to shake hands with the audience. The band jammed on and he shook as many hands as he could. It was a genuine moment. I figure these older bands are used to playing to their contemporaries, and old people have a tendency to sit in their seats with a “wasn’t that nice dear” attitude, but not the mixed, younger, and probably more inebriated crowd at Stagecoach. Even the best bands in the world get into a routine and a lot of the crowed interactions are rehearsed. But you could see the appreciation on Tommy James face when he got back on stage.

I stuck around the Palomino stage for Jamey Johnson. For such a rugged looking man, he has such a soft spoken style to his songs. He did get the crowd riled up by covering Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and then brought out Jeremy Popoff from Lit to play “Blowin’ Down the Roses”. But the absolute best was in his biggest hit “In Color” another genuine moment as the crowd was singing the chorus and Johnson just stopped, and stood there in awe as the packed tent shouted his words back to him. Now I’ll admit I was trying to sing along, but that chorus literally chokes me up, it’s a very powerful set of lyrics, always set up by the preceding verse.

Kip Moore was taking the Mane stage, and I was off to the races to catch him, he may have just been at Stagecoach last year, and I may have just seen him in Anaheim, but there’s something about his music that gets me. He was a couple of songs in when I approached the stage to “I’m to Blame” and was instantly singing along. He covered “Lean On Me” and then a couple songs later went into “Somethin’ ‘bout a Trunk”, which is a song that I still love every time I hear it as much as the first time I heard it. He was still playing, but Willie Nelson had already started on the Palomino, so I dug in my spurs and raced across the festival.

It happened to be Willie Nelson’s 84th birthday on this Saturday night, but he was the one giving the gift of his music. The tent was packed. Over packed. I often wonder if Goldenvoice should shake up who’s playing on what stage, the bigger acts on the Palomino stage are way more experienced than those on the Mane stage, but the before mentioned distance of the Mane stage keeps me glad you can still have an ounce of intimacy with some big names.

I got to the tent in time to hear the end of “Beer For My Horses”, but coming from the side closest to the other stages it was a mad house. I later heard there was some technical difficulties and that Bradley Cooper had been there as they filmed the crowd for some scenes for the new version of “A Star is Born” with Lady Gaga that’s in production. This worked in my favor as I feel I got to see almost all of his performance. I decided to enter the tent from the back, which the superabundance of people was flowing out of the back of the tent. I spent his tribute to Waylon, “Good Hearted Woman” working my way around the outside of the tent to the rear, but the music was not loud enough. I began working my way forward as Willie went into “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and I was able to keep sliding forward ten yards at a time as the crowd shifted. It was exceptionally easy, I don’t know if people were vacating to go to the Mane stage as Brett Eldridge was about to go on, but others were also shifting forward, and I could follow them. “On the Road Again”, shift, “Always on My Mind”, shift, and within a few songs I was only about twenty yards from him just in time for him to go into a medley of Hank Williams songs. Willie still has it, at 84 he still has the charisma, charm, voice and guitar skills that made him so successful. Playing with the family band, every time they toss a piano solo to Little Sister you realize how the music must run in the blood of his family, and is topped off with his son Lucas’ fantastic electric guitar skills. Jamie Johnson joined him on stage for “Its All Going to Pot”, and I think he stayed on stage for the rest of the show. It was Willie’s birthday, so what better way to spend it than on stage with your friends. By the end of the set Margo Price was on stage along with a few other musicians who I didn’t recognize, and one really big name, Neil Young. Who was really just up there to sing Happy Birthday with the audience, but he did get coerced into playing a little harmonica as the band jammed out to end the set.

The biggest surprise on the Stagecoach line-up was Shania Twain, she hasn’t been on a US tour in over a decade, and isn’t currently touring, not to mention she’s not as current as most of the recent Stagecoach headliners have been, but her album Come On Over is the number one all time selling country album, and she’s probably largely responsible for country music’s cross-over into mainstream. She had a fantastic video projected mansion that she performed in front of for the top of her set. Starting the night of with “Rock This Country” and then going right into one of my favorites “Honey I’m Home” it was a steady stream of hits primarily off of her two most successful albums. She brought out Kelsea Ballerini to help her sing “Any Man of Mine” and later brought out Nick Jonas to accompany her on “Party For Two”. During “Come On Over” she full on belted “I forgot the words” into the mic and laughed it off. It was funny and not the typical breeze through a mistake most artists do, but she knew she was shaking off some rust and was relatively candid with the audience all night. She went acoustic for “You’re Still The One”, and closed strong with, “That Don’t Impress Me Much”, “(If You’re Not in it for Love) I’m Outta Here”, and made everyone wait all night to get the guys to sing how great they feel to admit, “Man! I feel like a woman!”

It’s day 3 and they truly saved the best for last. I got my day started with Luke Combs on the Mane Stage. This was the band I was on the rail at the front of the GA standing area and realized how far away the GA is at its closest. It’s so far. These early acts are probably at best opening at basketball style venues, and are probably used to playing packed honkey-tonks, this must be a difficult venue, playing to so much empty space, but at the same time likely playing to more people than you usually do. He’s currently getting a log of airplay with “Hurricane” and he closed a strong set to the delight of the crowd.

I then galloped over to the Mustang stage to catch the rest of The Hillbenders bluegrass tribute to The Who’s Tommy. It was interesting, and there were a good bit of Who fans reliving the rock opera, but it didn’t really move me and didn’t have enough draw to grab passersby not familiar with the original material.

I took a quick lunch break and made my way to the Mane stage for The Cadillac Three. These guys were probably the most rock and roll style band to play on the Mane stage all weekend, but they don’t get a lot of airplay in LA so it was a mixed bag with the crowd those in the know were rocking, and those out of it were just enjoying the daylight.

Then I did a quick fox trot over to the Palomino stage to catch Wynona and The Big Noise. She was solid and made her powerful impeccable singing look effortless. The way she could smile, nod, and wink at the crowd while belting out her voice was a testament to her success. I can’t remember the set up to one of her jokes, but it had something to do with not being able to get into trouble like a normal kid, and the punch line was “you grow up sharing a tour bus with your mother. “ Her personality was as big as her voice.

I trotted back to the Mane stage in time to hear Cam performing Mayday, and reminded everyone that just two years ago she went first on this stage on Saturday, and joked about the only people there were in the very back, and it was “nice to meet you” to the people in the seats. I was definitely looking forward to “Burning House” which she closed the set with.

Then I cantered over to see Los Lobos on the Palomino stage. They were just pure blood pumping blues-rock. They were covering the Allman Brothers when I walked up, and before too long were cranking their cover of “La Bamba” which they played as a medley with “Bad Case of Loving You”. I don’t know if it was the familiarity of the blues based rock and roll or that they are Southern California locals that just made the music hit the spot.

I stayed in the Palomino stable for Travis Tritt he was another of the artists I was really looking forward to. Sticking around paid off as I was positioned about 3 people back from the stage. I kind of new all day that he was going to open with “Put Some Drive in Your Country” and he didn’t disappoint. Another one of the my shortlist genuine moments of the festival happened. During his rendition of Darrell Scott’s “It’s a Great Day to be Alive” Tritt was not expecting the crowd to be so fervently singing the course to this song and a line into the second course stopped singing and strumming to grab the mic and point it at the audience with a ear to ear grin on his face. He paid tribute to the next generation of country stars by covering Chris Stapleton’s “Nobody to Blame”. One thing that really impressed me with his stage presence was his ability to shake his hips, duck walk, and/or any other motion he wanted to do to bring the crowd into it. He even did the full on lean back guitar solo, which is my favorite air guitar move, during “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde”. He grew up listening to outlaw country and I think he fancies himself as one of the last outlaws, and with the direction modern country has been heading, he might be.

Last but certainly not least Kenny Chesney takes the Mane stage. Chesney is a five time ACM Entertainer of the year, and as someone who tries to see him every tour, he is a competitor every year. There is something about his music that perfectly captures paradise in a bottle. Sometimes opening it up, so you can live in the sun and sand with a drink in your hand anytime anywhere, and sometimes keeping the lid on to take you down memory lane and long for good times again. To not like his music is to hate the beach, and be unable to take it as a metaphor for your personal version of paradise. That said his summer tour doesn’t start for another month and I felt, much like Shania he was getting some rust off and treating it as a practice run. He was not on his A game, but that hardly matters with songs of the feel good caliber of his music, when more than a hundred thousand people are belting your lyrics with a smile on their face, your B+ game is more than good time enough. He’s one of those artist that can’t play all of his hits. But he does a good mix of new and old. Some of my favorites from the set were; getting these started with “Beer in Mexico”, “Reality”, “Till its Gone”, “Summertime”. I noticed when he played one of his newer songs “Noise” the crowd was really into it. Personally I don’t rank it at the top, but it showed me the power of the now. Somewhat surprisingly he didn’t play his latest radio hit, “Bar at the End of the World”. Towards the end of the set he played a couple of back to back LA songs with “Setting the World on Fire” and “You and Tequila”. For Tequila he brought a little girl on stage to sing the course, but really the female bassist was singing the part, but with the distance, the jombotron’s, an everyone in the polo fields singing along it was not easy to tell. He then closed the night with “Don’t Happen Twice” and too soon it was over with “She Thinks My Tractors Sexy”.

Overall this was a fantastic Stagecoach, I felt like maybe it’s finally past its growing pains and the layout although similar for the last decade seemed to have minor improvements. The line up was possibly slightly too good as I constantly wanted to by in two places at once my midafternoon, if not on all three stages. The only things I would like to see them try and improve, and I’m not so sure it would actually improve it. Is mixing up the styles of music on the stages. The Mane stage is all pop, the Palomino is all classic rock and classic country, and the Mustang is all bluegrass, alt-country, or just too knew for the Mane stage. It would be nice to see it shook up, but at the same time I don’t want to sacrifice the ability to get close to big names like Willie Nelson. Another thing I would improve is, to at least in the daytime before the people with seats show up, have a spot where GA ticket holders can get closer to those earlier acts. It would be great for both the band and the concertgoers. I think my only other suggestion would be on the Palomino stage have people who monitor the hay bails. Early in the day people slide them forward to sit closer to artists, but by the bigger acts they are in the way, and I think all the bails should be pulled behind the sound booth by the last two acts on the Palomino stage. Might be tricky with all the people around, but it could be done, especially if it’s made clear the entire time.

For those that have never been to Stagecoach or think its too country for them, its time to think again, you can almost see classic rock bands all day long in a fun friendly party atmosphere. Everyone I’ve spoken with both workers and attendees said that Stagecoach is significantly more fun than Coachella. So next year drop your preconceived ideas and be prepared to shake your hips at Stagecoach.

All Photos Courtesy of Stagecoach, Goldenvoice, and this list of photographers: Michael Drummond, Erik Voake, Mitch Brown, Everette Fitzpatrick, Chris Miller & Jose Negrete

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