Co-written by SJ McNally and Jean Schroeder
It may have been a record high of 107° in the SoCal desert, but that didn’t stop country fans from having the best weekend of their lives. Between the Mustang and Mane stages the amount of talent that performed at this year’s Stagecoach was unbelievable. Boots on and beers up the famous 3-day festival was once again a packed venue filled with dedicated fans and some of the craziest people I’ve ever seen. First night headliner, Toby Keith’s hit “I Love This Bar,” was actually the perfect description of the crowd… there were lots of short skirts, it had high-tecs, blue-collar boys and rednecks, and it had lovers, lots of lookers (shout out to those Cowboys in the American Speedos), and I definitely saw dancing girls and hookers (shout out to that Cowgirl wearing JUST leather chaps). Indio, CA, you pulled it of again, great music, great fun, and great memories for another year – if you didn’t get a chance to attend here’s a little recap of what you missed…
Day 1 – Welcome to Heaven
The first day kicked off with everyone anxious to get the party started. With some different rules this year fans were unsure of what to expect, but the venue did not disappoint. There seemed to be more vendors, more cold beer, more water and medical tents (for those who drank too much cold beer), and definitely more country music. Performances by Maggie Rose, Old Crow Medicine Show, Joe Nichols, Trace Adkins, Hank Williams Jr., and Toby Keith were the highlights of Friday and totally started the weekend off right. “I Ain’t Your Mama” singer Maggie Rose dominated the Mane stage, setting the bar so high that the pressure was on for all acts following her throughout the weekend – her set was that good. But, veterans like Joe Nichols, Trace Adkins, and Hank Williams Jr. had no problems stepping into the Mane spotlight and rocking the house with their individual fan-favorites. Nearby, powerhouse group Old Crow Medicine Show ignited the Mustang Stage with their insane amount of energy and musical talent. Closing out the night was Mr. Proceed to Party, Toby Keith, who let everyone know how the weekend was going to go down … Ragecoach. Playing every possible drinking song he’s ever written, as well as American Pride favorites “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” and “American Soldier,” Toby Keith was the official welcome committee to the pearly gates of Country Music Heaven, and the fun had only just begun.
Day 2 – Loving Limbo
As the sun rose on the second day of Stagecoach, we were all ready for round 2. Arriving at the venue and setting up to listen to even more amazing performers, we all couldn’t wait for acts like Jana Kramer, Phil Vassar, Rodney Atkins, Dierks Bentley, and Lady Antebellum to take the stage. Probably the most full day of action, the festival hosted some of the best fan-driven entertainment I’ve ever experienced at a concert. Toyota debuted their all-new 2014 4Runner by displaying it inside an old-fashioned circus cage. The vehicle grabbed concertgoers’ attention and really had them excited when Dierks Bentley hopped on stage to perform on behalf of Toyota and the luxury SUV. Also happening on Saturday, the world-famous BBQ competition gave fans a taste of country with all of the best, mouthwatering, comfort food you could eat. Interactive games and family activities boasted things for all-ages to do, but ultimately it was all about the music. Hitting the Mane stage first was the beautiful and talented, future Mrs. Gilbert, Jana Kramer. (I just have to say, I’ve seen this girl perform 4 times now and I continue to be blown away). Her talent far exceeds any new singer and she did Stagecoach very proud. Following the young singer, icon Phil Vassar played an incredible set, singing songs that I didn’t even know he had written – it was a treat to see him live. Rodney Atkins, a true countryman, was right in his element on stage in front of thousands and thousands of cowboy hats swaying and jamming to each of his hits. Closing out Saturday night, Lady A kept fans on their feet and dancing late into the night. They have such an incredible stage presence that it is hard not to feel like you’re part of the band … that, and the fact that I’m pretty sure everyone in the crowd knew every word to every song they played – even their new song, “Golden,” didn’t know the words (yet) but we all still tried to sing along, that’s how good they are. I skipped over Dierks Bentleys Mane stage performance because the guy deserves an extra special shout out. His musical talent goes way beyond just being a country singer, and if he had been the only performer all weekend I would have listened to him for 3 days straight. “Tip it on Back” is definitely one of my favorite songs and hearing it live was incredible. Everyone I talked to told me Dierks was their favorite act of the whole weekend and I couldn’t agree more. By the end of the second day we’d consumed more music (and of course more beer) and had fallen into a prime state of country music limbo.
Day 3 – At Least They Serve Beer in Hell
107° in the middle of the desert, with little to no shade, and thousands of people walking around … kind of sounds like Hell, but to try and loosely quote Sunday performers, The Charlie Daniels Band and their hit “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” in a way that applies to Stagecoach… “My name’s (SJ) and it might be a sin, but I’ll make you a bet, if you weren’t there you’ll regret, ‘cause it was the best it’s ever been!” Seriously, when you have performers like The Charlie Daniels Band, Florida Georgia Line, Riders in the Sky, Thompson Square, Darius Rucker, Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers, and Zac Brown Band, even the hottest day in Hell couldn’t ruin a lineup like that. In fact, when the heat turned up so did the party – the beer was colder, the music was louder, and the crowd was larger. Everyone on Sunday made the most of the third and final day and it couldn’t have been more spectacular. In the peak of the heat, Florida Georgia Line “rolled (their) windows down” and cooled off the crowd with their hit, “Cruise”. The 30 + year career veterans, Riders in the Sky brought the twang with their classic songs and comedy. Thompson Square brought together some love connections in the audience while singing recently dubbed #1 “If I Didn’t Have You,” and also showed off some new music. Darius Rucker, entertainer extraordinaire and Stagecoach veteran, played an incredible set and even went a little old school with some Hootie and the Blowfish. Lots of Sons of Anarchy fans (like myself) were in the audience to catch Katey Sagal a.k.a. Gemma Teller and the Forest Rangers on the Mustang stage, singing raw rocker country songs like “Gimme Shelter” and SOA theme song, “This Life.” Last, but certainly not least, Zac Brown Band, who are not only some of the nicest guys, but some of the most talented, played an amazing, AMAZING set and closed out a phenomenal weekend. From front stage to way up above the crowd on the Ferris wheel, I got to hear every angle of Zac Brown Band’s performance and couldn’t have been more impressed. These guys are truly an incredible group of talent and no one could have ended the show the way they did.
All in all, writing this recap only makes me more excited for Stagecoach next year, but I’m not really sure how they will top this one. Always impressive and always fun, I will attend this festival for as long as I can. Forget about rules and regulations and focus on the music, this venue is top notch and hosts the best artists in country music. The whole experience is truly a positive experience… and I’m really not complaining about the fact that I couldn’t camp this year, or the fact that my best friend convinced me to walk 4 miles to our hotel because we couldn’t get a cab. It’s always an adventure at Stagecoach and that’s what makes it memorable. Can’t wait for 2014! Let the countdown begin!!