About This Festival
Stagecoach first kicked up its heels on May 5-6, 2007 as a country music offshoot of its popular sibling festival Coachella: it takes place on the same grounds and is the brainchild of the same promoter, Paul Tollett of Goldenvoice. In its debut, a whopping 50 acts performed across three stages, including George Strait, Sugarland, Alan Jackson, Kris Kristofferson, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. Alt-country artists such as Neko Case appeared on the bill alongside bluegrass artists Ricky Skaggs, Nickel Creek and Earl Scruggs.
Stagecoach’s expansive approach to country music ensures a wide variety of attendees and results in a decidedly laid-back, some might say a family-friendly vibe. Simply put, Stagecoach doesn’t seem to forget its roots. It’s no surprise that the organizers have a kitchen-sink approach to country music, given the diversity and breadth of a typical Coachella’s lineup—and the success of that festival. Stagecoach understands that it’s all roots music of some sort, so you’ll see legacy artists, hugely successful ones and emerging ones from folk, mainstream country, bluegrass, roots rock and alternative country acts. You’ll also encounter with some renegade/punk choices every now and then, such as rapper Kid Rock.
In its first year, the event drew about 55,000 people over the course of two days, a good portion of them camping out in RVs. Pronounced a near immediate success, Stagecoach added a third day in just its second year, nabbing artists such as Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw at the height of their fame. The festival went even broader and more diverse in its approach, with western band Riders in the Sky, alt-country artist Shelby Lynne, early 20th century African American string band music called Carolina Chocolate Drops, an 8-year-old fiddler named Haydn Jones, progressive bluegrass artist Sam Bush and even the renegade punk Mike Ness (Social Distortion). However, the heart and soul of Stagecoach seems to come from the veteran acts that they manage to book, whether it’s Ralph Stanley, George Jones, or Charlie Louvin—just to name a few.
In 2012, the festival returned to a three-day format for the second time and sold out a whole three months in advance—the first time it’s ever done so. Artists such as Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Kenny Rogers and actor Steve Martin (who also plays banjo) and his band the Steep Canyon Rangers appeared. Another mix of old, new and mainstream was set for 2014, with headliners Eric Church, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan; legendary artists such as Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle and John Prine; and up-and-comers such as the Wild Feathers, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Shelly Colvin.
Beyond the Music
Additionally, following the footsteps of Coachella, Stagecoach thought bigger than the music itself, and wisely capitalized on one of country music’s strengths—its storytelling impetus. There have been tents devoted to cowboy poetry, rural Americana and storytelling. Giants of the oral tradition—Red Steagall, with a syndicated radio show called “Cowboy Corner” (and former Poet Laureate of Texas) and Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion,” both made appearances.
It’s not uncommon to roam the grounds of Stagecoach in the desert and be surrounded by the smell of barbecued pork, brisket, and chicken and see people wandering around eating samples of said meats out of plastic containers. Since 2008, Stagecoach has been the site of its very own Invitational BBQ championship; until 2012 it was run by the Kansas City BBQ Society. Since 2013, California BBQ Association has run the event at Stagecoach, where dozens of contenders compete for the grand championship--$10,000. If you want a break from the BBQ, never fear, as restaurants from the region have their own outposts, offering everything from steak and seafood to vegetarian, vegan and raw food.