Thursday, April 09, 2015

Stagecoach 2015: California's Premiere Country Music Festival April 24th - 26th Preview

It is hard to believe that AEG subsidiary Goldenvoice will produce for the ninth time Stagecoach: California’s Country Music Festival for three days of music, food, BBQ competition, large Burning Man art displays, and plenty of sun at Indio in the Coachella Valley from April 24th – 26th 2015 at the Empire Polo Fields.  For the 2015 version of Stagecoach,  we get the return of Miranda Lambert (2009 and 2012); this time as a closing headliner (pictured above from 2009) on the Mane Stage for Saturday night, with her husband Blake Sheldon closing out the Stagecoach Country Music Festival on Sunday night, and Tim McGraw being the Friday night closer.  Stagecoach has always marketed that their marquee stars perform full sets from their concert tours. The full list of performers for each day is shown at the end of this blog post.

The ExperienceLA blog and its related Facebook and Twitter social media channels has covered the Stagecoach Festival since inception, and has previously recommended this as a Family Friendly event (children 10 years of age and under are free with general admission adult tickets) and as a Foodie Destination due to the official barbecue competition. With regard to bringing your children, you will find that there are special musical performances that appeal to a younger demographic along with lots of hands on activities.  Of the nine stagecoaches, I have been at eight of them, paying my own way, and getting a photo press pass for all except the first one, so that I can bring in a camera with interchangeable lenses. Below is a set of pictures that highlight many of the other things to do at Stagecoach when not listening to great music, especially partaking of the great BBQ competition.

According to the official website, tickets are still available that can be purchased online. The Stagecoach lineup for each day has already been announced, but the set times won’t be posted for each artist on the official website until a day or two of the event.  Stagecoach also has an official mobile application for tracking acts and putting together a personal schedule and posting pictures.  Plus last year, Golden Voice experimented with doing twitter check-ins outside the hangars for two smaller stages by swiping one’s registered rfid ticket wristband. Will be interesting to see what new technology gets introduced into Stagecoach this year.  Many other things Goldenvoice can do with rfid wristbands and near range technology such as beacons.

As the sun goes down out in desert on these vastly improved Polo Grounds, the setting is very picturesque with the mountains, palm trees, and large scale art displays set against the numbers of people having a good time. What is great about Stagecoach is the sensational job Goldenvoice does in putting together its musical lineup for the two smaller stages inside two huge hangars (Mustang and Palomino Stages) featuring Americana, traditional and new Bluegrass, Alt-Country, Alt-Folk and Cowboy music. Even for me as a big fan of Americana, Bluegrass and Alt-Country music, I am being introduced to most of these performers for the first time.  

With Stagecoach being a three ring music circus, it always helps to get suggestions as to who to seek out, along with doing discovery with the official Stagecoach website providing links to each artists website, YouTube channel, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook  and Soundcloud accounts. You can easily discover new artists to see in person such as I did with Anais Mitchell who I would characterize as alt-folk hailing from Vermont with a unique sound having been a guest artist with the Punch Brothers.  I suspect she will be performing in early Saturday afternoon and most likely at the Mustang stage which is slightly smaller than the Palomino stage, and attendance for her would be just beginning to build for the day.

Last year, Goldenvoice began to program an indoor fully air conditioned honky tonk stage (that most likely was constructed for Coachella and popular with a DJ music sets), but with no public schedule published in advance, so it will be interesting how this plays out in 2015.  If temperatures get into the teens, I can assure you that there will be an audience whereas last year the Indio temperatures were relatively mild.

Last year when covering the Country Music Hall of Fame fundraiser at Club Nokia under the music leadership of Vince Gill whom I had the chance to interview and write about for ExperienceLA, I encouraged AEG/Goldenvoice to book Vince Gill at Stagecoach.  In my interview with Vince, he expressed a strong desire to perform at Stagecoach, and this year he gets his wish performing with The Time Jumpers.  Plus, AEG previewed Cam at this showcase, and Goldenvoice is also bringing her to Stagecoach.

Goldenvoice has always reached out to Country legends late in their careers, and this year will feature Merle Haggard one of the original outlaw country musicians and Steve Earle whom got major exposure on the HBO series Treme.  In looking through this year’s lineup, most of the lineup is new to Stagecoach, and there are a few that I have seen elsewhere such as The Quebe Sisters Band playing Texas swing and  Della Mae, an all-girls Americana bluegrass group that will remind one of the early days of the Dixie Chicks. I saw the Quebe Sisters perform at the 2012 University of Chicago Folk Festival (really a roots festival) and the closing day of a cowboy singing and poetry tour funded by the federal National Endowment for the Humanities in Santa Barbara. The Quebe Sisters have each been Texas State champion fiddle players and have great three part harmony.  Both female groups are not to be missed on Saturday, April 25 and below are picture sets from when I saw each of them previously perform and I thought at the time that they would both be perfect Stagecoach acts. The first flickr picture set is The Quebe Sisters Band and the second flickr set are Della Mae.

Since the early days of American Idol and later The Voice, Stagecoach has featured country music performers that previously won or did well enough to gain a national following. As many know, Miranda Lambert helped her career along with competing on Nashville Star (finishing around 7th), and Blake Sheldon can take full credit for launching the Swon Brothers last year on The Voice who will be appearing for the first time, and Blake also coached Cassadee Pope from The Voice Season 3.

For anyone getting to Stagecoach early when the outside terrace gates first open up at 10 am, there is almost a stampede at noon when the festival gates open as people rush the Mane Stage to get the best places to set up their festival chairs and blankets for the areas that begin behind the Corral and VIP areas. The race for such spots is quite hysterical like the start of Black Friday shopping.  

I do recommend arriving early to secure your spot for the Mane Stage, then tie something onto your chair for easy recognition, and do your own GPS calculations to remember the spot, so you can check out the smaller stages that are much more up close and personal. Then check out the items being sold by vendors selling country-related wear and other items, and settle in for a great three days.  

Goldenvoice does do an excellent job establishing permanent fire lane aisles for the Mane Stage, and thus one can scout out the necessary landmarks that will become so important when there are 50,000 people watching the headliners late at night along with their projections on enormous video monitors for easy viewing. Once it gets dark, it can be very difficult finding where one parked their festival chairs. Thus, a very small pocket flashlight can be useful when the lights go out, as even counting steps can be difficult in the dark. 

There are an extensive variety of food vendors and a number of food trucks that are part of Stagecoach, but the best mid-day food choices come from the official barbecue competition in which tastes can be bought for $3 each.  The food in competition usually isn’t available until after 2 pm, but many of the competitors will have food not in competition or extras that are available to begin buying around noon. Almost all of the bbq teams have pulled pork along with either and chicken or brisket and sometimes tri-tip. These are secret barbecue recipes so don't expect these competitors to share their secrets. By late afternoon, food from the BBQ competition is sold out. You can eat pretty well from the BBQ area on $15, while you grab your favorite beverages from nearby tents. However, there are several BBQ vendors outside the competition that in prior years did very well as competitors like Pigs Can Fly and the fire engine pizza from the Dang Brothers is well worth the wait .  If you like craft beer, be sure to investigate the different beer tents, as one might discover some alternative beers other than the usual festival beers.  There are several areas at Stagecoach that do have a full bar.

So for those who have been to the Coachella Music Festival, the atmosphere and the audience is in many ways very different at Stagecoach.  For example, traditionally there have been many more families, many times seeing three generations, although last year with the Bro-Country Stagecoach line-up, the audience skewed younger for the first time.  For 2015, there appear to be many more women performers then in previous year, including returning stars such as Sara Evans and Lydia Loveless, and rising stars such as Kacey Musgraves (up for best new artist at the last round of award shows) and emerging women artists such as Clare Dunn and Logan Brill, and an increase in the number of Americana and nouveau/traditional bluegrass groups such as Balsam Range and Old Salt Union.  

My alt-country music friend Alice Wallace (who one day might be discovered by Goldenvoice to play Stagecoach) will not forgive me if I don't give a shout out to her country favorite Sturgill Simpson who can best be characterized as honky-tonk music whom I will be seeing perform live for the first time and very much reminds me of Dwight Yoakim (who filled the Mustang hanger to capacity the last two times he played Stagecoach). David Lettermen recently called Sturgill's music the meta-modern sounds of country music.

Before departing for the Coachella Valley, do yourself a favor by reviewing the Stagecoach rules and what can be brought into the festival.  For those who have attended the sister Coachella festival, there are a number of different rules, for example, the ability to bring in festival chairs at Stagecoach.  Most important, stay hydrated and discover some new country music talent, and for those who have never moved from the Mane Stage, go out and explore the rest of this great festival, and don't forget the BBQ competition.

2015 Stagecoach Country Music Festival Lineup (by date):

FRIDAY, APRIL 24, 2015

Tim McGraw
Jake Owen
Kip Moore
Merle Haggard
Kacey Musgraves
The Devil Makes Three
The Time Jumpers, featuring Vince Gill, Dawn Sears, Kenny Sears and Ranger Doug Green
Sturgill Simpson
The Lone Bellow
Brothers Osbourne
Parker Millsap
The Handsome Family
Lydia Loveless
Pegi Young
Lindsay Lou and The Flatbellys
Cam Ochs


Miranda Lambert
Dierks Bentley
Justin Moore
ZZ Top
Eli Young Band
Gregg Allman
Cassadee Pope
Cast of Nashville, featuring Charles Esten, Clare Bowen, and Chris Carmac
Steve Earle
The Cadillac Three
Mickey Gilley
Mac Davis
Nikki Lane
John Moreland
John and Jacob
The Quebe Sisters Band
Daniel Romano
Della Mae
Clare Dunn
Anais Mitchell
Old Salt Union

SUNDAY, APRIL 26, 2015

Blake Shelton
The Band Perry
Sara Evans
George Thorogood and The Destroyers
Jerrod Neimann
Frankie Ballard
The Oak Ridge Boys
Hot Rize
Eric Burdon and the Animals
The Swon Brothers
Maddie and Tae
Chris Janson
Keith Anderson
Chatham County Line
Logan Brill
Luke Ameland
Ben Miller Band
Andrew Combs

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