STAGECOACH TAKES CENTER STAGE

You may know me, Samantha Hissong, as HITS’ resident millennial and “#henchhipster,” as I’m so lovingly (and perhaps slightly condescendingly) referred to. I’m the one with the sleeve of tattoos and buzzcut who may have accidentally (read: not so accidentally) rubbed you the wrong way with my resting bitch face while sipping on a gin martini at some lo-fi rock show. Sorry (read: not sorry). Well, this weekend, I went country and I fucking loved it.

In fact, Stagecoach might actually best Coachella in my book. It’s indeed comforting to know that every performance includes real-life instruments and people who can play them. Fist pumping, button pressing and seizure-inducing light shows be damned. See, over the years, Coachella has become a high-profile club, but Stagecoach is a house party. And where do you think I’d rather spend a Saturday night? If you answered club, go sit in the shower with your head down until you’ve washed your sins away.

Speaking of parties, no one knows how to throw one quite like Dierks Bentley. Bentley, who headlined Friday night, even made sure to stage dive after recent hit “Somewhere on a Beach,” screaming, “I need a beach towel. Will you guys be my beach towel?!” He of course brought out Elle King, who was also on the bill earlier in the day, to perform their duet, “Different for Girls,” but he was also joined by fellow Mane Stage performers Jon Pardi and Cole Swindell (both of whom he’s currently out on tour with). Pardi and Bentley performed George Strait’s “Fireman,” and Swindell came out for the pair’s current collaboration, “Flatliner”—now #18 at Country radio.

Cole Swindell
Dierks Bentley

Shania Twain gave fans a taste of her upcoming album (and first in 15 years) with song “Life’s About to Get Good” and the reaction was pretty incredible. "I wrote this specific song about the good and bad in life and how important it is to have both," she said. "We got to take the good with the bad, right? No pain, no gain."

The 51-year-old—who looked amazing and made my 25-year-old body look like that of a truck driver’s—wowed with her unmatched charm. Her guests included Kelsea Ballerini (for “Any Man of Mine”) and Nick Jonas (for “Party of Two”). "Shania Twain is the reason I'm in music today," the latter announced before exiting.

And then there was Kenny. How could you go wrong with Kenny Chesney? The world-class veteran tied a perfect bow on the weekend with his Sunday night (and record fourth) headlining set. His performance was strong, reliable and packed to the brim with sing-along-inducing jams—just what you would expect and hope for.

Kenny Chesney

Overall, this year’s lineup was pretty brain-melting. Swindell, Dan + Shay, Maddie & Tae and Cam were among those representing the pop-leaning side of the format, each dishing out energetic and dance-worthy sets, as did Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett, who are clearly stars. Pardi, Brett Eldredge and Kip Moore had the masses screaming out (and a few overly excited individuals carried out). Other highlights included Luke Combs, LANco, Cadillac Three, the soulful Anderson East, Ryan Hurd, the endearing Margo Price and Dan Layus, who really knows how to pull on some heart strings. As for the legacy acts, The Blasters, The Zombies, Tommy James and The Shondells, the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis and icon Willie Nelson (who was celebrating his 84th birthday on Saturday) provided unforgettable and unmatched moments.

Interestingly, Nelson, who came off as a true king during his set, lent his stage and his crowd to filmmakers for 15 minutes or so beforehand, so that Bradley Cooper and co. could shoot live footage for upcoming remake A Star is Born (starring Cooper and Lady Gaga). Expect that to look awesome.

Dan + Shay

But back to the festival. People keep arguing that rock’n’roll (at least as a successful format or whatever that means) is dead. I don’t think that’s true, but I do think it might be hiding out under a cowboy hat. The genre has done a lot of expanding over the last decade or so, and lemme tell ya, rock’n’roll most certainly lives within it. Take newcomer Tucker Beathard, Son Volt and even Tyler Farr for example. And flaming guitar licks and brooding aesthetics aside, the spirit of rock’n’roll definitely lives within a very large chunk of country music, but maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this, because you probably don’t deserve to be in on the secret. Honestly though, with so much homogenization in the music world, it’s refreshing (to say the least) to be surrounded by a group of people who care vehemently about just a few things: the songs, the fans and the thrill.

And I’m not alone in my glee. Even the numbers show that Stagecoach has proved to be a real contender in the festival scene, as opposed to a Coachella afterthought. An extra 10k attendees were expected per day, following the Indio City Council’s decision to up the capacity from 75k to 85k. And due to a real demand, more than 50 performances were streamed through the weekend via Pandora for those who couldn’t make it to the desert, thanks to a recently announced exclusive partnership between the Internet radio giant and Goldenvoice. That said, although everything did seem to go remarkably smoothly, there was one main complaint echoing from backstage. As Stagecoach’s notoriety has apparently begun to reach new heights, rumor has it that official folks have begun selling artist wristbands to the public for a pretty penny, and that fact was definitely noticed and not appreciated by more than just a few industry execs. Naughty, naughty… Hopefully, this will be rectified next year and this beloved gem of a festival and its performers can hold on to the respect they deserve as more and more people begin to hunger for a piece of the pie.

Elle King
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