Stagecoach 2017 Had More Guest Appearances and Political Commentary Than Ever Before

Hollywood trekked to the desert for a surreal meeting of reality and fantasy at the 2017 Stagecoach country music festival in Indio, demonstrating how the younger, twangier sibling of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival has come into its own during the last decade. These kind of festivals are places where fans look for good times and celebration, but occasionally musicians attempt to dig a little deeper.

Little else in the way of political commentary emanated from Stagecoach’s stages during the three-day festival. The biggest issues for most fans were whether to miss Kip Moore on the Mane Stage to see Nelson on Saturday, or how exactly they could manage to catch the lengthy list of up-and-coming acts. These included singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan, country-pop singer Bailey Bryan, and Minnesota’s winsome male harmony-centric band The Cactus Blossoms.

This year even had a film shooting throughout the festival. It happened a few minutes before Willie Nelson was due to take the stage for his marquee performance. Nelson apparently agreed to delay his set for a few minutes so that the famous director-writer-actor Bradley Cooper and his crew could film a shot intended for his forthcoming remake of “A Star Is Born” — a concert scene featuring Lukas Nelson and his band, Promise of the Real. Willie Nelson also welcomed several of his musical admirers, first singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson, who co-wrote the title track with swamp rock king Tony Joe White for Nelson’s just released album, “God’s Problem Child.” That wasn’t even the best part of the festival though. Crowds gathered together and lived it up for Shania Twain’s dominating performance on Saturday night.

It has been 15 years since country star Shania Twain has released a new album and up until she rolled out on her Rock This Country Tour in 2015, it had been 11 years since she had been on the road. Though she’s been absent from the mainstream, aside from her two-year residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, as Twain hit the stage for her first-ever headlining set at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, it was clear that fans hadn’t forgotten her arsenal of hits. Coming out with her 1997 cut, “Rock This Country,” Twain’s turn was both entertaining and personal. After making her grand entrance with a massive production that included a firework finish to the first track, she launched straight into “Honey, I’m Home” and “You Win My Love.” At 51 years old, she looked stunning and moved with ease, jumping around from a high riser with lighted stairs on either side, utilizing both wings of the ginormous stage as well as the mini catwalk to connect with her enthusiastic followers.

“Oh my gosh, this is the party of the year for me,” she said to the crowd as she took in the sea of fans cheering from across the field. She kicked up some dust with “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” and had people singing along to “I Ain’t No Quitter” and “Love Gets Me Every Time.” For “Don’t Be Stupid,” Twain left the stage to get down into the pit to share the mic with the hordes of fans. Before the next song, she noted that it would be special and that it would be a real “female moment” as she invited out 23-year-old “Dibs” and “Peter Pan” country singer Kelsea Ballerini to join her on “Any Man of Mine.” The pair delivered a fun performance as their vocals bounced well off of each other and they even did the movements to the “You gotta shimmy shake/make the Earth quake” portion of the song. Ballerini wasn’t the only special guest to join Twain on stage. Near the end of the set, she brought out 24-year-old Nick Jonas to perform “Party For Two,” a track she originally sang with Billy Currington. Female fans lost their minds, shrieking and stampeding to get closer to the stage for a better glimpse of the youngest Jonas Brother.

Another standout this year was Brett Eldredge. In 2012, Brett Eldredge was the second act to grace the Mane Stage at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio. He was 26 years old at the time and only had two songs, “Raymond” and “It Ain’t Gotta Be Love,” that were being played on mainstream country radio, but he enjoyed his early afternoon set in the blazing sun. Five years later and fans are more familiar with Eldredge’s material. Another one of the weekend’s most moving performances came from North Carolina-reared singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, who employed a carrot and just a little bit of the stick while introducing one song. A guest star also surprised the audience when pop-R&B singer Elle King joined Friday’s headliner Dierks Bentley for a live rendition of their hit country duet “Different for Girls” before rising California singer-songwriter Jon Pardi also turned up on stage with Bentley for a Twitter-ready musical meeting.

And yet a star has been born in the world of music festivals: Stagecoach has grown from a scrappy, smaller, countrified answer to Coachella when promoter Goldenvoice launched it in 2007 – to what last year was the fifth-highest-grossing music festival of any kind. What also was evident this year was a maturation of Stagecoach’s identity and drawing power, which manifested in more guest appearances during performances by the scheduled artists.

Stagecoach 2017 took place April 28-30 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA.