Stagecoach 2019: Sam Hunt, Jason Aldean, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lil Nas X and More Highlights

Anyone can just show up to a festival, but the real hardcore fans always stand out because they’re willing to court the most discouraging weather for a chance to see their favorite artists, and such was the case with Stagecoach 2019. The festival sparked off at 104 degrees. Those who could withstand made it to Stagecoach — in many ways the ultimate American gesture. Country music takes over California once a year, and once again, it did it big, with a roster that both satisfied die-hard enthusiasts with some of the biggest names in the genre, and extended freely beyond the expectations of the country fest.

Day one began sweltering, but by the time Devin Dawson performed, fans had proven undeterred. In due time, the crowds flocked in, and when Kane Brown took the stage, the audience was teeming with couples who somehow got the memo about an Aloha theme, and showed up in color-coordinated outfits, ready to make memories, and fortunate enough to have Instagram stations at hand. Cole Swindell built on the momentum, and performed an engaging set, much as expected. Songs about his late father stood out, as a strikingly poignant bit in an otherwise high-spirited performance. Then came Luke Bryan, and the crowd went appropriately wild. A highlight was Swindell’s appearance mid set, which came with much anticipated fanfare, as he didn’t come on stage when expected and Bryan had to stall. Bryan was having so much fun he didn’t want his set to end. “They are trying to kick me off, but I ain’t fucking having it,” Bryan told fans. 

The second day saw a record crowd for the festival, estimated to be roughly 80,000. There was plenty to offer in all respects, but if anything stood out foremost, it was the preponderance of ladies, staking a claim. Rachel Wammack took liberties in covering current peers, namely Brothers Osborne and Eric Church, and went on to perform a set that channeled the energy of those acts into something all of her own. On the Palomino Stage, Aubrie Sellers made for one of the more adventurous sets, delving into a more overtly rock strain than most of her counterparts on the bill.

Travis Denning packed enough country pride into a loaded performance of “Red, White, and Blue,” and the Wild Feathers put on an act with enough gusto to basically guarantee an upgrade to the Mane Stage in due time. Honey County was an extravaganza, congregating 150 dancers for their “Country Song.” Cam demanded attention by using the term “sex-positive,” and putting it into context, amid a set ripe with themes of female empowerment. Then, of course, there was Skynyrd. And needless to say, they closed with “Sweet Home Alabama,” and came back for an encore performance of “Free Bird.” The only drawback was the placement of Skynyrd on the Palomino Stage, which became overcrowded. Sam Hunt played an intimate set, pausing between songs to share the stories behind them, and treating fans to an especially engaging show. Highlights also included Luke Combs and Lanco, who both performed on the Mane Stage. 

The final day built momentum from newer artists on the rise, such as Abby Anderson, who kept the crowd dancing with a sweaty afternoon set, and Parker Millsap, who demanded attention with a gospel-tinged country act. The night saw a couple setbacks, with two prominent evening acts calling in sick. Jordan Davis had to cancel his set on the Mane Stage, as did Mark Chesnutt on the Palomino Stage. The festival handled it expertly, however, having performers at those two areas extend their sets in order to keep the headliners on track for their scheduled slots. Lauren Alaina put on an especially entertaining show, at one point singling out a lucky fan in the crowd and inviting him to sing along with her on stage. In due time, the legendary Tom Jones rolled onto Palomino for a standout set. Finally, Mane Stage headliner Jason Aldean naturally attracted the largest crowd of the weekend, and ran through a set packed with hits, bringing it all to climactic end. More Sunday highlights included Old Dominion on the Mane Stage and Nikki Lane, who performed on her own stage located at her marketplace. 

It wasn’t exactly the end, however, as the official “afterparty” was scheduled to follow at Palomino Stage. While it’s easy to understand Southern Rock stalwarts like Skynyrd fitting the Stagecoach bill in spite of their being non exactly country, Sunday night’s ultimate closer, Diplo, was a stretch for the festival. Diplo took over the tent, and proved one of the festival’s most epic acts of all. Perhaps electronic music came as a sort of cathartic release after three days jam-packed with country. Nevertheless, he came prepared, bringing out Sam Hunt and Cam at points during his set. His greatest triumph, however, came when he brought out Lil Nas X and none other than Billy Ray Cyrus for a live debut of the viral hit “Old Town Road” that drove the crowd absolutely wild.

As always, this year’s Stagecoach abounded with attractions extending well beyond the musical acts. A sure standout would be celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse — a perfect fit for the festival, in that he bases his whole brand on a lack of pretension, which is very much what country music embodies. Of course, there was plenty of day drinking, with saloons strategically situated at convenient locations, including the Houston Brothers’ standout the Cabin, and a festival staple the “Honky Tonk Dance Hall,” where country DJs cranked out tunes to a packed, fun-loving dancefloor.

And so you have it — an influx of the heartland into California, and a well coordinated one, at that. Country music needs to be celebrated, and Stagecoach is doing just that, with a bang. The weekend saw a well-curated set of performances that captured the spirit of country. The fair share of the year’s acts outside the genre’s confines broadened the festival’s appeal, and added a new spark to the festivities. Although a source of some contention among purists, Stagecoach 2019 was undeniably a success, showing much exciting promise for the shape of country music festivals to come.

The 2019 Stagecoach Festival took place April 26-28 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA.