Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

What a treat, going to my first Stagecoach.

I have many pleasant memories of past Coachella fests, and I was fortunate enough to attend the legendary Desert Trip, so the grounds were familiar to me—but here, they were just a little more country, as the Osmonds like to say.

I saw lots of guys wearing $21.95 straw cowboy hats from a company that makes tractor supplies … and I must confess that I bought one, too, solely for the UV protection. I only spotted one MAGA hat—worn by a college-age lad sporting his finest preppy look. But everyone was friendly and pleasant, even when I bumped into people rushing to the stage.

On Friday, Kane Brown started his 7:30 p.m. set with “Cold Spot”: “It’s 4:30 Friday; I get off at 5. I come into your place, you come into mine. Got a bottle of Jack and cheap red wine; yeah, our own little world. Wanna open ’em up, close all the doors, spin you around on that kitchen floor.”

Brown then pivoted: “This song goes back to the ’60s. Are you ready?” he asked as he introduced “Stand by Me.” He then changed gears again with “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill and “Jump” by Kriss Kross. “Used to Love You Sober,” the 2015 single that helped lead Brown to the Mane Stage, was followed by his wonderful song “Heaven.”

After his set, I moseyed on over to the Honky Tonk Hall—which was incredible. They had me at the ice-cold AC. Dancers two-stepped as DJs pumped tunes by Luke Bryan.

I then moseyed back to the Main Stage to see Luke Bryan himself. Kicking things off with “Country Girl” and a request for him to “shake it”—he obliged on the edge of the stage—Bryan then introduced the audience to the new delish song “Knockin’ Boots.”

Bryan shared fan favorite “All My Friends Say,” adding: “You gotta be kissing upon someone tonight.”

A jubilant Bryan bantered: “Stagecoach, what’s up? Good God, there’s a lot people here. Pace yourself; I don’t know how you drink. Raise your hands if you have to pee right now. … I played with Phil Mickelson today; he whipped my ass.”

A bit later, Bryan asked the audience: “Do you want to do some old-school country music tonight?” before performing a cover of Alabama’s “Mountain Music,” with the heartfelt words, “Oh play me some mountain music, like Grandma and Grandpa used to play. Then I’ll float on down the river to the Cajun hideaway.”

Clearly having fun, Bryan sang “Rain Is a Good Thing,” with those drunken lyrics: “Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky … we hunt our hunnies down; we take them into town.”

Luke’s headlining performance was a great way to end Stagecoach’s first day. As I left the grounds, I observed many fans in apparent physical distress due to their new cowboy boots—but they still had smiles on their faces.

Saturday was another great day—Sam Hunt put on a fine show, but the highlight was arguably Lynyrd Skynyrd’s likely final Stagecoach appearance, which you can read all about here.

On Sunday, Terri Clark informed her Palomino Stage audience: “This is a festival with lots of beer, so if you are not involved now, you will be by the end of the night.”

She continued: “I get letters about this song. A husband made a headboard out of wood with the title of this song,” before performing hit “Now That I Found You.”

Illness-related cancellations by Mark Chesnutt on the Palomino Stage and Jordan Davis on the Mane Stage led to some schedule changes. Danielle Bradbery moved into Jordan Davis’ time slot—and she wound up being one of the weekend’s highlights. Just 22, she dominated the Mane Stage with her magnetism and vocal talent. “Red Wine + White Couch” was fantastic, as was her cover of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.

Whitey Morgan personified the music your grandpa or grandma would play back in the golden age of country. Stage props included an old Valvoline oil can—and I suspect the gents on the stage were very capable of changing their own oil.

I ran over to see Lauren Alaina on the Mane Stage; she has a popish country sound and is an incredible performer—still true to her country roots.

Oh … and then there was Tom Jones performing on the Palomino Stage. As I walked over, two women sitting on a planter asked me to their picture. They said they saw Tom Jones back when they were 19, a few decades ago.

I was worried about going into the photo pit and suffering a possible injury caused by thrown undergarments—but this was Jones’ gospel-musical act, and fans restrained themselves. After talking about singing with Elvis, he sang Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” He has not lost his touch; the women in the audience were all eyes and ears as his voice launched musical love arrows with his original song “Sex Bomb.”

Old Dominion was awesome on the Mane Stage, featuring popular songs such as “Be With Me, “Hotel Key” and “Not Everything’s About You.”

Jason Aldean headlined on Sunday, to a sea of people in every direction. His set included “Rearview Town,” released as a single earlier this year. He also sang my favorite song of his, “Any Ol’ Barstool,” from his seventh studio album, They Don’t Know. But his song “Crazy Town” really hit home, because it reminded me of this festival with the words: “Hollywood with a touch of twang, to be a star you gotta bang, bang, bang.” It was a metaphor, perhaps, for the beauty and the glitz—but more importantly, it was a reminder that you have got to bang, bang, bang that hammer, or that computer, to pay your dues and make it in this thing we call life.

I literally ran into Diplo in the Mane Stage photo pit on Saturday—but I couldn’t really get close to him for his Sunday after-party. It got there early, and it was already packed. Access to the photo pit was closed to all media—which hinted at a few surprises, as VIPs replaced media photographers. An hour earlier, I’d run into a model from L.A. who said she’d heard Miley Cyrus was going to perform—but instead, we got her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, with Lil Nas X. Diplo was enthusiastic, saying, “I can’t believe how many people stayed so late,” but the Palomino was packed with people wanting to party. As a light rain started to fall, everyone was dancing to the genre-bending remix of “Old Town Road.”

Stagecoach did it again—creating a joyous and well-organized festival that was inclusive to all.

Published in Reviews

Whitey Morgan and the 78’s music is called “outlaw country” by some.

Whitey, however, doesn’t care for the word “outlaw” when it comes to his band—and many other bands as well.

The band will return to Stagecoach on Sunday, April 28, after playing the festival for the first time in 2016.

Whitey Morgan, whose real name is Eric Allen, is originally from Flint, Mich. During a recent phone interview, he talked about his upbringing in the town that has become part of the national conversation due to the American auto industry’s problems, as well as the town’s drinking-water catastrophe.

“It was a typical Midwestern industrial town,” Allen said. “Dad worked in the factory, and Mom didn’t work. My grandpa was retired, and I spent a lot of time with him, and that’s where I learned a lot about country music. I got in a lot of schoolyard fights and stuff like that when I was a kid. I don’t know if we were lower class or lower-middle class; in fact, I don’t even know what that means. I know that I never went hungry, but we damn well didn’t have anything that wasn’t necessary.”

Allen said he was fortunate to go to a diverse school.

“The school I went to was in a white neighborhood, but they bused in the black and Mexican kids from the other parts of the town,” he said. “We had poor white kids, poor black kids and poor Mexican kids. … It’s when you’re young, and everyone is the same to you. It wasn’t until I went out in the world that I learned how terrible people are, what they think about each other, and all that other shit. … It’s amazing that people who haven’t been around other races of people are the most racist of people. It’s kind of like you’re talking shit on something you know nothing about, but that seems to be the American way: People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

I asked him about the term “outlaw country.”

“The way the whole outlaw thing was … Willie, Waylon and the guys who were already on major labels … who weren’t getting as much traction as they would have liked had a lot of opinions on how they wanted their music to sound,” Allen said. “They eventually decided, ‘If I’m not going to do it my way, I’m not going to do it at all.’ When they said that to the record company, (the company) buckled, which created this outlaw thing. That’s the true meaning of the word. I think they just throw that word around too loosely—especially if you have long hair, a long beard and tattoos, and play a little louder than any other band. I’ve never really liked labels and don’t like labeling things. You can do things outside of the box and still be true to yourself.

“It’s kind of annoying, because people describe themselves with that label, and it’s like, ‘No, you’re definitely not that. Stop trying to call yourself that.’ It’s easy for them to just label themselves that, because maybe they’re searching for who they are.”

As a songwriter, Allen is able to take the dark sides of life—subjects such as drinking, heartbreak and regrets—and turn them into fun country songs.

“I’ve noticed in the last four or five years that I’ve learned that I kind of hear every song that way: Every song that’s about drinking or doing something else is already dark in itself,” he said. “There’s that old line that you can be at a party, and you’re still standing in a corner alone. I hear these people saying they’re going to live with no regrets, and that is such bullshit. I don’t know anyone who isn’t going to have some regrets about things they’ve done or what they haven’t been able to do. It’s really hard to combine all that, and I just naturally do it because of the life I live. It’s great out here on the road sometimes; it’s great to be drinking and partying and hanging out with different people all the time. At the same time all that stuff is happening, my body is wearing out; my mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be; and that equation ends up being what you hear on my record, I guess.”

As the popularity of Whitey Morgan and the 78’s has grown in recent years, so, too, has the size of the venues in which the band plays.

“I’m glad that we’re graduating to some of the nicer theaters and things like that, but there’s something that feels at home in a 300-seat rowdy honky tonk or a place where everyone is standing up,” Allen said. “That energy is just thick in the air. I love that, and that will always feel like home to me. But I like the nicer theaters with the better sound, and things go easier. When you’re on the road a lot, the little things that could go wrong can start to wear on you. There are all these triggers to set you off. To have less of those on a long tour is definitely a plus. But I’ve walked into places where I’ve placed twice, and don’t remember playing there, but I’ll walk into the green room and be like, ‘Oh, I remember this green room!’ or, ‘I remember that restaurant next door that we ate at!’ After a while, you grab on to the really shitty things or the really positive things—and the things in between can be forgotten.”

Allen said playing at festivals presents a unique set of challenges.

“Festivals are always a little different for me,” he said. “Just playing outdoors has been a challenge, because I don’t get that vibe I get in a dark bar. One thing I learned early on is: Drink lots of water. Don’t only drink whiskey, because you’re not Superman. I try to focus on playing the songs, because that’s a venue where a lot of stuff could go wrong. When you’re the sixth band of the day going in, you think they have everything figured out, and we go to start playing—there’s nothing even on, and the stage is dead. We’re half a song in, and it shuts back off. I’m looking at the sound guy and wondering what the hell is happening.

“I’ve had some nightmares happen that make me wary when I step onto a festival stage. Unless you’re the headliner who got a two-hour soundcheck, and they have your shit saved in the board—that’s one thing. But if you have 45 minutes to play and 20 minutes to get your gear up, you play for 25 minutes before you’re finally warmed up. When we’re done, it’s like, ‘Shit, we were just getting warmed up.’”

I asked Allen what he would recommend to a Stagecoach attendee who partied a little too hard the night before.

“Obviously, water. I’m big on Gatorade and water immediately,” he said. “In Southern California, it’d be a big plate of enchiladas, beans and rice. Maybe a margarita. I mean, realistically, the only thing to cure a hangover is to have a drink. Just do one margarita; it’ll take the edge off.”

Published in Previews