The first impression created by the roster of headliners for the 2018 edition of the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, Calif. — Garth Brooks, Keith Urban and Florida Georgia Line — is that the same principle that's ruled country radio in recent years is now true of the world's biggest country fest too: It's a man's, man's, man's world.
But looking beyond the names at the top of each day's talent roster, it's readily apparent that Stagecoach's mission to extend more attention to the genre's female artists will continue unabated, including a new showcase in front of the Mane Stage.
Among the women on the bill for the festival, set for April 27-29, are Kacey Musgraves, Trisha Yearwood, Kelsea Ballerini, Brandy Clark, Tanya Tucker, Lillie Mae, Carly Pearce, Ashley McBryde, Jade Bird, Jade Jackson, Jillian Jacqueline, Lindsay Ell, Runaway June and two-thirds of the trio Temecula Road.
"There is a lot of really exciting female talent in country right now, and I wanted to do my part to support them," said Stagecoach talent booker Stacy Vee, promoter Goldenvoice's director of festival talent. "Maybe being on Stagecoach can make the difference for them."
To that end, she's giving much of the event's new performance platform over to rising female artists, dubbed SiriusXM's Spotlight Stage. In addition to the usual trio of stages — the Mane, Palomino and Mustang — the B Stage has been added to the grounds in front of the Mane Stage to highlight emerging acts.
"I always want to keep it interesting and fresh at Stagecoach," Vee said. "I felt there was an abundance of developing stuff and wanted to figure out a way to support it. I created this idea to add the [new] Stage and feature an eclectic blend of up-and-comers."
By putting a stage out where the crowd typically builds in front of the Mane in anticipation of the headliners, Vee also positions the rising artists closer to fans. In years past, acts scheduled early in the day played a vast expanse of open land in front of the Mane Stage reserved for VIP pass holders.
"It will run from noon to 4 every day, and then the Mane Stage will open," Vee said. "This will make it more close and intimate for the fans, and it will be a better experience for the artists. It'll be a great way for fans in general admission and people sitting in lawn chairs and on blankets to get some intimate performances. These sets also will be projected on the screens at the Mane Stage, so everyone else will be able to see them too."
Musgraves, who has played Stagecoach previously, has worked her way up to pre-headliner status, opening on April 28 for Urban.
"She's going to have a new album — I don't know when, but she's another one who's been out there supporting some pop acts, while at the same time she is one of the more traditional country artists," Vee said. "I love everything she embraces: her personality, commitment, and she's a hard worker. She's not taking the traditional party — she's totally carving her own path."
Musgraves' rise up the Stagecoach ladder is another manifestation of the attitude she expressed to The Times backstage when she last played the festival in 2015.
"It's funny. It can seem like you come out of left field for people, but it's something I've been working toward for so long," she said. "But it's OK — a slow build is OK for me. I feel like I'm really falling into knowing what I want to sound like, what I want to say. I feel like that just gets easier with time. So I'm not impatient about anything."
Ballerini also will be on the Mane Stage, on Friday's lineup topped by Florida Georgia Line. "We got a taste of her last year when she came out with Shania Twain," Vee said. "This girl is a pro, and just watching her last year, I was going to do everything I could to get her on this year's show."
In general, Stagecoach 2018 demonstrates the festival signature mix of superstars, country veterans, Americana acts, emerging talent and classic-rock acts.
The latter category will include Southern rock bands Molly Hatchet and the Georgia Satellites. The veteran component includes Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap and Tanya Tucker, and Vee also decided to give a Stagecoach slot to veteran Canadian folk-rocker Gordon Lightfoot.
"This is my fifth year trying to get him," Vee said. "He's somebody who just belongs at Stagecoach — in terms of songwriting, he's a legend. He's really going to add something special, something serious. I love to have a great time, but Stagecoach also prides itself on bringing authentic artists, and Gordon is definitely in that class."
Other critically acclaimed artists among nearly four dozen acts at Stagecoach include Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Dwight Yoakam, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and singer-songwriter-fiddler Lille Mae.
As for the guys at the top of each day's lineup? It's all about the party.
"We love Stagecoach," Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley said in a joint statement. "We've played there several times, so to be headlining — we could not be more excited. We're gonna throw the biggest party of the year. I hope you all are ready."
And of Brooks' presence next year, Vee said, "Everyone knows that Stagecoach is the biggest country music festival in the world, and Garth is coming with the specific purpose of making it the biggest party on the planet."
Follow @RandyLewis2 on Twitter.com