Once again, the danced-out EDM crowd and overdressed hipsters who flocked in droves to Coachella over the last two weekends have moved on to fresher pastures, leaving Indio, Calif., wide open for the pickup truck, RV and cowboy hat community that rides in for 2015's Stagecoach Country Music Festival this weekend.
After last year's bro-country blowout with headliners Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Eric Church, the pendulum swings back toward country's family tradition for the ninth annual gathering, with two of the genre's highest-profile power couples represented as headliners at each of the three night's shows: Tim McGraw on Friday (though there's no word on whether his wife, Faith Hill, will make an appearance too), Miranda Lambert on Saturday and her hubby, Blake Shelton, on Sunday.
Where Coachella is a smorgasbord of what's hot and hip in indie rock, pop and dance music, Stagecoach is virtually two distinct festivals in one: First, there's the mainstream country that occupies the Mane Stage all day every day. In contrast to Coachella's population, most Mane Stage habitués throw down their blankets and lawn chairs and pretty much stay rooted to their homestead for the next 72 hours.
This year, in addition to the big-gun headliners, those Mane Stagers include such radio-friendly acts as Jake Owen, Kip Moore and fast-rising, left-of-center singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves on Friday; Dierks Bentley, Justin Moore, the Eli Young Band and third-season "Voice" winner Cassadee Pope on Saturday; and, on Sunday, the Band Perry, Sara Evans and Jerrod Niemann setting the stage for Shelton's festival closing set.
Then there's the other, quirkier half of Stagecoach: the part the shines light on country veterans, intriguing newcomers and assorted progressive roots-music acts.
In 2015, that translates to Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, Vince Gill's moonlighting swing band the Time Jumpers, "Urban Cowboy" star (and Jerry Lee Lewis cousin) Mickey Gilley, reunited avant-bluegrass band Hot Rize, neo-traditionalist singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson, L.A.'s Haden Triplets and the counter-bro-country insurgent female upstart duo Maddie & Tae.
Goldenvoice chief Paul Tollett, who oversees all the lineups for Coachella and Stagecoach, also has a few rock veterans on tap for this year, over at the Palomino Stage: ZZ Top and Gregg Allman, who play back to back Saturday, and "Delaware Destroyer" blues-rocker George Thorogood (& the Destroyers) and R&B-blues veteran Eric Burdon (with the latest incarnation of his British Invasion band the Animals) on Sunday.
The smaller Mustang Stage belongs to the festival's up-and-comers, with fresh faces including Granbury, Texas, country singer Jason Eady, Nashville-based Americana singer-songwriter Luke Amelang, the Ben Miller Band, bluegrass band Old Salt Union, Boston alt-country band Della Mae, Vermont singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell and western swing sibling group the Quebe Sisters Band.
When it launched in 2007, Stagecoach boasted four stages, only to scale back in subsequent years; this year, however, the fourth space is back. The Honkytonk dance hall, much like Coachella's Sahara tent, will provide a place for the line-dancing inclined, along with DJs spinning country records and the sporadic live performance. Crucially, it also offers an air-conditioned respite from the desert heat and occasional windstorms that visit the Empire Polo Field during its music weekends.
For the uninitiated, Stagecoach is more of a Newport Folk Festival than a Coachella. It boasts more family-oriented activities like kids' craft booths, a greater number of retails booths (while some Coachella goers may look down their noses at relentless advertising, Stagecoach crowds can't get enough), and a section devoted to samplings of barbecue from a dozen or more vendors who set up their oil-drum smokers and other kitchen equipment for the three-day event.
Selfie sticks are still banned, however.