INDIO — "Thank you, Coachella!" shouted Charles Kelley from the main stage Saturday night at Stagecoach — and, sure, he might've been referring to the desert valley in which the Empire Polo Club is located. More likely, though, was that Lady Antebellum's frontman momentarily forgot which festival he was headlining.
You couldn't really blame him. One of country's most openly pop-oriented outfits, Lady Antebellum doesn't share much with the surly Toby Keith (who topped Friday night's bill) or the jammy Zac Brown Band (which is to close the festival Sunday). There's roots music in the group's sound — in the lightly twangy guitars and in Kelley's and Hillary Scott's close vocal harmonies — but not much more than there is in that of, say, the Lumineers, who played Coachella.
Give the guy some time (and maybe a collaboration with Coldplay's Chris Martin) and he might actually end up at Indio's other big show.
Until then, Lady Antebellum will have to settle for glossing up country festivals, which it did with little strain over the course of a tidy 90-minute set packed with hits such as "Just a Kiss," "American Honey" and "Lookin' for a Good Time." It also previewed a handful of tunes from a new album due out next month, including the innocently funky "Downtown" and "Golden," a lovely folk-soul ballad. And Kelley brought out his pal Dierks Bentley for a lukewarm rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire."
Bentley preceded Lady Antebellum on the main stage Saturday, and though he easily charmed the crowd with his regular-dude banter, songs like "Come a Little Closer" and "Home" landed with little impact. His problem wasn't a lack of ambition: An arena-rock aspirant obsessed with bluegrass, Bentley was trying his best to supersize down-home verities for an audience numbering in the tens of thousands. But the music felt hollow — all volume with no density.
More exciting than either of those marquee names were two marquee names from previous eras: Dwight Yoakam and Marty Stuart, both of whom played electrifying sets Saturday on Stagecoach's smaller stages.
Yoakam in particular was great, powering through old stuff like "Little Sister" and tunes from last year's "3 Pears" with a driving intensity sharpened by years spent on the road. He flexed that experience too when he forgot the words (or pretended to forget the words) to "Streets of Bakersfield," then ad-libbed a new line about spending some time in Coachella.
Perhaps he and Kelley can have a beer there.
Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood