The biggest difference immediately apparent at Friday’s opening day of the 2015 Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio is just how much bigger it's gotten.
By the time headliner Tim McGraw took the Mane Stage following performances by nearly two dozen acts spread out over the festival’s four performance spaces, the sea of yee-haw humanity stretched about as far as the eye could see in all directions.
It was no desert mirage: Where total attendance last year totaled about 190,000 over the three-day event (according to Pollstar, the concert industry tracking publication), this year that figure will be up more than 18% to around 225,000, Stagecoach’s newly appointed festival talent buyer, Stacy Vee, told The Times on Friday.
That breaks down to daily paid of attendance of 70,000, where sales were capped this year, plus an additional 5,000 each day in guests of various bands and others, Vee said.
By way of comparison, the Country Thunder festival in Florence, Ariz., which was just named country festival of the year at the 50th Academy of Country Music Awards in Dallas, draws about half that much over the course of its four-day annual run. Luke Bryan set a one-day Country Thunder attendance record this year, playing to 27,500 on April 12.
“They’ve been around for a long time, and I think the people in Nashville look at Paul and me as ‘those people with that festival out in California,'” Vee said, chatting from her vantage point in front of the Palomino Stage, just after hot newcomer Sturgill Simpson’s set and before the Time Jumpers western swing band, which includes Country Music Hall of Fame singer, songwriter and guitarist Vince Gill, was about to play.
Vee has been working closely with Goldenvoice President and Chief Executive Paul Tollett for 13 years, and this is the first year she’s taken over fully booking the acts for Stagecoach.
“I’ve been going to the 'college of seeing how Paul does this,' and it seemed like a natural evolution,” she said of her promotion in February to festival talent buyer for Stagecoach and for Goldenvoice’s more recent addition, the Big Barrel Country Music Festival in Dover, Del.
"Her appreciation for all the different types of country music, combined with the relationships she's established in Nashville, made this role a natural fit for her,” Tollett said in a statement at the time, announcing her new role at the company he’s headed since the 1990s.
This year that translates into a characteristically diverse bill of mainstream heavy-hitters including McGraw, Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, newer-generation hit-makers such as the Band Perry, Jake Owen, Justin Moore and the Eli Young Band, revered veterans Merle Haggard and Mickey Gilley, critical darlings including Steve Earle, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson and a few left-field classic-rock acts expected to go over well with country fans, including ZZ Top and Eric Burdon & the Animals.
“I love that we can book acts just because they’re good and we love them,” said Vee, who added that she visits Nashville at least four times a year among her travels in search of new performers to add to the festivals’ lineups.
Goldenvoice partnered with concert promoter AEG Live in 2001, after the inaugural Coachella Music and Arts Festival nearly bankrupted the former company, and subsequently built Coachella into what is widely regarded as the most prestigious and influential contemporary music festival in the world.
Tollett and his partners spun off Stagecoach as the country cousin to Coachella in 2007, and since then it has become the biggest country festival in the world, according to Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar.
And only getting bigger, it would seem.