Stagecoach: It's a frequent-riders program

Country music fans may well experience déjà vu in the desert for the 2011 Stagecoach festival. All this year's headliners are making return appearances, with Kenny Chesney topping a Stagecoach bill for the third time come Saturday.

"We'd have him every year if he'd do it," said Paul Tollett, the Goldenvoice promotions chief overseeing the third straight weekend at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio after Coachella two weeks ago and the Big 4 metal festival last weekend.

Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood, the marquee names who close the show Sunday, are back for their second Stagecoach dates, as will be rocker-turned-country singer Darius Rucker, making his return engagement Saturday preceding Chesney on the Mane Stage.

That primary performance area also will include rising acts Chris Young, Steel Magnolia and Stealing Angels on Saturday and Josh Turner, Easton Corbin, Joanna Smith and the Harters on Sunday.

Highlights on the smaller stages for Saturday include songwriting bards Kris Kristofferson (a late sub for Loretta Lynn, who canceled because she's recuperating from recent knee surgery) and Rodney Crowell as well as the retro-country duo the Secret Sisters on the Palomino Stage and multiple award-winning bluegrass singer-fiddler Rhonda Vincent and the Punch Brothers as well as the novelty-with-serious-chops band the Cleverlys on the Mustang Stage.

Continuing his late-career renaissance, Leon Russell will bring his band to the Palomino Stage on Sunday ahead of alt-country singer k.d. lang and her Siss Boom Bang band, '50s rocker Wanda Jackson, guit-steel master Junior Brown and singer-songwriter-guitarist Rosie Flores. Ricky Skaggs diverges from the acoustic bluegrass and gospel path he's tried in recent years to revisit his plugged-in, trad-country catalog on Sunday at the Mustang Stage, which also features dobro master Jerry Douglas' trio and the Coal Porters, the U.K.-based alt-bluegrass group fronted by former L.A. alt-country musician Sid Griffin of the Long Ryders.

Tollett said because of the reconfiguration of the grounds for this year's festivals that adds 5 acres of land, attendance will be capped at 55,000 per day, up from 50,000 last year.

"We've moved the vendors and the food and the barbecue to the terrace area," Tollett said, "so it should feel even more spacious this year."

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