It was the moment the hardiest of festivalgoers had been fantasizing about.
At the end of the 2019 Stagecoach country music festival in Indio, after Sunday’s headliner Jason Aldean capped the three-day event featuring performances by nearly 75 bands, solo artists and deejays for a crowd of 80,000, a couple thousand never-say-die enthusiasts headed back to the Palomino tent for the first official on-site after-party in Stagecoach history.
DJ Diplo held court for an hour, weaving country tracks into his pulsing dance-floor mixes, reaching beyond the standard EDM playlist to include the square-dance standard “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” as well as general crowd-pleasers such as Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
He teased onlookers and dancers first with guest appearances by two of the festival’s featured acts, Cam and Sam Hunt, the latter eliciting shrieks from the predominantly female audience when he launched into his 2017 hit “Body Like a Back Road.”
Then Diplo turned them positively ecstatic as the midnight hour drew near, alluding to “the biggest song on the planet right now” and welcoming rapper Lil Nas X and ’90s country star Billy Ray Cyrus to join him for the first live performance of “Old Town Road,” now in its third consecutive week atop the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Throughout the weekend, the track had generated cheers whenever it blared over the house PA system between acts. But the live version was another thing entirely, instigating the full flowering of a field of cellphone cameras thrust into the air while Lil Nas X bounded around the stage and Cyrus played the role of Old West guitar slinger.
There was no trace of mixed reaction from the Stagecoach crowd that has greeted the recording elsewhere, polarizing some country fans as to whether it’s a heartfelt homage or tongue-in-cheek send-up of country-music conventions.
Singer Luke Combs, who performed Saturday ahead of Hunt on the Stagecoach Mane Stage, told The Times, “Yeah, it’s pretty catchy. But I feel there’s a little bit of sarcasm there I don’t necessarily appreciate. I feel like I’m being poked fun at a bit. Country music is near and dear to my heart, and one of the things that’s most important to me is that the music should be taken seriously.”
Billboard takes its definition of country music so seriously that it withdrew “Old Town Road” from its Hot Country Songs chart after declaring that it “does not embrace enough elements of today's country music to chart in its current version.”
That’s when Cyrus stepped in. No stranger to controversy, dating back to his pop-minded 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart,” he quickly collaborated with Lil Nas X on a remix which helped propel the song to No. 1.
The Stagecoach summit was more than a one-off: It was the launch pad for yet another “Old Town Road” remix, this one by Diplo, who has a country project of his own brewing. The first release out of that new direction is the single “So Long,” featuring Cam, and the number she sang with him Sunday.