Stagecoach 2017 gets underway with the Blasters, Justin Townes Earle, Bailey Bryan and Cactus Blossoms

A key question surfaces with the dawn of each new edition of the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio: Just what is country music these days? As this year’s installment got underway Friday at the Empire Polo Field just a week after its bigger, older sibling Coachella, a variety of potential answers sprouted up in the early going.

Is country the pop-leaning ear candy of a newcomer such as Sequim, Wash., singer-songwriter Bailey Bryan, who had the honor and challenge of being the first act to set foot on the festival’s gargantuan Mane Stage as the sun blazed overhead and a trickle of festival-goers staked out their homesteads with blankets and picnic chairs across the vast expanse of grassy territory in front of that stage?

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Is it still relevant to use the word “country” to describe the sweet, down-home harmonizing of Jack Torrey and Page Burkum of Minnesota’s Cactus Blossoms, as they paid homage to the sibling singer tradition of the Everly Brothers and the Louvin Brothers?


Or is it the literate and twangy Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired swamp rock of alt-country scion Justin Townes Earle, who looked out as he sang “Champagne Corolla” at several dozens fans scattered under the smaller Mustang Stage tent?

Singer-spngwriter Justin Townes Earle, right, plays early Friday at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival.
(Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times)

Or is it more fundamentally the eerie country blues that L.A.’s long-running roots-rockabilly band the Blasters spun out in the haunting “Dark Night” at the far end of the festival grounds in the Palomino?

The truth, of course, is country is all of the above, and more as the diverse lineup of some 70-plus acts will attest over the next three days.


As the worlds biggest top-grossing country music gathering — it is expected to draw 75,000 people a day through Sunday — Stagecoach casts its talent net far and wide, as evidenced by a sampling of some of the others that will play this weekend.

There are marquee powerhouses such as Kenny Chesney, Shania Twain and Dierks Bentley, country and country-rock veterans including Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis and Wynonna Judd, left-field choices such as Texas artist-songwriter Terry Allen and East L.A. roots band Los Lobos and wild cards such as the Hillbenders, a group that will stage a bluegrass version of the Who’s rock opera “Tommy” on Sunday.

If country can be defined, it might be more relevant to outline what it isn’t, namely whatever was out here in the same space for the previous two weekends at Coachella: electronic dance music, indie rock, R&B and hip-hop, although truth be told some Stagecoach acts dip the toes of their boots into one or more of those fields as well.

Whatever the definition, the elements for another evaluation are all in place. Let the debate begin.


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