INDIO -- It didn’t take long Friday for Stagecoach -- the three-day country-music jamboree set to run through Sunday night at the Empire Polo Club -- to differentiate itself from the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which took over the same sun-scorched setting for two weekends earlier this month.
“I kind of think of this next one as if Rachel Maddow and Ann Coulter went on a blind date -- with an open bar,” said Hayes Carll, introducing his song “Another Like You.” The wry Texas-based singer-songwriter was only a few tunes into his early-afternoon set on the Palomino Stage, but already he was injecting a shot of politics that Coachella, with its entitled-hippie vibe, seemed to lack this year.
Stagecoach is likely to feature more cultural commentary in the hours to come: Friday night’s headliners are Toby Keith and Hank Williams Jr., neither of whom is known to shy away from speaking his mind.
The festival is also certain to reflect the country community’s loss Friday morning of George Jones, whose influence looms large over virtually every act scheduled to play this weekend.
“He was so important to the music going on here -- to the foundation of all this,” said one Stagecoach attendee, Rose Alsup of Palm Springs.
Other differences between Coachella and Stagecoach were emerging Friday, including the much heavier presence of corporate branding -- it’s hard to miss the Toyota World of Wonders -- and the switch in official festival beer from Heineken to Bud Light. The crowd here is smaller, as well, with a capacity of 55,000. (While Coachella sold out quickly, general-admission Stagecoach tickets for the full weekend were still available Friday afternoon at $239 a pop.)
Still, the dry desert heat remains essentially the same, as does the sight of many, many half-dressed young people sauntering across the polo field.
And, of course, there’s a similarly stacked bill, which in addition to Friday’s performers includes Lady Antebellum, Dwight Yoakam, Darius Rucker, Marty Stuart, the Zac Brown Band, Charley Pride and dozens more.
Pop & Hiss will be here for it all. Stay with us, won’t you?
Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood