Boot stomping, line dancing, country twang, shirtless cowboys, the smell of leather. These are all things I anticipated as I made my way over to Indio, California, for the ever-popular Stagecoach Music Festival. My excitement had been building for months, and I was finally ready to see what all the hooplah was about, to experience the soul of country, feel understood and healed, and show the world what a country girl really is.
As I stepped foot into the dusty, crowded, and 85% inebriated horde of people, I was embraced with a feeling of belonging. This festival was about so much more than the genre of country music; it was the soul that connects it all. It wasn’t about seeing how drunk you could get (but let me tell you, some people thought it was). It wasn’t about who could show off the most cleavage (but again, some tried their darn best). It was about coming together and listening to good music. As a girl from southern California, I had never been in the presence of so many people that enjoyed country music before. I felt like I had found a family, a group of people that would welcome me with open arms, and never refer to me as “country trash.”
These were all feelings I had discovered before the music even began. And little did I know that once the sounds of boots walking on stage echoed throughout the audience, something new would emerge. Beers were put down, hats were put on, and the dancing began. In such a little amount of time, the music allowed me to find my rhythm, and my place within the mass of thousands.
The promise of a good time was not the only appeal to 2016 Stagecoach Festival. The line-up, when first released, made my heart stop. Performances ranged from headliner Carrie Underwood, to CCR’s John Fogerty. Dustin Lynch, Raelynn, and so many more amazing artists who would all be there for this one weekend, to play for the masses, and to keep the spirit of country music alive.
Of all of the performers promised to take the stage, I was most excited to see the coveted Sam Hunt, who can be considered the rising star of country music this year. Since his release of debut album Montevallo, Hunt has been taking the world by storm with his image, sound, and popular hits. After seeing Hunt perform front row a couple months back, I had an idea of what to expect when it came to his performance. But of course, I never expected what would be delivered on the “mane stage” halfway through his time slot.
Announcing that he had brought along a friend to perform with him, I immediately thought it would be another country music star. Boy, was I wrong. Because Hunt’s words ushered out G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha to join him on stage. I was baffled. As someone who listens to limited genres of music, I had no idea who these people were, but the second they started singing “Me, Myself & I,” I recognized the popular hit. The crowd was in awe, completely enjoying the unexpected surprise.
But that wasn’t the end of Hunt’s plans to make his performance memorable. Just seconds after the duo had completed their song, Hunt, seemingly trying to create an unforgettable experience, brought out the legendary Snoop Dogg. Never have I seen a crowd so in shock and excited for an artist before. These people, who most likely have never broken out of the country twang, immediately burst into singing the lyrics to “The Next Episode.” These rap stars performing at Stagecoach made me think of the future, where people aren’t criticized for the music they enjoy, but everyone can come together, and appreciate all that music has to offer.
And these performances weren’t the only time modern pop was brought into the country sound. It was refreshing to hear in the interludes between performances the music of Hozier and other artists alike playing from the sound system, as if it was an effort to cleanse our palates in between the boot stomping rhythms of Chris Young and A Thousand Horses. Even some of the artists performed songs outside of their genre. The Band Perry sang an amazing mash-up of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, “Sexyback” by Justin Timberlake, and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics. Luke Bryan also showed the world his goods singing along to “Talk Dirty,” by Jason Derulo. It was these mashups that brought me out of my Stagecoach bubble, and reminded me of the world outside of country music.
Each day went by, and with each passing second, I got the hang of how to make this festival my own. I knew how to avoid the drunks, which bathroom to walk to, and which food stands offered the best chicken tenders. I had mastered the festival just in time for it to end.
And as the cherry on top, Luke Bryan, the golden child of modern country, the 2016 CMA “Entertainer of the Year,” the silver platter upon the Stagecoach table, the yin to my yang, closed out the show in a breathtaking performance. Bryan’s set wasn’t just amazing because the drunk guy behind me who had been puking on and off for three hours straight was finally taken away by the medics. It was a show that reminded the world why he deserved to close the festival. He brought the energy and spirit of all country music in his thrilling stage presence, and glorious velvet voice.
Bryan took the stage, starting with his popular hit “Rain is a Good Thing,” and immediately began his signature move, gyrating and shaking his butt to the rhythm of his songs. Now let me tell you, this was my third time seeing Bryan perform live, and yet that shake never fails to liven up a crowd. There is no doubt in my mind that he should have closed out the show, because once I saw the audience–who had been tired after three days of walking, dancing, and drinking–get up and dance like they would die if they stopped, I realized how powerful Bryan was as a performer.
When the music finally stopped, and everyone started flooding out of the gates for the last time, I was hit with a sudden realization of how great this festival was. Every performer brought out emotions that I didn’t know I had, and each singer gave me a warm feeling inside that I had found a genre that accepted me.
I long to be back in that dusty field, listening to the sound of stories that bring me to tears, make me dance, and urge me to fall in love with country music all over again.