INDIO >> Gusty winds and even rain-threatening clouds couldn’t put a damper on the eighth annualStagecoach Country Music Festival as thousands of fans kicked up dirt for a boot-stompin’ celebration of all-things Americana.
The festival, the largest outdoor country music event of its kind in Southern California, helped wrap up a back-to-back-to-back month of music at the Empire Polo Fields that hosted two weekends of theCoachella Valley Music and Arts Festival before country music-loving fans charged the area Friday.
“It’s beautiful here, with beautiful people,” said 30-year-old Paul Muz of Edmonton, Canada.
While it was Muz’s first time at Stagecoach, this wasn’t his first country music festival and for the Canadian, Stagecoach is definitely one of the best so far — it’s no wonder celebrity couple Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are Stagecoach regulars.
Muz particularly enjoyed Jake Owen’s performance on the festival’s first night, including Owen’s cover of “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” The song was made a hit by Drake, who also performed the hit during both weekends of his headlining Coachella sets.
“This weekend has been awesome,” said Sgt. Dan Marshall, spokesman for the Indio Police Department, who has helped manage operations during all three music festival weekends. “Wind is notorious out here during this time, so we knew that one of the music festivals were going to get hit. But even though it happened this weekend, it didn’t dampen anybody’s spirits.”
By the Stagecoach’s last day, the desert weather was near perfect for the outdoor festival with blue skies, highs just below 90 degrees and a nighttime low of 72.
Stagecoach veteran Miranda Lambert, who performed at the first desert country music festival in 2007, was happy to be back this year as part of astrong contingent of female country music performers like Kacey Musgraves, Clare Dunn and Pegi Young.
“It’s so good to be back at Stagecoach tonight,” Lambert told the Saturday night crowd after performing “Over You,” the award-winning song she wrote with her husband and Stagecoach’s Sunday headliner Blake Shelton.
Stagecoach performer and Arkansas native Justin Moore understands the draw. He performed in 2012 and on Saturday, as Moore commanded a sea of fans holding up their cellphones during his evening set on the Toyota Mane Stage, it was clear he was stunned.
“We play a lot of festivals, but this right here tops it all,” Moore told fans.
The event, which has become known as “Ragecoach” to thousands of partying festivalgoers, did have its moments from a fistfight in the middle of ZZ Top’s set on Saturday to a homophobic T-shirt being sold on festival grounds. Both issues, however, were quickly remedied, with Goldenvoice, producers of both Coachella and Stagecoach, confirming the shirt vendor was removed from Stagecoach entirely on Saturday.
But again, that didn’t stop fans — or performers — from having a great time.
Dierks Bentley — another Stagecoach veteran whose fans are already calling the MVP of the weekend-long festival — downed a beer on stage, crowd surfed and more during a rousing performance Saturday night, andMaddie & Tae sparked a mass line dancing party on the field Sunday.
“We were doing the Tush Push,” said 21-year-old Jacqui Butler of San Bernardino, who helped start the dancing during Maddie & Ta’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” “It was cool. We started doing it, and everybody jumped in. It was like a flash mob.”
Elsewhere at the Half-Pint Hootenanny, the next generation of cowboys and cowgirls were having fun with Western-themed games, crafts and more.
Christine Gilbert, 42, of Indio was watching her 3-year-old daughter Margaret build a sand castle at the family-friendly section of the festival, and it didn’t seem like the little cowgirl was going to budge.
“I want to stay here,” Margaret said, while using a small orange shovel to maneuver the sand.
“She would stay another hour, if I let her,” Gilbert said with a laugh.
When asked if she wanted to leave, Margaret answered “no!”
Other Stagecoach festivalgoers felt the same, flooding social media feeds with posts asking for the weekend to never end.
For Ernst and Ellen Severinsen, both 63, the country music festival is just part of an annual getaway. The two wore matching shirts made by their son that read: “I traveled 7,000 miles from Norway just for Stagecoach.”
“It’s so worth it for the people and the music and the nature,” Ellen Severinsen said of their more than 11-hour flight to Palm Springs.
This is the Severinsen’s sixth year at Stagecoach, and as the Eli Young Band performed on the Toyota Mane Stage behind them on Saturday, the two couldn’t stop toe-tapping.
“What can we say?” said Ernst Severinsen, with a laugh. “We love the music.”