Monday, May 07, 2007
Stagecoach: What a ride
A week ago CNN Entertainment Correspondent Denise Quan went to Coachella, the annual California music festival that brings together dozens of bands and tens of thousands of people. She spent last weekend at Coachella's country cousin, Stagecoach, a new festival that featured 27 acts and attracted more than 55,000 concertgoers over two days. Here's her report:

'COUNTRY'S WOODSTOCK': It was the inaugural year of Southern California's Stagecoach country music festival –- and judging from the turnout, it won't be the last. Thousands of visitors showed up each day, cowboy hats on their heads and nylon folding chairs slung over their shoulders, to sample 27 acts over the two-day event, including headliners Kenny Chesney, Brooks and Dunn, Alan Jackson and George Strait. As artist Eric Church put it, "It's kind of like country’s Woodstock."

THE SCENE: Both Coachella and Stagecoach were held on the Empire Polo field in Indio, just outside Palm Springs. At Coachella, it was all about hipsters, tattoos and indie rock. At Stagecoach, the theme was families, quasi-cowboy garb and tunes with a twang.

CROWD PLEASERS: Even though there were four stages –- all with equestrian-themed names -– the audience was clearly there to see the big names on the Mane Stage. Besides the aforementioned headliners, fan favorites included Sara Evans, Gary Allan, Pat Green, Sugarland and newcomer Jason Michael Carroll, who said "Years from now, I can say, 'Yep! I played the first Stagecoach. We were the very first band on the Mane Stage that anybody heard.' That’s very cool."

STILL AN OUTLAW: Not unexpectedly, there was support for the military from several artists. Brooks and Dunn shot red, white and blue streamers into the audience during "Only in America," while men in uniform stood on the stage. Former Army captain (and Air Force general's son) Kris Kristofferson also dedicated a number off his current album to the troops, but in a riskier way for the conservative crowd. "This song goes out to all the veterans of Iraq who are opposed to the war in Iraq," he said quietly.

BIGGEST BUMMER: Over at the Palomino Stage, beloved songbird Emmylou Harris struggled to find an audience for her delicate set, while playing opposite the raucous boot-scootin' boogie of Brooks and Dunn on the Mane Stage, a couple of football fields away. To add to her woes, their highly amplified sound was clearly audible to her and her crowd, causing Harris to remark at one point, "I’m going to do this even if we have to compete with every other stage here."

CHUCK WAGON: Organizers say the Stagecoach crowd ate more than the Coachella crowd. And beer sales were up. Gone were Coachella's popular organic booths –- replaced by a rib cook-off ($2 a taste). Our non-official tastebuds went nuts for AZ Barbeque out of Phoenix.

A GOOD GAMBLE: Everyone seemed happy with the inaugural year of the two-day country music fest, from festival-goers and vendors to artists and the promoter. It's safe to say this Stagecoach will be back for another ride.

-- Denise Quan
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