Babes, booze and Zac Brown: Stagecoach extravaganza; The country music festival banned campsites, resulting in the lack of a sellout

By Katelyn Montero

On Sunday April 28, the temperature reached a record-breaking 107 degrees, making Stagecoach the hottest festival ever hosted in the Coachella Valley. However, the heat did not stop the 45,000 country music lovers from attending the three-day festival. The weekend was comprised of 48 artists with Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band as the three main headliners.

On Saturday, large crowds gathered at each of the three stages and made the festival feel packed, despite the fact that the crowds fell short of the venue’s capacity of 55,000. Although the heat may have played a factor, the smaller-than-usual crowds were most likely due to the heightened security and strict policies regarding alcohol and camping. This year was the first in which tent camping was banned, likely due to the number of complaints about drunk campers keeping the rest of the grounds up throughout the night. Many restrictions were also placed on RV campers, who had to submit their applications by Oct. 15 and provide proof of registration, proof of ownership as well as a personal essay.

However, the strict regulations and heightened presence of security could not keep the country aficionados from their alcohol, as many concert goers snuck alcohol in their purses, clothes and even empty sunscreen bottles. Indio police have reported that at least 121 people were arrested throughout the three-day-long festival, almost all of which were due to alcohol related incidents.

Beer and booze were common themes for both attendees and performers alike. On Friday, Toby Keith sipped on beer from a Red Solo Cup throughout his performance of his single by the same name.

“Hold on, we have to start that one over. I’ve been missing lyrics all day. Well of course I have; I’ve been partying with half of you backstage all day,” Charles Kelley, the lead singer of Lady Antebellum explained after flubbing the first line of a song.

Country music festivals have somewhat of an unofficial dress code, with most of the patrons dressed for what only could be described as a patriotic pool party. American flags are to Stagecoach what flower headbands are to Coachella: the ultimate must-have accessory. From bikinis, flip-flops, headbands, sunglasses, earrings and shorts, there was no limit to the creative places in which the stars and stripes appeared.

Although the drinking and dress code certainly play a vital role in the Stagecoach experience, the weekend was ultimately about the music.

The festival started on Friday at 12:20 p.m., but most concert attendees didn’t head over to the main stage until around 5pm. The Friday lineup was undoubtedly the most old school country, featuring country veterans like Hank Williams, Trace Adkins and Toby Keith. The crowds went wild for all of Keith’s singles, including “Red Solo Cup” and “Beer For My Horses”, but few knew the words of any of his non-singles.

The smaller stages also featured several actors turned singers including John C. Reilly, Jeff Bridges and Katey Sagal. As the weekend progressed, the sets kept improving, with the best lineup saved for Sunday afternoon and night. Florida Georgia Line, newly dubbed the Best New Artist at the CMA awards, opened the main stage on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. to a crowd that was energetic and ready to dance along despite the record breaking heat. The musicians looked more like a group of punk rock guitarists than a country band, but the repetitive chords and exaggerated vocals fit clearly into the mold. Declaring that the front row V.I.P. section was too tame, the two lead singers jumped off stage and ran to the standing section filled with all of the dancing 20 to 30 somethings. They ran from section to section, jumping on the crowd barricades and interacting with the audience members as they performed.

The mood took a much different feel during the next set as veteran band Lonestar took the stage. Any energy that was rallied up during Florida Georgia Line’s set quickly dissolved as veteran band Lonestar took the stage. Although it was their first time performing at Stagecoach, the band has been together since 1992, and it was evident that their target demographic was not present at the festival. The majority of the crowd dispersed to check out the smaller stages and line dancing tent during their performance.

Married duo Thompson Square was next to take the stage, and their songs were well received, albeit relatively unknown, with the exception of number one single “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.”

By the time that Darius Rucker began his set, the crowds from the smaller venue had made their way to the main stage and were ready for the former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman. Rucker had great stage presence and commanded the crowd easily with his strong voice and catchy melodies.

The best performance of the weekend was easily Zac Brown Band, who captivated the attention of the entire audience with their very first song. The group played the majority of its number one singles, as well as several covers including “Neon” by John Mayer and “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. Frontman Zac Brown introduced each of his band members by having them each play solos of their instruments. After eight minutes of guitar riffs and fiddle scales, the crowd was ready for a song where they could sing along. Any attention that they lost during the band introductions was quickly won back when ZBB performed their Grammy-nominated single “Free.” Although the band’s set was late in the night on Sunday evening, most of the crowd stayed throughout the entirety of the performance and encore.

As festival attendees shook the dust off of their boots, wiped the sweat from their straw hats, and headed out of the desert in their cars, they left behind California’s small window into the world of country music.