Stagecoach 2024: Eric Church, Jelly Roll, the best of Day 1

by Admin
Stagecoach 2024: Eric Church, Jelly Roll, the best of Day 1

After Coachella’s back-to-back weekends, barely any grass remains on the grounds of the Empire Polo Club. But that hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of country fans from venturing here for Stagecoach, which got underway Friday afternoon and runs though Sunday night with headliners Eric Church, Miranda Lambert and Morgan Wallen. The Times’ Mikael Wood and Vanessa Franko are at the festival, notebooks in hand and bandanas in place. Here’s a rundown of the highlights and lowlights of Day 1.

Eric Church performs on the Mane Stage on the first day of Stagecoach Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Eric Church lives up to his name

Church used his fifth headlining appearance at Stagecoach as an opportunity to try something different: Instead of leading his sturdy road band through a set of the hits that have made him a kind of older-brother figure to the likes of Wallen and Luke Combs, Church turned the so-called Mane Stage into an open-air chapel (complete with stained glass) for a stripped-down acoustic performance in which he was backed by a 16-member gospel choir.

The set mixed originals like “Mistress Named Music” and “Like Jesus Does” with far-flung covers: “Amazing Grace,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Take Me to the River” and “Gin and Juice.” His aim seemed to be to showcase the music that formed him as a kid growing up in small-town North Carolina — and to draw attention, in this year of Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter,” to the Black roots of country music. (The performance also shared some DNA with the solo-acoustic residency Church has going at Chief’s, his new bar in Nashville, where Wallen was arrested this month for throwing a chair off the roof.)

Energy-wise, it was a risky choice at the end of a day many spent drinking in the sun: Half an hour or so after Church opened with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — probably not a song anyone still needs to keep doing, if we’re being honest — one guy near me yelled, “This is Friday night, not Sunday morning!” As they went along, though, Church and his accompanists picked up a righteous steam. — Mikael Wood

Dwight Yoakam and the fabulous flying fringe

If you’re going to wear a Canadian tuxedo, make it memorable.

While top-and-bottom denim is a perennial look for Yoakam, on Friday the troubadour paired it with his standard cowboy hat and boots, but the standout was the jacket covered in white fringe on the front and back.

Yoakam, whose name was misspelled on the official Stagecoach set-times sign outside of the Palomino stage (as was Nickelback’s), started about 10 minutes after his scheduled start of 7:20 p.m.

Back to the fringe, it was almost hypnotic to watch it bounce and sway as Yoakam shimmied and shuffled across the stage while he and his band (also snazzily dressed with sparkles, no fringe) played songs including “Little Sister,” “Streets of Bakersfield” and a cover of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

Since Yoakam didn’t allow press to photograph his set, the best you can get from us is a stickfigure drawing I made — unfortunately art is not my strong suit and I really couldn’t do the fringe justice.

Other than a couple of feedback screeches on the microphone, Yoakam and his band played a tight set. The crowd began filtering out to hike over to the Mane Stage to catch Jelly Roll, which was a shame because Yoakam just kept getting better with “Honky Tonk Man” and “Guitars, Cadillacs” in the back half of the performance. — Vanessa Franko

Two singers perform on stage at Stagecoach.

Jelly Roll, right, performs with his special guest Ernest on the Mane Stage on the first day of Stagecoach Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Best multitasker: Jelly Roll

Nobody made more of their time at Stagecoach than Jelly Roll, who, before his set on the Mane Stage, turned up for a cooking demo with Guy Fieri and afterwards schlepped over to the Palomino to join Nickelback for “Rockstar.”

His primary performance was a condensed version of the road show he’s been touring hard over the past couple of years, with bruised yet muscular country hits like “Son of a Sinner” and “Save Me” alongside a medley of the hip-hop classics (including Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”) that inspired him to become a rapper before he turned to singing.

He brought out Maddie & Tae to do a new song, “Liar,” that he said he’d put on his next album if the crowd liked it (and wouldn’t if the crowd didn’t); he also brought out T-Pain, who did “All I Do Is Win” and helped Jelly Roll pay tribute to the late Toby Keith with a take on Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.”

After “Need a Favor,” Jelly Roll ushered his wife and daughter to the stage — he’d taken his daughter out of school for the day and flown her to California, he happily pointed out — and thanked the audience for changing their trajectory of their lives. Then he did a spiel about proving naysayers wrong that climaxed with his enumerating how many People’s Choice Awards he’s won. Iconic, obviously. — M.W.

Worst surprise guest: the wind

Jelly Roll brought out T-Pain. Mother Nature brought out winds that were so bad that if you drove in to the festival along the 10 Freeway it was difficult to see the mountains because of the dust.

While the worst of the wind was west of the festival site (some gusts reached upwards of 60 and 70 m.p.h. in the Coachella Valley, according to the National Weather Service), the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a windblown dust advisory through late Friday. And if you were on the grounds, you could feel all of that windblown dust sticking to you.

It did lead to some interesting people-watching, though, as many a cowboy hat was chased across the field. — V.F.

A return visit from a Coachella headliner

A week after she headlined Coachella — and with an album on the way called “Lasso” to hype — Lana Del Rey turned up at Stagecoach to trill the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” with Paul Cauthen, a hammy up-and-comer with a booming baritone and a televangelist’s fashion sense. No idea what kind of relationship these two might share in real life, but together onstage they brought a touch of slightly creepy glamour to the desert. — M.W.

Silhouette of a woman wearing a cowboy hat against a pyrotechnic display

A fan sits up high and is silhouetted against a pyrotechnic display as Jelly Roll performs on the Mane Stage on the first day of Stagecoach Country Music Festival.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Inside the secret spots that make you feel like you’re not at a country festival

Heading into the weekend, George Michael, INXS and the Human League were among the artists I would’ve least expected to hear at Stagecoach.

But if you make your way to the password-protected Sonny’s — the ’80s-tastic speakeasy from Attaboy with a light-up dance floor and tropical print wallpaper that could have been ripped from the bedroom of one of the Golden Girls — it’s less honkytonk and more new wave.

Surrounding Sonny’s is the outdoor tiki-inspired speakeasy Tropicale from PDT, but you still get the same ‘80s tunes pumping from inside Sonny’s. You can find the secret bars near the Golden Road patio heading to Diplo’s Honkytonk.

The third speakeasy, the Basement, is also back for Stagecoach. It still has black-light posters of Cheech & Chong and neon artwork of an alien with dorm-room vibes, but it’s where you’ll hear alt-rock and mainstream hip-hop from the ’90s. When I stopped by I was greeted with a Sublime sing-along from fellow patrons followed by some Cypress Hill and Eminem. You can access it via chef Aaron May’s Porky’s barbecue pop-up near the rainbow Spectra tower. — V.F.

One to watch

Is it too early to anoint the next Zach Bryan? Wyatt Flores, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Bryan’s home state of Oklahoma, seemed to be gunning for the job in an impressive set on the Palomino Stage that got the place shouting along at top volume, as folks do with Bryan at his famously rowdy gigs. With a scraped-up voice and a pained-looking expression on his face, Flores sang ragged yet cathartic emo-country songs about bottoming out emotionally; he also added the Fray to the list of 1990s/2000s rock acts shaping the sound of modern Nashville with a punked-up rendition of that band’s “How to Save a Life.” — M.W.

A guitarist raises her right hand in the rock horns symbol as she performs.

Elle King performs on the Mane Stage on opening day of the Stagecoach Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A difference of opinion

Her dad, comedian Rob Schneider, has lately reoriented his career around railing against what he calls “woke bull—.” But Elle King introduced her cover of Tyler Childers’ “Jersey Giant” with as woke a set of instructions as I heard all day: “Grab someone you know. If not, ask permission.” — M.W.

Best country singer dressed for her performance as a European milkmaid: Hailey Whitters

A woman with a microphone raises her arms.

Hailey Whitters performs Friday on the Mane Stage at Stagecoach.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Real Swiss Miss energy. — M.W.

Most stylish cowboy hat worn by an artist who also played Coachella: Carin León

The rootsy yet polished Mexican singer and songwriter was the first Spanish-language act to play a full set at Stagecoach, a sign of both his popularity and that of the regional Mexican music that also took him (and Mexico’s Peso Pluma) to Coachella this month. — M.W.

A man in a cowboy hat sings to the crowd.

Carin León performs Friday on the Palomino Stage.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Right where they belong

“Very strange to be playing a country festival,” Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger said not long into the band’s late-night set, but it wasn’t really: Nashville has been absorbing Nickelback’s caveman-rock lessons for years, as Kroeger reminded us when he brought out Hardy (who shares Nickelback’s longtime producer, Joey Moi) to yowl his happily knuckle-dragging “Sold Out.” — M.W.

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