Wagons West it's Stagecoach

Wagons West it's Stagecoach

by JasonBryan / May 13, 2018 / 0 comments
Friday, 27 April 2018 to Sunday, 29 April 2018

One name: Garth Brooks. Brooks is the biggest headliner the festival has had in its 12 years. Granted, only the Beatles have sold more albums in America so he’s the biggest name to ever play practically any stage he’s ever played. I spoke with no shortage of concertgoers who viewed the entire weekend as a series of opening acts for a Garth Brooks show. But let’s get back to the beginning and build up to the main event.

For several years the layout at Stagecoach had been identical, but this year they switched it up. The 3rd/Middle/Mustang stage is gone. Replaced by the Spotlight stage which is basically at the sound booth for the Mane/main stage, and only having acts before the Mane stage got going. An interesting idea especially since anyone who ever caught an early act on the main stage were not seat holders, creating a giant unnecessary void between early bands and their fans. However the number of artists playing each day is basically reduced by a stage. The other plus is the Palomino/2nd stage is now closer. The problem this year is they seemed to have lesser talent overall on the 2nd stage, which is odd considering that there are less bands overall. As worn out as I got in years past walking back and forth from the Mane to the Palomino stage, I enjoyed catching s few songs of acts on the Mustang stage in my travels. There was also live music coming from the Toyota Tent at times, and I thought I heard live music coming from the Beer Barn, but didn’t confirm it. Overall I liked the spotlight stage, but didn’t like the loss of the Mustang stage, and I find all the bonus amenities a distraction. Music, booze, and food should be enough for a concertgoer.

I must admit that I am guilty of the “this weekend is all about Garth Brooks” mentality. In years past, my feet have been as heavy as lead cinderblocks by Sunday night, and I was determined to have energy for the G-man, so I took it easy and came in a little later and moved around a little less this year.

Let’s get to the music.

Tanya Tucker was the first act of the weekend I was settled in to see. She exploded on to the country scene in 1972 at the age of thirteen, and over 40 years later still performs with a useful charm, that I could never decide if it was cute or creepy, but it was stage presence, and I’m sure in the eighties it was zero creepy. Her voice, her band, and her specially added back up singers for the big gig at Stagecoach were all part of a solid professional performance. Tucker still has that voice that dances between sweet soulful and ragged country. She closed her set with her first hit “Delta Dawn”. But snuck in a nice medley of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and Cash’s “Ring of Fire” on the way. And everyone knows I love a good cover song.

I stayed put at the Palomino stage for Georgia Satellites, their song “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” has always been on my shortlist of favorite songs. And this is one of those seemingly once in a lifetime moments to see something that Stagecoach has offered over the years. They were a solid fun rock and roll band that I would have loved to see in their hay day. All three front men took turns singing for different tracks and the bassist and lead, rhythm guitarists switch guitars for a couple of tracks. They also did their own sound check so you can see how these guys are their own crew. The highlights of the set were a couple back to back Beatles covers, “Don’t Pass Me By” & “I am the Walrus”. And they snuck in Springsteens “Born in the USA” into the middle of “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, during which they also played a double length guitar solo. They finished with “Hippie Hippie Shake”, fitting to play a song recorded for the COCKTAIL soundtrack because I needed a drink.

In years past I had constant struggles over whom to see with desires to see conflicting acts on multiple stages all playing at the same time. That happened less this year, but I did make the conscious decision to skip Cody Jinks and head to the Mane stage to see Chris Janson. I did detour for a drink and missed the beginning of his set, which I heard contained some Backstreet Boys. I caught the tail end of “Fix a Drink” and then he went into a little of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with some minor lyric changes to fit the current scene. He preceded to put on one of the weirdest performances of the weekend. Somewhere in there he did play his biggest hit “Buy Me a Boat” which is the song everyone wanted to hear. He also played a little of Skynyrd’s “Give Me Three Steps” and an oddly attributed rendition of Social Distortion’s “Ring of Fire” instead of playing his own version of Johnny Cash’s. He also played the drums and harmonica for portions of a jam in the set. But I took issue with his every several seconds asking the audience to scream. He even asked people to dance like an American Eagle if they were having a good time, and to dance like an American Pterodactyl if they were having a really good time. Yes an American Pterodactyl. I’m still not sure if his performance was based on him overwhelmed by the size of the stage, or if he felt he needed to try harder to get the crowd going. From my vantage point in general admission, I couldn’t tell if people were in the seated section or not for his set. Or maybe he really is that full of himself all the time. If he has more hits and opens for another band I want to see in town maybe I’ll find out.

I then caught the beginning of Kelsea Ballerini who opened with “Peter Pan.” I heard her entire set was good, and I saw her open for Lady Antebellum a few months ago and she was good then, but I was making my way over to see Molly Hatchet. In years past the last act on the Palomino stage each night has usually been the highlights of the festival for me. Even with Hatchet being not high on my favorite bands list I still figured I’d go for some good ole’ rock and roll. They were enjoyable, but not the same caliber in hits or performance as someone like John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, Travis Tritt or Merle Haggard they’ve had in years past.

Back to the Mane Stage for Jake Owen; who played wall to wall hits from his lineup of songs with a lot of airplay on country radio. The most unsuspecting thing he did was sing the entire “Theme from Fresh Prince of Bel Air” in the middle of “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.”

Florida Georgia Line closed out the first night. These guys exploded on the country music scene several years ago with “Cruise” and have probably been the most played band on pop country radio ever since. They are one of those bands whether you like them or not you know all the words to all the songs and just have to sing along and have fun. They did do a great job of bringing up people to play with them. They had Morgan Wallen come up and do his song “Up Down”, which for the first several times I heard it thought it was FGL. Jake Owen and Chris Lane came back out for “Sun Daze”. They had Jason Derulo come out and do Luke Bryan’s part in “This is How We Roll” and then his own “Want to Want Me” and they had Mason Ramsey, Walmart Hank Williams, come out and play his cover of “Lovesick Blues” and his new single “Famous”. The one time they didn’t get a guest singer is for “Meant to Be.” Bebe Rexha couldn’t be there and they opted for a recorded track. This is one of my pet peeves for all live acts, with all the talent at the festival they couldn’t get a female performer to substitute and keep it all live? They are far from the only act guilty of this. They closed the night with “Cruise” and with it the first night of Stagecoach.

Saving my energy for Garth, I rolled in on Saturday afternoon and worked my way over to check out Ronnie Milsap. I’ve never been a fan, but he’s been around a long time, and sometimes seeing a band live can turn the corner for you. Not the case here, so I ventured back to the Mane stage to see Midland. These guys knew how to speak my language by covering Petty’s “American Girl” and Seger’s “Turn the Page”. And I liked the way they had a good sense of true country roots. So many of the pop country bands that play on the Mane stage feel as though they’re just country because that’s where they get airplay, but Midland actually seemed to have a real country connection through all their songs, not just their hits. Particularly “Drinkin’ Problem” and “Make a Little”, which I really enjoyed.

Granger Smith followed them on the Mane stage, and he also had to get my attention by covering Tom Petty early in his set with “Free Fallin”. And if my memory is correct he played “Backroad Song” early in his set. But these early acts are playing short sets so they are often over as soon as they get going.

Brothers Osborne were next on the Mane stage. They made some complaints and apologies about the sound being off, but it didn’t seem any different than earlier acts from my distant location. A few songs in they were getting it going, but I was off and heading over to the Palomino to see Dwight Yoakam.

Yoakam was by far the biggest name playing all weekend on the Palomino stage. His set was highlighted by a Merle Haggard tribute featuring a Medley of sorts of with “The Bottle Let Me Down”, “I Started Loving You Again”, “Mama Tried”, and “Okie from Muskogee”, and then made a quip of Fraternity of Men’s “Don’t Bogart That Joint” before getting back to his own tunes. I missed the beginning of Dwight’s set in the transition between stages, and there was a song I felt was noticeably missing, but I’ll get back to that.

After a quick stop to check out the new BBQ area I made it back to the Mane Stage for Kacey Musgraves. Who played a much more rocking set than I expected from the often-soft folksiness of her music. She did cover Brooks and Dunn’s “Neon Moon” at the end, and that is a band due for a return to Stagecoach.

Keith Urban headlined on Saturday night. He’s got too many songs with radio play to play them all, so I think he focuses on showcasing his fantastic guitar playing, and showing off his collection of guitars. It felt like he changed guitars multiple times for each song. He did a little parading around the venue to various locations and gave a young girl a guitar during “Look Good in My Shirt”. The big highlight of the set for me was bringing up Brothers Osborne to start covering “Fast as You”, which Dwight Yoakam jumped on stage for the second verse. Urban also did a great job of playing to the crowd Mixing in some other song lyrics like “Oh yeah life goes on”, “No woman no cry” and some other numbers, and possibly even making some lyrics in a free style audience call and repeat section in which he was rhyming about forgetting the words. He was having fun on stage and the audience was having fun with it. Urban’s energetic set was a great way to finish the second evening of Stagecoach 2018.

Sunday. The countdown to Garth Brooks was nearing its end. And Sunday seemed to be the day with the better line up from the get go. Once again I took my time going in, to stay spry for Garth. I caught the tail end of Ashley McBryde on the Spotlight stage and was off to the Palamino Stage to see Colter Wall. He has a voice that is immensely deeper than his stature, and I kept waiting to hear him tell a story or something between the songs, but I don’t think he ever did. I then made the tough decision to skip Lukas Nelson based solely on having seen him play with and without Neil Young in the last couple of years, and go check out Kane Brown.

What I enjoyed about his set is that he was more the Kid Rock multi genre musician, even if the songs I was familiar with were his country ones. From “Learning” to “What If” to “Heaven” there is a positive vibe running through his music which is always welcome in a party atmosphere. Brett Young followed him on the Mane stage, but having seen him recently I ventured over to check out Gordon Lightfoot. His performance was solid but bland, somewhat fitting for his folk style of music. The big deterrent for me was that he looked like Gollum. I’m serious they could have saved millions on CGI by casting Gordon Lightfoot.

Lee Brice took the mane stage next, and he played one of the best sets of the weekend. Hearing him play all his songs back to back, it hits you the level of his talent as a songwriter. (Which will be expanded on in the next act). He’s one of those artists that I didn’t really realize how many songs I knew were his. Which made the set fun as familiar song after familiar song played across the desert with everyone singing along.

Finally it was time for the G Man, Garth Brooks. The place was electrified as he took the stage opening with “Rodeo”. He felt the crowd’s electricity and gave it right back. He followed with “Two of a Kind” which I’m pretty sure he’s played second every time I’ve seen him. “River” came a song or so later. For the first two handfuls of songs it was a non-stop barrage of high-energy hits, only letting up the slightest bit for his latest release “Ask Me How I Know” which is essentially an instant Brooks classic. Then like a musical relay marathon he handed the mic shaped baton (she actually used her own mic) to his wife Trisha Yearwood for her mini set, which seemed shorter than usual. She should have headlined the Palomino stage on her own. Then Garth came right back with “Callin Baton Rouge”. I’m such a huge Brooks fan I may have been blinded by my own excitement, but the place was going nuts. Then “Shameless” followed by “Friends in Low Place” & “The Dance.” At this point he took a set break. He had also delivered his heaviest of hits.

He came back a moment later with just his acoustic guitar as usual at his show and took requests from audience signs. As much as I enjoy this moment in a GB show and was looking forward to how it would play out at Stagecoach, I don’t think it went over as well as it does in a more intimate setting, and maybe the band noticed it because they only did a few of these before the band returned for “Much Too Young”. Brooks played tribute to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with “Fishing in the Dark” which brought a great flashback memory of seeing them a few years ago on the Palomino stage. Brooks then announced that his next song was written by Lee Brice, who was standing in front of the stage watching the show as a fan, and got him on stage to sing along with “More Than a Memory” which is a more recent (still over a decade old) but underrated hit. It was a nice bit of icing on the cake for Lee Brice’s Stagecoach performance. He closed with “Ain’t Goin Down Til the Sun Comes Up”. Then like a flash of lighting in the desert sky he was done. I for one wanted more, I felt like usually he plays “Standing Outside the Fire” right about here. But overall the performance was the best of the weekend and he played for longer than any of the other acts. (Stagecoach has been strict with set times over the years.) And seeing country music’s all time biggest star on its biggest stage is the perfect way to end the festival weekend. I look forward to what Stagecoach 2019 will bring.

**All Photos Courtesy of Stagecoach**

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