————-STAGECOACH: DAY 1————- Y'all Ready To Sprint a Marathon in Boots Through 102F Degrees In Desert Heat /Indio, California on April 28, 2023




there has nigh never been a year not worth the pain.

Shit, and I had planned to skip Stagecoach this year, even after earmarking 2023

a recirculation of another live-musically epic annum, 2018,

dripping with festivals like SkookumFest, Kaboo, Treasure Island Music Festival, and Life is Beautiful,

and of course, Coachella & Stagecoach, both on an Artist wristband,

thanks to a very good friend and old roommate,

working many of these then for a brilliant optical solution company (prescription and sunglasses)

Zenni Optical, whom I owe much gratitude and respect for the opportunity, confidence in me,

and faith in their business…

paying attendee now.


And the year I was to be jolted awake working as a friend & photographer of an event and directors,

spending some of the scariest moments on a desolate private peninsula on the coast of Baja Mexico

and some of the most magical moments amidst a boutique, semi-private artistic music festival,

Genius Loci Fest.

It was on the equinox and the date of the time I was born, 6/21 /6:21,

and includes stories from my first foray with acid and conversations with (whom I thought)

were Satan and God, including an awkward run-in with Jesus,

and a resurrection and enlightenment to self, actions of said self seen from outside self,

and an awareness of others more profoundly and truthfully.

All activating acknowledgment in the difference between seeing people and seeing them.

Ramifications of this event and moment on my path have netted more positive than all the gold in the world,

unearthing the alchemist within

always working to acknowledge, accept, forgive/release,

adapt, learn, and grow,

with aim to teach by learning and being.



and a very long tangential adventure to explain how I made the decision to skip Stagecoach this year,

despite being a mammoth, yet relatively easy festival to attend,

but knowing my shortness in funds, lack of work, and a plethoraful festival docket.

Prejudged weakness in the lineup also played a factor, though I had held out the possibility

of a Sunday-only venture, given it was one of the best curated days in quite some time.


Anyhow, the end of March rolls around and I’m usually waist-deep in preparing for Stagecoach

building setlist playlists (such as), potentially hearing and learning every possible song played

and packing for every foreseeable need.

FYI, a ROUGH GUIDE for festival goers can be found HERE.

Now with Stagecoach off the table, I was all in on Tortugafest held in Fort Lauderdale 2 weeks prior.

Well, until one of my besties, David, mentions his teenage Canadian nieces are asking to go,

are a click away from tix, and with full parental consent, hoping to stay at his Palm Springs place,

creating David as the now effective pseudo chaperone,

then asking me as his only single friend to join, avoiding ‘third-wheeling’.


Well duh, I’m in,

and the hunt was on for below-market, semi-verified legitimate GA and Resort wristbands

and now on the clock to prepare for the beast of all beasts; building daily setlist playlists for 80+ artists

both in Spotify and YouTube for the visual, listening/learning each artist and their vibe

negotiating their way into my itinerary and path through the venue and event.

Now, I certainly don’t get paid for this sort of work, nor would I ask for anything in return,

understanding the gift is in the duty, providing benefit to myself and other.


These, the little joys in pre-festivaling,

typically shared through multiple Stagecoach Festival Groups

though others like Tortugafest has but one, effectively, run by Cadillac Ranch Country Nights,

whom also carries a burgeoning Stagecoach group (among others).

In all honesty, among other jobs I’d fashion,

these are the sort of things I would design into a profession.


Festival week rolls around, extra large Hertz SUV rented to transpo 6 of us, wristbands situated,

and playlists providing entertainment and education as we anticipate one last sleep before the big game.


With 4 teenage girls in the house, I was convinced we’d have a later departure than hoped,

but it just so happened the girls were coming from Toronto and East Coast time,

waking them rather early and ready to roll, putting us at the gates about a half hour after open,

missing only a couple opening acts, one of which was Mackenzie Carpenter whom I saw at TortugaFest

and would love to have caught again, but no matter at this point.


Because I tend to put about 12 miles in each day running around the desert campus,

David, Olivia, Emily, Mackenzie, Nicole, and I split ways, them off to the lockers and Honky-Tonk,

an air-conditioned warehouse with country-inspired DJs and typically plenty of space to move and dance.


I was headed to Mane Stage to setup shop for our homebase with lawn chairs,

reserving space in the seating section the duration of the day

and into the evening, serving as a meeting point, if needed, throughout the day,

more specifically to relax during headliners.  A practice many enlist as spots are rarely messed with,

assuming your occupation isn’t too egregious, which also happens.

(there are always assholes: 3rd rule of life)


Spot set and off to Palomino Stage, my heaven,

as it tends to house the undercard highlights and vintage behemoths,

this year Ian Munsick, 49 Winchester, Turnpike Troubadours, Ryan Bingham of Yellowstone fame,

Tyler Childers, Diplo, Marty Stuart, Flamin Groovies, Sammy Kershaw, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Melissa Ethridge,

ZZ Top, Nelly, and Bryan Adams, to name a few.

For now, The Last Bandoleros, a Tex-Flex band of fun fellas are mid set,

cranking out Spanish and English laden lyrics to mariachi-sounding instrumentals with Tex-Mex flair,

serving as a kickoff to one hell of a fiesta in the desert.



With scheduling so tight at a monster like Stagecoach,

I would be making significant sacrifices if I wanted to catch pieces of the majority of acts playing,

which means oftentimes truly sacrificing some of the best parts of some music so I can catch a feel of another’s.

This sort of sacrifice, I will later come to decide, is not exactly what I want all the time,

especially from my home festival, Stagecoach, and I will plan future festivals a bit different,

still keeping roughly the same recipe, dialing it back, sacrificing whole acts for whole acts at times.

Scar-tissue like half a Tyler Childers set and pieces of Brooks & Dunn and Niko Moon

would help me adapt to an even more memorable future festival.



So, onto Nikki Lane’s Stage Stop Marketplace & Horseshoe Stage under the Yee-Haw Tent for Angela Perley

on the intimate stage, housed with vendors of all Americana varieties and the Compton Cowboys,

a group of concrete country-folk from the streets of Compton now taking care of horses

amongst ranch life, here to showcase the kickassedness of normality dumped on its head.

Another benefit provided by the Yee-Haw tent is the abundance of shade,

given it’s the largest outdoor arch dome on the footprint,

typically covering tens of thousands of Coachella ravers,

now providing shelter for flocks of country crowds looking for a respite from the desert sun.


Placed in a rough triangle pattern on nearly a square mile campus,

the 3 main stages include Mane Stage, along the far north perimeter,

now setup different than normal as the word was they wouldn’t have enough manpower to make the full switch

to Stagecoach pattern after Coachella the previous 2 weekends

(an issue we’ll discuss later, I’m sure),

Yee-Haw’s Horseshoe stage sits near the entrance and cockeyed on the Southwest corner,

and Palomino in the Southeast, facing west for some of the best desert sunsets you could design,

assuming you remember to look up.



The other two enclosed stages, the Honky-Tonk and Bud Light Backyard are placed Mane Stage adjacent

in the middle of the western perimeter and between Palomino and Mane on the Eastern perimeter, respectively.

The Bud Light Backyard is a relatively new addition and recently enclosed,

again I assume in the same layout from Coachella vs an outdoor stage…

like a backyard…

This provides an intimate experience with artists having already played Mane as an undercard spotlight,

this time playing in a cozier setting and air-conditioned space

and likely fitting acoustics given the grand scale of a main stage environment.


Nothing in the Backyard just yet that tickles my fancy,

so off to the Palomino to catch some old school Flamin Groovies,

originally formed in the late 60’s, rocking unique sounds best described as Europe invasion era /country feel,

but can only truly be understood with a listen on your own.



The crowd is still pretty sparse in the thick of the heat, with the majority of folks arriving like Angels fans…

late in the 4th inning, on their phone most the time, leaving at the end of the 8th so as to miss traffic…

4-6pm is about the time most Stagecoachers show up and while it sounds like judgement, I jest,

as I have been known to pool party all day till around 5 or so then arrive,

or hell, in the early days I barely left The Resort (party central) or Seven Peaks Bar behind Mane Stage crowd

and had some of the best Stagecoaches ever, having not seen a single act,

so, to each their own in the time you’re here.


Across the prairie, passing the newly installed Yellowstone Dutton Ranch barn,

housing vendors and food, photo opportunities and memorabilia making stations,

capitalizing on enormous fame from the show

while also instilling some of the magic of cowboy and country life to otherwise unsuspecting city folk.


Back to Mane Stage in the thick of the heat and on a hard deck placed around the PIT area,

adding to temperatures while misters and water gun-strapped workers spray down willing festival goers

sweltering in the desert sun as we watch Jackson Dean fashioning a modern old western look

with his brand of outlaw country music highlighted by a top tune,


as he engaged well with the crowd, now beginning to fill the VIP PIT area amidst soaring temps.

A short 25-minute set then back through Mane Stage maze which became a pain point for most,

as walkways became non-existent and flow of foot traffic rerouted to outer edges of Mane Stage campus,

frustrating folks and adding a country mile to our already long exercise days in the desert.



Back at Palomino again for another unique group, American Aquarium.

A band of almost 2 decades, American Aquarium derives their name from an old Wilco song,

formed by lead singer-songwriter and guitarist, BJ Barham

whom happens to be quite vocal and harshly sarcastic, justifiably, on Twitter, or so I’ve noticed and appreciate.

American Aquarium is listed as an Alt-Country band,

though I’d put more of a punk country spin on these guys if I could

as they offer a different set of beats and groove than traditional Alt-Country, if that’s a thing,

while very much preserving that traditional country sound.

A couple of my favorites make the setlist with “Losing Side of Twenty-Five” and “Six Years Come September”,

a beautiful, heart-wrenching requiem about gaining and sustaining sobriety after losing a lover

and a child in a drunk driving accident, though not exactly biographical, yet resounding.



Desperately wanting to get over to Nate Smith on Mane

since I had effectively missed him at TortugaFest 2 weekends prior,

I found it difficult to pull myself from American Aquarium on Palomino armed with the knowledge

that Nate Smith will play the intimate Backyard later that afternoon

(and then disarmed by the extremely long line to gain access, forcing another miss of Nate Smith).



By this time, I am just about drenched in sweat and water which makes for perfect activants

upon entry of the AC-filled Bud Light Backyard where I run into David while we await another friend,

DJ BadAsh to take stage.

Typically, DJs were strictly housed in Diplo’s Honky-Tonk playing nonstop sets

providing a cool (literally and figuratively) spot for line-dancing lessons, performances,

and country-inspired, rowdy, and seam-popping raves later into the night and through closing hours,

yet, this year, Stagecoach made the move to add DJs between performers in the Bud Light Backyard,

which also gave me a new opportunity to catch DJ BadAsh,

considering her Sunday Honky-Tonk set didn’t vibe with my already busy Sunday itinerary.


DJ BadAsh was one of the first to mix country music into the repertoire

while including new country songs she had written, making her one of the longest tenured DJs at Stagecoach,

if I’m not mistaken.

Include that she is performing while fully pregnant and ya got yourself a fun little show

in the middle of an otherwise oasis.


Back into the heat and over to the towering arch, Yee-Haw tent

where the smallest stage, The Horseshoe, will host the slow and sweet sounds of Caleb Caudle,

offering weary listeners, seats & singer-songwriter vibes and lullabies without loud background music or accoutrement.

Notable tunes include “Little Reminders” and “Crazy Wayne”.



Going into this day, I had Ian Munsick earmarked as a favorite

and he’d be playing shortly on Palomino, which typically wouldn’t be too packed this early in the day,

but again, knowing the cult following Ian musters, I left the Horseshoe to stake ground, only to find myself in a flock,

migrating to Palomino and the space already filled and filling,

but no matter as long as you can see and hear Ian Munsick, then no doubt you’re in for a treat…

This is far from being accurate as it is an understatement,

given Ian Munsick nearly brought much of the same energy I had experienced last year

when Zach Bryan took this very stage, an experience I note as easily one of my favorites.



Traditional and true cowboy look, higher pitched voice, and a fiddle-heavy band,

Ian coursed his way through relatable songs like “Long Haul”

(fun fact: I think there were 5 different songs named “Long Haul” played at Stagecoach this year),

quirky and sassy lyric’d “Cowboy Killer”,

and then closing and tributing Cody Johnson with “Long Live Cowgirls”

netting jubilant cheers from a base who no doubt consider CoJo one of the best.

In my book, Ian Munsick wins the day with a performance inspiring newcomers

to check his tour schedule for local dates, thus long haul fans made.


Sacrifices made once again by sticking around, ahem, for the long haul, to get all of Ian Munsick,

meant missing a parallel-scheduled Priscilla Block, whom I was hoping to catch with her trashy country style

and boldly confident and kickass personality, but that would have to wait,

though I was able to catch a Seaforth’s, out of Seaforth, Australia, second performance in the Backyard,

having missed them in prior Stagecoach years.



Also got to share space with vintage act, Sammy Kershaw singing “Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer”

and “She Don’t know She’s Beautiful”

and the end of She Returns From War on the Horseshoe as I make my way out to the car for a quick sandwich

and change into my evening attire

(costume change).

Seaforth in the cool, dark Backyard offers up progressive, pop style country hits

and Kershaw the nostalgic 90’s radio replays of the golden era of music

while She Returns From War is a visual storyteller behind vivid lyrics and a towering presence.

I hesitate to mention she is a transgendered artist

as it should not necessarily play into the validity of any artistry, and at the same time, needs mentioning

for it likely factors into the stories told and art created as any artist will tell ya that our life’s path

is what is being transmuted through the conduit of our self to alchemize gold

for those willing to pan at our creeks and dig in our mines.

No doubt, the moniker She Returns From War is an homage to such a journey and a life lived

and I am grateful for her art, having had the opportunity to tell her as much the following day

when we were to cross paths again.


A dusty and rocky mile roundtrip out to switch up the gear,

originally planned as evening attire when temps tend to drop,

meant leaving the venue for about a half hour, choosing to reluctantly skip

Breland, Elle King, and Franklin Jonas,

though getting some premade PB&J sandos in the belly felt to be a worthy exchange,

considering I’d been filling myself with crotch whiskey,

warm water, and Bud Light Seltzers all day with no end in sight till after 1:00am.


4:00-6:00pm is an interesting time in the Stagecoach world where the majority of the crowd

begins streaming in to beat the heat, one would presume,

but more accurately because they care very little for many of the undercard acts in earlier timeslots,

having not factored in the unique opportunity of soaking in great music likely headlining festivals tomorrow,

though soaking in 102F desert heat provides quite the legitimate deterrent.


Upstream to the car and then back into the mix, I jet over to the Backyard to finally see Nate Smith,

but as mentioned before, it would not come to fruition as the line snaking from the Backyard

was now the longest I’ll see it all weekend.

I knew by making the choice to watch Nate’s second performance

I’d be trading in likely my only chance to see the super legendary Melissa Ethridge perform,

given she was now on the Palomino at the same time, but as fate would have it, the chance I got,

and hustled over while muttering to myself for letting 4 opportunities to see Nate Smith slip by.



Another stacked Palomino crowd, now filled with a more aged demo, given the talent,

and dang if she didn’t come to play, wowing crowds with favorites,

“I Want to Come Over” and “Come to My Window” while owning the guitar then playing drums

to cap off an energetic show in front of yet another Palomino packed house.


A packed Palomino that would stay that way for the next performance by ZZ Top

and for good reason.

ZZ Top has been cultivating a cult-like following for almost 300 years, eh hem,

pulling in fans from all genres and age groups

while songs topped charts, accompanied memorable commercials, and filled nostalgic shadows

deep on the surface of our music acumen.

The iconic beards topped with shades and short-brimmed hats

certainly help to add cool visuals to an already badass rock group.


ZZ Top played this very stage in 2015

and I can honestly say that I have never and likely will never see Palomino as overflowing as it was back then,

leaving me far outside the wings for an epic show, which I dared not repeat this time around,

so at the last breathe and signoff by Melissa Ethridge,

I worked my way upstream through egressing crowds needing water and bathroom breaks

to find myself but a few heads back from stage, where I’d stick, literally, for a half hour

while the set was completely transformed into ZZ Top style, futuristic art deco feels and colors,

heavy on the maroon reds and golden yellows with backlit ZZs adorning microphone stands.

In the small group of us strangers, now stuck together,

we chatted about ZZ Top lore and the passing of the bassist, Dusty Hill 2 years ago,

leaving remaining members, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard on guitar and drums, respectively,

with an addition of newest member and bassist, Elwood Francis.


Out they come,


crowd roaring, and who knows how far back it goes,

but felt like it stretched to the sun, now dipped behind the San Jacinto Mountain range,

silhouetting some of the most iconic memories of my 8 Stagecoaches.

In ZZ Top fashion, Billy and Elwood in red velvety-sequined “sharp-dressed” attire,

gray-bearded chests, and shades, move right into swaying formation, playing “Got Me Under Pressure”,

but the 2 most notable points worth mentioning is first and foremost,

the 18-string, bright yellow guitar Elwood is lugging and ripping through the first song with,

clearly more as a decorative cherry than a sustaining piece of the instrument accoutrement.

The second point worth noting is the apparent wig Elwood is rocking,

to match his gray, naturally grown beard, though has a Rick of Rick & Morty feel, if nothing else

and also highlights his not having a hat on as traditional ZZ Top costume would have us recollecting.

No matter, as they play though half a century’s long setlist filled with

“I Thank You”, “Gimme All Your Lovin”, “Pearl Necklace”, and “Sharp Dressed Man”

and while one could argue they owned the day,

there is no doubt this band, no matter how old they get, will always live in rock n roll lore

in the same breath as the likes of The Rolling Stones.



Ahhhh, here’s where I finally get a break from standing in crowds,

walking, if not jogging between stages, and crowd surfing staggering masses

as our headliners our finally upon us

and a time at Stagecoach where placing chairs in the ‘Blanket & Chair’ section at gate-open pays off.

Because of the grand scale layout of Mane Stage and relative lack of proximity to the stage

for a General Admission junky,

I find it nearly pointless to cram into the next stockyard of standing folks, not near the stage

to watch the final 2 headliners, tonight, Jon Pardi & Luke Bryan,

when I can sit in a chair for the first time today between sets, smoke, drink, and relax,

giving way to dancing with space to move.

This has been my recipe for awhile now and I believe it to be the perfect plan,

again, assuming General Admission and long days since GA cannot access anywhere near Mane.


David is now at The Spot while the girls, whom I’ve only seen but once,

chose to dance in the standing only paddocks,

given they almost specifically came to see Luke Bryan, tomorrow night’s Kane Brown,

and Sunday’s Chris Stapleton, though they did come sit a spell between Pardi and Bryan.



Jon Pardi, who most definitely brings with his catchy tunes and lyrics, the party atmosphere,

did exactly that, opening with an apropos “California Sunrise”, Night Shift, and “Tequila Little Time”.

Continuing with nonstop bangers, “Mr. Saturday Night” (on a Friday), Heartache on the Dance Floor”

among others, finishing the night with “Heartache Medication” and “Head Over Boots”,

or so it would seem as Guy Fieri introduces Alan Jackson playing on a pre-recorded video

announcing that Jon Pardi has now become

the first native Californian to become an official member of the Grand Ole Opry,

followed by a very large swig of what I can only assume was whiskey,

and a very well deserved congratulations to this man and his catalogue of work.


Another short break, sitting, drinking, and smoking,

awaiting another legend in his own right, as far as party country music goes,

and given his 5-time Entertainer of the Year title, starting 10 years ago at Stagecoach,

including me catching him in his first year’s win at Tortugafest, 2014,

where I, myself, claimed he would win Entertainer of the Year,

then catching his last performance at The Forum before winning said title.


Same ol recipe and here we go again,

the lights drop and the show begins as these headliners put a lot more production value into the entertainment of the crowd,

which I certainly appreciate for certain artists such as Bryan,

though find it unnecessary for the general country music field as a whole,

compared to genres such as pop or electronic/house, even hip hop to an extent.



Anyhow, Luke Bryan is one of the best in this game and on we go through the jams

from “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and Kick the Dust Up” to “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset”

and “Country On” which is about the point I make the decision to pack the chairs and set off to the Honky-Tonk

to catch Girl Talk and some of rave action

before getting a front row spot for Late Night at Palomino and Drag Queen Trixie Mattel.


Luke Bryan’s set, serving as background score to the adventure that is navigating any area around Mane Stage

this time of night, given the 85,000 drunk, sunburned, and sloppy party goers,

I make my way through the crowd, hide the chairs behind a planter, and filter into a dark, chilly, smokey,

laser-lit and bass-thumping Honky-Tonk,

dancing just about as wild as I could and perfectly as I do, if I may say so, haha.


Much needed and much wanted as it was,

I finish up as 11pm hits and my alarm set to make moves for the final act of the day,

Trixie Mattel on Palomino for Late Night Sessions.


Late Night has become a staple of Stagecoach for a number of years now,

starting, I have to assume with Diplo’s Sunday night closeout session, I believe in 2019,

providing quirky, off-shoot country-adjacent acts such as Nelly, performing the following night,

having had a fair amount of success joining with country acts such as Florida-Georgia Line and Tim McGraw,

Diplo on Sunday who is country in his roots and mixes in plenty of country throughout his sets,

and Orville Peck from 2022, who remains one of my favorite sets and artists to date.



Stashing the strapped-up chairs behind yet another planter near Palomino,

I meet up with David again as we find ourselves front row awaiting Trixie.


Just before she opens, Palomino begins to fill

and all are welcomed with a big-haired, bleach blonde babe rocking a bright-colored, flower-filled robe,

offering music and comedy, wonderfully combined in what is meant to be fun entertainment, as it was.


A number of costume changes later, one of which caught a snag on the reveal,

only adding more fun to the mix, and she was down to a skintight hot pink unitard,

performing a number of musical skits, closing us and Day 1 out with another hot pink leather-fringed jacket,

making for I believe 5 costume changes in 40 minutes

and one helluva show to finish out Day 1 of the long, hot weekend to come.


This time of night is always met with a bit of disdain

as it’s about what feels like 10 miles of dusty, traffic-filled paths to parking,

after 12 hours in sweaty boots and underwear,

only to sit in about an hour of traffic getting back up to Palm Springs where we were based,

though I typically prefer to camp on site.

Given our long drive back and long days ahead, I pack my dinner (a Chipotle Burrito) in an ice chest,

ready to be eaten on the drive home so as to shower and bed it as soon as we arrive after 2am,

rising the next day at 7:00am to continue our sprinting marathon in the desert…