BY BRYAN MCKINNEY
I had the rare opportunity to see the Stagecoach Festival from a vantage point that most people will never get a chance to experience. My photographer pass allowed me to walk right up to the front of the main stage for the first three songs by each artist.
The very first act I had the pleasure of seeing was Lindsay Ell, a beautiful blonde artist who looked right at home in Southern California. She proceeded to rock the stage with some strong vocals and some amazing guitar playing skills. I was particularly impressed and delighted when she broke into some famous guitar riffs by the likes of Jimmy Hendrix and Aerosmith, and nailed them.
Next up was Kelleigh Bannen, a new artist who played her own songs and did a great job of covering the song Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. Kelleigh, having lost her brother to addiction has been prominent in Nashville supporting recovery.
Eric Paslay, a red bearded giant in a baseball cap, had a down home country sound and his song “Friday Night” reminded me of my high school days cruising the strip with my friends looking for girls and trouble, sometimes in that order, and sometimes not.
Hitting the stage with an infectious grin and an energy level that got the growing crowd pumped up and cheering, Thomas Rhett was truly entertaining to watch, while Easton Corbin painted a vocal picture of pickup trucks and fishing holes and hound dogs by the courthouse steps.
Brantley Gilbert roared onto the stage in his camo tank top, looking like he carries tree trunks around for a living and laid down a hard rocking country beat down on the audience, who loved it. The last act of day one was by country bad boy Eric Church, who gave the crowd everything it expected and then some. You can read about Eric and his latest album in Lisa Morgan’s story in the last issue of CV Weekly.
I had a unique perspective of the days events while constantly rushing from venue to venue, and the things that stick out most in my mind are the daisy chains of young girls in groups of 4 or 5 holding hands while walking, running or sometimes stumbling through the crowd, and the seemingly endless variety of American flag themed items of clothing, from scandalously short shorts to a full out Captain American costume complete with red white and blue tights.
Day two kicked off with Orange County product Sara Haze, a pretty little blonde with a vocal style reminiscent of Taylor Swift. Her songs told stories in a smooth easy to listen to manner.
Dan & Shay looked like half of a countrified boy band, and had the female half of the audience immediately cheering. The rest of the audience soon followed suit when they heard the wonderful harmonizing that ensued.
One of my favorite performances, not only of day two, but of the entire festival came next onto the main stage. Holly Williams, as Hank Williams Junior’s daughter, is country royalty, but she couldn’t be more down to earth. She came on the stage with her husband and simply sang beautifully and honestly. She has a clear understated power to her voice that just draws you in and a half hour later leaves you cheering at the journey you just experienced.
Last year’s winner of “The Voice” at the tender age of sixteen, Danielle Bradbery got her shot at the big stage. Now seventeen, her voice and stage presence are that of a much more mature artist. With coach and mentor Blake Shelton behind her, and her phenomenal talent, I predict good things in her future.
One of the singing partners of Blake’s wife Miranda Lambert came out next. Ashley Monroe looked quite fashionable in her white sundress and oversized sunglasses, and her vocals did not disappoint.
Tyler Farr has a unique sound and the crowd gave a cheer for his hit “Whiskey in my Water”. It was sometime during or immediately after his performance that my cell phone decided that our five year relationship just wasn’t working anymore and that we needed to go our separate ways. I was pretty sad about this, but like any man, I am now in the process of getting a newer model, but I digress. But I was soon comforted by the beautiful Jennifer Nettles. She is starting her solo career after being the lead singer for the group Sugarland and showed the crowd that she is perfectly capable of bringing down the house all on her own.
Hunter Hayes hit the stage running and never slowed down, showing the energy and power of the twenty two year old that he is. The main stage was packed and the cheering was non-stop for this phenom. The photographers were hard pressed to keep up with his frenetic pace.
Closing out the day in true country superstar fashion was one of the crowd favorites, Jason Aldean. The crowd sang along as visions of four wheel drive trucks and pretty country girls played on the big screen behind him.
As day three started up, I was trying to convince my aching feet that we could make it through one more day. Charlie Worsham did a great job of taking my mind off my aches and putting it back where it belonged; on some great country music. It was his first Stagecoach and it was wonderful to see how excited he was to be playing the main stage. He was definitely deserving of the honor, including a great country banjo version of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train”. He was followed by Chris Cagle, who may look like Larry the Cable Guy, but sings like a country powerhouse, and plays some hard driving guitar.
Lee Brice and his band had me tapping my foot from the start. I especially liked his top hat wearing guitar player and the energy of the performance. The band was having as much fun as the audience.
I barely made it in time for the performance by Florida Georgia Line, but boy am I glad I did. These boys know how to put on a crowd-pleasing show. I figured things were going to be high energy when I saw the bottle of Fireball Whisky sitting by the drums before the band came out. They didn’t make it out into the crowd like last year’s show, but they did jump up on the speakers at the front of the stage and were close enough for me to touch.
It was finally time for Luke Bryan and the grand finale to the festival. The photographers were kept outside the pit for the first song due to the pyrotechnics and the desire to avoid being barbequed. Luke had the whole crowd singing and dancing and the ladies got the booty shake that they had been waiting all festival for. All in all it was a great finish to three days of country heaven.
I may not have connected equally to all of the performances, but one thing I did appreciate was the desire and effort of each and every performer to put on a great show for the audience. These artists are consummate professionals and I feel privileged to have been able to cover their performances.