Country music fans, performers brave the heat and

It was already 100 degrees by the time the gates opened for the three-day Stagecoach Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio at noon on Friday, April 28.

While cowboy hats, denim and country music were the familiar sights and sounds, the festival has a new layout this year. The scorching heat had fans walking in slowly, navigating the fresh territory and in carrying lawn chairs as they searched for the perfect view of the expanded Mane Stage, where the headliners — Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and Chris Stapleton —will perform throughout the weekend.

But the heat didn’t stop the party. Even a few Mane Stage performers braved the elements and sweating off their makeup to hang out with fans in the Shein Saloon activation early in the day. “Just About Over You” singer Priscilla Block helped guests pick out accessories for their outfits and said she was loving her first time at Stagecoach.

“It’s wild and I wish I would have come as a fan prior,” she said. “Everyone is so excited and it’s country music and we’re in the desert … it’s just a whole vibe.”

“Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” and “America’s Sweetheart” singer-songwriter Elle King, who played the Palomino at Stagecoach back in 2017, said she’s just happy they let her back in the gates.

“I consider it a real honor,” she said of graduating to Mane Stage status in 2023. She was also in the Shein Saloon, doing Cowboy Karaoke with some lucky fans who were hanging out and getting custom cowboy hats and bandanas made. They got a little taste of what was to come as she belted out her 2015 hit “Ex’s & Oh’s” karaoke-style.

“Thank God that was the song,” she said with a laugh. “It’s the only one I know the words to and they still had the lyrics up there for me!”

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Outside the air-conditioned saloon, fans made their way into the event and up to the Mane Stage, pausing to enjoy the cool mist coming from misters wrapped around palm trees that worked overtime to bring them some relief. Many found spots to spread out blankets on the dead, hay-like grass that was once lush and green during its sister event that happened over the past two weekends, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Elsa and Wyatt Parker of Burbank have been coming to the festival for five years and said they were fine with the head, noting that it’s now expected of the festival weekend.

“I have to make sure I bring bottles of sunscreen every time,” Elsa said. “It only lasts from the car to the gate, then I got to reapply again by the time I get to the gate because we sweat it off.”

And for sister duo and longtime Stagecoach veterans Laura and Marie Wilkonson, the heat is “the worst it’s ever been.”

Making the trek from Santa Ana to attend Stagecoach has been a tradition for the family since 2012, and they can’t recall the last time the sun beamed so severely.

“Honestly, you kind of know what you’re getting yourself into every year when stepping into Stagecoach,” Marie said. “The heat is like the price you pay to see great country acts.”

Yet, the two add it might affect who they may see throughout the day since some stages, such as the Mane Stage, don’t have many shaded areas for people to cool down.

“That’s the hardest part of coming, sometimes the heat just forces you to sit down for hours.,” Marie said.

Madison Amoth, who flew in from Idaho a day before the festivities began, said that the heat is something she’s enjoying considering the grueling winter her state has endured.

“For me, I can take the heat,” she said while waiting in line at a lemonade stand. “I’m enjoying it because back where I live, we used to pray for this kind of weather. I’m not saying it’s easy to be in this kind of heat at a festival, but I’m grateful and just so excited to see Tyler Childers and Chris Stapleton.”

Returning attractions at the Yee-Haw include Nikki Lane’s Stage Stop Marketplace and the Compton Cowboys, a group of ten Black horseback riders whose small ranch is one of the very last in a formerly semi-rural area of Compton.

DJ and producer Diplo, who is also hosting Late Night in Palomino on Sunday, has curated the Honky Tonk for the very first time and is bringing prominent EDM artists like Girl Talk, Dillon Francis, Lost Frequencies, Cheat Codes and more to that stage.

Alexander Colman of San Diego said he isn’t surprised to see more EDM acts at Stagecoach.

“I tell people all the time that it brings different music together even though it’s a country festival,” Coleman said. “I think you’ll be surprised how much of an overlap of different music you’ll find out here.”

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri is also back with his barbecue setup over at the expanded Guy Fieri’s Stagecoach Smokehouse, which will include cooking demos with pitmasters and performers including ZZ Top, Jon Pardi, Old Dominion and more scheduled throughout the weekend.

New features at Stagecoach include the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch from the popular TV series “Yellowstone,” which offers plenty of photo opportunities and yard games. The festival also debuted the 1 Million Strong Wellness Retreat, which allows fans to relax, recharge and enjoy non-alcoholic drinks with other sober attendees.

For hundreds of attendees, RV camping is the true way to experience Stagecoach as they can set up camp just outside the festival gates and get the party started early with their neighbors.

San Diego resident Laurisa Galeazzi said she feels right at home in the campgrounds.

“For us, RV camping means meeting new people and making new friends, some of which we plan to meet up with later this evening for Stapleton,” Galeazzi said of plotting out their festival strategy, which includes seeing Sunday headliner Chris Stapleton.

“We couldn’t say no to coming to see (him) perform,” she added. “We actually won tickets for Stagecoach last year from our local radio station, and it was our first time coming. We loved it so much we had to come back, regardless of whether we had to pay.”

Stagecoach continues on Saturday, April 29 with headliner Kane Brown and sets from Old Dominion, ZZ Top, Gabby Barrett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bryan Adams, Niko Moon, Keb’ Mo’ and others. Sunday, April 30 is topped by Stapleton along with Brooks & Dunn, Tyler Childers, Turnpike Troubadours, Parker McCollum, Lainey Wilson, Ryan Bingham and more.

Stagecoach is also streaming all the performances on the Mane Stage live on Amazon Prime throughout the weekend.

(Kelli Skye Fadroski also contributed to this story). 

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Stagecoach 2023: Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and Chris Stapleton will headline the country fest in Indio 

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