Stagecoach 2022: Weekend commences with evening performances from Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett
Festival attendees crowd around the barricade in front of the stage on the first night of Stagecoach Festival. Held in Indio, California, the country music festival’s first night featured performances from Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin)
April 30, 2022 12:05 p.m.
This post was updated May 1 at 10:36 p.m.
With horse and carriage in tow, Stagecoach has made its return.
Hosted each year the weekend after Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival comes to a close, Stagecoach Festival and its two stages are the West Coast’s hub for country music. The Empire Polo Field in Indio, California, is transformed for the third weekend in a row, trading out polo horses for a large sculpture of the animal from Friday to Sunday.
Read on for the Daily Bruin’s coverage of Stagecoach Day 1.
Facing a sea of festival attendees awaiting her, Maren Morris arrived right on time.
The singer took the Mane Stage promptly at 8:30 p.m., marching straight into songs such as “80s Mercedes” with the stage awash in orange and yellow tones, matching Morris’ yellow floral dress. Though the video screens were often lagging behind the audio, the crowd was not any less enthused as it cheered along with her.
Since the Mane Stage’s audience included four tiered areas, each with separate sections, most concert watchers’ only view of the performance was via an array of screens. The videographers responsible for the footage used multiple cameras, angles and effects to their advantage. A close-up on Morris’ face often took up the entirety of the two vertical screens that sat stage left and right, but visual flourishes such as a behind-the-singer shot and a dolly shot – when the camera rolls across the stage – were often used to cinematographic effect.
The cameras panned out to show Morris crooning “I Can’t Love You Anymore” and playing tambourine. Often, the wind gently blew the singer’s hair, but the breeze also caused her to stop midway to remark, “It smells like pot.” The singer followed her comedic remark with a sentimental note about how much has changed since she last performed at Stagecoach five years ago – namely, the fact that she was playing after sunset now. Gesticulating purposefully, Morris then moved on to “Background Music,” which spotlighted her relationship with her husband Ryan Hurd, who performed on the same stage several hours before.
Flying through her discography, Morris picked up an electric guitar to accompany her track “GIRL.” The rock-inspired songs continued as Hurd emerged for “All My Favorite People” and heavier drums then melded into synth for Morris’ hit “The Middle.” Strutting around the stage during the track, Morris drew more attention to the sequined details of her dress and its fringe hem.
The synths deepened to open up “My Church” with organs for the singer’s penultimate track of the night, accompanied by clapping as Morris sang in unison with the crowd, choral style. While phones were mostly not present throughout the performance, festivalgoers whipped their devices out to capture “The Bones” as the stage lit up with sunset colors.
At the end of the Morris’ homestretch, country music lovers found heaven.
On Day 1, Thomas Rhett established friendship as common ground.
The performer served as the first headliner to appear before fans for this year’s Stagecoach Festival, donning a camouflage YETI trucker hat and black button-up for his set at 9:50 p.m. on the Mane Stage. With a rotating cast of guitars – two of which were teal – the performer spun through tracks with frequent calls out to the audience about their shared location and shared attributes, as seen in his lyrics’ subject matter.
Much of his performance time, however, was not spent playing the guitars he brought but instead emphatically beating his chest and pointing, moving about the stage or focusing on footwork. Prior to coming on stage, the cameras streamed footage of the stage lighting up in red from the perspective of the middle of the field, similar to an establishing shot for a TV or film scene. Opening number “Craving You” – originally released featuring prior performer Maren Morris – involved red and white spiraling lights, creating a tornado of visual effects to close out the track.
For the chorus of the next song, “Look What God Gave Her,” Rhett broke the fourth wall, looking straight at the camera. In one of his many references to geographical location, the musician shouted out, “Look what God gave Southern California tonight,” which was met with cheers throughout the venue. Rhett also interacted with the audience by faking them out during “Life Changes.” The pause rippled across the field before Rhett remarked on how his own life had changed since he last performed the song at Stagecoach in 2017 – most notably, that he now has four children instead of just the two mentioned in the song.
Transitioning through more tracks, Rhett brought out fellow country singer Jon Pardi for “Beer Can’t Fix,” during which both musicians coordinated their footwork to match the other. Rhett alone then took a bluegrass breakdown for “Country Again,” in which he opened up about his homesickness for Tennessee that comes with residing in California for the music industry.
After the short interlude, the singer sang a few bars of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” before asking a festivalgoer to come onstage with him to perform. Wearing a straw hat, the man introduced himself as Michael and belted the song. He was then revealed to be Michael Hardy, a country music artist who performs under the name HARDY. This was not the only surprise of the night, however, as a cowboy hat-donning Ashton Kutcher subsequently joined the duo onstage to finish out the song about friendship.
And with the help of pyrotechnics, sparks flew when Stagecoach collided with Rhett and company.