by Julian Spivey
The third and final day of the annual Stagecoach Festival, dedicated to country music (and also Smokey Robinson apparently), in Indio, Calif. took place on Sunday, May 1 and I made sure to catch a few of the sets from the afternoon and evening that were streaming on YouTube.
Hailey Whitters is one of the most anticipated up-and-coming singer-songwriters in country music and has that feeling of someone who might be on the verge of breaking into the mainstream if the country music mainstream will allow another female to do so – years after Tomatogate the genre still feels like it has a quota on women in the mainstream.
Whitters took the SiriusXM Spotlight stage Sunday afternoon for a roughly 30-40 minute set that included almost exclusively tracks off her sophomore album Raised, which was released on March 18. Among the highlights from Raised were “Everything She Ain’t” and “The Neon,” which have been spinning frequently on a list of new country and Americana songs I have on repeat.
Among the other tracks Whitters performed off the new album were: “Plain Jane” and “Boys Back Home.” She also brought out some tracks from last year’s deluxe edition of her debut The Dream in “Fillin’ My Cup” (which she does on the album with Little Big Town) and “How Far Can It Go?” (which she does on the album with Trisha Yearwood). She performed a nice snippet of Yearwood’s classic “She’s In Love with the Boy” in the middle of “How Far Can It Go?”
Whitters, who seemed to be having the time of her life at Stagecoach, finished off her set with “Heartland,” off The Dream. The crowd at the SiriusXM Spotlight stage, which was possibly on the outskirts of the venue based on the stream (I could be wrong, the view wasn’t great), was small, but they knew many of the words to Whitters song, which is terrific for her future.
Later in the afternoon the incredible Latin-infused country group The Mavericks took the Palomino Stage (where honestly much of the best music from this festival seemed to be coming from this weekend) and performed around a 30-minute set of some of their biggest tracks and newer stuff.
The Mavericks, featuring the extremely talented Raul Malo on vocals, opened their set with “All Night Long” from the band’s 2015 critically-acclaimed Mono. The group continued on with “Back In Your Arms Again,” the opening track off of my favorite Mavericks album In Time from 2013.
One of the things I love the most about The Mavericks is the large band of musicians that travel with them, including a multiple-piece horn section and an amazing accordionist in Percy Cardone. Cardone particularly put on a show during the group’s set.
The Mavericks would perform two more tracks from In Time during their set: “As Long As There’s Loving Tonight” and my personal favorite “Come Unto Me,” which I’ve mentioned before really revs me up and makes me want to almost fight a bull! The song is that awesome.
The band’s most recent album was the aptly titled completely Spanish-language release En Espanol from which the band played a track that they didn’t announce and since my Spanish is incredibly limited I couldn’t pick up, but it sounded great.
The Mavericks’ biggest country charter, which country radio was actually cool enough to play something unique in the mid- ‘90s, was “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” which the band absolutely brought the house down at the Palomino Stage with early Sunday evening as their set ender.
This is one of the few country/Americana acts I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing live (in person) yet that I’d love to see with the incredibly talented musicianship and Malo’s soothing and sultry vocals.
The final set I caught of the final day of Stagecoach was Cody Johnson’s early in the evening from the “Mane” Stage.
Johnson has become probably the most popular Texas Country Music performer and has been one of the few to break through into the mainstream with a charting hit – with his recent single “’Til You Can’t,” one of my favorite country releases of 2021, recently making it to the top of the Billboard Country Airplay chart.
Johnson played numerous fan-favorites during his hour-long set opening with “Honky Tonk Hardwood Floors” from his 2021 album Human: The Double Album (hint to country artists you don’t actually have to include ‘The Double Album’ in the title of your double albums, we get it!).
Johnson would also play “Let’s Build a Fire” and “Human” from his newest release but did a good job of spreading the tracks from multiple albums on his set.
My particular favorite performances from his set including “Me & My Kind,” off his 2014 Cowboy Like Me album, “With You I Am,” off 2016’s Gotta Be Me, and “On My Way to You,” from 2019’s Ain’t Nothin’ to It.
One of Johnson and his Rockin’ CJBs hardest rocking performance was his cover of the Charlie Daniels Band classic “Long Haired Country Boy,” which Johnson led into with a Charlie Daniels like talk about patriotism and as good as the cover is I don’t mean that as a compliment.
I damn sure don’t mind musicians talking about politics and important stuff, but I do find I appreciate it a whole lot more when it’s actually put into song and not screamed as a segue into them. Either way it’s Johnson’s right to do what he wants with his stage time. I like his music; probably wouldn’t want to have a conversation about important topics with him.
Johnson finished his Stagecoach set with the aforementioned No. 1 hit “’Til You Can’t,” which I’m legit shocked made it to the top of the country airplay chart. The song absolutely should be a No. 1 hit, that’s not the shocking part. The shocking part is that an actual by-God damn good country music song was able to top the charts via airplay on mainstream country radio.