Strait, Jackson Kick Off Inaugural Stagecoach Fest

The inaugural Stagecoach festival in Indio, Calif. at the Empire Polo Field began without a hitch on Saturday (May 5). George Strait and Alan Jackson topped the bill at the Empire Polo Field in Indio,

The inaugural Stagecoach festival in Indio, Calif. at the Empire Polo Field began without a hitch on Saturday (May 5). George Strait and Alan Jackson topped the bill at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif., which also included performances by Sara Evans, Miranda Lambert and Willie Nelson. The festival concludes today with Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn and Sugarland.

Conceived as a country music answer to the successful Coachella festival at the same locale, Stagecoach featured a mix of chart-toppers, alternative country artists and traditionalists in various genres.

Some fans paid top dollar for the limited seats in front of the "Mane" stage, while others brought their own lawn chairs and either picked a spot for the day or toted them around the field to all four stages.

According to local authorities, about 25,000 attended the event, which had a capped capacity of 30,000 for this first outing. Unlike last week's Coachella, temperatures were mild and even at times cloud-cover cool with breezes, for an older base audience that included many families and ranged from toddlers to seniors, giving the festival a state fair feel.

Wearing a crisp white shirt and black cowboy hat, Strait turned in a career-spanning show, from his 1980s hits such as "Amarillo By Morning" and "The Chair," '90s songs like "Check Yes or No" and material from his current MCA Nashville release, "It Just Comes Natural."

Jackson also wore white, including his hat, and only played a handful of ballads while focusing mostly on upbeat crowd-pleasers like "Gone Country" and "Don't Rock the Jukebox" as well as his hit remakes of "Pop-a-Top" and "Who's Cheatin' Who." Evans was the top-billed female artist of the day. Her set featured current single "You'll Always Be My Baby" and the more traditional "Suds in the Bucket."

The biggest draw on the secondary Palomino stage was Willie Nelson, though it probably helped that he appeared following Evans and just before Jackson. The set list was similar to his Coachella festival performance one week earlier, spotlighting many of his classic songs and a medley of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee" in tribute to his pal Kris Kristofferson, who performs at Stagecoach today.

The eclectic assortment on the Palomino also featured a tough-rocking Lucinda Williams, crooner Raul Malo and the agitated Old '97s. Texas singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen and alt-country darling Neko Case offered nighttime alternatives to the big names on the Mane Stage.

The Appaloosa Stage inside one of the field's large tents was devoted to bluegrass stylings, from the legendary Earl Scruggs to hitmakers Nickel Creek, as well as the Yonder Mountain String Band and the Grascals.

The Mustang Stage spotlighted historic-minded cowboy music from performers that included Riders In The Sky, Red Steagall and Sons Of The San Joaquin.