Festivals

Stagecoach Celebrates Increasing Diversity of Country Music With Most Inclusive Lineup Ever

Yola
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Yola performs during To Nashville, With Love A Concert Benefiting Local Tornado Relief Efforts at Marathon Music Works on March 9, 2020 in Nashville.

Stagecoach released its 2022 lineup poster Monday morning (July 12) and some fans were quick to pick up on a subtle, but very powerful difference from what country music fans have seen in the past. While the poster marking Stagecoach's triumphant return after a two-year COVID-19 absence has a familiar design, those willing to dig a little deeper into the artists playing the April 29-May 1 festival have found that the lineup looks a bit different from years past.

That's because promoter Goldenvoice is throwing open the corral gate and welcoming in the most diverse, inclusive major country music lineup ever with a slate of bookings representing the genre's growing audience across people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. That includes T.J. Osborne with Stagecoach favorite Brothers Osborne, who became the first openly gay artist signed to a major Nashville label in February when he shared his story with Time magazine. Joining Osborne are longtime LGBTQ+ rights activists Brandi Carlile and Orville Peck, as well as breakout artist Amythyst Kiah, an Black female artist breaking both racial and sound barriers with her critically acclaimed 2021 album Wary + Strange combining country's roots with bursts of lo-fi indie and garage rock.

Kiah is one of four women of color playing this year's festival -- a remarkable change from years past when people of color have been significantly underrepresented in the genre. The debut of Black singer Yola in 2019 represented a turning point for the genre that has long narrowly defined its sound and narrative around the experiences and traditions of Southern white people. That changed in the 1960s with the introduction of the Bakersfield Sound pioneered by Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam, which opened up the geographical perspective of country music, but remained largely closed to people of color.

The success and buzz around Yola's arrival within the country scene comes as the sound expands into new territory. Yola, a native of Bristol, U.K., brings a powerful soul influence to country, while breakout artist Reyna Roberts' sound will likely feel familiar to fans of mainstream country artists like Carrie Underwood, who is headlining the second night of this year's festival.

The stark difference in the sounds of Kiah, Yola and Roberts, as well as the roots style of fiddler, banjo player and singer Rhiannon Giddens, shows that the genre in 2021 is being influenced by its artists as opposed to years of trying to fit artists within the confines of certain subgenres and familiar sounds.

When it comes to headliners, Stagecoach is showcasing familiar names including  2021 Academy of Country Music male artist of the year Thomas Rhett opening the first night of the festival and a close-out with first-time headliner Luke Combs, who performed at the 2019 festival.

Missing from the lineup is Eric Church, who was set to close the 2020 festival and will be touring in support of his Heart & Soul project through the rest of the year. Other 2020 bands appearing this year include three-piece vintage country stars Midland, as well as Tanya Tucker, LoCash, Jimmie Allen and more. The Black Crowes will make their Stagecoach debut and provide direct support for Combs, a longtime fan of the band who worked closely with Goldenvoice to lock in the band's set.

Stagecoach always includes artists that might not fit at all within the country genre but are adored by fans of all walks of life, like Smokey Robinson bringing his hits-driven catalog to the Palomino stage.

"Smokey Robinson is one of my favorite artists of all time and we've wanted to book him for some time," says Goldenvoice's vp of festival talent Stacy Vee, who books the festival and has worked on Stagecoach since its launch in 2007. "We always try to do something a little different with the lineup and artists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Tom Jones. Smokey Robinson has so many hits and the audience will be singing along the moment he takes the stage."

Learn more at StagecoachFestival.com.

Courtesy Photo