It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime between its launch in 2007, when 27,500 attended the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, Calif., and 2019, when Cole Swindell announced that it had passed the 80,000-fan mark, the event became the world’s largest country music festival.
For Stacy Vee, the vp of festival booking at Goldenvoice, there were thousands of both small and large decisions that propelled the festival’s growth each year, from its partnership with longtime friend and Stagecoach performer Nikki Lane, who expanded her fashionable Stage Stop Marketplace, to its recent collaborations with “Late Night in Palomino” headliner Diplo and its embrace of celebrity chef Guy Fieri as Stagecoach pitmaster.
Vee books every artist on the lineup, from top headliners like Carrie Underwood and Luke Combs, to first-time artists performing on the Palomino stage; negotiates every partnership, including the 2022 invitation to the Compton Cowboys — a Black-owned equestrian organization serving Black teenagers and young adults — and approves every touch point at the festival between fans, artists and the Stagecoach brand.
“I am constantly thinking, reimagining and fine-tuning creative ideas for all of the projects I work across,” Vee tells Billboard, describing her creative process as detailed and intentional, building incrementally with the long view in mind. Due to its size and popularity, Stagecoach is a juggernaut in the country music business, but Vee says she believes the real opportunity for Stagecoach is the culture created around it.
In 2022, Stagecoach returned from a two-year pandemic absence with its most inclusive lineup ever, with a slate of bookings representing the genre’s growing audience among people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Vee and Goldenvoice have also doubled down on indie country and the growing Americana genre, launching the Palomino Festival in July featuring Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson and more than a dozen artists, many who have played at Stagecoach, changing the sound of country music.
With Stagecoach having made its grand return and Palomino on the horizon, not to mention the changes in the touring space since the pandemic and Goldenvoice’s efforts to come back from that, as well as the changes in country music, Vee lands the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week. Here, she discusses all those efforts and more. “We want everyone to see themselves reflected and being celebrated in the lineup,” she says, “Stagecoach is a gorgeous representation of country music and culture in all forms.”
After a two-year break, Stagecoach made its return this year. Was there a learning curve after the break or did you pick right up where you left off?
It all came together better than I could have ever expected at the last minute. Obviously, it’s a very ambitious turnover from Coachella to Stagecoach, because we’re loading Coachella out for a couple of days before we’re even able to bring in Stagecoach and open Friday morning. And it was tough, but, when Friday morning arrived, everything just came together. I spent Friday morning walking around and seeing some of the new things that I put in place and decisions that I had made two years ago, from the artists I booked, to the expansion of Nikki Lane’s market into the Yee Haw Tent, which now included the Compton Cowboys. Everything just came together, from the staff to the artists all having fun with each other. So many people told me they felt something different at Stagecoach — it felt like there was magic this year.
What were the big standout artist moments for you?
Carrie Underwood bringing out Axl Rose at Stagecoach was just magnificent. And then, you know, the next night, another one that stands out was Smokey Robinson in the Palomino tent. I wish I could just bottle the feeling I had in there. It was one of the most special performances I’ve ever seen. All of the artists took this opportunity so seriously and really delivered incredible performances. And that’s all you can ever ask for as a concert promoter. No one is just showing up and doing their thing and collecting their money. Stagecoach means something to them, and we are very intentional with everything we do, growing and changing without leaving anyone behind.
Each year the Stagecoach lineup always includes big-name Nashville superstars, a significant number of independent artists in both alt-country and Americana, and some big-name artists who are not country artists but have a broad appeal to your fans. How do you approach the curation process?
I spend a lot of time thinking about our fans. The lineup should appeal to someone who has been coming to Stagecoach for the past 14 years and also appeal to a person who’s never gone to a country music festival until now. I think people are excited to be part of something that is growing and changing and on the forefront. Stagecoach is the future of country music and, every year, we try things that haven’t been done before. People want to be part of something that has fresh representation and the changing country culture of tomorrow.
How do you convey that to your audience?
We’re selling a festival ticket, of course, but what we’re really selling is a feeling. I learned that from [Goldenvoice president/CEO] Paul [Tollet], if you look at Coachella’s white tents, the absence of logos, even the gorgeous mid-century restrooms. Each festival has a personality and there’s a cast of characters we have that are part of the stagecoach family. During Stagecoach I am hanging out with Diplo, Guy Fieri. Lana Del Rey, Orville Peck and Nikki Lane. Stagecoach means the world to Diplo and we’re trying to figure out a way for him to make an even bigger mark going forward. It’s a culture that he cares about, and, you know, he’s been a great partner to us, and I want to be a great partner to them. And that means leaning into those relationships and the creativity of our partners so that we’re creating something totally new together.
How does Stagecoach fit with the Palomino Fest you are launching in July?
Well, it’s our first year with Palomino and we’re figuring it out as we go. There is overlap with a few of our artists — Nikki Lane and the Compton Cowboys will be there, along with Amythyst Kiah, Ian Noe and Charlie Crockett. And the Palomino Festival came from the Palomino Stage at Stagecoach, which is pure magic. I’m just chasing that feeling. From the intimacy of the stage to the kicker lights on the downstage edge, everything on the Palomino stage is a celebration of country music culture from A to Z. I just wanted to give this scene its own moment.
How do you see Stagecoach fitting into the larger alt-country and Americana scene happening in Los Angeles?
The genre has grown significantly, especially on the West Coast, and Stagecoach has played a pivotal role. I can see it at the shows we put on at the Roxy, the El Rey and the Fonda with a lot more country artists coming through and playing our venues than in the past three years, pandemic aside of course. There’s a lot more country artists coming through and it’s my favorite thing to get in early and establish relationships with artists when they’re just starting out and then cultivate those artists and grow with them and watch them move up. Some artists, like Midland and Cody Johnson, started on the Palomino Stage and eventually played the Mane Stage. It’s the artists who are doing the hard work, and I focus on making good choices with curation and giving artists an amazing platform.
What do you look for when booking a new artist, and what inspires you?
Music that you can hear, see and, most importantly, feel. There are certain artists that can paint a picture with their words and you feel like you’re right there. Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson are amazing examples of that. They make it so personal. That is what I’m looking for.
When you find artists you want to work with, do you know right away, or do you have to settle into the material?
I’m a first-listen kind of a person. I can feel it right away and I can connect with somebody right away. There are artists like Jaime Wyatt, Sierra Ferrell, Paul Cauthen and Ian Noe who are developing artists that we’ve booked that can make the hair stand up straight on your arm when hear them. That’s the feeling I’m always chasing.