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Stagecoach draws thousands to the desert for country music

At least 100,000 people, two days, three stages, more than 200 acres of desert and a whole lot of cowboy hats were part of Stagecoach’s fourth annual country music festival that I attended with my husband on April 24.

Tickets began selling in October for the top-ranking US destination festival, which is held each April at the Empire Polo club in Indio, where open land near the Palm Desert area turns into a small community for the yearly country festival.

This year’s weekend featured Keith Urban and Sugarland as the Saturday headliners, while the April 25 top names included Toby Keith and Brooks & Dunn.

Stagecoach 2010 followed the previous weekend’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival held April 16 to 18 which included a lineup of more than 100 bands in the alternative, independent and electric pop genres.

It was all about country on Saturday, and throughout the two days 30 bands played across three stages. The temperature was summer-like and the sky was clear.

The gates opened at noon and I people-watched for quite some time as I sat in a lawn chair on the other side of the fence that festival goers walked past to get from the parking lot to the main entrance.

A steady stream of people carried items such as lawn chairs, blankets, beer, backpacks and cameras and nearly everyone wore either a cowboy hat or boots as a symbol of their taste for country western music. Mini skirts were the popular choice of clothing for women to pair with their cowboy boots and hats.

The men mostly wore cowboy hats or bandanas, and boots or flip flops. But I did see several young men sport both cowboy boots and shorts together.

I’m not a major country music fan, although I definitely enjoy a choice song here and there, but I was excited to experience what the festival was all about.

For those who waited until the last minute, $129 could purchase a weekend pass, or $89 could buy one day of general admission. Neither of these prices included a reserved seat, but rather a spot to plop down a blanket or a chair and become part of a tight row of concertgoers.

Reserved seating in front of the Mane Stage (get the spelling?) was priced from $499 to $799 per person, according to the Stagecoach official Web site.

My husband was working the event Saturday for AT&T, and his coworker gave me a tour of the venue on a Polaris he used to get around the grounds during the many days he spent working there.

Inside the gate, there seemed to be endless rows of trailers parked together in the camping section, but I learned that there are actually four separate on-site areas to accommodate campers in trailers, RV’s and tents.

One sectioned area included family camping, which enforces a strict curfew, and another area called “Stick and Ball,” is geared toward the young, active crowd and doesn’t have a curfew, according to the Stagecoach Web site.

The first shows were scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at two different stages, and some people made a seat on the ground near a stage while others clustered together near vendors, and some rode around on beach cruisers.

We drove past an empty wooden roller skating rink that later would open from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. for line dancing on wheels.

Vendors were lined up, much like a street fair, and sold items that ranged from food to cowboy boots.

A farmer’s market was also on site, as well as beer gardens, a cowboy mashup that featured stuff to do such as ‘rock the seesaw’ and ‘ride the hamster wheels,’ a BBQ cook off and a kids’ area called the half-pint Hootenanny.

By 6:30 p.m. the festival was packed with people.

Megan Uenuia, 22, attended with her friend, Regina.

“It’s fun,” said Uenuia, as she leaned on a railing and watched Billy Currington perform on the stage. She said that she traveled from Lakewood for both days of the concert and that it was her third year attending the Stagecoach festival.

But others were newcomers, such as Jereldinne Boyl who was working at a Budweiser tent serving beer. Boyl arrived at 10:30 in the morning, was sunburned from walking around outside, “but love being here,” she said.

Boyl lives in Palm Springs and works as a respiratory therapist, and while at work one day said she heard that Budweiser was looking for people to work at the large country music event. In return for her service she received free entrance to the festival, tips and wages. So far, she said she had served “hundreds and hundreds” of beverages.

“It’s interesting meeting everybody,” she said, and added that she will definitely attend again next year.

As music played, some people swayed in their lawn chairs, others sat on blankets and one group started their own line dance and was joined by about two dozen people.

Sugarland was performing on the Mane Stage, and was the final show before Keith Urban came out at 9:30 p.m.

The lights on the stages brought illumination into the darkness, along with the Ferris wheel that sparkled in the distance and the occasional wave of a glow-stick.

Two small boys ran in circles together in a small area of empty ground, near the edge of an aisle that was carved out through the crowd.

Ashtin, 5, and Jesse, 4, were at the festival with their parents. Their mother, Ashley Hoppe, said they arrived late in the afternoon after driving from San Marcos. It was the first time the family had attended, and they were there to see Sugarland, she said.

Hoppe said that her boys had fun at the Hootenanny area where they saw a baby goat that was just three days old, took pictures with a big chicken and played with a rubber band gun.

She said getting cowboy hats was the highlight of the day for the boys.

“I don’t know how they’re still awake,” said Hoppe, who also said that next year they will definitely attend again, but will be sure to bring chairs.

If I attend next year, I will also bring a chair. I enjoyed the festival and had a good time talking to people and soaking up the atmosphere of a country event. By day’s end, I wanted a cowboy hat and was talking about making plans to come next April.

For more information on Stagecoach, go to http://www.stagecoachfestival.com.

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