Shania Twain launching at Stagecoach has programmer excited about country bill
The Desert Sun
By Bruce Fessier
April 10, 2017
A limited number of Coachella tickets will become available exclusively to Coachella Valley residents Wednesday at the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens. But some rockers who have grown up with Coachella might want to avoid the lines and check out Stagecoach: California’s Country Music Festival at the same Empire Polo Club.
Stacy Vee, who books the Stagecoach lineup for the Los Angeles-based Goldenvoice company, grew up with Coachella, helping that festival become the largest in America, until company president and CEO Paul Tollett tabbed her in 2015 to further redefine California country as his programming successor at Stagecoach.
This year, besides modern country headliners Dierks Bentley, Shania Twain and Kenny Chesney April 28-30, respectively, and new sensations such as Maren Morris, Bailey Bryan and Nikki Lane, the lineup features such familiar roots rockers as Los Lobos, the Blasters and John Doe of the punk band, X; Southern rockers .38 Special and the Cadillac Three, ‘60s rockers Tommy James and the Shondells and the Zombies, and three acts that have long straddled, and blurred the line between rock and country: Willie Nelson, Wynonna and the Big Noise, and the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis.
A tattooed 27-year-old artist with a rock hit, Elle King of “Ex’s and Oh’s” fame, also is going California country at Stagecoach.
And those are just some of the out-of-the-box acts booked for this 11th annual Stagecoach. Vee talked about the lineup recently with The Desert Sun. Here’s an Q&A of that chat:
THE DESERT SUN: So, are you coming out here for Coachella or just Stagecoach?
STACY VEE: No, man, I’m out there for the whole month with the rest of the Goldenvoice crew. I’m not going to let everybody else have all the fun.
Well, I don’t know how big of a convert you are to country music. Some people go all the way and turn their backs on their rock roots.
No. I think that’s apparent in the way the Stagecoach lineup looks. We have a lot of other stuff going on. It truly is the Coachella of country music festival. I was Paul Tollett’s assistant for 13 years, so I’ve learned everything I know from Paul T. I execute and make decisions based on what would Paul T do.
How has that manifested more this year than last year?
Honestly, I think we have the most eclectic lineup to date. A very obvious way is Shania Twain. Something Paul Tollett likes to do is throw curveballs at people, to surprise people, and I think grabbing Shania and putting her as the headliner at Stagecoach on Saturday night was something a lot of people weren’t expecting.
A lot of people thought she was retired.
Exactly. But we work really hard to make the Stagecoach poster unlike any other country music poster in the United States. We really want to go above and beyond and push the boundaries and get creative, and I think we really did that this year.
Did you have to talk her out of retirement?
Oh, no! Not whatsoever. She’s got some things brewing right now. I think Stagecoach is a kickoff point for her. I can’t really give away too much, but Stagecoach is just one piece in a big plan for her.
I know Paul T often starts talking to bands years before they wind up on a lineup.
Correct. And we’ve been talking to Shania for a long time. Well over a year. But this is the only show she’s announced in the entire world. They wanted to partner with us, being the premier country music festival and the biggest look a country artist could have.
So, was Stagecoach a piece of the puzzle or the kindling that started the fire? For example, Guns N’ Roses didn’t have plans to tour or do anything more with Slash until Paul started talking about a reunion. Then, after that, they toured. So I’m wondering about your role in Shania career revival.
She was already thinking about it. They came to us.
So you must have been pretty excited.
Are you kidding? To be able to have the exclusive world announcement on the number one-selling female artist of all time, and Stagecoach is her only live performance she has on the books? That is something so special and so exciting, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.
You’ve added some new acts since the lineup was announced. Can we talk about some of the recent additions?
Sure. Bailey Bryan is kind of exploding right now. Her agent turned us on to her and we just grabbed her. She’s going to be opening the Mane Stage. I was able to see her play live out at C2C Festival (Country to Country) this year in London. She’s an up-and-coming act. A lot of people should be paying attention. We get a lot of people wanting to play Stagecoach. We pick the best of the best and the artists who are opening the Mane Stage and other stages are tomorrow’s stars.
Finding country stars is different than finding indie or hip-hop stars. You find a lot of songwriters writing hits for others.
Absolutely. That’s a really good point and the thing is, it’s such a great community. They all write songs for each other and then perform songs together. You go back stage at these festivals and shows and they’re hanging out together in the hallways. They’re friends. Country music is such a wonderful, nurturing, super friendly environment.
And you have an industry in Nashville where the publishers are actually pro-active in finding new songwriters. So, do you go to publishers or how do you find the new talent?
Oh, man. There are a million ways. I attend a lot of country music festivals, like CMA Fest. I read a lot. I study news, I talk to artists and listen to what they’re listening to, and a lot of times I listen to music on Spotify and just go down rabbit holes. Like, I’ll listen to one artist and that will lead me to other artists and I’ll Google something. There’s really no one way. But, I do pay attention to a lot of songwriters, especially when songwriters choose to pursue careers of their own.
Were you attracted to Elle King after she recorded with Dierks Bentley or how did she get on the lineup?
She’s actually someone we’ve had our eye on. We were talking about having her last year. But when she did the song with Dierks (this year’s Grammy-nominated “It’s Different For Girls”), we were like, ‘Well, that seals the deal.’ She played in the Stadium at the CMA Festival last year with Dierks and she’s just been all over the country music space. Since Dierks is going to be playing this year, we just thought this was the right opportunity. I’m so glad we waited because I think she’s gained a lot of country music fans.
That brings up another trademark of Paul T. His festivals get these surprise appearances that generate so much excitement. Do you have anything planned in that regard?
Well, Elle and Dierks are playing on the same day at Stagecoach.
Are you teasing?
Just saying. And Los Angeles is right there, so you never know who is going to pop out. I mean, last year we had Snoop Dogg jump on with Sam Hunt, which is pretty amazing. You never know what we’ll have up our sleeves.
Could we see Steve Martin step in with the Steep Canyon Rangers?
He did play the show once before (with them). This year I think it’s just the Rangers. But we do have Kiefer Sutherland.
I saw him at Pappy and Harriet’s. He’s very good.
Oh, my God. He’s working so hard, and no special treatment. He’s out there grinding.
Another one that leaps out is the Hillbenders Present The Who’s Tommy.
Yeah! It’s just something I did some research (on). We need to take a little more time to allow for that, but it’s just what it says. It’s a bluegrass opry of the songs from “Tommy.”
The entire opera bluegrass style?
Well, as much as they can fit in the time allotted. They’re bending the show a little bit. I think they could have taken a little more time, but, at a country music festival, I’m giving them a full hour.
Most bands get 50 minutes?
It depends. Some baby bands get 30 minutes, 35, 40. It just depends. Usually 30 to 50 but usually the opener to the headliners gets 55 minutes to an hour.
And if Shania Twain decides to go 90 minutes you won’t complain?
I will be the last person to complain. I can tell you I will be in the middle of the pit dancing and having the best time. It’s going to be so much fun. And let’s not forget Willie Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis. Talk about legends. I’m like, “When are you going to get to that?”
I was just talking about how there’s probably a lot more interest in Jerry Lee since Chuck Berry died. He was the last man standing from the Million Dollar Quartet (with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins). Now he’s standing even taller.
I’ve always wanted to have Chuck, but I was talking with Clint Davis, who books the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He had Jerry Lee and he said Jerry Lee lit that stage on fire! So, I’m like, that’s all I needed to hear. I had an offer out to Jerry Lee that same day. For Stagecoach, we had to have Jerry Lee at some point. We have to have these legends who paved the way for rock and country. So many genres can all trace back to guys like Chuck and Jerry. I feel it’s our duty to have them at Stagecoach.
It seems like you have more roots artists than in the past.
I would say so, absolutely. It’s because I come across so many of these artists and I’m just such a fan. I go to the Americana Festival in Nashville and we have that Stagecoach Spotlight Tour using Stagecoach as a launchpad or a place to end up. So, I see so many of these roots artists and I just want to do everything I can to help support them. So, I find them slots at Stagecoach.
A lot of these artists don’t really have a place in pop music anymore, like Tommy James and the Shondells. They’re kind of relegated to the nostalgia circuit.
I wouldn’t really call Tommy James part of the roots movement, but we have Tommy James and we have the Zombies. I think the game changer was when we had Don McLean a couple years ago. I was standing in the tent when people just starting running across the field into that tent to see him sing “American Pie.” Since then we’ve had Eric Burdon and these ‘60s rock artists. People just love them.
So is that becoming another component of California country: ’60s rock that doesn’t fit into other categories?
I don’t know. I couldn’t say it’s part of California country music. I just think it’s something fun we like to do at Stagecoach. It’s a curveball. I don’t think people would have ever seen Tommy James and the Shondells coming, but, when they saw it on the poster, I know for a fact everybody loved it.