(Sam Hunt, Snoop Dogg, Bebe Rexha, and G-Eazy pose for a photo backstage at Stagecoach 2016. Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch)
Sam Hunt can sound like he’s spent at least as much time listening to the Cash Money stable of artists as he has to Johnny Cash. So when a beer company announced that it was promoting a “moment” during Hunt’s Friday Stagecoach country music festival set in Indio, California – and that his set would involve other artists – you might have felt safe placing a bet that the guests would come from the world of rhythmic Top 40, as opposed to the back forty.
Sure enough, the first guests to whom Hunt ceded his spotlight turned out to be G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha, giving the audience their rapped/sung smash, “Me, Myself, and I.” It wasn’t just the musical style that was a departure from the rest of the day, as Rexha provided a break from the Daisy Dukes favored by most of the women on- and offstage in favor of the most skintight outfit seen since Tanya Tucker scandalized country with her own posterior-flattering bodysuit in the 1970s.
Then came a celeb who prompted a more massive ovation: Snoop Dogg, performing a bit of Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode” and a lot of “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and offering more F-bombs in four minutes than Stagecoach’s stages had previously seen in the entirety of the fest’s 10-year history. True to his trademark, Snoop took a toke on a joint mid-number. Then, later, perhaps having been reminded that this was billed as a “Bud Light moment” and not a dispensary moment, Snoop put down the spliff and joined G-Eazy in picking up one of the brewer’s blue bottles for the cameras as they gathered around Hunt for his “House Party.”
It’s rare for a sponsor to instigate and promote a specific moment in a set, the way Bud Light did with this country/rap crossover. “The word ‘sponsor’ – that’s something I try to shy away from,” Hunt told Yahoo Music before the set, sitting in his trailer. “But they’re responsible for making the thing happen. They had the idea and brought it to my manager, and I was brainstorming and thinking what artist or group of artists would fit. I wanted to do something outside of the genre, because in country music the opportunity to do something with other country music artists presents itself pretty often.”
Added Hunt’s manager, Brad Belanger, of the six-month process that led to the teaming: “They were like, ‘Send us some rappers that you like.’ So we sent ‘em a list of eight, and it had Kendrick [Lamar] on it and a lot of cool stuff, and they were like, ‘We know G-Eazy, we can bring him here.’ And it was like, awesome. We knew the kids out there would know that hook and go crazy as soon as it started. They threw out Snoop, and it was like, yeah, of course — a legend, and a new up-and-coming guy that we like and listen to.”
(Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch)
Actual in-studio collaboration? That will have to wait for another occasion. “They’re sort of doing their thing, and I’m just there for encouragement,” said Hunt. “But I know their music well enough I could probably jump in there and do the parts if I had to.”
Other highlights from day 1 of Stagecoach 2016:
* There was at least one actual in-genre pairing: Chris Young was joined by Voice winner Cassadee Pope, duet partner on their recent country chart-topper, “Think of You.”
* Eric Paslay had some guests from outside the genre: kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Indio, who emerged to dance to his current single, “High Class.” Were the youngsters doing line-dancing, or just standard show-biz choreography? It’s such a fine line.
* Eric Church headlined a night at the festival for the first time, which seems like an odd case of delayed gratification, given what a natural fit his rowdy/outlaw persona is for the largely collegiate Stagecoach audience. That is not to say that he never played the fest before at all. As he reminded the sold-out crowd of 75,000, he performed at the very first Stagecoach in 2007, albeit in a less premium slot. “I played at 2 in the afternoon. And no, you weren’t there! I remember.” (In the desert heat, the first performers of the day can usually count on playing to just a few hundred people.)
* If you wanted a study in contrasts, Emmylou Harris was doing a shimmering set of her post-Daniel-Lanois material over in the Mustang tent at the same time Bebe Rexha was shaking it with Hunt on the Mane Stage. The title of her climactic cover, Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” could have served as a metaphor: Harris moved on from the gold rush that is mainstream country after going indie in the ‘90s. But the crowd was appreciative of her quieter approach, even if some who haven’t heard her in a while probably expected more hits from her Warner Bros. years.
* The audience for Robert Earl Keen’s set appeared to be comprised almost exclusively of expat Texans. The chorus of his most famous number — “The road goes on forever and the party never ends” — may have been originally conceived with some irony, but no irony was taken with a Stagecoach crowd that was ready to get this party started.
* The first Prince cover of the weekend came early in the afternoon as Tigerman WOAH busted out a bit of “Purple Rain.” More to come, surely.
* Haggard did not go unmemorialized, with Dale Watson being first (and we hope not last) up at the Merle tribute bat with “Here in Frisco.” Watson also paid tribute to George Jones on “Jonesin’ for Jones.”
* Cash emerged as a theme… again, the green kind, not the Johnny kind. Within minutes of hearing Aubrie Sellers cover “Money (That’s What I Want)” in one tent, we heard the Malpass Brothers do “If You’ve Got the Money, Honey, I’ve Got the Time” in another. (Malpass also cover “Folson Prison Blues,” however.)
* Chris Young’s ZZ Top cover fit the general expectations of what’s likely to show up at Stagecoach. Country guys do love their ‘70s and ‘80s classic rock. But a couple of riffs on the ‘90s took us by surprise, as Drake White covered 4 Non Blondes’ ‘“What’s Up?,” followed by Jana Kramer rousing the crowd with Meredith Brooks’s rarely revived “Bitch.”
Yahoo’s live stream of the Stagecoach country music festival continues Saturday and Sunday here.