Every day when the gates open at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, entire families rush into the Empire Polo Club in Indio, running with lawn chairs strapped to their backs to claim precious territory in front of the Mane Stage.
The 11th annual event, which opens Friday, April 28, and runs through Sunday, April 30, will feature headlining sets from Dierks Bentley, Shania Twain and Kenny Chesney on the massive stage, along with the likes of Jamey Johnson, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett and more.
And many folks don’t leave their staked claims, but they should. The Mustang and Palomino stages offer a chance to get up close with legends as well as alternatives to mainstream country. Plus, they have more shade. One thing to note is that there are hay bales aplenty over in the tents, so bring your allergy meds.
Here are 10 picks for sets that are worth ditching the Mane Stage for this weekend.
1. Willie Nelson and Family
Willie Nelson is an icon, one of the original outlaws of country music, and he was the first artist to play both Stagecoach as well as its sister festival the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The folklore goes something like this–Nelson agreed to play the brand-new country fest back in 2007 if he could play Coachella, too. Get there early, because he will open with “Whiskey River” and “Whiskey River” is awesome.
When he’s playing: 7:45-9 p.m. Saturday, Palomino
2. Jerry Lee Lewis
The 81-year-old pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll is finally playing Stagecoach. He was originally booked to play in 2013 and had to drop off the bill. This is a big darn deal and a sing-along of “Great Balls of Fire” is likely to be one of Stagecoach 2017’s biggest moments.
When he’s playing: 6:30-7:25 p.m. Friday, Palomino
3. The Zombies
In recent years, Stagecoach’s side stages have also welcomed rockers from the ’60s, including Eric Burdon of the Animals and John Fogerty. British band The Zombies have been on a well-received tour in honor of the 50th anniversary of the “Odessey & Oracle” album. The hits you’ll know include “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season.”
When the band is playing: 5:20-6:05 p.m. Friday, Palomino
4. Kiefer Sutherland
The movie stars may come to Coachella as fans, but at Stagecoach, they’re on the stage. Kevin Costner and Jeff Bridges have been among the actors who have performed at Stagecoach in the past. This year Sutherland, the star of “24,” “Designated Survivor” and “The Lost Boys,” will appear. The music is way less campy than “The Cowboy Way.”
When he’s playing: 2:45-3:20 p.m. Sunday, Palomino
5. Margo Price
When Price played “Saturday Night Live” last April, I predicted she would be a Stagecoach star this year. Her band is fantastic and her 2016 album “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” is a must-listen.
When she’s playing: 4:10-4:55 p.m. Saturday, Palomino