Stagecoach Day 1: Luke Bryan Parties; Bud Light Controversy Looms


If anyone can successfully close out a packed desert show on Stagecoach Festival’s opening day, it’s Luke Bryan, who’s been playing at the festival for more than a dozen years and previously headlined in 2014, 2016 and 2019.

On Friday night, he opened with a song that might as well have been written for the occasion, “I Don’t Want This Night to End,” and played a set that consisted of nearly all his hits, and a few surprise covers. In addition to his many party anthems — “Drink a Beer,” “Roller Coaster,” “Crash My Party” and “Play it Again” came all in a row — he also sprinkled in covers of Tim McGraw’s “Where the Green Grass Grows” and Brooks and Dunn’s “Neon Moon.”

As festival-goers danced the night away, many were clearly wondering if maybe a guest or two would pop out — especially since Brooks and Dunn are set to pay their own set on Sunday evening. But no such luck. Bryan paused momentarily before closing out the set with a cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and there appeared to be a touch of disappointment among the crowd that had gotten excited about possibly seeing a Jon Bon Jovi cameo, a la Axl Rose’s appearance during Carrie Underwood’s headlining show last year.

Jody Domingue
Jody Domingue

Still, the show went out on top, with Bryan grabbing a Marines jersey from one audience member and proudly wearing it for his last song, which closed out the festival just minutes before midnight — the grounds’ curfew.

While Bryan was a model headliner to close out the night, the day was an eventful one leading up to his set.

Jon Pardi played the “Mane” (Main) Stage directly before Bryan and was joined by chef Guy Fieri, who has his own cooking stage at the festival for demos, to bring a special surprise to the “Dirt on My Boots” singer. Fieri threw it to the monitors to introduce a virtual Alan Jackson, who invited Pardi to become the latest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Opry VP and executive producer Dan Rogers then joined Pardi on stage with the official offer. “Not only are you the first person ever invited to become an Opry member here at Stagecoach, this guy is the first native Californian ever to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry,” he stated.

In true Stagecoach fashion, Pardi celebrated the success with a shot of tequila before thanking everyone for the opportunity.

Other highlights of Friday include Melissa Etheridge, who performed her hits “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One” to thousands of fans screaming every word. The two-time Grammy winner’s stellar vocals weren’t the only thing reminding the crowd why she is still such an icon; she also performed the harmonica at one point and completely rocked out in multiple guitar solos.

Julian Bajsel
Julian Bajsel

Overall, day 1 had a positive, uplifting vibe — minus the Bud Light controversy. While the Bud Light Backyard stage served the cold beer, most other bars are not offering it whatsoever following the company having given a celebratory, commemorative beer can to transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

In other recent concerts, Riley Green had changed the lyrics of his hit song, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” from “And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light” to “And coolers never run out of cold Coors Light.” But some kind of detente appeared to have been reached, as he kept the “Bud Light” line in during Friday night’s performance.

“I don’t really agree with their terms,” said one festival-goer who was chanting “Coors Light” around the grounds. “Their recent ad campaign, I didn’t like how they appealed to the LGBTQ agenda. I’m not saying I don’t support the LGBTQ community, but don’t force that into my life.”

Still, the guest stated — as did numerous others Variety spoke with on the grounds — that if it came down to it and Bud Light was the only choice, “I’ll probably buy a 30 rack.”

Reaching the front of the line at one of the bars closest to the stage, guests happily ordered Michelob Ultra — another Anheuser-Busch branded beer that was offered at every tent — with the majority having no idea they were supporting the same company that some were loudly protesting.

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