By George Stahl
There are certainly a lot of things that divide people. There are politics, religion, finance, generational views and education that separate us throughout our lives. Given that, you would think that there would be a few things left to help unite us in some way. Actually, there is one thing that seems to build bridges, and it’s music. This past weekend, I was given a glimpse into how music can be the catalyst for bringing people together.
We’ve seen evidence of that here in the valley. The Rock ‘n Blues festival, the concerts in the park and the many times when one of our many local bands plays at a venue in town, but in the middle of the desert this weekend, out in Indio, literally hundreds of thousands of people came together for an event called ‘Stagecoach, California’s Country Music Festival.’ This was the 17th year the festival, featuring songs from folk, bluegrass, rock and outlaw country to mainstream country music, was held at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio.
First, let’s look at the people, three hundred thousand of them. The only thing they have in common is their real joy and love for country music. The music has, at the risk of sounding cheesy, an American feel to it. Generally, the type of things country artists write about are very close to the lives of the people who listen to their music. In its entirety, country music is like a journey through the stories of American life, but it can also be seen in the lives of most people around the world.
The most impressing thing about the weekend was not the food, the beer or the Budweiser Clydesdale horses. It wasn’t even the music, although that was exceptional. No, it was more the way those three hundred thousand people managed to get along with one another. They were polite, courteous, friendly and engaging. No fights, no arguments, no out of line actions at all. That was amazing. There was a lot of laughing, yelling, applauding, cheering and howling. There was some sadness, a few solemn moments, patriotism and even tears as the performers sang. Some shared their stories with the people, and some even cried, overwhelmed by the crowds.
Here were these big stars, larger than life artists, breaking down at the response of the fans who knew the words to almost all of their songs, old and new. The fans responded in kind and everyone got along. As for the fans, every one of them was able to identify with the songs of the performers, who ranged from Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson, Wynonna Judd, Kiefer Sutherland, Tommy James and Travis Tritt to people like Shania Twain, Brett Eldredge, Dierks Bentley, Randy Houser and Kenney Chesney. Now, that line up tells us something about the fans. There was no disparity when it came to who listened to who. Age was not a factor. The young fans, the 20-, 25- and 30-year-olds walked in with the 40-, 50- and 60-, even 70-year-olds. and as they did, a mutual feeling of respect followed. Phrases like, ‘Excuse me,’ ‘Thank you,’ ‘you’re welcome,’ ‘no problem,’ and ‘sorry’ were a little surprising to hear at first, but by the evening of the first day came, it was no longer what seemed like unusual but expected and came naturally.
The beer and wine flowed like water, and there was no denying an occasional scent of cannabis as it floated on a gentle breeze. The dress was cowboy hats, halter tops, Daisy Dukes, and cowboy boots for the girls, and Wranglers, Stetsons, boots and American flag shirts for most of the guys. For three days everyone got to be a cowboy in the truest possible sense, and it was the music that brought them all together. It was an overall experience of freedom, fun, family and friends.
Despite desperate times, the feeling of disunity and escalating division in the country, there are still those times that all of that real stuff can be put on the back burner, if only for a weekend, and we can get an idea of what America can be. When we come back to the real world, we might even find a way to help it along. That may seem like a lot to put on country music, especially if you have never been a fan. We have a country music station in the valley, just a few clicks down from the classic rock station. If you have only been listening to the latter, why not give the country venue a try? It couldn’t hurt. You might even get a better idea of how life’s just a country song. Go ahead, I dare y’all.