To Be Young, Gay, and Out at Stagecoach. On Edibles

Worlds collide, and the sun shines the same on us all.

I can tell you the last time I actively enjoyed listening to a country song. It was "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" by Shania Twain in 1997. Meaning, I don’t really like country music. I had to Google if Shania Twain was still alive before writing this piece (she’s fine), which is why all my friends were confused when I told them I would be spending the weekend at Stagecoach 2016.

If you’re not familiar with Stagecoach, it is a contemporary country-music festival held in Indio, California, at the Empire Polo Club. The Polo Club is that same flat expanse of graded desert where hipsters in appropriation outfits flock for Coachella. The Polo Club is adjacent to several quiet communities where old people go to die. It is also a place where country music fans from around the world converge every year to bake in the sun and listen to their favorite twangers for three days straight. 

I am a writer who never passes up an opportunity to see some fucked-up shit. Naturally, when the offer of a media trip to Stagecoach came up, I presumed some fucked-up shit was to be seen, and I did not pass it up: My boyfriend and I set out on Friday night to experience the festival with open hearts and open minds. We were prepared to explore a subculture not our own and enter this immersive experience with positive expectations because we had nourished our attitudes with HTC goldfish from the Higher Path in Sherman Oaks.

We split a jam-bacon burger and scanned the crowd for Carrie Underwood. My soul left my body after tasting the cookie-butter ice cream at Afters.

In the spirit of full disclosure, let me admit right here that I will not be getting high (I am a goddamn professional), but the idea of seeing my boyfriend lit like all the moon and the stars at a country festival seemed like Xmas in April.

Saturday morning, after I had shoved three handfuls of THC-laced goldfish into my boyfriend's hand and told him “eat,” we arrived at the festival. I had done my best to wear what I thought country music fans would wear to party at a desert polo field: Doc Martens and black cut-off shorts. We stepped off the bus that had shuttled us to the fairgrounds and shuffled into the hot sun and throngs of people waiting to enter the festival.

A woman in her 40s turned to me while my wristband was being swiped in and drunkenly said, “I used to be a MILF!”

“It is 11:00 a.m.,” I replied.

Image via Stagecoach/Goldenvoice

If you’ve ever been to Coachella, or seen photos, then you already know the vibe I was dealing with at Stagecoach, except with way more plaid. We walked around the grounds. I took stock of all the places I would eat at later. Our first stop ended up being the Budweiser Country Club, which was shaped like a barn and had corn-hole games going on.

I’m not sure if I was nervous to attend Stagecoach because of my reasoned gay male fear of the stereotypical country music listener, or if I just really hate crowds of people. I actually began to enjoy myself. No one said anything rude, vicious, or nasty to my boyfriend and me. He didn’t feel afraid to reach for my hand in public despite our jokes during breakfast about calling attention to ourselves. My preconceived notions about the country-music scene were being shattered. I think I actually tentatively tapped my feet to the beat of one song.

As the day went on, I settled into the festival's flow. My boyfriend was stoned as shit off the weed goldfish. He was the best festival buddy. We ate Japanese-inspired hot dogs wrapped in bacon and presented as a Sumodog. We split a jam-bacon burger and scanned the crowd for Carrie Underwood. My soul left my body after tasting the cookie-butter ice cream at Afters.

Image via @jorgphoto/Instagram

I know this was assigned as a story where I personally get high, and I kind of was—off of pure energy at Stagecoach. (Plus, I got high before writing this; so that should count.) Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there. I felt a deep sense of community even if I didn’t personally connect. I got to stop fearing Americana culture in the sense that I stopped assuming everyone who wears cowboy boots has something homophobic to say.

It was fun to be part of a group of people who had all come together because they shared a common interest. It was awesome to kick frat-boys asses at corn-hole at the Budweiser Country Club as I drank a brand of beer I had always assumed was solely for dads over 50. Liking country music stopped mattering when I stopped focusing on reinforcing the idea that I don’t enjoy it. 

As the sun set, my boyfriend and I walked two miles to the Uber Tent. We said goodbye to Stagecoach. Our skin was burned, and our eyes were bloodshot from dirt and goldfish. It felt good. It felt like I had finally ventured out of my comfort zone, and it felt reassuring to know that a whole festival of people seemed to be there for me when I did.