My first clue that Zach Bryan Fever had hit Stagecoach happened the second Shenandoah left the Palomino stage on Saturday afternoon. Zach was up next, and it took ten seconds for the average age of the crowd to drop by a decade. I’m an older Millennial, so I suddenly felt… old.
The “kids” were pouring into the tent and my old ass got the sense that I wasn’t cool or online-enough to know exactly what I’d signed up for when I put Zach Bryan high on my Stagecoach priority list.
But now, I get it.
I hustled off for a quick bathroom break. And as I walked back, thinking I’d get my Shenandoah positioning back easily, I saw waves and waves of people marching over the dry, yellow grass of the Empire Polo Grounds like the long, slow whitewater break off the California coast two hours west of us.
For all thirty minutes between Shenandoah’s and Zach’s shows, the people never stopped flowing, and my crew of fellow Millennial festival-goers never stopped scratching our heads.
I listened to and researched Zach Bryan ahead of the show, so I’d know what to expect from one of the buzzier acts on the lineup. Authentic, poetic lyrics. Catchy melodies. Strong fiddle and moustache game. He sounded like a good time, someone I could listen to with a leisurely mid-afternoon beer on a lawn chair.
But on the second day of the massive Stagecoach festival, I saw, for the first time all weekend, crowds of country bros and country girls making a pilgrimage across the lawn to see an act they couldn’t miss.
I jostled for position, spilling a few sips of that mid-afternoon beer and nearly losing my lawn chair. And as soon as Zach stepped on stage in his cutoff, Indian Motorcycle t-shirt, a pulse of electricity ripped through the crowd. “Leisurely” was apparently NOT how you experienced Zach Bryan.
“Here’s a song called ‘Godspeed,’” Zach said, already sweating in the 98-degree California sun.
The crowd roared. And they never stopped roaring and dancing and singing every single word until his set was done. He continued with “Highway Boys” and “Snow” and “Oklahoma City” and… I lost track and I couldn’t take notes anymore. The Spirit of the Highway Boys was moving through the crowd, and Reverend Zach Bryan sucked me in with his clear blue eyes and relentless vocal power.
The three girls with me didn’t remember his eyes. But one of them had never heard of Zach Bryan before and started weeping mid-set. Another, who minutes-earlier declared her distaste for men with facial hair, suddenly fell in love with the mustachioed fiddler, Lucas Ruge-Jones.
I high-fived some shirtless dude hoisted onto his buddy’s shoulders for a better view. We were losing our minds, and our eyes were fixed firmly upon Zach, smiling with a look in those blue eyes like he couldn’t believe how lucky he was to be right there in the desert with all of us.
We left the Palomino Stage buzzing, half-dancing with “Revival” still stuck in our heads. And it all started to make sense.
You have to see Zach Bryan to believe the hype, whether it’s in-person or in one of the many YouTube videos filmed on an iPhone by his buddies in a backyard or a garage somewhere in Oklahoma. The music is great by itself, don’t get me wrong. But seeing Zach Lane Bryan deliver those words with a guitar in-hand, sweat on his temples and belief in his eyes fueled his viral rise into the “aw-shucks,” earnest-younger-cousin, red dirt poet, future of country music that he is today.
And seeing him at Stagecoach made this older Millennial a believer.