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Far from being strangers to “buzz worthy” festival and show moments, we were taken aback for a bit of a reflective pause this past Stagecoach.  All transparency aside, we were invited on behalf of the team at Anheuser Busch (AB) and Bud Light, to witness a surprise event that was to take place during current reigning Country/Crossover heartthrob, Sam Hunt’s, Friday night set.  Going in with a bit of a jaded festival mentality after years of covering and working in similar situations, the end result was surprising and overwhelmingly awe-striking.  Moreso, it lead to a deeper dive by our team into brand activation, festival culture, the appeal of crossover artists, genre breaking, and the overall sphere of music intelligence across the air/digital waves.

Even with a press lead on the set, special guests, Snoop Dogg, G-Eazy, and Bebe Rexha had our crew surprised by the overall seamlessness of their integration into the set and the overwhelming reaction that the crowd as a whole exhibited.  Setting this straight, a COUNTRY MUSIC CROWD, popped hard for an as ‘urban as you can get’ set of guest appearances that you could have put on that stage.  Most anyone would have said they would have felt more at home popping up on a Coachella stage than at Stagecoach, but it ‘just seemed to work.’

Sam Hunt, Snoop Dogg, Bebe Rexha and G-Eazy during their Bud Light Music Stage Moment at The Empire Polo Club on April 29, 2016 in Indio, California.

Sam Hunt, Snoop Dogg, Bebe Rexha and G-Eazy during their Bud Light Music Stage Moment at The Empire Polo Club on April 29, 2016 in Indio, California.

Having had a bit of separation from that moment and more than a pinch of time to converse with some fellow writers and editors, it was definitely a moment that deserves a bit of conversation and reflection.

Stagecoach has long been seen as the preeminent festival pushing the boundaries of country music.  For music and industry writers, it’s the weekend after two long weeks of Coachella, and a chance to experience an entirely different atmosphere and community from the denizens of Coach.  As such, having both perspectives in mind coming into the set, the word ‘perplexed’ does little to describe the feelings that came over as the set progressed.

The first feeling, was of all of the country acts that have come along our desk, Sam has the a lot riding behind him as a cross-over, dare I say, top 40 artist, that could find his way across multiple charts.  The second feeling, as G-Eazy, hit the stage to perform the eponymous track, ‘Me, Myself, and I,’ with Bebe Rexha in tow, was one of ‘WTF’ at a country music crowd, singing along with what one could argue is one of the biggest Urban/Top 40 tracks out today.  With Snoop finally hitting the stage, we were definitely blown over, not just by Sam and the AB team’s perchance for curating the event but more so over the way the crowd soaked it in.  Suffice it to say, the energy was real and palpable, and our team couldn’t help but sing along and go with it.

As far as seminal festival moments, this charted pretty highly with our team.  After speaking with Justin Lehmann, one of Bud Light’s music experience managers, he had this to say:

“When we were looking at key moments before, the Drake/Madonna situation at Coachella was so noteworthy… these kind of moments… we wanted to say to ourselves, let’s create those… that was an important moment culturally…”

In retrospect, we have to agree.  Sam, Snoop, G, and the AB team as a whole were able to get to a space that most brand activators dream to get to — a seamless, transparent AND relevant cultural moment.

‘Enlightened’ is a good way to describe the moment on the brand and artist side, and ‘lucky’ is a good way to describe it on the audience side.  It was a moment when all of the elements just seemed to ‘fit’ and work in such a way that everyone came across as winners.

It is also a good indicator into the future of brand activation and its relationship to live music as a whole currently stands.  With information and media as readily available as it is, we are coming upon a confluence of a number of factors that crosses the line behind a brand’s need for a return on investment (ROI) against the audience’s want and need for relevant moments and stories.  We stand at a juncture where the brand, writer, and influencer, now takes into account the intelligence and awareness of its audience, against the content and moments that are created.  Arguably, all sides are better off and even more so all sides benefit from this.

The key lesson from the brand/artist side to be learned from this moment  — that the audience and public in general are much more aware and intelligent that ever before — is one that was most evident here.  Brands are not only placed in a position to be as transparent as possible but also into a position that elicits the need to be better cultural curators than ever before.  Lehmann had this to add:

People were asking me, ‘What genre are you going to focus on?’ As a brand, Bud Light is too big to focus on one thing… why do we have to limit [ourselves]… we’re not just gonna be [a certain type] of brand.

Understanding this perspective was definitely key to making this particular moment work.  To their credit, the AB/Bud Light team definitely chose the right entry point in Sam Hunt.  Arguably one of country music’s fastest rising stars, his single, “House Party” has gone to great lengths to extend his crossover appeal.  With both Billboard and NPR touting his growth from country heartthrob to pop champion, from the brand perspective pairing with Hunt was a ‘no-brainer.’  For the audience, they reap the rewards of experiencing Hunt’s effectiveness at moving the crowd alongside elements and artists, such as G-Eazy, that they may never have been exposed to.

Sam Hunt performs at Stagecoach 2016 during a Bud Light Music Stage Moment at The Empire Polo Club on April 29, 2016 in Indio, California.

Sam Hunt performs at Stagecoach 2016 during a Bud Light Music Stage Moment at The Empire Polo Club on April 29, 2016 in Indio, California.

Hunt’s set was genre breaking to say the least and follows on the heels of The Roots similar experiment at this past SXSW.  This past March, The Roots brought with them a slew of artists, such as Big Grams (Big Boi and Phantogram), X Ambassadors, Naughty by Nature, Ashanti, and Too Short.  To note, it was the AB/Bud Light team that helped make this possible, and establishing the trend of placing themselves at as an activation and curation agency to take note of.

It is really in this regard the the bigger conversation point moved past genre breaking, crossover appeal, and the festival culture and more so into the realm of seamless curation paired against an audience becoming more self-aware and intelligent with regards to their own cultural experiences.

From the artist standpoint taking into light the audience experience, one could argue that the integration of brands into this space could taint their process, however Snoop Dogg posits the following:

It’s another day at the office… it’s what we do as musicians and performers, we perform for people no matter where they are and what the atmosphere is…

As an artist and his standpoint, he definitely carries a sense of acceptance and an overwhelming fascination with being able to touch a greater number of people with his music.

From our standpoint on the industry side, the AB/Bud Light team has done what many other brands have failed to do — preserve the artist’s work and reputation while creating an atmosphere to breed discovery and awareness not just for the artists but for audiences, as well.

It’s a tricky balance point to say the least, but one that in our past few experiences Lehmann and his team have a hold on.  Lehmann adds:

It wasn’t a square peg in a round hole situation at all, bringing people together from different areas, who else was going to do that but us…

All in all, it is that mentality that has allowed for AB/Bud Light to grow from being just a brand activator into a full fledged discovery and experiential agency.  Even more so, it has helped to create a level of curation and audience acceptance that other brands, experience designers, and insiders should look at.

In the long run as the process of curation and experience continues to grow and becoming a bigger part of the live world, the rewards for music lovers and concert/festival goers is one that all sides can’t wait to reap.