When thousands of country music fans flock to Indio, Calif. in late April for Stagecoach Festival 2018, they’ll be enjoying more than just the hits of Garth Brooks, Kasey Musgraves, Florida Georgia Line, and so many other acts on the lineup. This year, they’ll also get to enjoy barbecue from around the country as part of celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Stagecoach Smokehouse.
“I’m grinning ear to ear as I tell you about it. It’s the big phone call you want to get in your career,” Fieri — known for his signature spiky blond ‘do and matching facial hair, and catchphrases including “Out of Bounds” and “Flavortown” — tells EW while on a break from filming his hugely popular Food Network competition series Guy’s Grocery Games.
Fieri has recruited some of his favorite barbecue joints “from Cali to Kansas to the Carolinas,” according to a press release from Stagecoach presenter Goldenvoice, all part of what he hopes is more than just a chance to see some great music, but also to “have a weekend, have a life experience,” and food, he asserts, “is one of the things that’s always there in the life experiences.”
A self-professed country-music lover — he’s friends with Lee Brice (who’ll be performing at Stagecoach) and Luke Bryan, and says he cooks at home while listening to “my Willie Nelson station” on his Sonos — the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host, who jokes he’ll be doing that show until he’s “in a walker,” is particularly excited to expand festivalgoers’ barbecue palates. “We’re going to bring in barbecue from so many different regions and so many different styles … I think it’ll be a real eye-opener,” he says. “Just as diverse as country music is these days, barbecue has that same uniqueness.”
Below, Fieri, explains why curating the festival is such a big deal for him — and Stagecoach attendees — and why food has found on spot on the pop culture mantle, plus he, well, dives into the past to reveal his first experience with barbecue, and reveals whether a fried egg (he really dislikes them) has any place next to barbecue.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Country music and BBQ are so synonymous with each other – was there ever any other option, pun fully intended, on the plate here?
GUY FIERI: No, I gotta be honest with you. I’ve found the best barbecue joints around the country, and I was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame [in 2012] and have been a competition barbecue guy way before Food Network and all of that. So barbecue has always been in my blood, so when we started talking about this, it was like, ‘Of course! This needs to happen! And I know the people to make it happen!’ Just like everybody stands by waiting to hear the lineup for Stagecoach, I want them standing by waiting to hear the lineup on who the barbecue badasses are, and that’s what we’re doing.
Food has become such a big attraction at music festivals and events that haven’t been traditionally food-centric. What do you attribute that to?
I haven’t seen food at a festival that impressed me until I went to Coachella. I can’t say I’ve been to a lot of festivals where I actually make it out to where the food is, but I went to Coachella and I had fantastic food, and that’s where this whole thing kick-started. These guys that are producing this are really mindful of the big experience — not just the, “Hey, come and let’s get a ticket [money] from you and you guys get to come and see a show,” … come and have a weekend, have a life experience, and food is one of the things that’s always there in the life experiences.
I grew up with family in the barbecue and restaurant business — I worked there in high school — so I, of course, grew up eating it. Do you recall your first experience?
[Laughs] First barbecue, little kid, northern California, and the barbecue joint was called Aunt Esther’s. And I remember — ’cause we had all had fried chicken, grilled chicken, and so forth, but barbecue [cooked] low and slow, especially in Northern California was, I don’t know, I didn’t see it that often — it’s not like we were in the panhandle or down in Texas or any of that. But I remember as a kid going to Aunt Esther’s, this funky little barbecue shack up in Eureka, California, and it was just…there’s something about smoked meats and tender pull-apart and that whole thing. I got bit by the bug at a very young age.
You mentioned the panhandle and Texas — different regions of the country have a different style of barbecue. Do you have a particular favorite?
That’s kinda like saying who is your favorite kid — you’re going to get in trouble…. You can’t even say region because you’re going to piss somebody off…. I was just in North Carolina a couple weeks ago and when I got there they said, “So you like Eastern Carolina or Western Carolina? You like the Carolina on the sea or the Carolina in the mountains?” So there are just so many different styles; you can break it down into these micro-climates of barbecue, but I’ll tell you this: barbecue is as wide and diverse as pizza. Some people believe you can put pineapple on a pizza, some don’t; some believe pizza is thick crust, some don’t. So barbecue just has so many different faces and facets that that’s what’s going to be so great about Stagecoach. We’re going to bring in barbecue from so many different regions and so many different styles … I think it’ll be a real eye-opener; just as diverse as country music is — I come from country-western back in the ‘70s — but just as diverse as country music is these days, barbecue has that same uniqueness. I’m not trying to say there’s as big of a profile, but it’s cool — I don’t want people to just go, “Oh, you’re going to have some pulled pork and barbecue chicken.” No, no, no — there’s a lot of things being smoked these days.
Oh, give me some burnt ends all day. So…
Wait, okay now, listen, if you know burnt ends, you know what you’re…and so when you try to explain it and people are like, if it’s a brisket, how is everything not burnt then? So to educate people and try to give them some of that insight, that’s going to be a really cool thing. In fact, I’m personally bringing down my big smoker — I have a big, 25-foot smoker trailer, and I’m going to come down and I’m going to do some of my barbecue as well. It won’t be to the volume everybody else is going to do, but I can’t come and not bring… it’s like going on stage to sing — you gotta bring your own guitar. Well, I gotta bring my own smoker.
Compared to other events, food festivals, the TV shows you do, what makes this, personally, so special and unique for you?
Oh, come on, this is getting called up to… this is getting asked to participate in the big show. Stagecoach is amazing and just continues to grow. This is one of the biggest platforms in country music and to now get to be another part of it and to curate it along with the Stagecoach team is, it’s… and I love country music, these are my buddies, these are people that I talk to, they call me, “Hey, I’m rolling into this town. Where do we go eat? We’re trying to find a place to hang tonight. What do we do?” So this to me is… I’m grinning ear to ear as I tell you about it. It’s the big phone call you want to get in your career.
Food and cooking for so many years was looked at as lifestyle television and publishing. I firmly believe, and often make the case, that food is entertainment. Where do you stand on it?
You’ve got it. You nailed it on the head. Back it up 25 years ago — why do people eat? They eat for consumption, they eat for calories, they eat for fuel. That’s it. Why did people eat 25 years before that? It was part of life, it was part of celebration; you worked hard, you came home [and] were thrilled to have food on the plate. So we went through this period of time where food was just, whatever. What we’re back to is, food is a major part of life. When I lived in France — I was an exchange student when I was a kid — and lunch at school was an experience. It wasn’t just, come in, eat, run out the door, or sit there and eat the food while walking down the street. You never saw anybody in France doing that — nobody was ever walking down the street eating a slice of pizza or a sandwich or anything like you’d see in the States. People sit down and have a real, concerted focus — everybody really took the time to enjoy it. I think that’s what’s happening now. I think we’re finally getting grounded to this idea that it’s a major part of our lives, so let’s give it the time and attention. And here’s the thing — this is where I was going before I went back in time — you know what we do now? We talk about it two days in advance where we’re going to dinner. We talk about it in the morning what we’re going to have for dinner. We talk about where we got the ham. We talk about where the vinegar is from. We talk about the baker that made the bread. We’re starting to really immerse ourselves because we can’t eat everything we want, so if we’re going to eat it we might as well eat some really precious stuff, and it’s fallen into this huge lifestyle and culture [way of life] more than it has just been a convenience of fuel.
Hypothetical question for you: If one of these barbecue joints you’re bringing in for the festival wants to take a pulled pork sandwich and put an over-easy egg on it, would you (to find out why Guy hates eggs, click here) veto that?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not. You do not let — that’s like saying if Garth Brooks wanted to bring Angus Young on stage, you know [laughs], there wouldn’t be a person in the world that would say, “Don’t let Angus [play].” [Laughs] It’s crazy, it’s unique… but you know, the thing is, you can’t get too hard-set in your style … and there’s forms of barbecue from all over the world. There’s so many styles that we can’t narrow it down and say it’s only ours. There are people that have been smoking and curing meats and saucing meats for so many years — now, we have our distinct style of it, but that’s like saying music is only one way. No, I think the ones that are really open-minded and creative give themselves the opportunity to experience things maybe they haven’t experienced before.
My friends that don’t understand country music, I’m like, don’t categorize it all into the same. There’s a lot of different styles. So don’t get so narrow-minded with it, and that’s the same thing with barbecue — this isn’t your barbecue that you had at some fast food joint, there’s a lot of bandwidth and it’s not all heavy and it’s not all fat… there’s a lot of really unique styles and chefs, and I think that’s some of what we’re going to show everybody.