On Day 1 of Stagecoach Festival, I arrived at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, ready to hear some friggin' country music (let's face it—this was practically my calling). Resident badasses Maddie & Tae were playing that day, as were Randy Houser and Dierks Bentley. But for me, the highlight of that Friday was getting to meet ūber-talented, chart-topping, award-winning artist and heartthrob Cole Swindell. Around 6:30 p.m., I headed towards the VIP area, where Cole's tour manager, Nate, was waiting to escort me to the tour bus, which, you know, NBD.
I grew increasingly nervous as we approached the bus, but it was immediately obvious from Cole's warm welcome that he wanted me to feel comfortable. I was starstruck and it showed, but I pulled it together enough to ask him about one of my favorite songs, "Ain't Worth the Whiskey." I relate to this song on a quasi-spiritual level, and I was curious what Cole had learned from what sounds like a painful breakup: "That song is written about a true story, an ex I was trying to get over, and it’s kind of a denial song about I’m out here drinking to a country song, raising a glass to my buddies, but in reality you’re kind of there trying to forget about her." This is such a universal feeling, that transition period when you swear to anyone who asks that you're over the person who hurt you, but deep down you know better. So how do you move past it? "Just lean on good friends, that’s the best advice I have" are Cole's words of wisdom. Coincidentally, this is Her Campus' best advice as well.
The singer—who attended Georgia Southern University, hence the hat—knows how difficult college dating can be, but he wants you to know that it gets better. His advice is to "respect yourself and know what you’re worth." Finding out who you are and who you want to be should always be your priority, and the rest will follow. "There’s somebody out there for everybody," Cole says. "I mean, I dated a couple of folks in college and it’s tough, but everything always works out, so don’t stress about that stuff. It’ll all work out exactly how it’s supposed to." I don't know about you, but I just really needed to hear that.
"Just lean on good friends."
Of course, there is more to Cole than his dating life. The 33-year-old Georgia native has seen his career skyrocket over the past few years. Not only do his own songs routinely top the charts, but he has also written hit tracks for such big names as Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, who is Swindell's Sigma Chi fraternity brother, although Bryan attended Georgia Southern a few years before him.
Surprisingly, this year was Cole's first time at Stagecoach: "I’ve always heard about it, all my buddies have played it and our schedules never worked out so this year… And you know, the 8:45 time slot, I mean that’s a pretty legit spot for your first time here so hopefully everybody’s gonna be ready" (we were ready). Speaking of what California's (and the world's) largest country festival means to him, Cole said, "There’s every artist you can think of, and this is what [country music is] all about, the whole tailgating experience and just this atmosphere. There’s a lot of festivals around the country that want to be Stagecoach."
Cole's energy onstage is infectious, and it's obvious that there's nowhere he'd rather be. "It sucks because you don’t want to get off the stage, that’s why I love what I do, but the fans and the crowd, that’s what makes us not want to get off there," he tells me. "I’m so pumped up when I’m on stage and I come off as kind of hard to calm down, so usually [after the show] I’ll grab a cold drink and talk to the band. We usually are high-fiving and saying how we can’t believe we get to do this every night." Glad you do what you do, Cole.
One of the marks of a great country artist is the ability to switch seamlessly from a straight-up banger to a sensitive ballad, which Cole pulls off with ease. He cites his 2015 hit "You Should Be Here" as one of the most meaningful to him: "I lost my dad a little over three years ago, and it was a song that I wrote to honor him. I found out that other people had been through the same thing and just the success of that song, and hearing stories every single night about people that have been through what I’ve been through, that’s by far the highlight of my career so far."
Catch Cole on a tour stop near you now through September 30.