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Thousands of country music fans descended on the desert Saturday night for one of the area’s first high-profile concerts since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The new outdoor venue Coachella Crossroads hosted its inaugural concert with country star Toby Keith and opening act Jimmie Allen. For many people, this was their first show in more than a year.

Keith hit the stage shortly after 9 p.m., after Allen played a half-hour opening set, using AC/DC’s “War Machine” as an intro. The headliner’s 90-minute setlist started with “Made in America,” “God Love Her” and “American Ride.” 

“Eighteen months was long enough for me,” Keith told the audience, saying it was his first show back since the pandemic began.

According to ABC News Radio, Keith played a private concert in January during the 2021 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions at Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club in Orlando, Florida.

Highlights of the Saturday show included his ’90s hits “Who’s That Man” and “Wish I Didn’t Know Now,” and his playful 2011 hit “Red Solo Cup.” 

He ended the concert with his patriotic anthems, “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” 

About 10,000 tickets were made available for the event, according to Coachella Crossroads spokesperson Bob Bogard. He estimated between 8,000 and 10,000 had been sold as of Saturday. 

Daisia Guillen and Jackie Escobar of Riverside, California, were strolling around the grounds taking selfies, celebrating being at the event.

Guillen, 26, said she’s been a fan of Keith since she was 6 years old and had always wanted to see him perform.

“I haven’t been anywhere in a year due to COVID-19, and I’m so grateful to be here with my best friend to see Toby Keith,” she said.

Escobar said she was happy to see things going back to normal and hopes to continue a tradition of going to the Stagecoach country music festival next year.

Coachella Crossroads is about 5 miles from the site of the Stagecoach music festival, which regularly brings tens of thousands of country music fans to the area but was canceled for April. 

Keith is no stranger to the desert: He headlined Stagecoach in 2013 and 2010.

“It kind of feels like (Stagecoach) tonight,” Escobar said.

Alma Titone of Indio, a fan of Keith and Allen, said it was the first entertainment event she’d attended in more than a year. 

“It’s nice to be out and it’s beautiful (outside),” Titone said.

Event rules sent to ticket holders did not mention masking or vaccination requirements.

Created by the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, Coachella Crossroads is located next to the tribe’s Spotlight 29 Casino. The venue is on tribal land; Native American tribes, as sovereign nations, are not required to follow state health orders.

Before performing his 2003 song “Whiskey Girl,” Keith boasted: “The chief here called us up and said ‘Hey, we don’t have to listen to the state rules or federal, and if you’ll play it, we’ll pay it.’ ” 

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased masking guidelines this week, California’s current guidance states face coverings are not required outdoors for fully vaccinated people except during crowded outdoor events. Unvaccinated Californians are required to wear face coverings outdoors “any time physical distancing cannot be maintained, including when attending crowded outdoor events, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals, sports events, or other similar settings.”

The show was one of the first high-profile concerts billed in the area since the start of the pandemic, but live entertainment is beginning to return across the desert. 

Coronavirus Watch: What to know about the new CDC mask guidance

Contributing: Amanda Ulrich, Desert Sun

Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at brian.blueskye@desertsun.com or on Twitter at @bblueskye. Support local news, subscribe to The Desert Sun.

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