This past week was the 12th Annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio California. It was hot and loud and colorful and a lot of fun. From April 15th through the 17th (or 14th – if you did the smart thing and came in a night early for camping – through the 18th – if you stayed to see all of Kanye’s 90 minute Sunday night closing set… or did something more fun in the wee hours of Sunday) the Empire Polo Fields in Indio played host to some 90,000 people (including security and staff) a day for a noon to midnight daily musical melange.
The festival sold out in 124 hours (I guess that sounds more impressive than saying ‘just over 5 days’), which was a record in the twelve-year history of the event. Daily temperatures were in the high nineties. [Most of the attendees seemed to be in the low twenties.] There were 178 acts on six stages. (Organizers like to point out that this translates to your ticket price being 1.50 per act. While I can appreciate the logic, I have to say that is a bogus statistic even for a person like me who loves statistics because the idea that you could actually *see* all the acts is laughable.) Speaking of statistics, the attendance demographics were also interesting. 50.5% of all the tickets were sold in California. I am not sure if that means TO Californians, but the event certainly has a California feel. (85.5% of the total tickets sold were in the US and a single ticket was sold in Kuwait, Peru, Poland and Venezuela, which I find cool for whatever reason.)
Our trip to Coachella began with a rather unfortunate turn of events. Or maybe it wasn’t, I am not really sure, but I am sure it was a Mulligan. Driving from San Diego, A & I had planned on heading out at 2 so we were on the road by 3:30. (We had to get our nails done and stuff – I mean, this is a SoCal event.) The drive is around three hours (exclusive of traffic) and hits about four freeways. Cruising along the second freeway, about an hour and a half in, I took out my ticket. I wanted to look at these bracelets that we had been sent with their computer chip and re-read all these crazy security warnings: No one would be let in without a bracelet. You would be scanned in and out every time you entered and left the venue. Car campers (us) had to be sure the sticker was on the car and all people in the car had bracelets. It was going to be intensely controlled. I was looking at the way the bracelet fastened when A looked over at me.
-Oh my god. I forgot my ticket. –
Clearly, she had to be kidding. Right? Of course she was kidding. I had just been reading texts from D about what a rookie A made her feel like.
-No you didn’t. Are you sure? Do you wanna pull over and look?
And at that moment we both realize that in fact we knew exactly where the ticket was, tucked safely away in the upstairs bathroom. Like decor.
And so we turned around. Girls have gotta do what girls gotta do.
There was no need to get upset. I mean, we were a day early anyhow. Ish. We drove back, me being glad I had not been the one who left the ticket and doing my best to be supportive, A being apologetic, and self-deprecating (though to be fair, she did throw a little “I told you I needed a minute before we left!”in the mix.) At home Mr. A and the kids had a righteous laugh. Lots of eye rolling and such. But after a quick (ish) turn around, we were on the road again. Oddly the drive the second time around seemed a lot more relaxed. Perhaps we both felt like we had gotten our catastrophe out of the way…
The drive went smoothly and there we were. We pulled off the freeway in Indio at 9:15 pm. There was very little traffic and we cruised to the polo grounds turn off. At which point we crawled the next two miles into the camping area, pulling up to our security checkpoint at… midnight. And after watching myriad college kids discussing (loudly) where they were stashing their pot, their coke, their extra alcohol, their mushrooms, their acid and what ever the hell else they could shove in their pants (pro tip: boxers are not going to help you out here) we were ready to be searched. [I was relatively glad to know the kids I was watching were all stowing contraband because I had begun to get really worried thinking that the entire college aged population was suffering from crabs or something worse.]
The woman who searched our car was a legit 4×4. Four feet tall and… well you get the point (remind me later to tell you about the surprising number of midgets at the festival.) I think maybe she had a little bit of a chip on that stout shoulder too, because damn! She got down on our search. And there went liters of margaritas… because they were in glass. A rule that pro’s like us are definitely aware of (and had read about in the literature). Goddammit.
Only slightly disappointed, we pulled in and camp security came by to check on us (one of the weekend highlights: “My god, you are cute….” Why, thank you Mr. StaffPro, you’re not so bad yourself…) and in record time had our (ginormous) tent up. At 12:30 am. Our neighbors included the Cal Poly SLO soccer team, some kids from D.F., and who knows who else. A cruise around and we were tucking in. Ahhh… to be 40.
Up early I looked around. We had ended up in pretty much the ideal location in the camps. You gotta love dumb luck. It is nice camping at the polo grounds. It is clean and easy, which is both good and bad. Good because why have headaches if you don’t need them, and bad because it means anybody will camp there. It is a bit like Burning Man Light; a mistake here is probably not going to kill you. As the Camp mag says: “It’s Coachella, not Burning Man. The future of your temporary civilization is not at stake.”
By Friday morning I was totally ready to see some music and meet up with D and M. Also in attendance would be former students from Tahoe, Hong Kong and Reno. I was getting psyched, which was good because I have been worried about my live music passion. After a lifetime of concerts I found myself in the musical dearth that was Reno and then Hong Kong… and lately I had been wondering if I was still into it. [Silly me.] I had good tips from a variety of people, the sun was up and I was going to go get a margarita (see Mulligan #2).
Friday was a pretty good warm up for Saturday, a day I knew was going to be cray-zay. But really, Sunday was bringing me Duran Duran, so umm…. what else really matters?
And then it was back to the camp by 1 am to rest up for Saturday. And we were going to need it.
Saturday had a collection of artists that was insane. We had to hit the ground running. Literally. One of the cool things about my BFF is that when we go to festivals, her place “on the spectrum” is insanely helpful. She spends weeks beforehand checking out every band on Youtube, myspace, Wiki, whatever. And then she makes a spreadsheet. Seriously. She makes notes, references and codes things in terms of priority. Do not assume that we share the priorities, but her system is one of the few things that makes a day like Saturday possible. I add some empirical evidence to the plan by asking a diverse group of people who their “must-sees” are and then I cross check, anyone who shows up across these lines is definitely someone to see. [Shout out to Ben M., @thenightcabbie, @xTCHx, Spencer C., D and my Freshmen.]
Under seriously high heat we got things going on…
- Don Letts
- Lil B (well, the thing is, he rep’s Albany, so you know I had to see him. And he is a very nice young man. I do wish he would pull his pants up though.)
- Two Door Cinema Club
- Gogol Bordello
- Cage the Elephant
- Erykah Badu
- Bright Eyes
- Arcade Fire
While we bounced from the main stage to the outdoor stage to the Gobi, Mojave and Sahara tents and hit the Oasis Dome as well, we had the usual moments of silliness and (not-so) profound epiphanies. By the time we made it back to the camp I had that feeling of having accomplished a lot – a strange sensation under the circumstances. But the best thing that happened when I got back? A shower. Possible the most amazing shower I have had, based on necessity alone. [It would be several more before I really felt clean: sunscreen is nasty, and as A always points out, flip-flops may not be the most hygienic…]
And then came Sunday. The most chill day of the three in terms of volume we wanted to see. We had a real breakfast, we hung out at camp and then we hit the venue.
Really, Duran ruled my day. I didn’t need anything else. And no offense to The National who I very much enjoy, but having seen them recently and being placed directly against Duran they had no chance on my roster. When I was in 8th grade I told my friend Lesha that someday I would meet John Taylor. She laughed and I got totally vehement. I remember trying to work out how I would make it happen: they recorded in NYC and my aunt went there a lot, maybe I could go and then show up at the record company? It seemed oddly possible to my 13-year-old brain. Nearly 30 years later, I didn’t care that I never met the man who is still the best looking dude in the band and totally killing it for being 50. [Plus, his real first name is Nigel, and I love the idea of always “making plans for Nigel…”]
The festival was quite a success. I thought that it was run exceptionally well. People were nice, the weather was perfect and the music was delicious. One new thing this year was that the shows were live streamed on Youtube. I think that is pretty cool, though I wish more of the clips were available as independent videos. It really is an awesome thing for the bands in terms of exposure, but for people who say it is better than being there, they are just so plainly jealous, it is a little sad. There is no substitute for live music and the experience is not better or worse than watching it on your computer screen (I guess) but I do not think the two things are comparable. They’re completely different experiences. [Plus, I hate watching t.v.] The article about the effect of the live stream said it plainly: In short, if you couldn’t be at Coachella, this was the next best thing. And it didn’t cost a dime. Or require waiting in line in scorching Southern California desert heat for a porta-potty. And fortunately for our VIP’d booties, we were not waiting in lines. [Thank you D!!] The sun went down and Kanye came up (I had to see what he was about, but I did not need to stay for the whole show) and we headed back to our camp knowing we’d be up and out early the next morning headed back to the North County and S.F.
As they say, ‘haters gon’ hate.’ But if you really know what’s up, you’ll skip it and get yourself out to the desert some fine spring.
Special shout out to SONY: all my photos and videos on this page were shot on a BLOGGIE!