We all know ‘em. To be especially candid, there is a bit of personal experience reinforcing this particular entry. It’s easy to hate on Coachella. During the course of its 17 years, the festival has gone from being specifically Southern California to bonafided a global event. This is not only supported by the fact that media outlets from throughout the world make the trek to provide coverage, but the performances themselves seem to take on added importance as the world is now able to watch online. Anything boasting that kind of influence and anticipation is naturally going to take some heat.
There are plenty of Coachella-related posts that are sagging with cynicism. This isn’t going to be one of them. The aim here is to explain some of the very real observations that are almost impossible to hate on. Some sideline cynics will still hate. Some will find a way to sprinkle that salt no matter how sensible, how logical, and how admirable some of the aspect of the weekend might be. For everyone else tired of the negativity, here is a simple acknowledgement of how a concert has actually developed into something much more.
It’s difficult to follow “the line up sucks this year” logic when there are nearly 60 different artists performing over a three-day stretch. The more accurate statement might be, “I am not very familiar with any of the artists playing,” or “I am not fond of what I recognize,” but mathematically speaking, dismissing nearly 60 different performances with “sucks” is about as narrow as it gets. Just this year alone you go from legendary soul in Mavis Staples, to avant-garde rock in HEALTH, to Bay area punk in Rancid, to the stripper anthems of Rae Sremmurd, to the twang of country sensation Chris Stapleton. The likelihood of seeing something historic every year seems to be a goal that Coachella clearly strives for. A complete dismissal for a talent pool so consistently diverse and eclectic is just, well, dumb.
The mistake most people make is assuming this is just a concert. Coachella is in fact the equivalent to a spring break vacation with stage presence. In fact, over the course of three days what is happening on the stages can become secondary to the social experience happening on the campgrounds, the party houses, and even in the local destinations within the city. The price of admission for Coachella includes the concert, but for two weekends in April, this is a both a party and a retreat that happens to come with first-rate production. The cost is for a complete experience the least of which included blankly standing in front of a stage.
No one balks at the four-hour drive (in no traffic) to Las Vegas. The California desert, although a bit warm, is incredibly scenic and a serene 90-minutes of highway. The road trip that everyone always romanticizes becomes bite-sized between Los Angeles and Cabazon. On through Redlands, Beaumont, and Palm Springs into the final stretch marked by a date shake at Hadley’s (Cabazon’s must stop) a long car ride with a good playlist is a slice of Americana everyone should experience.
With nearly 100,000 visitors flooding Indio, it’s understandable that the locals would be less than friendly to the flower-wreathed, shirtless hippies invading their town. However, Indio is collective inviting. From the hotels to the restaurants, from the retail shops to the convenience stores, you are hard pressed to find anyone that is anything less than genuinely courteous. (Side note, shout out to Just Java on Jefferson – your wifi was speedy, your coffee was bold, and your spinach and provolone sandwich is divine). The locals are quick with a “good morning” and want strike up conversation about the show, the best places to eat, and seem to want those visiting to enjoy their time in the desert. There is real small town hospitality that LA just doesn’t typically experience.
According to Billboard, 2015 was another record year for Coachella with attendance between the two weekends reaching some 198,000 tickets sold. Numbers are one thing, but when you get down to the logistics of accommodating 100,000 bodies for three days over two weekends, the scale becomes gargantuan. Imagine the amount of port-a-potties it takes to meet the requirement for 100k people? From the traffic flow of the festival grounds, to the security, to the waste management, to the food and beverage, there are an innumerable amount of details that festival organizers have to account for, all of which need to be perfect well before any music blares from the PA.
It’s hard to ignore the romance of the weekend. To watch bands like Alabama Shakes (2015) and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (2016) sing sweetly as the sun sets over the desert sky, there is something poetic about those instances that will translate as unforgettable. From dancing and getting caked in dust until the early hours of the morning in the Sahara tent to the hungover conversations at the campsite the next morning, this is adult revival of summer camp. At some point, the music really does become the soundtrack to the social experience that happens in those short, but memorable three days.
Is the guy/girl with the eccentric t-shirt, goofy costume, or cardboard cutout of Drake a dork, or is the person trying to dissect from the sidelines the bigger a-hole? While some would argue that the young Coachella crowd is showing out for attention, the other side of that same coin is simply that maybe, for these short three days, people can let loose and revel in being silly. The disposition of being “too cool for school” seems directly at odds with the free-spirit ethos of the festival. For 72 hours, ticket holders can dress how they want, dance how they want, and explore on their own terms, whether that means spending all their time in front of DJs or stumbling across a singer/songwriter they didn’t know existed. Between the cynic and the dreaded Coachella hipster, the person with a wristband on is likely the one coming back to work on Monday with a smile on their face.
Throughout the weekend, the probability of running into someone from another country is almost a certainty. You will watch as visitors from out of the county drape themselves with their flag and not in a way that suggest separation, but rather, in a way that allows them to bring a bit of home to the party. Anything that has the ability to bring people from different walks of life together in the name of a good time reaffirms the best parts of humanity, right?
It’s easy to hate. In this particular instance, it seems way more appropriate to admire.