About This Festival
The polo fields of nondescript Indio in the Southern California desert transform each spring into one of the world’s most sought-after musical playgrounds when The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival comes to town. The main draw has always been Coachella’s pull as a music festival, with a diverse lineup ranging from the hip-and-up-and-coming to the absolute monsters of rock. Today, this hot festival has become a monster of its own, typically described as just “Coachella.”
It’s a little bit of everything from large scale art installations, which double as creative ways to beat the merciless sun, to the infamous danceathon Sahara Tent and the king-making main stage where the next day's music news is made. Festival junkies turn out en masse with a distinct vibe that is uniquely Southern California: incognito Hollywood stars and models, tattooed hipsters, EL wire-lined ravers, DayGlo-clad teens, and flip-flop-wearing beach bums who are all there all soak up the desert sunshine. "Beautiful" is a great word to describe the experience, from the people to the backdrop (palm trees and desert mountains), and the musical itself.
Sewing the Seeds of a Festival Giant
The seed for the first Coachella was planted when the festival’s current venue, the Empire Polo Club in Indio, hosted a Pearl Jam concert that saw 25,000 attendees at the remote location, braving scorching temperatures to join their favorite band who had ended up in this desert outpost seeking alternatives to venues linked to Ticketmaster. Seeing the potential for large-scale events here, the organizers prepared and launched the first festival in 1999, featuring performances by Tool, Morrissey, the Chemical Brothers, and Beck. This first edition took place in October, was riddled with problems: it was too hot, and at 10,000 attendees (just 40 percent of the turnout for the Pearl Jam show six years earlier), there was no chance of breaking even, let alone turning a profit from the floundering ticket sales.
There was no festival in 2000, but the event returned in 2001, opting for April and making it one day instead of two, with a headlining performance by a newly reunited Jane’s Addiction. Things continued to look up, and in 2003, with great headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys, the event became profitable and was at last regarded as a boon to the community. International recognition grew, and in 2004, thanks to the reunited Pixies and world famous acts like Radiohead and Kraftwerk, the festival doubled the attendance of that famed Pearl Jam gig and got its first sellout. In 2007, the festival grew to three days. With sellouts becoming routine and the roster of potential performers so substantial each year, the event expanded to two long weekends in 2012.
Major Lazer and Major Spiders
Since its inception Coachella has offered roughly two types of performance experiences: indoor, emphasizing the intensity of electronic and dance music; and outdoor, featuring rock and pop performers. Several stages are spread throughout the event, with the massive main Coachella Stage and the Outdoor Theatre outside, and the Gobi Tent, Mojave Tent and Sahara Tent (the crowd favorite) inside. There’s been a bit of a problem recently with the Gobi Tent hosting acts too big for its confines. In 2013, Major Lazer and 2 Chainz overstuffed the tent with their audiences, clearly needing the added space of the Coachella stage. For the most part, these bookings and set times are based on genre, not popularity, so get there early just in case.
In addition to musical performances, several inspiring art installations are located around the grounds (many poached from Burning Man’s nearby collective of large scale traveling art), including an outdoor garden with ten-foot tall mechanical spiders, towers fashioned out of concentric multi-colored metal, and large dome shades. The DoLab, an L.A. art and music collective responsible for Lightning In a Bottle, creates a particularly raucous DJ dancing venue complete with misting stations and pressure hoses to cool off the crowd. The list of potential Coachella experiences is extensive, as are the costume ideas.
Additionally, there are myriad onsite services available for festival-goers including Wi-Fi, booths for food and other needs, and free drinking water dispensers for refillable bottles. Do your part and go the refill route, the environment will thank you. Oh and stay hydrated, it’s massively hot out there, and you will sweat it out on the dance floor.