Attending Coachella Music and Arts Festival is like being transported onto the set of a movie designed by Dr. Suess with a script written by Hunter S. Thompson. Here, more than anywhere else, I continually asking myself if this is all real. Sure it is, but only for a few days in April.
If you love music, and if you love the exchange of energy between performers and their fans, as well as a generous amount of disposable income, then you need to work in a trip to Indio onto your bucket list. Coachella’s organizers, Goldenvoice, have festivals down to a science, their baby no doubt serving as a template for the growing rounds of new music festivals cropping up each year.
In the middle of the Mojave Desert, on polo grounds they create an enclosed dreamscape of visual and sound arts for attendees to immerse themselves in. The bounds of the main festival grounds are lined by palm trees, and behind those spotlights that all point to a single, central place high up, creating a kind of light tipi. Boundaries inside of which as a festival goer you are made to feel like a spoiled kid in a candy store.
Last year a large snail roamed the festival, colorfully painted in Brian Froud-like faeries. This year the snail was replaced by a large gold-masked astronaut, hunched over as if inspecting tiny life-forms on an alien planet. Large white towers of composed of tiny white cubes formed rock-candy like structures between two tents, next to a twenty-foot high worm with a stairwell leading up to one opening, welcoming visitors to walk through. Its skin was scales of compact discs, rainbow and shining from all angles. Nearby the two main stages stood mirrored cubes and rectangular-shaped objects, reflecting the festival and people like fun-house mirrors. Lastly there was what from a distance could have passed as a roller-coaster, a tangled weave of squared rainbow tubing.
The festival grew to seven stages as of last year, and the newest addition, the Yuma Tent, doubled in size from last year. It’s never quite the same from year to year, always trying to improve and at the same time innovate. The Sahara Tent used to be the same size as the other two tented stages, Mojave and Gobi, but upgraded in size to accommodate the increase in demand and popularity of EDM producers. It should probably be called the Sahara Hanger, as it could seemingly comfortably fit a large aircraft. The Gobi Tent underwent a makeover this year as well, adding sides to all but a few sections in addition to black drapery throughout the inside, with glass chandeliers adorning the ceiling. It was an odd change, but improved the sound isolation greatly from previous years.
One of the greatest instances of First-World Problems I’ve seen is the scheduling conflicts that Coachella creates. If you’re going to the festival, it means you can afford the expensive ticket, the travel to the desert, the time off from work, the cost of buying food for and from the festival as well as additional entertainment while you’re there. As an attendee you are most likely affluent in some way, and complaining about who you can and cannot see seems like you’re probably a little spoiled. However, with over a hundred shows to choose from over the course of three days, anybody who likes enough music is going to run into a problem where they have to choose between two shows they very much want to attend. It is also the definition of a “good problem.”
The first day is usually the longest, getting your bearings and finding where everything is located, and there’s typically a scary moment or two when you realize you might not make it to the bathroom in time. The magic of Coachella picks up as the sun starts to set. Balloons are tied to a long string, one by one creating lines hundreds of feet long that stretch across most of the festival grounds. Eventually there are three or four lines, each with single-colored balloons. As the sunlight wanes, you see there are lights attached to each balloon, and when it gets dark you still have the lines of balloons across the night sky. All the sculptures change as well. The roving astronaut now has a projection screen for a mask, sometimes with colored designs and at other points with faces of festival goers captured during the day. The cubes of the rock-candy trees are individually lit and are constantly changing in time with the music. The worm’s ends glow, and the mirrored glass of the reflective cubes near the main stages are now somehow colored glass. The colors of the glass shift as well. All of the palms that line the grounds have colored light on them as well, rainbows shifting around the borders.
There’s nothing like that first night, stumbling around, mouth gaping open at the new and magical world around you. You can’t believe it took you this long to find it, and in the back of your head, you begin to scheme to try and figure out how to stay beyond the allotted three days. (to be continued)