The man in the Bob Marley shirt tapped me on the shoulder, and I tried to ignore him and continue to watch Haim, the band made up of sisters. Visibly intoxicated, he tried again, this time putting his entire face unavoidably in front of mine. “Everyone here has faces,” he said. That much was true.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, founded in 1999, took over the Empire Polo Club once again to bring bands, DJs, rappers, and artists to California. The lineup boasted current major acts like Arcade Fire, Beck, Lorde, and Motörhead, along with reunions like OutKast, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Replacements and up-and-comers like Warpaint and A$AP Ferg. And, in turn, Coachella brought out approximately 90,000 people for the first weekend of two on April 11-13. Yes, 90,000. All with faces.
The geographical setting of Coachella is not only a focal point, but also an important factor of the fest. Nestled in between desert and mountains, the neatly maintained grounds create a city within a city exclusively for the use of shirtless and shoeless humans to run rampant, where bathing suits are interchangeable with clothing and face paint is the most common accessory. And even in a time of drought, the grass is so green and manicured that it has to be tasted in order to make sure it’s not AstroTurf.
While the main focus of the fest is the music, there is much more to do than watch bands. While walking from Lorde to Pixies, you may find yourself inside an art exhibit. Or perhaps you can run into a celebrity (just don’t ask Busta Rhymes for a picture or you will be shoved by his security) or catch a special guest appearance from Jay-Z, Beyoncé, or, my favorite, Debbie Harry, to name a few.
The fest is now an important event for American pop culture, and with that comes interesting attitudes and personas. While people fight to see a very nice-looking high-def screen hundreds of feet away from a stage, others dance aimlessly or just talk. But even with all of these people adding disruption to my viewing experience, the fest still had an undeniable, unique atmosphere. Bands feel privileged to play, and people even feel privileged to be there.
Everyone’s must-see list was different, but the favorites were easy to see. OutKast, whose headlining set on Friday night was their first in a decade, seemed to be playing to almost all 90,000 people at the fest. The crowd at Lorde pushed so far back that the 17-year-old Kiwi looked to be the size of an ant from where I stood. The same can be said for so many of the performers at this year’s fest
The only issue that arose was curfews, which saw several headlining sets cut just a wee bit short. Arcade Fire circumvented the restrictions and headed into the crowd to meet up with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band where they would continue well past the legal limit and into festival folklore.
This being my first trip to Coachella, I think I learned a lot. I learned that it will be hard to see all the bands you want to see for logistics reasons as well as general tiredness from being in the 90-some degree heat for hours on end. A lesson in time management is necessary to make the weekend a success, but even if you sat in the grass all day you would still experience something.