Originally published on April 21, 2010
Coachella Music and Arts Festival
Friday, April 16th— Sunday, April 18th in Indio, California
While driving down the long stretch of I-5 to make the trek to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival this past weekend, I couldn’t help but see the journey as a religious pilgrimage taken by music worshipers. After arriving at the Empire Polo Fields and meeting folks that travelled from as far as Canada, Europe, and even Australia come to the festival, my feelings were confirmed that there is definitely a powerful force that draws all these people from such far corners of the world. But what is this pull exactly?
Of course, the festival boasts an all-star line-up of bands, but is that enough to draw a record attendance of 75,000 people each day? The location of the event is definitely not easy to get to, and it takes a lot of planning, money, and travel time, even for those coming from nearby Los Angeles. So what is it about the festival that causes people to journey in droves out to the desert of California? After giving it some thought, I decided that the promoter, Goldenvoice, does an unrivalled job at putting on an event that is a sensory overload in every way, and that people gather to be a part of a community where everyone is simultaneously experiencing the same enlivening stimuli. Being a part of this huge mass of music fanatics poised to have an epic weekend can be a very exhilarating feeling, and I think that’s ultimately the reason that people travel far and wide to come to Coachella.
The most obvious draw of the festival is the music. There was something for everyone in the line-up of bands, with plenty of room to be exposed to new music. Not only were all the headliners huge acts from different genres that could draw big crowds on their own, like Jay-Z, Thom Yorke, Gorillaz, and Tiesto, but there was also the perfect blend of up and coming new artists with fresh hype behind them and bands hailing from previous decades, such as Faith No More, the Specials, and Public Image Ltd. Every act had an enormous group of spectators present, and you could feel the energy in the air. It is definitely a bonding experience to watch a band as part of a giant mass, and Coachella has some of the biggest crowds around where people can share their excitement for their favorite artists with everyone around them.
Many musical performances came along with high-tech light and video set-ups that were visually astounding. From colorful fractals and bright strobes at the Sahara DJ tent, to high-powered green lasers reaching out into the crowd during Muse’s set, to elaborate videos played through a huge backdrop of the New York skyline while Jay-Z performed, the light technicians for the festival did a remarkable job. Also, concertgoers toting LED lights and glow sticks combined with color-changing art instalments around the grounds gave Coachella a beautiful, glowing ambiance at night. These included a giant paper crane, a see-through plastic column that would unexpectedly blast shots of flames into the air, and the Cubitron, a rectangular prism composed of balls that flash colors in waves of intricate patterns. These aspects of Coachella created an atmosphere that was a departure from day-to-day life that gave additional energy to the people there for the weekend.
There were also many opportunities for tactile interaction at Coachella. My favorite example of this was the Do Lab, an area that had DJs playing while people on stage hosed down all the dancers with high-powered super soakers. It felt amazing in the heat, and the combination of dancing in 90 degree weather while being sprayed with cold water can’t help but make you feel ecstatic. Much of the art also encouraged people to interact with it physically. People could relax in a hut made of recyclable materials with aluminium cans hanging off of it like wind chimes. A giant diamond made of mirrors on every facet was also a popular instalment, where people walked around to find their reflection.
The promoters planned out all of these aspects of Coachella, but perhaps the most unifying part of the festival is simply meeting new people and sharing the weekend with everyone around you. This is constant, as it is impossible not to start up a conversation with those at the same show, while standing in lines, or just while hanging out at the campsites. The best example of this I encountered was the parade of festival-goers marching up and down the rows of tents at 6am, their leader proudly wielding a giant pair of cardboard scissors. They had drums and were chanting song after song, gaining members throughout the procession. In my opinion, this was the physical manifestation of the feeling of community at the festival, as everyone was feeding off each other’s energy and just there to have a great time. After being exposed to all of the planned events of the festival the whole day, people were just so happy to be there that they couldn’t quit, and started up their own all-night parties.
These good vibes are ultimately the force that draws people to Coachella, and as long as the promise of communal energy based around the music is fulfilled, this festival will continue to be greatly successful with a very supportive fan base. Being at this festival as a great experience, and it is definitely deserving of its international fame and critical acclaim. The crowd at Coachella undoubtedly experienced an amazing weekend, and I for one plan on coming back for more next year.