This Friday, April 11th to Sunday, April 13th, the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio will again play host to the first weekend of the 15th annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the official starting gun of the summer music festival season and Southern California’s biggest party of the year.
Artists, music lovers, pop-up restaurants, fashion brands, and celebrities travel thousands of miles and from all over the world, converging on the desert with the hopes of writing a chapter of music history.
Despite the presence of the typical liberal atmosphere at large music festivals and the ever-present “progressive” artists interested solely in being provocative, Coachella actually encapsulates our conservative ideals pretty neatly. For three days, people with different backgrounds and interests come together to build and share in a cultural and community-oriented experience.
The festival doesn’t build this experience by itself; instead, the combination of good people, good music, and good culture decides the degree of success the festival will enjoy.
Coachella is, quite simply, a massive party; last year, 90,000 people attended each of the festival’s six days (Coachella stretched the festival to two consecutive weekends in 2012.) This year, with headliners OutKast, Muse, and Arcade Fire, festival organizer Goldenvoice is looking to outdo itself and solidify Coachella’s status as the top music event in the country.
For those attending Coachella this year, I’ve put together some tips on how to maximize your festival experience; first-time attendees may want to pay particularly close attention. However, in the spirit of the festival, feel free to disregard everything I say and approach the experience in your own, unique way.
1. See Bands You’ve Never Heard Of.
When attending a music festival the size of Coachella, there’s inevitably going to be some time in the schedule when even the most die-hard music aficionados don’t know any of the bands playing at that particular moment. This can be a tempting time for festivalgoers to head back to camp “for just a bit.” The problem is that once back at camp or hotel, it’s easy to lose track of time and miss bands you actually wanted to see.
Pack a lunch, pick some names off the schedule that sound interesting, and get to it. The unheralded shows are often the most memorable, especially at Coachella.
This year, I’m going with Tom Odell and the Preatures on Friday, Lesto and UZ on Saturday, and Factory Floor and Equip on Sunday.
2. Find Time to Explore.
While there’s a ton of music going on all day at the festival’s six main stages, there are also a lot of other activities around the site to explore and participate in. Find some time to hit up the giant Ferris wheel. Stop by the Coachella Boutique and dig through some limited edition artwork and clothing. Get involved in the Water Balloon Toss and the Bad Dancing Competition. And of course, eat at some of the excellent pop-up restaurants and eateries making their debut at the festival this year, including California staples Goldie’s, Kazunori, and The Church Key. Coachella isn’t just a music festival; it’s a music and arts festival, so be sure to set aside a little time for exploration of the festival grounds.
3. Stamina is Everything
Drinking beer or sipping cocktails in the blazing hot California sun all day does not imbue you with sustained energy and physical fortitude; it just makes you tired, dehydrated, and cranky. Make sure you drink plenty of water with your (micro-) brew and take short pit stops during the day. If you fall asleep before Outkast on Friday night, you’ll be kicking yourself for missing the late-night fun when you wake up the next morning.
Also, a quick reminder: a hat, a pair of sunglasses, and some sunscreen are weekend-savers when spending 72 hours in the desert. Pack those first.
4. Party Responsibly
One of the cooler and more useful additions to this year’s festival is that Uber, the perennial thorn in the side of taxi companies, will be providing rides to and from the festival grounds as part of their launch in Palm Springs this weekend. This is a win-win situation if I’ve ever seen one; Uber gets to use Coachella as a launching platform and intoxicated festival attendees can get to and from the site safely.
This service is especially useful for those not camping onsite. You just spent $500 on a ticket. Drop the extra few bucks and save yourself from spending your Coachella weekend in a San Diego jail.
5. Get As Close to the Stage As Possible for OutKast and The Pixies
O.K., so this last one is mostly just advice to myself, but it still applies even if you don’t like OutKast or the Pixies. Pick your favorite artist and get to the set early so you can get up close against the barricades by center stage. A lot of people are content to just stand wherever they end up, but the best part of festivals like Coachella is the rare opportunity to see your favorite artists from just a couple of feet away.
See you in Indio!
Photo: AP/Reed Saxon