Thousands of tents aligned in grids on a large polo field filled quickly Friday evening. For those camping, the Coachella Music and Art Festival was more of a four-day escapist desert fantasy than a simple festival.
The tents went up one by one, and soon looked more like an upper-class refugee camp than vacationers. All campers had to endure thorough searches of all their bags before entering the campground.
Anticipation for the weekend’s concert grew. People sat around their tents talking about which bands would be better to see live, which band was flat out lousy and who was a must-see.
Meticulous schedules of the concert were printed out on sheets of paper. organizing the weekend between the almost 100 performing artists.
Late evening saw the emergence of psychotropic drugs and alcohol that was magically smuggled into the campground. Drum circles began and the tents became a large tailgate party for the music festival to follow. Raucous sexual encounters in neighboring tents were not muffled by the thin polyurethane linings. The campground found peace around four in the morning.
The intense sun shattered the comfort climate of the previous evening. The warm breeze and tolerable temperatures were a deceiving desert guise. Tents became almost instantly uninhabitable once the sun rose over the horizon.
“It is like the desert, with carpet,” said a woman leaving her tent for the polo field. Her frustration with the harsh 7 a.m. sun and the noise of the campground made her laugh uncomfortably.
First timers rushed off to the venue, but veteran festival campers spent more time socializing in the campground before they left the comfort of their own water and food.
The lines at the entrance to the festival were littered with water bottles. No receptacles were in place and thousands of unsuspecting people were told to drink up fast as no outside food or beverages were allowed inside the festival. Concertgoers drenched themselves in their drinking water. The extreme sun and heat dried them very quickly.
The sun was almost inescapable. Shade tents were placed strategically next to food vendors. Merchandising tents lined the areas around the two-dollar bottled water stands every 500 feet around the festival field. Entr?es went for an average eight dollars.
“It’s the new festival diet. Lots of sun, a little bit of water and almost no food,” said one man about the cost of food and water at the concert.
The afternoons were sparsely crowded. Unofficial estimates put ticket sales for the two-day event at about 120,000, but the majority of attendees opted to show up later in the evening for the better-known acts.
Saturday had a unique mixture of indie and mainstream acts throughout the day. The smaller tents offered alternatives to big name acts. Each concertgoer had their own agenda for the day, of who’d they see and what they would do. The audience’s reactions and comments provided for nearly as much entertainment as the performers themselves.
“Perry Farrell is the sex,” said a woman supporting herself on the guardrail, which divided the dance tent. Farrell thrilled the crowd as he joined dance house fusion of Hybrid for three songs.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah packed one of the smaller tents so full of people the heat was almost suffocating. “His voice sounds better in person,” said one woman who had stripped down to her bra and short shorts in the heat.
Kanye West made everyone laugh when the riff began his famous “Gold Digger” single and he said, “White people! This is your only chance to say (the n-word),” and later he danced to A-Ha’s “Take On Me.”
A Hollywood woman spoke on her cell phone as Sigur Ros took the stage. “Some band named se?or rose is playing? they’re fabulous,” she said.
Fans became crushed in the crowd that pressed each other to be as close to Depeche Mode as possible. “I hope they play ‘Master and Servant’,” said one girl. “I took an online test and it said if I were going to be a stripper that would be my song.”
Daft Punk’s first performance in more than seven years captured the excitement and celebration of the night. Their irreproducible bass thumped thousands of sober, and not-so-sober dancing fans.
“This one girl wanted some of my e … I’m not going to give my last e to some random girl while Daft Punk is playing,” said a man in the audience. the girl walked away with her friend in disappointed anger.
Sunday was an all-star festival of greatness.
“They’re weird, but they rock,” said a woman about The Octopus Project’s noon performance on the outdoor stage.
Thousands danced to Los Amigos Invisibles’ salsa and Venezuelan rhythms. “Ese grupo me encanta,” said a woman in her best white Spanish accent possible.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists ended their set in the harsh afternoon sun with a plea for the crowd to find some shade. Their upbeat set drew the crowds in as close as they comfortably could in the heat. Sunday’s heat seemed much more intense. A woman expressed her love for Leo, and he laughed. “You don’t even know me,” he said.
“I should have been here rather than with the jumping Jew on the main stage,” said a girl mesmerized with the sounds of Jamie Lidell. His soulful crooning backed by mixed electro beats, and even some improvised beat boxing kept the audience swooning over his sound.
Seu Jorge performed some of his samba hits for the first time for many in the audience. An eight-month pregnant woman swayed her hips slowly to the beat and twirled her skirt in the air with both her arms. “I was so happy to have some music that I could do my pregnant dance to,” she said.
Madonna played, but her tent only allowed the thousands who waited there all afternoon to see her. The rest could not get within listening distance.
Massive Attack’s powerful stage presence and supporting singers took the audience back in time to when they first were exposed to the avant-garde, moody British soft rock.
“The new album comes out tomorrow at midnight, but I bet all you f****ers downloaded it already,” said Maynard, lead singer from Tool. The statement met applause from Tool’s first live audience in years. The quieter dynamics of their songs were often interrupted from the thunderous dancing celebration from the Scissor Sisters on the outdoor stage.
Coachella finished its seventh year with the most automobile traffic yet. The congenial crowds provided an air of camaraderie which permeated the long days and nights of the festival. Despite intense heat and insane crowds, the celebration and music outweighed all of the drawbacks of the festival.