It’s noon in Los Angeles and all is well.
Canon packed. Releases printed. Body reclined– then the phone rings. On the other end is an old friend who informs me that his girlfriend has a tummy ache and that my ride to Coachella is not happening. I am only a few hours away from missing the press check-in deadline for Friday, and this without any transportation. Coachella might have well been a million miles away. Grrrrr.
I immediately scramble to Coachella.com to check on their message boards where I find over 200,000 users and 2 million+ posts. With conversations ranging from artists to campsites to carpools, the message boards were active and full of supportive users. The Coachella.com site contains maps, artist line-ups, and other key information to help one survive the unpredictable conditions and brutal heat that comes with a weekend at the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, CA.
A promising post regarding a carpooling website peaks my interest… then… FIZZLE. POP! The screen goes black. I look up to see a white bunny scamper away. My friend Marianne warned me about her rabbit’s propensity for chewing cables, but the little turd nibbled through my laptop power cord in less than 10 seconds! I didn’t have a chance.
No ride, and now, no laptop. Perfect.
But this is to be expected, for the nature of the beast is chaos. And that’s the beauty of it. Each pilgrimage made to Coachella has been met with seemingly random moments that ultimately lead to amazing life lessons.
I’m reminded of the scene in Karate Kid where Mr. Myagi teaches Daniel about trimming a Bonsai tree; telling him to picture the tree in his mind…
Mr. Myagi: “Trust the picture.”
Daniel: “How do I know if my picture is the right one?”
Mr. Myagi: “If it comes from inside you, always right one.”
This late in the day, with so much on the line, reaching out to a carpool website seems like suicide. Nevertheless, I trust my picture. So I painstakingly repair my chewed-up power cord, flood my subconscious with happy thoughts and log-on to Ridejoy.com. Within the hour, a complete stranger is tossing my bags into his car. Impressive.
Searches on Ridejoy.com made it clear that people were driving many many hours to the festival from as far away as New York. For the haters: insanity. For die-hard fans: awesomeness. But then again that’s Coachella. It’s this wild comradery which the event inspires and rewards. Case in point, carpoolers can win lifetime VIP passes. I’d strap myself to the hood for that.
Due to the festival’s proximity to Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Desert Hot Springs, comfortable lodging options are plentiful. Local hotels not only cater to visitors but some host events of their own. The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs is one such hotel that welcomes guests with four days of music and poolside fun.
If you’d prefer to stay on-site, Coachella offers basic Car Camping, Tent Camping, and Tee Pee Camping. For the Glamper, the luxurious fully-furnished Shakir style Safari Tents include private parking, private check-in, air conditioning, queen beds, restrooms, showers, pool access and his & hers defibrillators.
There are, however, other interesting lodging options.
Around the perimeter of the festival grounds there are sprawling estates for rent where one may come into all sorts of situations. I, for instance, enter into a scene from Less Than Zero complete with exotic treats, fire jugglers, lion tamers, snake charmers, and a Jacuzzi topped with the opposite of champagne. Yucky.
This crew has been tearing-it-up here for eight days, since the FIRST Coachella weekend. It’s a super-human endeavor usually reserved for college spring breakers, but these are LA entertainment professionals and debauchery is boilerplate within the terms & conditions of most industry contracts. It’s just business.
The gracious host of this household materializes and gestures magnanimously towards the bounty before us. “Help yourself,” he states.
CUT TO: Dead kid floating in pool.
I walk in to this scenario with a camera and a plan. One hour later I’m completely trashed, completely lost, riding someone’s beach cruiser, with someone’s girl on my handlebars. My RideJoy buddy gives me the thumbs up. I may be pedaling, but I’m only a passenger on this flight.
It’s difficult to imagine that this monster actually exists. Coachella is one of those wacky ideas that only a group of lunatics would attempt to produce. Sure it’s all neat and organized in the printed festival program, but once the fuse is lit, it’s purely situational management on a mammoth scale.
The makers of Coachella do their best to cover all the bases and do rack-up the Karmic brownie-points. Water refills are free. Information kiosks contain real-people and are actually helpful. Smartphones can be easily be recharged on-site. VIP showers are available for $10 (free if you scrub someone’s back.) And each year the improvements continue.
The pièce de résistance, however, is the official Coachella App. This is a must have tool for the concertgoer; useful for finding your car, browsing food options, reviewing set-times, and much more. I unfortunately had my iPhone stolen only days before my arrival and Coachella without a phone, any phone, is a completely different experience altogether.
Surprisingly our bikes make it past numerous security check points, through thousands of sun-bleached concert-goers, all the way to the main entrance. It immediately becomes apparent why my RideJoy pal absolutely insisted on not walking.
Mental note: BIKE = BESTFRIEND.
Though attendees who opt to walk are guided by well-designed maps, posted signs, color-coded walkways, audible cues and helpful personnel, the festival footprint is enormous. Thankfully Coachella offers a solution: the Pedi-Cab; in essence, a fancy-schmancy rickshaw. Do yourself a favor, spend the ten bucks.
The festival is an amazing community of people from all over the world who agree that right now there is no other place to be. I arrive at the golden hour. The light is perfect. And the music is, as always, incredible.
With over 200 bands perform on 5 main stages; Coachella is a music lover’s wet dream. The 2013 line-up includes Tegan & Sarah, TNGHT, Blur, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Stone Roses, Local Natives, Sparks, Bassnectar, How To Destroy Angels, Phoenix, Puscifer, Café Tecuba, Spiritualized, New Order, Sigur Ros, Pusha T, Decendants, Knife Party, and Violent Femmes, Red hot Chili Peppers, Wu-Tang Clan, OMD, Social Distortion, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Tame Impala, Hardwell, and Pretty Lights. The display of pure musical gluttony is overwhelming.
Add to this soundtrack an avalanche of unavoidable human contact… and you’ve got something utterly addictive. Coachella is a blissfully frenetic 80,000 person orgasm, coated in a velvety veneer of sweaty body nectar and baked for 3 days until hot, gooey and viscerally satisfying. Yeah, just like that.
As usual Coachella has a way of throwing the cards into the air. Unless you’re literally tethered to each other you will get separated from your group at some point. So prepare. I don’t care if you’ve navigated Cape Horn gagged and blindfolded, once nightfall hits, it’s all about keeping your Smartphone charged.
If you have one.
As you can guess, it gets dark and within seconds I lose everyone… but strangely enough… I find everyone else. Here I am stressing and searching and backtracking and waiting for the people I came with and then realize that I am surrounded by the people with which I came. This is my home, my family, my community.
Floating from stage to stage, I come upon people in their moment. Some chained together rushing to catch a performance, others in an endearing ten person group hug, while others simply lie on the soft grass counting stars. In a few short steps I ruin a photo, interrupt a make-out session and step on someone’s fat juicy burrito. What’s not to love?
In the distant darkness a distraught young girl cries out, “My friends left me. I’m lost. Can you please help?” In her hands lay a dead iPhone dripping with mascara-laden tears. It’s a pitiful scene. I firmly suggest to her subconscious mind, “You’re not lost. You’re not alone. We’re all here together. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.” The heady message was met with a look of confusion.
I recall a scene in Karate Kid where Daniel is frustrated with Miyagi’s incomprehensible methods…
Daniel: “You’re supposed to teach and I’m supposed to learn, remember? For four days I’ve been bustin’ my ass and haven’t learned a goddamn thing!”
Mr. Miyagi: “You learn plenty.”
Daniel: “I learned how to wash a car, paint your house, and paint your fence. I’ve learned plenty. Right.”
Mr. Miyagi: “Not everything is as it seems.”
Being lost is a matter of perspective. But this was neither the place nor the time for her moment of clarity, so, I get her to a Coachella phone charging station, offer her a Popsicle, and continue on my journey.
Nearing the Heineken Dome, a daisy-chain of flower girls encircles me. They flutter in like a cluster of lovely butterflies, hand-in-hand, giggling and dropping petals. There was no hesitation, no prudence, simply a collective instinctual decision to be in my life. The wind shifts, the circle breaks and the flowers vanish.
I sit still on the grass absorbing the moment. Fifty feet away an unsuspecting couple is swept up in the same roving daisy-chain. They delight in the moment. Amazing how perfection finds us when we stop trying to control the chaos and just let go.
The warm air transitions to a cool breeze. The bikinis disappear. The girls get sleepy. And the polo field thins out.
I catch up with a key Goldenvoice promoter whose been running around all night. Assuming that the hard part is over, I state, “Almost time for a drink?” The battle-hardened veteran quips, “Drink? Relax? I’m only half-way through! We got Stagecoach coming up next weekend!!”
Good to know that Goldenvoice still runs on good ol’ elbow-grease.
In the 80s, the Coachella Valley was once the spring break capital of California. The legendary Palm Springs Strip would be packed with hard-bodies and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Piled into cars were jocks, preppies, stoners, freaks and geeks armed with an arsenal of squirt guns, beer-bongs and daddy’s money. Unfortunately the retired Palm Spring residents were less than interested in this form of economic stimulation. So in March of 1991 Mayor Sonny Bono put an end to it.
Thankfully, the makers of Coachella have swayed public opinion. Thankfully, the city of Indio now welcomes those wacky kids. The impact of the festival to the economy of the entire Coachella Valley averages over $500 million and over $900 million globally. Concert tickets are a much better use of daddy’s money than purchasing another geriatric golf cart. Puhleeze.
It’s 1 am. My Ridejoy pal and I push our way through thousands of exhausted concertgoers riding the dusty trails leading out of the polo fields. Strapped to the back of my buddy’s beach cruiser is a crap-load of vinyl.
Zia Records is the official Music Retailer & Artists Signing Booth for Coachella 2013. Each year the festival offers fans limited-edition albums and other collectables from the year’s acts which can be signed on the spot. Much of these vinyls sell on EBay the very same night, so bring some extra cash and walk out with an investment.
I shout out to my RideJoy pal, “Hey! Where are we going? Where am I sleeping?” He responds with a thumbs-up, then darts away into the abyss. There’s no doubt that we’re heading back to the mansion for certain death.
For those returning year after year it’s inarguably something more than a simple music & arts festival. This chaotic and wacky experience successfully instills a sense of community into an often senseless world. The true Coachella is the hidden substance that binds the festival together; it’s the subject matter experienced between the music, the art, the food, and the Ferris wheel. It is simply being human.
Daft Punk couldn’t have said it any better: “If you lose your way tonight, that’s how you know the magic’s right.” Yes you may lose some things along the way, but what you find is 100% worth every penny spent.
Ridejoy.com is a service designed to connect people to cars, and it does this very well. I’m certain the team behind Ridejoy.com receive many a heart-felt ‘thank you’ that results from finding a last minute ride. But once again, thanks!