So I've been to Coachella… 11 of them, I think. It's really tough to keep track as the years and lineups have began to overlap in my brain. "Wait a minute, did I see Arcade fire on the side stage? Okay that must've been 2005… Wait was that the year that they had the giant wooden crane? No, that was 2009, or was it '10? Shit I don't know." I've seen a lot of things in that stretch of attendance. I saw Daft Punk unveil the pyramid that would turn a group of millennials into robot worshipping technophiles in the Sahara tent that was then a fraction of the size it is now. I saw The Cure get the sound cut off on them when they refused to stop the show (and subsequently continued using just stage speakers as thousands of lucky leftover attendees rushed toward the stage like it was a rescue boat landing on the island they wrecked on 3 years ago.) I saw Paul McCartney play the longest set of anything ever. I saw the naked wizard get tazed. My point is: I've seen some shit. And I've seen the trends come and go. The awful couple of years everyone wore headdresses. The years it seemed like everyone had some stuffed animal on a stick to keep their friends together in the crowd. And I've seen the slow onset of the most current and widespread of the festival trends, not going to the festival.
Sure you have heard someone say this before, but Coachella in the early years was ALL about the music. You would wait all year to find out the lineup, your hipster "finger on the pulse of all things obscure" friends would make you cd's with all the second and third line bands that you'd never heard of. Some of those bands you would never hear from again, some of them would later go on to be Muse and LCD Soundsystem. You would carefully plot out your viewing schedule so you would only miss a few minutes of all of your favorite or semi-favorite bands, but some would always overlap leaving you with a difficult decision. You would share moments of musical history with old and new friends and it was beautiful.
It was only in maybe 2006-2007, well that I remember, when sponsors realized that they could rent giant estates in the surrounding areas and throw MASSIVE pool parties attended by celebrities, scenesters, and normal folk alike. Everyone was a sponsor. Lacoste, Scion, even fucking McDonalds. Soon the landscape was filled with open bars, gifting suites, and weird little Hors D'oeuvres served by girls hotter than your prom queen’s mom. These became the unofficial first pool parties of the summer, spawned the concept of the “Coachella Diet”, and gave you a reason to stop eating carbs starting in February.
They weren't just limited to the daytime either. Before long the nights were filled with Jeremy Scott parties, navigating the maze of cops to find some weird disco warehouse, and carnivals of neon. People became more concerned with getting on these exclusive guest lists than they did about even knowing who was playing on the polo fields. Coachella had become the backdrop for the party. Living in LA ,a statement I heard on the daily was "I'm just going down for the parties, I have no interest in going in the festival". This is when “NoChella” was born. The night events started to begin earlier and the day parties ended later and later, squeezing the time a lot of people went to the actual festival into a 2-3 hour slot and this year it seemed like that slot had finally been reduced to 0. Even though the festival was technically sold out, according to one source over 6,000 tickets were for sale online up until friday. I was walking through a nearly empty VIP section on friday night at one of the biggest music events of the year. That shouldn't happen.
What is the cause of this exodus? Is it just a natural progression of festivals to eventually jump the shark? Is this a case of "things ain't what they used to be”? Or is it just that the draw of the parties outweighs the quality of the festival lineup. Let's be honest, this years lineup kinda sucked, the DoLab stage had more energy to it than any of the main stages all weekend. It seems that Goldenvoice has rested on its laurels for a few years and just assumes both weekends will sell out immediately. Hopefully this year's assumingly lower alcohol sales and lower guest count will remind them that they actually can and need to throw a much bigger and better party. And that people really do still care who plays, if you let them. What happened to years like 2004 where you had to choose between watching Radiohead or Kraftwerk. The only prying question this year was: "How the fuck can I get that Steely Dan song out of my head?"
But its not too late.
The kids like music.
The kids want to hear music.
Give them a reason to look forward to standing in lines to wait in lines. A reason to brave the nightmare that is the parking lot at 11pm. Give them a reason to come to Indio year after year. GIVE THEM DAVID BOWIE!!! (Sorry, had to interject a personal request in there.) But seriously, act like you give a shit if people have a good weekend after spending thousands of dollars to be there. Because if you're not careful, the pools might be the only thing people are heading your direction for in April.