Mark Stock's Coachella, Part Three: The Dids and Didn'ts
Now that the dust has settled and my dehydration-based hallucinations have passed, it's time for a somewhat rational rant.
Coachella is one of our nation's prominent music festivals, there's simply do dodging that. Proof outside of the lineup lies in this year's surge from 60,000 ticket sales to 75,000. The grounds were noticeably stuffier, confusion ran rampant and the dudes in yellow jackets never had answers. At one point, my friend and I strolled into the festival without revealing our wristbands while two security guards argued over the merits of their significant others.
Many writers have proposed downsizing net year's Coachella, and I'd like my voice to be included among those.
Bottlenecks at food stands and beer gardens were as common as moccasins on cool teenage girls. The food, while expensive, was pretty damn good (nothing beats fresh churros at an outdoor event). But there were countless horror stories of people missing entire sets because they were starving and had to wait in line for an hour for a taco.
The three-day approach is fine, but Coachella must plan accordingly. All of L.A. will be leaving Friday after work for Indio, so staff up the grounds and create parking that makes sense. I propose a beefier shuttle system from Indio or nearby Palm Springs to keep cars from choking up the venue. The few cyclists who attended should have been rewarded, but maybe that's too Portland of me to suggest.
Extended hours for set times meant lengthier performances from headliners. Muse, whose live prowess was only rumor to me at the time, impressed from the main stage thanks to more wiggle created by the 1 am closing bell. Plus, with people inevitably leaving before midnight out of shear exhaustion, the last hour was often delightfully open.
The sound at the festival was remarkable. Adapting to the larger crowds, engineers constructed stacks of amps and suspended speakers throughout the grounds, offering crisp audio even for those in the way back. Any tech crew that can somehow harness Beach House's Victoria Legrand's transfixing vocals gets my vote for a pay raise. There was some conflicting sound in between stages, but that's the way of the outdoor festival. So be it.
Coachella caters to the trance and electronica crowd quite well while keeping them in their place. The furthest stage hosts predominantly DJs and dance parties. This prevents glow sticks from exploding during a somber rendition of “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses” by Thom Yorke. Likewise, if you feel the urge to get down, it's a short walk away.
The diversity of this year's bill is worth noting: From top to bottom, Coachella attracted great acts. Big bands want to reunite there; small bands want to be seen there; supergroups want to assemble there. The desert's close proximity to Los Angeles means Coachella can be easily incorporated into a band's west coast leg of their tour.
Not so much a distraction from the music as an eye-catching accent, the many enormous and interactive art installations are what make Coachella one-of-a-kind. This year, fans could play a giant organ, ride a 15-story ferris wheel, see of hologram of planet earth, climb into a starscape of orbs or stand beside the “Metamorphosis," a spinning wheel that merges the image of your face with that of the person on the other side. Nothing came close, however, to the giant iron hand of last year, which would crash old cars with the push of a button.
Maybe the West Coast is more laid back than the East. I've always hated the generalization that one side is stressed-out and always on the run while the other is mellow to the point of comatose. But there's something to it. I can't count the number of apologies I received from fans with stray arms or accidental nudges while dancing. Such a cordial environment really made the occasional jackass who shoved his way to the front by saying he was “looking for his friend Jeff” satanic and worthy of a punch to the groin.
Thom Yorke had a paralyzing effect on my psyche. Surely, nothing could top it. Except, perhaps, a train wreck for the ages. My biggest regret of the festival in hindsight—just above not seeing Devo—was missing out on Sly Stone's historic live catastrophe. Many have already covered it (including The Times' Jon Pareles) and it sounded so terrible that it was probably really good. Moreover, it sounded like a confessional from a man that's been screwed by the music industry and probably contained some interesting, albeit it drugged, insights.
There was also the rumored arrest of a naked man under “unknown substances” who was parading around the Coachella parking lots, breaking car windows with his head.