Back in 1999, when the very first Coachella, featuring Rage Against The Machine, Beck, Tool, Chemical Brothers, Moby, Underworld and more, was announced, the concept intrigued me so much I flew from Philadelphia, where I was working for a site called CDNow, to Los Angeles to interview Goldenvoice head Paul Tollett about the making of the festival.
Since then I have been to 17 Coachella festivals, having covered the festival for the L.A. Times, Rolling Stone, Billboard and more. I was on the soundboard for the legendary Daft Punk 2006 set.
In 2019 I went with American Express as part of a story I was doing on the relationship between the brand and Coachella (for years Am Ex, one of the best brands at working with musicians, was one of the only brands sanctioned by Goldenvoice to be on the festival grounds, giving them legitimacy). Am Ex brought together all of the “journalists” they invited for a lunch for a meet and greet and to get our passes. At this lunch I met the face of 2020’s Coachella, an entitled piece of trash who sat and bragged the entire lunch about all the free stuff he gets, how he had been to six Coachella’s and, best of all, how he had gotten drunk the night before with Brooke Hogan. He then proceeded to talk about the night before how he had been to a party he thought was the party to be at, until he found out that same night Rihanna had been at a neighboring event. He actually lamented that, “It’s my lot in life to always have the wrong wristband.” As if that matters.
After that lunch and realizing I could not stand to be around the obnoxious new wave of Coachella attendees — the same type of entitled kids with no sense of music history who thought Revolve was more important to the history of Coachella than Portishead in my mind I was done with Coachella.
This kid argued that Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan attending the festival in 2006 made Coachella. No, you f**king idiot. Jane’s Addiction literally made Coachella. The story has been well documented that the original ’99 festival lost so much money there was not a 2000 version and then when the 2001 event was in jeopardy, Jane’s, who had a long history with Goldenvoice, stepped in to headline. But the new generation of Coachella attendees couldn’t name a Jane’s song.
However, three years later thanks to COVID enough time had passed that when this one approached I relented and decided to go to at least check out the festival. One thing I did differently was go to weekend two for the first time. I had heard since the festival went to two weekends in 2012 weekend two was a totally different vibe, one that was more mellow and music-centric since the vast majority of the corporate soirees were weekend one.
I had heard the horror stories of traffic jams, disorganization and more from weekend one. Cosmopolitan magazine even made reference to the infamous Fyre Festival. Uh, organizer Billy McFarland eventually was sentenced to six years in jail for wire fraud. So maybe established outlets might want to hold back on the Fyre Festival comparisons because people have to wait in line or unfortunately a few people had their iPhones stolen.
Over the years I have talked to countless British musicians who would recall how the notorious British press loved to build and hype up artists, only to tear them down as soon as they got successful.
We are definitely seeing that mentality with the influencers and influencer press for Coachella 2022. You take a music festival, turn it into a haven for influencers — half of whom can’t even spell music — and then they complain it doesn’t cater to them. If you spent days whining on TikTok you couldn’t get into the Revolve party you shouldn’t have been at Coachella in the first place.
So with all the influencer parties out of the way we drove up to Coachella weekend two in under two hours from the Orange County/L.A. border. When we got to Indian Wells tennis court we had no line at all, not one person in front of us, to pick up our credentials. We went to a restaurant near the Polo Fields grounds and had no wait to grab lunch.
After lunch headed to the festival where traffic was minimal, got into parking in less than ten minutes and walked over to the festival for a smooth, hassle-free entrance.
As for the vibe on the grounds it was incredibly relaxed in the afternoon of day two. Crowds were sparse, which is typical of day two when the Coachella veterans are recovering a bit from day one and saving their energy for the night’s headliners.
The crowds were much larger for the night time sets. But even in the day, for the incredibly genial Holly Humberstone, for example, there was a nice turnout and strong response. She was followed in the Mojave Tent by Japanese Breakfast, who also had a strong audience response. It was almost like people here on this weekend were here to see music. Wow, crazy.
Speaking of crazy, the vibe at the Sahara Tent for Emo Nite was frenzied. Thousands of people streamed out the sides to see co-founders TJ Petracca and Morgan Freed pump out songs like the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and scream every word as if the band were on stage right there. The two were joined by the occasional special guest, like Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix for “Last Resort” and Plain White T’s Tom Higgenson, whose “Hey There, Delilah,” had all the crowd in their feels.
Sahara was also scene for the most intense set of the night as Brockhampton delivered what they called their “last show ever.” If they hold true to that — and it seems hard to imagine based on the fervor and passion the band stirred at Coachella they won’t be back headlining arenas in three to five years — they went out with a performance that will one day be called legendary just for the setting and the way they went out on top. Calling it a day before tens of thousands of adoring fans at Coachella is like the final scene of a biopic.
If that was the most adored set of the night, outside of Billie Eilish and Megan Thee Stallion, the best set of the night came from the inspired Danny Elfman. Seeing Elfman play the Outdoor Theater on a Saturday night brought back old Coachella vibes for sure. And after all the deserved buzz surrounding his week one appearance he brought in a massive crowd who were treated to all of the eclecticism and brilliance of Elfman’s storied career — from several Oingo Boingo songs, including “Dead Man’s Party,” “Insects” and “Just Another Day” to his Hollywood score work, like the themes from Spider-Man, Batman and The Simpsons.
Watching the set and the crowd response definitely, as I said, brought back the spirit of the formative years of Coachella , where bands like Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Mazzy Star and Jesus & Mary Chain reunited to hero’s welcomes.
So at least in some respects the legacy of Coachella is still very much alive. Was my time there perfect? No. After watching some of the greatest DJs in history like Laurent Garnier, Carl Cox, Deep Dish and Sasha & John Digweed dominate at Coachella, seeing some of the incredibly mediocre electronic music being celebrated from the big stages was at times disheartening.
But at least those fans were there to celebrate music. Put simply, Coachella is the biggest music festival in North America, and along with Glastonbury, maybe the most prestigious in the world. So there is going to be backlash and people who want it to fail, hence the unflattering coverage. And for those who have a long storied history with Coachella we have to accept that musically it has changed. That’s okay.
The festival should grow if it can do so without losing its soul and integrity. And weekend two showed that for those who care more about the music than the scene there is still a way to find and celebrate the sense of discovery and love of music Coachella was founded on 23 years ago.