Coachella, the long dominant festival which opened the season each year has been involuntarily dormant for three years, since the oncoming Covid-19 pandemic forced it to cancel in April 2022. The last iteration of Coachella played in 2019, when Billie Eilish and Lizzo killed on secondary stages and the world had no inkling of the trouble lurking just beyond the horizon. This year Billie Eilish headlined Saturday nights, while Harry Styles headlined Friday and The Weeknd in collaboration with Swedish House Mafia closed out the Sunday shows.
By a quirk of circumstance, Coachella was one of the last festivals to return, after others started running at scale beginning with Rolling Loud Miami in July, 2021. So, the question this year was not what would Coachella do to set the standard, rather it was what could Coachella bring which hadn’t already played at Rolling Loud, BottleRock, Outside Lands, Lollapalooza, Hard Summer, or Life Is Beautiful?
Coachella’s signature has always been that it is isolated on its site at the El Dorado Polo Club. The remote nature of the festival allows AEG and Goldenvoice to create a venue which, once entered, is its own ecosystem. There are no outside intrusions to the field within. Instead, massive art installations and deep attention to detail with all the perimeter trees fitted with color shifting light creates a magical environment which, along with the grass fields enhances the feeling of a world in which anything is possible: love, joy, camaraderie or simply the celebration of being alive in an environment where the senses are enhanced in ways both ethereal and material. Coachella’s secret sauce is the combination of their highly curated artist selections and the seamless way in which the venue itself sets the mood of the crowd as the sun fades and the dreamy color palette enhances the night.
As always, Coachella had a balanced and diverse set of musical options. There were the surprise sets like Arcade Fire which played a smaller tent on Weekend 1 only. Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat played main stage sets showcasing their similarities and the differences in their approach to audience engagement. DJs were well represented from co-headliners Swedish House Mafia to Louis the Child, Jamie XX, Flume, Madeon and the entire programming at the DoLab – the dance area which runs continuously almost as a relief valve from the heavy action at the main stages.
DoLab is its own world which I will discuss in detail in an upcoming story. Foreign acts were well represented from Grupo Firme, the powerhouse Norte Americano Mexican band led by Eduin Caz, filling stadiums worldwide to 88rising, the Asian artist collective both of whom played the main stage. Also of note was Stromae, the Belgian artist whose approach may have been the most thoughtfully creative show of the year. Another highlight was the final shows by Brockhampton.
This was the year in which YouTube truly demonstrated the power of a quality live stream. For those who could not attend, the live stream was extraordinary. There is always a debate about whether live streaming adds demand for future tickets, or reduces it because there’s no longer a need to see the event live when it’s there in your living room. Coachella’s ability to constantly engage and surprise the attendees with both the environment and the social aspects of the festival make it a must attend. The live stream is more likely to drive more demand as viewers see what they’re missing in the background shots, which builds demand. The question is really whether a festival which hosts 125,000 nightly is at capacity, or can it be further expanded.
One of Coachella’s most interesting signature features is Outstanding In the Field which is Jim Denevan’s fearless concept where each night he brings in a signature chef to prepare a meal for 300+, all seated at one continuous table in the back of the Rose Garden’s VIP area. This multi-course meal is a $365 add on for a dinner which unfolds over several hours while dinner is served family style along with matching wines and cocktails. It’s a melting pot of attendees who go for the food and leave with new friendships. It seems counter-intuitive to ask people to absent themselves from the music for the hours of 6pm to 9pm, but the dinner sells out every night. In part this is because Denevan is such a good host. He walks the length of the table talking about the farmers who supply the produce, the chefs who dream up that night’s menu, the artisans who craft the beverages and, on a good night, he’ll also talk about art.
This year was also the year in which there was a noticeable pivot in the food options, with a noticeably larger variety of vegan food options along with the usual offerings from well-known chefs and restaurants. There were two vendors, Craigs and Afters offering vegan ice cream alone.
Other vendors making new or creative options included Puesto, the Southern California based Mexican food group well known for creative tacos who sent Beau de Bois, their extraordinary bar and spirits creative director to debuting four new margaritas: habanero, mango, coconut and watermelon.
The scale of Coachella is hard to visualize if you haven’t been there. It’s really only comprehensible by climbing onto Coachella’s Ferris wheel from which you can look across the vast layout. It’s staggering in size. The footprint covers a span between 49th street and 52nd street and between Madison and Monroe streets. The music festival itself is contained within about 1/6th of this space, with the balance used for parking, car camping, access points to move supplies and staging in and out and little know facilities like the silent disco outside of the festival accessible to those who are staying on premise.
Within the festival fields, walking to and from parking, and among and between the stages makes your step counts go easily over 25,000 if you arrive, as I do, in the early evening. Show up at gates open and those counts can zoom to 40,000 steps or more.
Coachella had long been sold out, as most of the tickets purchased in 2019 for the then planned 2020 show were held and used by those same fans in April of 2022. Those few which came back into inventory quickly sold out. The event was full – with approximately 125,000 people on the fields.
Tickets for Coachella historically go on sale in early June, which is coming right up. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why people want to go back to the same event year after year. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why people would commit to buy expensive tickets without knowing who is going to play. Sometimes it’s not. Coachella is a state of mind. You can’t understand until you’ve been. Once you’ve been you’re hooked. It’s just that good. Life is short. When 125,000 of your future new friends agree Coachella is an adventure which must be experienced, perhaps they’re worth a listen.