Three things that took the shine off Friday’s opening day of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival:
1) Volcanic ash. The fallout from the Icelandic volcano continued to stifle European air travel, and among those trapped across the Atlantic were Coachella-bound bands the Cribs, Frightened Rabbit and Bad Lieutenant, who canceled their appearances. I felt much like Warner publicist Rick Gershon [pictured], who proudly wore his band’s colors.
2) The nightmare of getting here. Many veteran festival-goers reported that traffic getting to the Empire Polo Club – especially the last couple of miles – was worse than they’d ever seen it. Ninety minutes to traverse 2 miles? Yes. And it only got worse. Once out of their cars, at least five groups I talked to waited two-plus hours in line in the late-afternoon heat to get their wristbands. They reported crowds chanting angrily and eventually bum-rushing the gate at one entrance after festival personnel ran out of wristbands.
3) The crowds in general. Negotiating the grounds between stages was almost unmanageable Friday. I’d never seen the festival this packed, and many who’ve attended far more Coachellas than I said the same. Virtually every semi-hot band I saw in a tent drew an audience that not only packed the tent but spilled out the edges. Is 75,000 too many?
That said, the day was packed with spectacular performances, especially the quartet of main-stage performers starting at dusk – the Specials, Them Crooked Vultures, LCD Soundsystem and Jay-Z. Off the beaten path (or, it used to be that way), sets by Yeasayer, Ra Ra Riot, La Roux, Grizzly Bear and Fever Ray packed the tents, and then some.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a Ferris wheel? That’s new.
Sunset in the desert: Not new. But still awe-inspiring, even from inside a tent.