Ten days after the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, I kinda still feel like this pair of shoes (found late Sunday amid the litter in the abandoned Gobi Tent). Remind me to do a couple weeks of training before the 2011 shindig.
Like the Sunday night desert winds that seemingly kicked up enough dust and pollen to send my sinuses to rehab, Coachella 2010 blew me away. My mental inventory:
1 – It was crowded. Really crowded. The most crowded ever. It’s fantastic for the promoters that Coachella was a sellout – especially given all the early grumbling about the non-availability of one-day passes – but 75,000 might have been about 15,000 too many for attendees like me, who treat the festival as one big sampler platter. The tent sets, especially, were deliriously over capacity. Gone, apparently, are the times when you could show up 5 minutes (or even 15) before set time at a tent show and get close enough to actually hear the music. If you’re forced to stake out a spot in a tent 30 minutes ahead of time, it diminishes the amount of music you can consume. And many of us come to Coachella feeling very consumptive.
2 – Those mobile devices. I’m pretty sure the main reason it was harder to navigate the hordes on the festival grounds is that everyone’s eyes were glued to their communi-gadgets. Text, bump, “’scuse me,” text, bump, “’scuse me,” text, bump, “Heywatchwhereyou’regoing.”
3 – The crowd was really young. I’m used to feeling like somebody’s dad at big music events, but this was the first time I felt like somebody’s grandpa. I have no scientific evidence to support this, but it seemed to me (and others whose opinions I solicited) is that the average age of Coachellans was down this year. I spotted John Mayer in the VIP area one night; there’s no truth to the rumor he was there to do an acoustic set at the Parental Drop-Off Areas.
4 – Oh, but there were highlights. In order of how much they made my spine tingle: Fever Ray (I’m still having visions); Sunny Day Real Estate (confirming my belief that theirs is music with real staying power); Gil Scott-Heron (every bit as engaging live as you want an influential artist to be); Local Natives (local guys make real good); Pavement (I was never a big fan, but on the main stage they were contagious). I know you want me to say how bedazzling main-stage acts like Jay-Z, LCD Soundsystem and Muse were, but my take is that, hey, they’re headliners; they’re paid to dazzle. So no real surprises there.
5 – Regrets, I have a few. Frightened Rabbit, the Cribs, Bad Lieutenant and Gary Numan didn’t make it to the festival – damned Iceland and its loud-mouthed volcano. I also missed Public Image Ltd. (conflict with Fever Ray); Florence and the Machine, Julian Casablancas, Miike Snow and Dirty Projectors (tardy arrival/overcrowded tents); and Pretty Lights (because I walked to the wrong tent and got swallowed whole by the La Roux crowd).
6 – Flunked assignments. There were some puzzling stage assignments this year (Grizzly Bear, Casablancas and Matt & Kim overpacked their tents, for instance), but none more baffling than Saturday afternoon/evening, when the Outdoor Theatre lineup of Edward Sharpe, The xx, Hot Chip, MGMT and the Dead Weather all proved they belonged on the main stage. (Meanwhile, late afternoon main stagers White Rabbits and Tokyo Police Club played to a whole lot of lawn – and nothing against their music.)
7 – Mad people. The Friday traffic jam and overtaxed check-in gates got Coachella off to a lousy start. My housemates waited in line 2 1/2 hours to exchange their tickets for wristbands – it was at that gate that frustrated festival-goers virtually bum-rushed the entrance when an ambulance went through. I heard of few problems either Saturday or Sunday – kudos to whoever made adjustments.
8 – Sad people. During my agonizing hour-plus wait in line on Friday afternoon (you don’t expect to wait in line an hour when you arrive at 12:15, right?), I witnessed a young lady from Canada lying on the ground distraught, her face in her hands, bawling her eyes out. She’d bought a bogus ticket on Craigslist for $400. This was not uncommon, I was told. In fact, I ran into a friend who worked as a volunteer at one of the gates, and she told me that on Friday, four out of every 10 tickets she scanned were counterfeit.
9 – Glad to have friends. If you’re like me, something always goes wrong at least once during Coachella. On Friday, I bicycled to the venue before discovering I left my wallet at my rental house. Thanks to those who lent me pizza-and-soda money that day. I think I still owe somebody 10 bucks.
10 – Still surreal after all these years. Sometimes, you just have to stop and look around.
Now, who’s headlining next year?