Coachella Letter 2016: Don’t It Make You Feel Alive

Dear Reader,

I survived. The 72 hour drug and alcohol fueled bender music festival reserved only for those that want to sweat, be seen in their lavish outfits, and sing at the top of their lungs to their favorite bands. My immune system is all but shot, while my head feels like its hosting three different migraine events that I forgot to RSVP to. My breathing is slow and my eyes are dry. My voice sounds like Bernie Sanders just caught severe bronchitis. Would you believe me if I told you this was all worth it for just a few songs by some people I love? Let’s recount.

Weeks ago, I was in Venice with my mother shopping for clothes on Abbot Kinney. It was one of those sun-drenched days of eating ice cream and biking down Main Street in Santa Monica. As we left one of the small store boutiques off the boulevard, I saw a chalk written sign that said:

Why Are We Here?

To Have A Good Time

It was nothing out of the ordinary to see on a Los Angeles street. But if you know anything about what Coachella is, you understand the significance of that sign as I write this now, half awake and almost dead.

To be honest, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me not to do drugs this weekend, I’d have enough money to buy a whole bag of goddamn great drugs. What I will ask of you, dear reader, is not to judge. We make stupid, reckless decisions at times and although this behavior can be way too fun and addictive, it also serves the moment. It’s a part of growing up and getting older. So when the question is asked if I did any drugs at the 2016 Coachella Music Festival, the answer is Duh.

I drive down Thursday night with my friend Michelle. The new 1975 album is blasting in Oasis Country Club, 20 minutes outside Indio. This perfectly groomed gated community is basically one of those living facilities where there are pools every 5 ½ feet and all the houses look the same. I think of how funny it is — two weeks out of the year where thousands of white kids invade the quiet, dust-ridden city of Palm Springs to party like it’s the end of the world. The temperature is high and morals are low. And together those things wrap themselves in the most fashionable of flower crowns for basic white girls to wear.

And upon arriving at the festival, I quickly learn that yes — the rumors are true. Everyone is white. Everyone looks the same. And 75 % of the people are gorgeous. The place is a ritualized fashion runway of women channeling their inner Janis Joplin souls, longing to be beautiful bohemians in the age of snapchat and Instagram. In other words, this is the way of life for the next three days, so put on a tank top, grab a margarita, and start sweating like the rest of us. I try to get annoyed with it all but what’s the point? The last thing I want is to spend the next three days like a coked out curmudgeon unable to enjoy the set from The Chainsmokers. In fact, every little stupid thing that annoyed me about Coachella (nightmare parking, overpriced drinks, coming up with ways to smuggle in drugs) is made better by the fact that people watching remains the second most fun thing to do during the day. The first of course, is listening to the music.

And speaking of those people. There are so, so many. And the festival grounds seem to go on forever. And where’s the nearest bathroom? And where’s the nearest beer garden? And wait where’s the Main Stage? And how did I just lose everyone?

I hear Lord Huron sing “Fool For Love” and it’s really the first performance I see Friday (and I’m by myself!).

I skip Of Monsters and Men to see BORNS and it’s worth it. Everyone is so happy and friendly and dancing. From there I go with Michelle and her friends to see M83, which becomes emotional and splendid and fucking magical all at the same time. Ellie Goulding follows them and I smile a lot thinking about what a rad pop star she is. I scream and shout and dance my ass off during “Anything Can Happen.”

Then everyone leaves the main stage to see something called Jack Ü and I wonder if anyone will be around to watch LCD Soundsystem with me. I later hear that Skrillex (sp?) and Diplo (I think?) are also there and everyone is going nuts and I get sort of sad that the festival is already becoming an EDM extravaganza of fist bumping and underage teenagers on ecstasy. But it makes sense to me in a way, because while three DJ’s at one stage are blowing up the twitter universe, a band that basically everybody forgot about is about to take the stage and deliver a celebratory, self-aware, melancholic set of seriously great dance music and synthesizer funk.

And they play the hits. It’s a two-hour set of all the old stuff. And if I hadn’t seen them five days earlier for the first time, I would have been front row. But I stay in the back with some friends of mine and dance and dance and dance until my feet are sore. The moment where I get misty eyed comes in the second to last song, as LCD surprises the crowd and gives a warm rendition of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” I choke up — I feel like I’d forgotten that Bowie was no longer on this earth anymore and everyone around me had forgotten about him as well. And now, a band that hadn’t played together in five years was playing his song. Just to remind us that we were still young and alive and lucky to have this.

And then for the finale, the slow crescendo of a piano began to play.

I’ve written a lot about “All My Friends” and what it means to me because it’s still a song that will continue to make me sad and overjoyed at the same time as the years pass. It’s still a song about being on the road, away from the people you adore. And upon missing the better part of your youth and waking up one day to the realization that the tragic inevitability of time is so close, all you really want to do is see the people you love the most in the world. After the show Friday night, the LA Times called it the “We’re Not Getting Any Younger Anthem.”

Dear Reader, it was wonderful. I sang it at the top of my lungs. I danced myself clean.

We get back to the house at 3AM. I’m up four hours later ready to go again. Eat Sleep Rave Repeat.

On Saturday I learn that Coachella parties are basically the same as Hollywood parties only they take place in Palm Springs. The open bar free for all I attend is a trendy commercial advertisement for Absolut and Billboard that a friend (much cooler than I) who works in PR invites me to. There’s a pool and an array of summer cocktails to choose from and a make your own flower crown station (just follow us on Insta!) along with tons of gorgeous models dressed in outfits I don’t even know the names for. My friends show up and I lose track of how many Moscow mules I’ve had. I hop in an Uber and head down to the festival where I’m eagerly anticipating a performance from Gary Clark Jr. I make it to the stage just in time, and his set is so guitar rock star solo good it makes me realize he’s probably the closest thing to Jimi Hendrix my generation has.

Today I wear a shirt that says 2016: IDK Not Trump Tho. I’m afraid to wear it at first cause I think that people who wear shirts with stupid phrases on them are ironically the same ones who are probably voting for Trump, but it’s a huge hit. People of all ages come up to me to say how great it is or they smile while pointing it out to their friends and I feel like coolest kid in high school (Coachella: Where Your Self Esteem Is Just Around The Corner). And during the CHVRCHES show (fun, predictable, super hot out), I have this brief epiphany about Coachella clothing — I get why it’s such a phenomenon. Where else in the U.S. can you look this fucking ridiculous and fashionable at the same time?

After CHVRCHES I gorge on fries covered in crabmeat and lobster tacos. I meet up with my buddy Josh and we make our way to see Ice Cube. I take my place in what happens to the be the whitest audience of all time as I, along with thousands of others scream “FUCK THE POLICE” with our middle fingers in the air as NWA is reunited onstage (minus Dr. Dre). The energy is pretty electric, but I’m exhausted. What day is it again? Who is playing tomorrow? Another DJ? Why does it feel like I’ve been standing for the last 16 hours and can no longer feel my legs?

Guns N Roses is next and as much as I love Slash, there’s no way I’m standing for two hours to listen to Axl Rose scream into a microphone before he gives himself a hernia onstage. I stay for the first hour with Josh and a cool couple that’s dancing next to us offers me ecstasy, which I take (Cause Duh remember?). I leave after “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and decide to walk around the festival grounds with my friend Danna. I take in the lights, the ballons, the massive sculptures, and the rainbow sign that says BESAME MUCHO. This whole place is overwhelming in it’s colorful, middle of nowhere kind of glory. We walk back and Guns N Roses is still playing (honestly the set seemed longer then the entire running time of Titanic) and my head aches and I’m coming down with a cold and I’m wondering if I’m going to make it out of this weekend alive. Because music is grand in all, but it’s not worth getting sick for. And at the end of the evening, everyone knows it’s time to just Shut Up and Play The Hits.

We get back to the house at 3AM. I’m up four hours later ready to go again. Eat Sleep Rave Repeat.

I go to a party at the same venue in Palm Springs as Saturday. Maybe I’ll just drink Absolut cocktails in Palm Springs until the state of California runs out of liquor. I get the front of my hair dyed dark blue and an artist named NapkinKilla draws a sketch of me on, you guessed it, a napkin. Time for Uber, coke, and the 1975. They play “UGH,” “Sex,” “Chocolate,” and “Love Me.”

And do you have a card? My irregular heart beat is starting to correct itself

I’m all out of drugs and as the night nears I’ve realized I’ve just boomeranged between 3 different friend groups during for the past few days. I catch the end of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes (a festival staple at this point) and then go into a full detox dance sweat in the Mojave tent as The Chainsmokers play “Roses,” then bring out Third Eye Blind for “Jumper” which makes me miss the 90’s (Why can’t the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC headline this thing? Larger Than Life anyone?).

Sia gives this wacked out (kind of awesome) weird interpretive dance during her set but I don’t know if she’s going to start singing or open an art gallery for underprivileged Palm Spring teens looking to explore their sexuality. I leave to get food and when I ask the vendor for a slice of pizza, he tells me it’s 8 dollars and I come to the conclusion it’s really time to get the fuck out of Indio California. After I eat the pizza (because I’m not going to let them win), I meet up with my friends Stephen and Ziggy and we see Calvin Harris whose entire act combines the thrilling act of waving his hands up and down while pressing play on a computer. We dance and jump up and down anyway. The crowd nearly nuts itself when Rihanna comes out of nowhere to sing “We Found Love.” It’s a huge pleaser and gives the set a jolt, but a part of makes me wish that Taylor Swift or Beyoncé would just like, get air dropped from a Red Lobster blimp and just serenade the crowd with “Crazy in Love” as they skydive down to the stage. I mean they could afford it.

Dear Reader, I should apologize. I don’t mean to sound bitter or snarky (that’s a lie, I do). But by Sunday night I was wiped. I had forgotten what the ocean looked like and it was time to go home. And as I stumbled weary and smiling with my friends to the Coachella exit signs, I told them all that this would all make a very interesting letter.

And I hope it has. Because as a musical festival, Coachella really is a more wacked out, wilder version of Woodstock for Millennials. Fashion show sense aside, it’s a social media capital of crazy good bands and close friends who want to see them. At least that’s what I’d like to believe. But then again, I was probably the most annoying person on Instagram this weekend.

Was it fun? Of Course. I definitely could do it again next year provided there’s a Coachella Bae to makeout with by the middle of Day 1.

And now as I finish this from my apartment, looking out onto the Hollywood lights, there’s only really one thing that’s going through my head. The essential reason for it all. Why we do the things that we do.

Why Are We Here?

To Have A Good Time

Till the fucking wheels come off,

Matt

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