Coachella: Forget the Social Media Stigma & Just Go
I’m a little late here. Please forgive me. It is entirely possible that I’m still recovering from dust overdose that destroyed my sinuses. But, in all fairness, you weren’t losing any sleep waiting for this Coachella column. Every music fan has likely shared their views in some capacity. However, as a relatively new festival-goer that has only recently come to appreciate the power of the collective festival experience, I feel an obligation to provide my two-cents.
Most festivals (LOL Fyre Festival) operate with minimal speed bumps and offer an eclectic, carefully selected set of acts that enable festival-goers to not only see their favorite artists, but also uncover new, ascending artists. That being said, my aim here isn’t to solely speak in unassailable generalities. I also want to give a small taste of my Coachella experience that will hopefully mitigate any apprehension towards attending and ultimately help to revamp its public image.
There are two disparate perceptions of Coachella. On one hand, there are the ardent music enthusiasts that anxiously await the lineup release and immediately analyze the headliners, sub-headliners and hour-by-hour schedule. They are seasoned veterans that have camped at virtually every festival and never let you forget it. Yet, in my brief experience, these types of individuals get lost in the fray despite their fervor for the music and only the music. Unlike any other festival, Coachella is brimming with celebrities, models and fashion icons that utilize the festival as a platform for self-promotion. Take one look through Instagram during Coachella and you’ll see Vanessa Hudgens dressed like a Woodstock hippy and Victoria Secret models at exclusive, brand sponsored pool parties. Granted, the California location doesn’t hurt. I’m also not complaining whatsoever. Nonetheless, due to the current “social media age” that sees teenagers and adults alike glued to their smartphones and in more control of their self-image than ever before, Coachella could be developing a diva-like reputation that overshadows its true allure: a vibrant and all-inclusive musical adventure.
So it pains me to admit this. Music wasn’t at the top of my list when deciding to embark on this adventure. Sitting at my desk on a Tuesday morning, I simply felt the urge to make an impulse decision. We all have those days — staring at the computer screen and thinking to ourselves, “is this really it?” Like everyone else, I scrolled through social media during last year’s festival and was immediately taken aback by the content — the parties, the desert scenery, the women and then the music. Soon thereafter, I bought my ticket and convinced some of my closest friends to join. Once the lineup was released, the musical component slowly shifted to the forefront. I started listening to unbelievably talented, yet somewhat unheralded artists such as Sampha, Raury, Thundercat, Jack Garratt, Kaytranada, Empire of the Sun, to name a few. Over the next 7 months, I discovered and listened to more music than I had in the prior decade. This isn’t hyperbole, and the music did not disappoint.
Let’s circle back to the celebrities, the models, and the “Hollywood Elite”. Yes, Coachella is filled with ravishing women. This has been established, but it needs to be reiterated. Walk 50 yards in any direction and your head will be spinning harder than a fidget in a high school classroom. Yet, people fail to recognize a few key elements when crafting their myopic Coachella perception. First, at any given moment, the festival inhabits 100,000+ people across a vast desert landscape. Most people wear a bandana or a mask to guard against the dust-filled air (didn’t work for me, I lost most of my voice on day 2). The festival doesn’t kick into high gear until at least 3pm, which means the sun begins to set about half way through the event. What is the overarching conclusion here? The chances of one celebrity sighting, let alone recognizing a posse of Victoria Secret models strutting in slow motion, essentially equates to getting struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark. Don’t get me wrong, the exclusive parties are certainly happening and I would do some unforgivable things for an invite (only half joking). Nevertheless, they are not visible to the masses. The vibe at the festival doesn’t begin and end with those that have 500K+ social media followers. You would think this is self-explanatory, right? Then why is this one of the most prevalent impressions of the festival when chatting with friends, family and peers? It’s a social media distortion, an alarmingly common trend in today’s society.
And with that, the following is my best attempt at a PG-13 snapshot of three full days of debauchery, camaraderie, euphoria and priceless memories. As touch upon earlier, the excitement didn’t start when we arrived in the Valley. The build-up, the planning, exchanging videos of sets from prior years, recruiting more friends to join, and listening to some of the aforementioned artists provided much needed zest to the day to day grind. I’m aware it sounds cliché, maybe it is — but, it was the prelude to a phenomena I didn’t know was possible: establishing even stronger connections with lifelong, childhood friends.
We drove from LA to the Valley with music blasting, intent on chronicling our experience with testimonials via a portable GoPro. Well, to be frank, the content was mostly me yelling at the camera and capturing my buddy sleeping in the backseat for the duration of the trip. Who knew it was possible to sleep through a Martin Garrix playlist, but I digress. Two of our friends joined on the following Friday morning, completing our five person crew. That first day and each day thereafter before the festival, we documented our time at the villa, with standout memories such as flying a drone in the middle of the golf course. Once within the grounds, we jumped from stage to stage, bar to bar, act to act like dogs in a food market. For the numbers people out there, over the course of three days, I walked (danced) 34 miles!
As we surveyed the landscape, all of the stages were within a 360 degree eyes view. Each stage offered a different vibe and every hour of every day featured an amazing act to choose from. You want rap/R&B/alternative? Head to the Mojave or Gobi stages and discover artists like Goldlink. You want EDM? Head to Sahara and join the pit. You want deep house? Do Lab will eat you alive. You want the big acts? Grab a seat on the big lawn at the Coachella stage. And for everything else in between? Head to Sonora, Yuma, Outdoor. We rapped with Kendrick at the main stage, we were put in a trance by Justice, we sung with Jack Garratt in a big tent bubble, we screamed mostly incoherent words at Martin Garrix and we shattered our vocal cords when Hans Zimmer played the Lion King theme song at dusk. We adopted a kid named JP into our crew that was in less than ideal shape and lost his friends. One night, he insisted on finding sustenance before heading to the next show, so of course we obliged. Fast-forward 10 minutes and JP returns with two popsicles for dinner. These types of snapshot, hilarious stories were the norm for the entire weekend. As we all know, music has that unique ability to break barriers, culminating in a collection of random individuals coming together and embracing the moment fully and without restraint. The five of us stayed together for 99% of the festival and never found a group of people that weren’t open to chatting, dancing, chilling and sharing their stories. Oh, and that includes the various “cliques” of gorgeous California girls that are pegged as unapproachable. For 72 hours, little mattered except music and friendship. Ain’t that a trip?
Overall, Coachella is more than a contingent of pretty faces. Like most other festivals, it should also be depicted as a transcendent musical, cultural and emotional experience. Traveling from anywhere outside of California may be costly, I’ll give you that. But, be bold and do something different. Make that impulse decision and figure out the rest as you go. Don’t become swayed by what you see on social media.
And, while you’re at it, my friends and I will likely go again next year, so hit us up if you want in!