When I was a senior in high school in the greater Los Angeles area, Coachella was a must. Skipping school on Friday and loading up the car at 6am (and trying to avoid the inevitable and soul-crushing traffic), my friends and I joined dozens of eclectic groups making their annual April pilgrimage to the California desert. Coachella is a great expanse of nothingness and monolithic windmills, surrounding the Oasis that is known as the Empire Polo Field in Indio that, for two weekends a year, becomes a mecca for art and music.
I am a former Coachella-goer. Coachella was such a big deal at my high school, that in the years since I have graduated, they have cancelled school on the Friday before the festival due to lack of attendance from students AND teachers (but if you aren’t back on Monday…suspension). In 2009, my senior year in high school, I had the time of my life. I really thought, “How can anything be better than this?” However, when I returned in 2010, flying back from college in New York to meet my friends from high school, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Indio. You know how something can look so appealing at night and so wrong upon daybreak? It’s like 2009 was the night and 2010 was the crushing reality of daybreak. I was seeing it this time with a clear view, not through the rose-colored glasses I had before.
That being said, I still understand the appeal of Coachella – I really do! – so here are 10 things (facts and truths) you should know before you go.
5 Fun Facts About Coachella
1. Coachella wasn’t always a money-maker.
In 1999, the festival’s first year, Coachella lost $800,000 (!) despite having a lineup consisting of Beck, Morrissey and Rage Against the Machine. But in 2012, with its steady and astonishing rise in popularity with a new generation, the festival grossed over $47 million.
2. A lot of people get in trouble that weekend.
Indio, California is a VERY small city with a population of little more than 40,000, so when the Coachella Music Festival comes to town, the cops are looking for some action! They make many arrests. The festival, swarming with undercover cops, is a place where you will see, more than once, someone being led off in handcuffs. In 2012, in just the first weekend of Coachella, there were 134 arrests (80% alcohol related and 20% drug related) and in one very odd incident, a man stabbed his girlfriend’s ex in the back… literally. The ex declined to press charges.
3. Scarlett Johansson can sing, too!
In 2007, Scarlett Johansson performed with The Jesus and Mary Chain, a year before releasing her own solo album, Anywhere I Lay My Head.
4.Sometimes things go seriously awry.
In 2008, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters headlined on the first night. All was going well until an inflatable two-story pig, part of his stage set design, floated away into the desert night. The pig touched down two miles away, in the neighboring town of La Quinta, into someone’s yard. The property owner was given a $10,000 reward for returning the helium swine and four lifetime passes to the fest. The money was donated to a children’s hospital… but they kept the lifetime passes (something as rare as Willy Wonka’s golden ticket!). This was also the first year, since its conception in 1999, to not totally sell out of tickets.
5.You’ll probably see Maury Povich.
Remember that How I Met Your Mother episode where the gang insists you aren’t a real New Yorker until you’ve seen Woody Allen and that nobody is impressed with Robin seeing Maury Povich because he is EVERYWHERE? Well, you aren’t a real Coachell-er until you’ve seen Danny DeVito. DeVito is the Allen and the Povich of Coachella. He is somehow at every show and seeing him, even if only once, is a stamp of the Coachella experience.
*EXTRA FACT***HISTORY STOP* Coachella was originally known as Conchella because of the endless amount of mollusk shells that can still be found in the untouched desert floor, which used to be an inland sea.
5 TRUTHS About Coachella
1. It’s really hot and really cold – no in between.
Indio, California is in the middle of the desert and it is as hot as Hades. It’s basically an inferno, that is a common fact. What other people and your own common sense neglect to inform you is that in an instant, as soon as the sun sets, Coachella goes straight from sauna to arctic tundra. No stopping in perfect temperature land in between. The last thing you want to do is carry around a jacket all day and sweating to death just so that you’re prepared for the freezing night. Until just a few years ago, there were no “ins and outs” to the festival… meaning no storing it in your car and going to fetch it. Realistically, that would take more than an hour anyway. There are lockers to be rented for an astronomical fee, but c’mon, those are for newbs.
2. Cell service is nonexistent.
Oh, did someone neglect to tell you that your cell phone will not work at all? Because that is a fact. I am guessing that because of the amount of people packed into a rural area (where there probably isn’t great service to begin with), cell reception is ZIP. If you are lucky enough to get through for just a few seconds or minutes, good luck trying to hear whomever is on the other end across the field. Here is a tip from a former Coacheller to you… only send affirmative statements as text messages. Did I forget to mention along with your calls not going through, your texts also will not? Silly me. No asking questions. Don’t ask when to meet at your group’s designated meeting spot, tell them a time and they will be there! And yes, a group meeting spot should be the first thing you and your crew find when walking into the fest on the first day. It’s a serious rookie move not to.
3. You WILL lose something, and it’ll be your budget.
So you’ve spent months saving and planning a strict budget for the weekend. You’ve found a cheap hotel and are carpooling to save on gas. Good luck sticking to that once you’re inside the festival gates. ATM fees have been known to hit $12, food at the fest is between $10-$15…a plate, a three-day locker is about $40, $8 per beer, camping is $85, shuttle pass from local hotels is $60, VIP parking is $150, water bottles are $2 each…and to keep from blacking out from heat stroke, you should go through 6-10 a day, and that is all on top of the $375 general admission or $799 VIP. This is a hard weekend to not break the bank…even if going with the intention on doing it cheap!
4. Overestimating the size of a line will always be UNDERestimating it.
You will be waiting in lines for hours; there is no getting around that, even with a VIP pass. ATM lines, water lines, food lines, lines to get a seat at a picnic table while eating, port-o-potty lines (the only bathroom option, 100,000 people using them, ICK!!!), entrance lines, and truly the worst… parking lot lines!!! Here is a dead serious tip: even though it may seem like a big bummer to leave before the headline is over…DO IT!!! Leave the fest and head towards the exit at least an hour before the festival is over, I learned this the hard way in 2010, when we decided to stay until the very end of the Jay-Z show and were stuck leaving with EVERYONE and were trying to exit the parking lot for two hours… and that was with VIP parking.
5. You’ll probably think you look cool, but you won’t in hindsight.
No matter how perfectly you get your Coachella outfit, you will look back in horror at pictures a year later. You have found a perfect crocheted top, an eye popping neon bikini, a pair of high-waist, butt cleavage-exposing denim cut offs, and the piece de resistance… a floral head piece! You’re set and you fit in… but did nobody have the guts to tell you? You and everyone else look terrible!!