Is Coachella a More Expensive Woodstock, With Less Pot and More Pills?


Signing into Facebook Monday morning, a News Feed chock-full of mobile uploads featuring sunsets, palm trees, and Ferris wheels bombarded me. My friends, from all walks of life, posted images bearing striking similarities: smiling faces hidden beneath large sunglasses, a deserted atmosphere peppered with bright colors, bare legs clinging to one another with outstretched arms. Ah, yes. Coachella!

A three-day, Goldenvoice-promoted music festival in its 13th year, Coachella continues to pull together a diverse range of talent with an equally vivacious crowd. Its five main stages stretch over Empire Polo Club in the community of Indio, 140 miles east of Los Angeles. On a good day, it's a two-hour drive. With traffic resulting from an inordinate influx of people, more than four. Regardless of its hard-to-get-to locale, Coachella's attendance continues to increase. In 2009, there were 60,000 frolicking fans each day; in 2010, up to 75,000; this year, closer to 85,000. Both its curfew and duration have expanded, lasting until 1AM in the morning and spanning across two weekends, while showcasing more than 100 rock, hip-hop, rave, and electronic dance acts. 

Unlike other large-scale music festivals, Coachella is touted as more broad-sweeping and far-reaching in its line-up. It's doubtful you'd see Madonna alongside Paul Oakenfold or The Scissor Sisters at Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo, as you did at Coachella in 2006. Nor would you likely catch something like this Sunday's 3D hologram of Tupac Shakur at Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre's 90-minute set that guest-starred Eminem and 50 Cent. Even Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter Gotye high-tailed it out to Indio after his Saturday Night Live appearance in New York early Sunday morning. Between bigger names -- The Black Keys, Swedish House Mafia, Radiohead, Kaskade, Florence and the Machine, and Calvin Harris (who pulled up Rihanna) -- and lesser known talents, like Canadian recording artist The Weeknd, 19-year-old electro-house producer Porter Robinson, and Harlem's Azealia Banks, it seems Coachella's got something for every reveler.

Flying into LA, Palm Springs, or perhaps a private landing pad -- fans flock to this arid West-Coast destination, where they stay at a rented house, a hotel room, or a pad of a friend of a friend who knows a friend. With an advanced-bought ticket and a suitcase full of Free People ware, young people arrive prepared to party; not only is Coachella a place to hear good music, it's a spot to be seen for bands and onlookers alike. As Kaskade admits to Rolling Stone, "It's such a good place to debut a show, because there's other press there. At (festivals) that are so dance-centric, a lot of the mainstream press just doesn't pay attention." The event's widespread coverage ranges from news outlets like Billboard, the New York Times, Huffington Post, Reuters, The Guardian, and CBC.

Celebrities like Pierce Brosnan mingled with 20-somethings at acts like David Guetta, while Katy Perry's purple hair, a hooded Girl Talk, and The Hive's black-and-white top hat and tails made fashion headlines alongside comparably chic fans. Last Friday's rainy weather prompted shiver-stopping layers, but failed to circumvent show-stopping looks: high-top sneakers paired with knee-length neon dresses; waterproof jelly sandals, cut-off jean shorts, and crocheted sweaters; troves of beaded necklaces draped by lightweight leather. 

Everything we'd expect to see at Woodstock, amplified to the 'nth degree, appears in photos from Coachella's opening weekend. The look -- that heady, "I don't give a fuck, this is comfortable" feel -- strikes a balance between feeling free and approaching fierce. We'd like to think it's a peace-laden Woodstock with a heftier price tag and less pot (but more pills). But is it as authentic?