Coming from someone who currently lives in the quiet and spacious Northern California mountains, it’s safe to say that Coachella Valley Music + Arts Festival was downright the most delightfully absurd fest I’ve yet to attend. Aside from celebrating 15 years of making musical history and selling out every last ticket, this year’s festival sold 20,000 more tickets than any Coachella in the past! Unlike most festival goers, I had no idea I would attend this year’s infamous Coachella. I was offered a last minute opportunity by my awesome friend Whitney to not only work the festival, but to also get the chance to meet and work with the artists on the line-up… how could I resist?
Extending my LA trip to participate in two weekends of musical madness in the middle of the desert, with thousands upon thousands of people, wasn’t a hard decision to make in the least. Gearing up for the first weekend of “work”, my friend and I arrived Thursday afternoon at our stay, Camp David, located ever so conveniently on the Polo Grounds. Sleeping in a guest house only a golf cart ride away from the venue site, you could say landing this job was a stroke of incredible luck. For both weekend one and two, I would have the ultimate privilege of working at the Photo Tent alongside official portrait Coachella photographer Andrew Haagen, where my duties would consist of approaching performing artists and asking if they’d like to be in this year’s Coachella Portrait book! Needless to say, the next two weeks would be one of the most interesting working experiences I’ve had yet.
Riding our golf cart through the area, we arrived at the Artist Compound, where all of the artist trailers were located. Directly to the left of the compound, where I would be spending a majority of my time, was the main stage, where OutKast happened to be rehearsing when we arrived (the first gasp of my Coachella weekend). With buzzing details about cameo appearances from Jay Z, Beyonce, Damien Marley, P. Diddy, Lauryn Hill, Busta Rhymes, Usher, Drake, Mary J. Blige and more being the main subject of the day’s conversation, the excitement in the air was momentous.
Friday was the calm before the full fledged Coachella shit storm officially hit, and everyone was anxiously awaiting OutKast to begin. A myriad of foreign indie-folk and rock bands played during the day, accompanying the mellow mood that comes with the scorching heat and early hours of the day. Meeting up-beat and down-to-earth musicians like Anthony Green, A$AP Ferg, Chromeo, Bonobo, and Martin Garrix made the early work day fly right by. Keeping in mind the endless amounts of free alcohol flowing through the artist compound, and you’ve got a fully engaged party atmosphere that refused to let up. The moment finally came when Haagen decided to call it a day to let everyone watch OutKast. I’m also fortunate enough to squeeze in enough time to catch The Glitch Mob at The Sahara Tent, whom I love. Displaying their amazing Blade set up, the trio absolutely killed it with their dark, enigmatic bass productions. Leaving to round up Whitney back at the Artist Compound, we rallied our friends together, and headed off towards the Coachella (main) stage. Somehow, we ended up snagging spots near the sound booth where I watched David Hasselhoff, Kid Cudi, Tyler the Creator, and P. Diddy groove to OutKast classics, all within 10 yards of me. What the hell kind of animal was Coachella, anyway?
Given the kick off night’s endless shenanigans, Saturday is a non-stop party from the moment the sun comes up. Campers have gotten little to no sleep, dancing until dawn at the Silent Disco, and have no intentions of wasting daytime festival hours. Starting off the day was young Brooklyn-street metal band, Unlocking the Truth, who were quite the wake up call as they opened the Coachella stage and proceeded to tear it to shreds. These sixth graders are truly a refresher to the metal scene, and I left their set thoroughly impressed. Saturday’s line up called for artists such as Cage the Elephant, Lorde, Pixies, Dillon Francis, Julian Casablancas, Kid Cudi, MGMT, Girl Talk, Fatboy Slim, Nas, Muse, Skrillex, Queens of the Stone Age, and Pharrell to perform throughout the day across the festival’s five stages; the fact that shit was getting real had definitely set in. Another afternoon of indie-folk music calmly filled the air until the evening, with Kid Cudi’s energetic prepared audiences for a night to remember. Having to work until Pharrell’s set, I contently watched Lorde, Solange, and the Pixies sets from a TV that had been conveniently arranged in the Photo Tent. FINALLY, with the end of my work day came the time for Pharrell, and the crowd was frenetically high on life (because, HAPPY!) as the R&B singer took stage. Whitney and I bravely attempted to sneak backstage, but after crossing out game plans left and right, we knew it wasn’t happening. Pharrell is much too popular to let randoms on stage, and so we were resigned to dancing on the side of the stage with Lindsay Lohan.
As if things weren’t comically strange enough, the moment reached its peak when Katy Perry, Lorde, and Diplo all appear, having a pow-wow sesh right behind me. To selfie with them behind me, or not to selfie with them behind me? I reluctantly choose not to, and then the moment is gone; everyone, celebrity and working wise, is being kicked out from behind the stage.
To my right, I listen to Busta Rhymes school some younger kids on the hard knocks of life; I can barely keep up – what is happening? A white shuttle pulls up in front of me, BEYONCE! Security then presumes to kick the last of even the super VIPs out. It’s time for Nas, and the Illmatic rapper has his entire audience moved by his lyrics, singing along with every word. I’m content being a part of the crowd rather than behind the stage for this one. The music is much more powerful and absorbing with the energy radiating from within the audience. The night was an absolute success, and though I’m ready to wind down after a satisfying combination of sets, my friend happens to have an extra bracelet for Neon Carnival, the exclusive and official Coachella after-party hosted by Nylon Magazine, Guess, and Olay Fresh Effects. Cranking EDM from a private airstrip until the sun came up, and surrounded by multiple carnival rides, the private atmosphere and heavy hitting bass were enough to fuel this secluded dance party all night.
Come Sunday, the struggle is very real. Everyone is beat from the harsh combination of dust storms, sizzling heat, and little sleep. With Chance the Rapper cancelling his early afternoon set (most likely suffering after effects of the struggle as well), the normally ensuing midday chaos was delayed, and the schedule became the perfect amount of refreshing funky jazz and occasional twangs of relaxing folk, rejuvenating the minds of delirious festie heads. Krewella promptly switched up the mood as evening fell, reminding everyone that there was yet one more night of musical mayhem to be had. Immediately following Krewella’s set, Flosstradamus and Alesso wasted no time in revving up the crowds energy. Calvin Harris’ popular wave of electro house tracks generated the second BIGGEST audience in Coachella history, right behind Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg when they were accompanied by the legendary holographic Tupac. He walked off set with a grin ear to ear, probably high from the sheer size of the audience and the energy they’d shared. With Lana Del Rey being America’s newly found obsession, yet not having the main stage, her audience ended up being jam packed into a corner stage where it felt like nearly all 90,000-ish Coachella attendees cried in unison as she sang ‘Summertime Sadness’. Not really my vibe, but a great show nonetheless.
Big Gigantic always puts on a tasteful show, and having seen the pair perform live once before, I knew the show would not disappoint as the guys kept the energy alive and well, their set reaching the ultimate peak when a local high school marching band joined them on stage. The immense happiness felt during their set brought the crowd to the perfect level of hype, getting the mood just right for when Disclosure hit the stage, literally disco rocking my socks off. I’m not sure whether it was the crowds’ incomparable energy or the fact that Disclosure is my happy music, but they were the icing and cherry on my Coachella cake.
Then this whole thing times two, since I had the wonderful fortune of working both weekends!
It’s hard to describe all of the mixed feelings I have for Coachella. From having lunch with famous Director Nabil and legendary singer James Blake, being an assistant on set of J. Cole’s newest music video (which you can watch here), hanging out with Lindsay Lohan, attending Skrillex’s house party, and working alongside some of my favorite artists, I can truly say I’ve been given the ultimate LA experience! In one month, I feel like I’ve seen everything that lifestyle has to offer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than grateful for the experience and the wonderful & creative souls I’ve met along the way, but I only had to dig skin deep to understand the message: there’s nothing a posh lifestyle has to offer that makes you feel as alive as love, family, and friends do! Though it’s hard to keep that simplicity God intended us to have in our day to day lives, it’s that very simplicity that brings meaning and understanding to our lives. To conclude, Coachella is a musical masterpiece that will continue to reign supreme as the infamous and harmonic oasis in the desert, with each year serving up groovy tunes and an incessant roster of groundbreaking and pioneering artists across the spectrum. But all in all, I’ve never loved hearing the sound of birds quietly singing in the trees more than I do right now.