Since its founding in 1999, Coachella has wormed its way into everyday conversation, controversy, and pop culture. You’ve heard of Coachella. We’ve all heard of Coachella, maybe through a clip circulating the internet, or through an influencer, or by an iconic outfit shown off in the Californian desert. However you know it, you do know it.
At its core, Coachella is a three-day music festival held in Palm Springs, CA, hosting a cast of up to 150 performing artists over a weekend. But it’s something we as a society have turned almost mythical, and more than a festival, Coachella is also known as an experience. Recently, that fabled experience is one I got the chance to take part in.
Let’s start from the beginning.
The price for a ticket to Coachella is either outrageous or a lucky steal depending on who you ask. If you’re asking me, a high school student (which I assume you are by reading this), the selling point leaned more toward the outrageous side. I paid $600 for general admission, a goal I reached by using the payment plan that Coachella offers.
Outrageous? Yes. Surprising? No. Well worth it? Yeah, I’d have to say it was. And that’s despite the unsuspected challenges I faced (we’ll get to that). If I were an influencer or celebrity, or just a money-responsible adult I might be singing a different tune.
The festival starts on Friday and ends on Sunday. By the end of the first night out in Coachella Valley, I was sure I was ready to accept the loss of my $600 and go home.
The day started with blood-pumping anticipation. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and that vibe continued on with a sense of excitement and amazement. The weather was beautiful, the scenery unreal, and the array of food options was both surprising and almost dystopian in its expense. There was the iconic Ferris wheel seen in all the Instagram Coachella posts, sushi, freshly squeezed lemonade, towering art installations, and so many people.
That first day, I saw more concerts than I’d seen in my entire life, and even though I felt all the walking between each stage in every part of my feet, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
This was all until sunset hit. Nobody warned me about the evenings at Coachella, so I’m warning you now in case you ever find yourself there. The cold hits the desert like a freight truck at night and when you’re dressed for hot summer partying, that becomes very miserable very quickly. And if you’re under the impression that you’ll get any sleep at all, then you are naively mistaken in the same way I was. Being out there at midnight and realizing that we wouldn’t be home anytime soon, freezing and swaying on our feet from exhaustion, was a terrible experience.
I ended the night and passed out in the grass by the entrance huddled together with my friend, while we prayed to get back to the Airbnb.
But that first night was the worst of it, and knowing what to expect the next two days made it a hundred times easier. Saturday was my most victorious day as we had found our footing and were able to plan correctly to see all the full sets of all the artists on the day we’d wanted to.
This is the game of Coachella. There are multiple stages in the valley with different artists playing at each of them almost at all times, and sometimes the artists you’re hoping to see overlap. You have to figure out how to see them all or cope with missing some. I’m personally not that great at coping, so I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to catch at least a section of each set. Let’s just say, my feet still hurt.
The price of food was still shocking with each new day, and it became less and less funny the more we had to spend simply to not starve in the desert. The rules are you’re not allowed to bring your own food or drink into the valley. But this is another one of those things that comes with the territory.
The overall highlight every day was unsurprisingly the music. Dancing in a desert field or swaying in a dark tent to the sound of newly discovered or long-loved music is an experience that truly touched me. Dancing until 1:00 am to the Djing of Calvin Harris, so tired but so wild, was one of my favorite moments. It was especially special because the headliners of all three days were people of color, a first in the history of the festival.
But the big banger of the entire weekend was Sunday night. This was the day that Frank Ocean, an artist who hasn’t done a live performance in years, was set as a headliner. The crowd was unbelievably big and packed and in that sea of people, we all waited for the return of Frank Ocean for over an hour. In that crowd, two people near me passed out while we waited for the late singer. Phones were out and ready as he’d decided to not live stream his performance like the other artists of the weekend.
When he finally came out, the screams were deafening and the tears were flowing. It was an overall confusing performance in relation to Frank Ocean, but it’s something I know no one in that crowd will ever forget.
Overall, I still feel the exhaustion and ache of Coachella a week later, and I would be ready to return anytime. Like maybe next year when I’m fully recharged. Even as over priced or overrated as it might seem, Coachella is truly an experience to be had.
By Kendal Amos, Senior, Chi-Arts