“It’s like… I want to live here, man.”
Statements like this are overheard throughout the 3-day music binge in the desert known as Coachella. And it’s easy to feel why. Pictures do little justice, YouTube streams and second hand accounts lack the immediacy of the moment and Instagram histories get crossed and diluted as they litter your feeds over the course of the two weekends. Saying that, I’ll attempt to contribute less a ‘review’ and more a translated journey to what is an over-analyzed experience – the accompanying photographs mere frozen moments of a flowing whole.
The desert heat is the first thing you notice. Perhaps when you’re checking in your villa on a golf course that hums with the slow moving carts of retirees that choose to be blissfully unaware of the energy around Indio about to pour in their oasis hamlets. It’s a heat borne from a cloudless sky that opens the sun on your skin. Almost a ‘welcome to summer’ from the universe as a slow realization crosses your mind that your phone can be off… emails can remain unanswered… lectures put on pause… dissertations on sabbatical and the shadows of the hallways and hotel rooms in far-flung cities and office cubicles and bombardments of fluorescent lights that poison the natural color of our life disappear for a moment.
You gather whatever small army of festival goers you’ve been planning on engaging for weeks, perhaps months, at your home-base. Excitement building as you scour schedules – weigh performances on singles you may have heard against rumors of excellence on bands you’ve only heard snippets of, if at all. There is an equal part of re-living something you love in music as there is discovering something totally new.
The entrance is where the electricity touches through your skin. It’s yells and smiles. It’s a youthful freedom that sings songs together and lurches forward, through grass lined paths or the loose dirt of campgrounds where the brave choose a larger community to melt into for a weekend. But it’s the entrance — the actual entrance, passing through the gates – that lifts you up. It wants you to run.
From here people choose to experience the festival in various ways. Some have come with a significant other – hand in hand for three days sharing moments that intertwine with ballads and lights and familiar vocals. Others travel in packs. Herds led by flags that wave in the rising winds, neon lit spirit sticks that dance on the heads of the tallest, and perhaps a blow-up sex doll or two decorated for prom.
I’ve always been one to let go. Let the wind of the music carry me wherever it wants. In this way I lose one group, join some other friends, disappear alone for a moment to catch a band no one really wants to hear but everyone may talk about, find a lost soul looking for a friend, and weave in and out of the the tumult without worrying what anyone else is doing. There is a lightness to that experience that is rare in the regular world – being able to let go and actually let the music guide you.
The music is not something I am quick to put on paper as it was more about the ‘surroundings’ and the experience during the music that elevated many of the performances — which is why we go see music live in the first place.
There are easily those memorable moments — The dance parties in the field for Chromeo and Calvin Harris. The overwhelming light show and unified sea of people floating to the same beat at Empire of the Sun and Alesso in the Sahara Tent. The impressive, jaw dropping performances by Flume and Future Islands in the Gobi tent that stand out as some of my favorites for the weekend. That moment during AFI when, in one mosh pit, a girl in Purple-Red Hair stood, at the center, unmoved, eyes to the sky, whispering along with the lyrics. Around her a cyclone of bodies thrashed and shoved and battled each other and yet protected her and avoided her. The unified choruses that arose in the night air for Lana Del Rey and Lorde. That point in Disclosure’s set when Latch came on and my friend, who had seemed exhausted and frozen in the moment, exploded. And the collective energy every single time I found myself completely lost in the Yuma tent. And Arcade Fire – who put on such a strong performance that became a perfect end to a night.
And it’s the non-music events that form a narrative that only a festival can provide. Running into so many friends from my life and making new friends all along the paths and open fields and Rose Gardens and tents. Losing my phone while laying in the grass to have a friend call it and have someone answer. A kind girl who was waiting in line at the ferris wheel, hoping to return it to its owner.
There are also the parties flung around venue. Filter’s Yacht Party, The Guess Hotel, Desert Voyage and Neon Carnival, all providing extensions to the entire experience. There is a welcoming sense of camaraderie that is hard to emulate in a single concert or a single day’s vacation. Perhaps it’s the collective understanding of the ease and escape that all have signed up for in a weekend that lifts any veil of real-world façades.
You’ll read a lot of blogs tearing apart the festival. That it has become a bloated corporate ad campaign that acts as more of an extension to SS2014 fashion week and has become a manifested eulogy to what was once considered a new generation’s Woodstock.
But I don’t see it that way – less because I don’t want to and more because I don’t look for that. It is what it is, a collection of beautiful pieces strewn about and painted over haphazardly set to the tune of a mixed soundtrack that may or may not be your bag. But if you step back, away from the details and the labels and look above the clutter of photographs that only capture a single moment; if you look at the whole, and choose to experience it all at once, for yourself and no one else, it’s easily understood why so many swear to Coachella and the vibes it provides.
So you’ll leave that last night, with the last beats echoing out of the Sahara tent and the guitars going silent on the main stage and the hum of bass in Yuma subsiding. And you’ll pack your things. And you’ll start the drive home. The long drive to Los Angeles that seems like penance for the escape you’ve allowed yourself.
Just remind yourself that every now and then you can allow yourself that mind-set. You can come back to it whenever you want. It just happens to be easier in the desert. All you have to do is settle into it, let the music and the vibes take over.
Just let go.