With rumblings of Christmas coming early in the desert (The Daily Swarm’s recent prediction that Coachella 2009 will take place April 17-19, 2009), what better time to look back and reflect upon “Coachella East” – Goldenvoice’s inaugural three-day All Points West Music & Arts Festival (herein known as “APW”)?
With nine years of successful Indio, California-based Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festivals behind them, Goldenvoice decided to chart some alien, virgin festival territory [not to be confused with THE Virgin Festival]: the metropolitan New York area. While lacking the cachet of the California desert, APW created its own at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ, where festivalgoers were treated to sunset views of the Manhattan skyline and Lady Liberty. When word first spread of APW’s birth (and ticket sales), Coachella fanatics (myself included) signed right up, no hesitation required. But as months went on and, in many ticketbuyers’ opinions, the lineup failed to match the ticket price, many were left wondering if APW would, in fact, manage to live up to the hype.
Which brings us to … our oh-so-scientific (cough) comparison between Coachella (we’ll use the 2008 festival as our example) and APW. Goldenvoice’s golden child and newborn get in the ring and battle it out, one category at a time:
Even if you aren’t the world’s biggest Radiohead fan, it’s hard to argue with the band’s popularity. But was it really necessary for the same band to headline TWO nights of the same three-day festival? Sure, Goldenvoice knew the tickets would move, but why bother hold a festival when you’ve already shot most of your budget on a band that can sell out stadiums all on their very own? By all accounts, Radiohead made ears and eyes happy, but would have been nicer to see more bands, more stages, more crowd dispersal, etc. Yes, APW also had Girl Talk, CSS, Underworld, Animal Collective, and The Roots … but it also had the hippie jam-band-ness of Jack Jackson, Trey Anastacio, and Ben Harper (just sayin’).
Then you had this year’s stellar Coachella line-up: Electronic music fans were most in heaven, with the Sahara tent chock-full of acts like Hot Chip, Justice, Simian Mobile Disco, Booka Shade, M.I.A. … and an ultra-rare appearance by the one and only Richard D. James (a.k.a. Aphex Twin). But you also had the unmatched diversity of old and new favorites like My Morning Jacket, Spiritualized, Gogol Bordello, Roger Waters, The Verve, Jack Johnson (ahem), Cut Copy, Kraftwerk, and … a late addition in the form of the artist currently known as Prince, replete with guest spots by Morris Day and The Time and Sheila E.
Verdict = Coachella wins
It’s hard to beat a locale where a big open space is surrounded by the natural beauty of mountains and palm trees, topped off with an azure sky. Yes, the desert can be a magical place. (And surprisingly bug-free … but keep on the lookout for scorpions in the parking lot at night.) While Indio may be a bit of a dive, it’s a short drive to the relaxed luxury of Palm Springs, with its comfortable hotels, great eateries, and photo opportunities. (Spending three days straight at a festival in the desert can be grueling, so it’s nice to have a place to unwind in comfort.) You can also choose to camp on festival grounds, which I hear is a nonstop party … (yet sadly few campers seem to take advantage of the shower facilities).
APW wasn’t too shabby either, with its magnificent views of the NYC skyline and, I’m told, where Cloverfield was filmed. Proximity to all New York has to offer is another big draw, as festivalgoers traveling from afar could squeeze in a little sightseeing in the Big Apple. No camping though.
Verdict = Coachella by a hair (though I could be jaded by living so close to NYC year-round)
3. Food & Drink
Five drinks per day per person? Like, seriously? Really??! Uh huh – APW enforced a strict policy in which over-21 attendees could stand in line to show ID in exchange for a plastic wristband; each wristband included five plastic tabs, only to be removed by drink staff. While not everyone feels an overwhelming need to imbibe, five drinks in a roughly 10-hourlong festival does not scream overindulgence. Couple this with limited drink selection (beer or some lame “mojito” malt beverage thing), excessively long lines, and mass overcrowding in the beer gardens, and you had some pretty pissed off (semi-sober) folk. Food selections, as promised, reflected more of an “East Coast flair” (pizza, cheesesteaks, Rita’s Water Ice, etc.), yet failed to impress. (Several vendors came unprepared — at about 6 p.m. on the first day of the festival, one pizza stand had already run out of napkins and regular paper plates …)
By contrast, Coachella outdoes itself with an extremely impressive array of dining options. Food types are mostly and quite conveniently grouped by region; seating is easy to find; lines are manageable; and selection is comprehensive – from Brazilian BBQ to tempeh to hot dogs to the crowd-favorite “spicy pie,” even the pickiest eaters have satisfied bellies. Beer gardens are conveniently located near several stages, lines are not insane, and the over-21 or good-fake-ID crowd can choose from beers, wines, and several cocktails … and shockingly, AS MANY AS THEY WANT.
Verdict = Coachella wins
Music festivals should really be about … music. Sure, additional activities can be fun, but no one is paying $100 or so a day to play free video games or shop in the Virgin Megastore tent.
Coachella’s extracurricular activities this year served to complement the festivalgoer’s experience – inviting attendees to gasp in wonder at supersized art installations like Big Rig Jig and the litebrite-thingy; chill out in the shade or misting areas of the Do Lab while listening to drum-and-bass or watching a ; or even frolic in the air-conditioning of the Nokia tent while getting free souvenir photos taken (and listening to Nokia product spiels, of course … but that A/C was worth it).
APW Boardwalk games, Nokia?, Playstation, etc.
Verdict = Coachella wins
Stories about sitting in traffic to get in or out of Coachella have reached mythic proportions. (And they are mostly true – I not-so-fondly remember my first time driving about a mile from the highway into the grounds — a mere 3.5 hour journey.) For some reason, however, 2008 seemed much smoother, with far less time getting in. (Getting out can still be another story.) Still not sure why, after all these years, there are no public transportation options, shuttles, etc., (are you listening, Goldenvoice?) but driving in is your best bet short of a long walk or bike in the blistering desert.
APW had a seeming advantage – entry by way of ferry, light rail, OR automobile. I said “seeming.” Despite being just a few miles from New York City, and minutes from the NJ Turnpike, there was no “good” option. Most train routes required multiple transfers; parking within a few-mile radius was almost impossible; and the much-touted “easy” way, taking a ferry, not only cost $30 but required hours of waiting in some cases.
Verdict = Tie
The Coachella Valley’s desert climes are legendary … Daily average temperatures for the festival weekend typically reach into the high 90s/low 100s, and the sun can be brutal. (Do not even THINK about venturing out in daylight without a liberal application of SPF 30+ sunscreen.) However, as soon as the sun goes down, festivalgoers are treated with downright delightful weather conditions (normally mid-70s and clear, with a hint of a breeze). Rain is a virtual impossibility.
Then we have summer in NJ … often unbearably humid, often stormy. Therefore, outdoor activities can be risky. Unfortunately, APW was not adequately prepared to deal with inclement weather, as little shelter from rain could be found (and the APW website had kindly listed umbrellas as forbidden items …) The rest of the time, weather fluctuated between hot and sunny, uncomfortably breezy, and just right.
Verdict = Tie
This one is easy. Coachella 2008: 130+ artists on five stages, three-day pass = $269.00 (+ applicable fees). All Points West: 46 artists on three stages, three-day pass = $258.00 (+ applicable fees). And no, the rumors weren’t true that artists playing APW would have longer sets (other than Radiohead, of course).
Verdict = Coachella wins
8. Crowd Quality
Overall, there was not a distinct differentiation between crowds at both festivals. Notable differences at APW included: fewer celeb spottings and “Holllywood types”; more Radiohead fans (duh); more pale, black-clad people; fewer mandals; and fewer bare-chested packs of “brahs” (hallelujah). APW also had the odd segregation of mainly alternative/indie/hipster types on Friday/Saturday and the hippie/crunchy family contingent on Sunday. (This was actually how the event was advertised locally.) And APW was able to boast lines for EVERYTHING (even the nasty port-o-potties – at least Coachella festivalgoers have the option of waiting in line for those trailer-type bathrooms with flushing toilets and real running water).
And the winner is … (drumroll please) … COACHELLA!! The best music festival the U.S. has to offer is in no danger of losing its crown. Lesson learned? Don’t tamper with a formula that works … and works really well. Not to hate on APW, but expectations for a Goldenvoice-organized NYC-area summer festival were extremely high, and many attendees felt let down. Should Goldenvoice decide upon APW 2.0, we hope that they’ll inject a little more of their Coachella expertise, while staying fresh and energized to make the 10th anniversary of Coachella one to blow all previous incarnations out of the water.