[Editor’s note: Eric Solomon spent some time living in the Inland Empire, the vast stretch of land roughly encompassing anything east of Orange County/Los Angeles. We apologize for any bitterness that seeps through.]
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival distills into two days (April 29 and 30 this year) what most music festivals can’t do in a week, bringing together established and soon-to-be-famous acts in rock, hip-hop and the various electronic disciplines, along with art installations and the occasional Tesla coil. Back in ’99, with the world set to end soon, Coachella laid its claim to being the world’s best festival, with enough foresight to pass out water to its inaugural guests and presenting superstars from all walks of music, including Beck, Morrissey, Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Jurassic 5, and Rage Against the Machine.
The organizers want to do the same this year, and all they ask is some of your hard-earned money and a willingness to travel to the desert.
A quick geography lesson is in order. California is on the west coast of the United States. Within the southern half of the state, the most important landmark, Disneyland, rests in Anaheim, a city perhaps thirty miles south of Los Angeles, in the county of Orange. Now, traveling thirty-five miles east on the 91 will gain you passage to Riverside, seat of the Inland Empire (imagine the Roman Empire, but with larger expanses between civilizations and more tract housing and mini malls). Be careful not to take the 71 or 15 north or you may wind up in Chino, the bad place that Ryan from The O.C. comes from. Travel yet further east, pass through Palm Springs, former home of the Rat Pack, kids on spring break, and a mayoral Sonny Bono and current home to retirees and outlet shopping. Now just travel twenty-five miles further and you’ve reach the absolute middle of nowhere, somewhat south of the Mojave Desert. If you’re fortunate enough to find the Empire Polo Fields, you’re golden.
The magic of Coachella may be hard to codify, but it helped that it established itself as the antithesis to the disastrous 1999 Woodstock festival. You know, the one in the mud that ended in fires and rioting. You can get alcohol, but you’ll have to procure it and imbibe it within the confines of the beer garden, an oasis offering only beer and wine. This cuts down on the meathead factor tremendously. The breadth of acts takes appreciated artists from several genres and saves the lunkhead testosterone bands for Ozzfest. The temperature as currently predicted will be in the low ’90s, but water is readily available for, well, festival prices, and with any luck they’ll bring back the waterfall from last year. Bathrooms are plentiful; yeah, you’ll be waiting in line for a portable toilet, but give yourself a reasonable lead time and you won’t be dealing with burst kidneys.
Of course, with a two-day festival, things tend to get compressed. If Coachella has a failing, you’ll feel it in palpable terms when you’re faced with two absolutely must-see acts that are both playing at the same time. With two live stages and three tents going on simultaneously, you’re bound to be screwed at some point. Take some solace in the fact that unless you lack any imagination, your days will be filled with never-ending musical energy.
So, bring your sunscreen, bring some water for the car ride over (but don’t expect to bring it inside), and make sure you bring some layered clothing or be prepared to buy a commemorative sweatshirt — the desert will chill a bit (dropping to the ’50s) as the festival rocks until midnight. Doors open at 11 a.m. and acts start around noon. Be sure to allot some time for parking and a fairly thorough security search. If you choose to stash some forbidden items, be prepared for more than a cursory pat down. Food vendors don’t take credit, but there will be ATM machines inside the venue grounds.
Now you may say, “I’m ready. I got my tickets. I got my lodgings straightened out (camping onsite, nearby, reserved a hotel room, impinging on a friend’s hotel room). I want to know what there is to do in Indio after I’m done getting amped to music all day.” Good on you! There will no doubt be pre-parties and post-parties, but we’re not exactly permitted to reveal the whereabouts (no doubt we’re invited, though!). Beyond that, we hear the campgrounds can be pretty crazy, both the onsite spot adjacent to the festival and spots the surrounding areas. If you need to get some shopping on, the Cabazon outlet near Palm Springs will help you find that elusive bit of Puma gear. There are many golf courses in the area, all the more exciting when you sneak onto them at night. Gambling remains a popular past time for some, with a popular (and surprisingly expansive) casino about twenty miles west of Palm Springs, with everything a real Vegas spot would offer, so long as you don’t mind playing craps with cards instead of dice. We don’t get that, either.
Of course with eighty groups playing, you’ve got some planning to do beyond where to get trashed after the festival. That’s where we come in, with a breakdown of the acts in big fonts and those you have to squint to catch. While working out a proper schedule requires a degree in astrophysics (and the actual timeline, which is guarded like the formula to Coca-cola until a few days beforehand), we’ll get you started on what to catch. As a head start, no, Portishead isn’t playing. We’d be depressed if we thought the rumors had any chance of being true. Damn it.
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