Coachella Car Painting

The Coachella Valley Music Festival attracts increasing crowds every year, in fact this year was the first the festival had to be recreated a second weekend to meet demand (and still sold out). The popularity of the festival encourages participation in many ritualized customs pertaining to the experience of Coachella.

One Coachella-specific ritual is the painting of cars that are going to be driven to Coachella. The ritual is so popular that the organizers and promoters themselves have recognized it as an iconic part of the festival experience. They host a “Carpoolchella” contest which rewards those who participate in painting their cars for Coachella, and their website hosts a gallery of car paintings.

One frequent Coachella-goer explains the ritual:

“Basically the main reason people do that now is competition. But people did it before, and of course not everyone even has a shot of winning so some people still just to do it as a big part of their trip.

It also represent where you came from. A lot of people are from out of state and they paint their cars to show how far they’ve driven just for Coachella. Like, carpoolchella-OHIO or something. I’ve seen a big giant New Mexico flag as the background for the Coachella landscape.

There’s people who go all out for this because they really associate it with their trip and getting to Coachella. Like sure you might win passes for life – but probably not. Some people just have always done it so they’re going to do it every year. It’s part of the checklist: stuff to survive the heat, survive the cold, drugs, food, first aid, car gear…car paint.”


This ritual first of all represents an establishment of Coachella culture. As the festival explodes in popularity festival goers want to show that they are a legitimate part of the festival experience. Those who have a longer tradition of going to the festival often have a traditional aspect to their car painting through which they can proclaim their veteran status. Those who are new to the festival want to make sure their experience is complete by enacting rituals.

There is also a slight superstition, especially for those who have made a habit out of car painting. Car painting becomes a necessary step in preparing for the festival, which if ignored could have as disastrous results as forgetting any other basic necessity. Since there is no necessity that car painting explicitly fulfills it can be seen as a sign of protection, especially for those who make longer roadtrips.