Zach, my friend and fellow sophomore at USC, recently attended LA’s biggest music festival: Coachella. He is an avid festival-goer, attending different ones all over the world, and sited Coachella as his favorite. He shared with me his individual experience at the festival as well as the larger sense of what LA’s biggest cultural festival is all about.
“Coachella, where do I begin… It’s this big music festival about an hour outside LA out in the desert near this town called Indio. It happens over two back-to-back weekends in April. It’s kinda the LA thing to do come springtime. About 100,000 people attend each weekend, mostly 18-25 year olds, but I saw people of all ages when I was there, old farts, families with little kids, crazy stuff. It’s a music festival, right, so they bring in the best and biggest variety of artists from every genre, rock, EDM, alternative, indie, folk everything. The way they set it up, it’s kinda like LA’s county fair but way out in the desert and bigger, the world’s biggest county fair almost. They bring in all sorts of incredible food trucks and weird sideshows – some of the coolest artists in the world design the actual venue, which is so so cool especially when combined with all the unbelievable music. It’s held on the Eldorado Polo grounds which is this huge flat expanse of land that they completely transform with all these art installations and cool lights – it’s actually really sick, like you’re in a completely different world. Most people camp… It’s sort of like the place everyone goes to from around LA to dress up and have a fun hippie weekend full of music and dancing.
Me? I went with friends from USC; we had about a twenty person campsite and the people I came with really is what made it special. Even just within our camp we had a huge variety of people, which I thought really kinda represented the whole wide range of people Coachella draws, you know, people who aren’t all that prominent in stereotypical LA culture but who all come out for the weekend to sort of escape the city and dance around in the desert for three days. It was cool cause we would split off into small groups during the day and do our different things – I danced for basically 10-12 hours every day but other people took it a little more easy… If you got separated it was really hard to find people, its the middle of the desert so there’s not really cell service. But at the end of the night we would all come back to the campsite, decompress, swap stories about what we all did that day, go to sleep, then get up, go out and get to do it all over again.
The last night was really special. As fun as it was, being out in the heat and dust for three days straight is a lot, so when we finally got to Sunday night, it was kind of a celebration for everyone that we made it. Coming back to school after that was really hard – everything is so carefree and beautiful at the festival and having to come back and face finals and everything was a definite reality shock. I definitely suffered from post-Coachella depression for a week or two.”
Though it is marketed as a music festival, Coachella is so much more than just a glorified concert. From food to art to music, it is a complete celebration of LA culture and of the beauty of life.
It would make sense that festival celebrating LA’s culture would take place in Los Angeles itself, but the festival is held a couple hours away in the small town of Indio. By holding the festival out in the desert, festival-goers are able to escape the traffic and general chaos of the city, allowing them to be completely immersed in the festival experience. The art installations, light fixtures, hippie garb, lack of cell phone service, and camping on the grounds all contribute to the sense of being in a world completely removed from the real world.
While everyone is in this sae world-away-from-the-world, each individual’s experience in the festival is completely different. There is no planned ritual, no ordered manner in which one is meant to experience the festival. In a way, this complete freedom is Coachella’s biggest draw. Why would people choose to go tough it out in the desert for three days rather than get a ticket to their favorite artist’s concert or go down to the art district to see the latest talent? Because people want the Coachella experience. They want to enter into a world free of time and worries to take part in a celebration of what makes life worth living: food, art, music and each other.