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Every year, I tell myself that I won’t do festival season. I’ll just sit by the pool on the roof of the Ace in downtown Los Angeles and talk about when they’re going to move the crane that’s been hanging over the development across the street for years. Hell, maybe I’ll even go to Eggslut and wait in a blessedly short version of the daily line. But every year I find myself back on the I-10 highway heading back to Indio.
Only one thing set this year apart: I was going to Coachella with no plans of actually going to Coachella. Instead, my group would rent a place, sit by the pool and forget the fact that a major music festival featuring Kendrick Lamar, the xx, Father John Misty, Lorde, Radiohead and Lady Gaga would be raging just a few minutes away. Often called NoChella by the haters who decide to stay home while their friends flock to the valley, celebrating NoChella steps away from its namesake instead of at home is actually the best way to experience it. What follows is one man’s review of the perfect NoChella weekend, with a few tips on how to customize the experience to your liking.
Thursday night we crawled in traffic from L.A. to Indio to arrive, four hours later, at a pod of low-slung buildings ringing a pool. Our AirBnB was a midcentury modern minor masterpiece for a mere $800 a night.
Ben, a friend in the music industry, told me that drinking a single Red Bull makes even healthy people have essentially a diabetic episode. I had two with vodka. I strode past the line at Playboy’s party in what must have been full-on insulin shock. Inside, you could have mistaken the scene for many others in Los Angeles. The people, the music and the drinks all made the trip more or less intact, if you were worried.
The opening party is maybe the key party of the weekend. You have to set a tone: That things will be glamorous but in-control. You don’t want to stay out too late because that messes up the next day’s parties and so on and so on. Your agenda is simple: To stay relatively sober, have a good time and make friends who will invite you to future parties. If you fail to do all three, at least settle for having a good time.
Fair warning: Ubering around Coachella Valley will set you back quite a bit more than it does in most cities. You’re travelling greater distances, with greater numbers of people, at higher surge times. So just relax and think of all the money you’re saving on tickets.
I woke early Friday to smoke pot on the back patio and listen to podcasts previewing the NBA playoffs. Would Westbrook score enough to make up for the Rockets’ superior 3-point shooting? How were the Bucks going to corral Kyle Lowry coming off screens? There were no easy answers.
The afternoon was spent as all Fridays should be spent: languidly drinking beer and listening to music while palms rustle in the distance. We were within miles of Coachella, but spiritually, we couldn’t have been further away. One time, on an afternoon just like this, I began swimming laps in the pool. Not fast, and not more than one at a time, but every fifteen minutes, I’d go for a dip. I ended up unintentionally swimming a half-mile; the next day, I could barely walk. The lesson here is to never relax too hard because you might end up working out by accident.
Poolside, I did a healthy amount of scrolling through Instagram and wondering if everyone else was having a better time than me. I was unbothered. We could have gone to the secret Lorde show at Pappy and Harriets, but it was too far for anyone to care to move. After all, the point of this weekend is to walk right up to culture’s face, spit in its eye and dare it to punch you.
Friday, or at least one of the days, should be your day of rest. Don’t let the pressure of FOMO prevent you from having fun. Most parties are kind of boring and nobody cares if you specifically go. Have a nice day. Why not?
NoChella Saturday is when you have to get down to business though. A sizable breakfast is due. Whatever Eater tells you, that breakfast is not to be found at the restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel. We ordered ahi poke, hot wings, shrimp, mac and cheese and a great view of a lot of musclebound guys wandering in and out of the pool area. Whomever the guys had gotten all buff and oiled-up for, they weren’t showing up. It was funny—or would have been if the food wasn’t so terrible.
A great place to stop second is the Weedmaps Oasis cannabis party. If you can wrangle it, I recommend walking through the back entrance and right into the VIP area. There, you’ll find a large group around an unused pool, highlighted by a guy that looks just like Wiz Khalifa if you only look at him once, because you don’t want to be caught staring at Wiz Khalifa.
“Real grams, real flavors. We bout to get turned up in a little bit,” the DJ yelled.
Later, A$AP Rocky performed at the stage. Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin showed up but didn’t smoke pot. Some porn star famous for looking young while having anal sex was in attendance. Out back, people walked from an open bar to another pool and back again. A Vice documentary crew walked in a pack, like a group of ducklings following its mother.
So you can wander around a little bit. I found that a good strategy was to go up to booths and ask, “What’s going on here?” My results included a couple of joints, a series of dabs and a few edibles from people like Gen-X, West Coast Cure, Brass Knuckles, Nameless Genetics and FlavRX. One of the dab stations was attached to a chill-out tent that played space sounds and space visuals. A girl walked in and drank thirstily from a water bottle handed in by someone outside.
The cannabis party could only stay interesting for so long, so we did what any responsible partygoer would do: Hopped parties. Well, we hopped to one party. Remember, the only responsibility you have this weekend is to relax and have as good a time as you can without breaking a sweat. Under the desert sun, this means expending as little energy as humanly possible.
We only stopped at the Hypebeast Hotel long enough to see that it was taking place next to a pool. A group of buff, shirtless men danced around each other as hip-hop visibly shook the speakers. People walked in and out carrying pool inflatables that bore the name of the sponsoring company. The scene was grim in only the way that a concrete slab with water in it can be grim. If people were having fun, we didn’t see any.
The final party of the weekend is nearly as important as the first. This is the memory you’ll leave with. We had a choice: Either the Neon Carnival or Jeremy Scott’s Moschino party. The Neon Carnival is produced by Brent Bolthouse, the impresario behind Santa Monica’s Bungalow. I’m sure Bolthouse is a nice guy and the Bungalow is a nice place, though I always see people from high school there, but I can go to Santa Monica any time. The Moschino party promised to be a little different.
And different it was. Even dazed by the desert heat and hours of doing nothing much at all, their signature cocktails were watered down enough that they actually hydrated me. Also, the party looked expensive, as it was dominated by a lagoon and a live-action game of Candy Crush. That essentially meant that people were sliding down a ramp into a ball pit. It looked like fun, but also work, and this trip was just about leisure. You’ll want to snag as many signature drinks as possible before heading over to the meadow and sitting down across from the stall that’s handing out actual free candy. You can do some light people watching; the Cobra Snake was there, as was millennial meme lord Jack Wagner.
Lil Yachty, or similar, will be playing, so you’ll want to stick around for the first part of his set. The only distressing thing that happened was a very large guy brought a service dog onstage during the concert. That sounds cool, but the actuality of the situation was that there was a dog around a shitload of extremely loud noise and lights while people were staring and yelling at it. Sounds pretty terrifying if you’re a dog.
Perhaps spurred by our love for animals, or perhaps by overall boredom, we left the party around 1:30. That seemed like the wrong time, because as we departed a pair of extremely stylish lesbian couples walked in. Here’s a party tip you can use any time: If stylish lesbians show up, stay. We left.
Our Uber driver brought us the closest we ever came to the actual festival when she said she needed to pick up a pair of girls she’d told she’d meet earlier. The only problem was that their phones were dead, she didn’t know their names or what they looked like, and the Rite Aid in Indio was rife with people fleeing the festival like so many millennial moths to a flame of reasonably priced drugstore goods. The scene looked desperate, with Uber drivers honking at people they thought might be their rides and dazed-looking young women huddling so their body heat would make up for their festival attire. People sat on curbs or in cars, staring straight ahead and not saying much. I recognized the scene well. It was the entire reason I never wanted to go to Coachella in the first place.
So after jumping in the pool back at the house, I leapt into bed. This is the key part of the NoChella experience: Getting the hell out of Palm Springs. Lines back from the festival stretch for hours on Monday. Lana Del Rey had time to write a song, pull over, and record the song while in that hellish line. But we left Sunday at 8 a.m., Starbucks in hand, and were back in Los Angeles by 10 a.m., sanity intact, wallets a little lighter but having attended Coachella while dealing with none of the unpleasantness whatsoever. It’s the only way to travel.