So I’m doing it. Again. Of my own free will, I am preparing to subject my body, my mind and my very soul to three days at the Coachella Arts and Music Festival. I covered it for nearly a decade before conceding defeat to the grueling desert stage hopping, opting for the Palm Springs pool party scene the past few years. The free booze and swag bags at those things are great, but in many ways they represent everything that’s wrong with Coachella… well, of people’s perception of it anyway. The celebrities, the focus on fashion over music, the constant posing and posturing, and of course the product whoring. I like to party, and I’ll always fight for my right to do it, but when it comes to the real magic of Coachella, that’s peripheral stuff.
Tens of thousands are gathering on the Empire polo field this year to endure tri-athlete-level physicality, ruthless desert rays, and often ear-splitting music they may or may not dig, all in hopes of a life-altering experience and (hopefully) a connection with humanity. Beautiful, intoxicated, exuberant humanity. At almost $400 a pop per ticket, they deserve it too.
My Coachella is different. I’ll be doing interviews with Coachella acts for SirusXM, who are broadcasting full live sets for the first time ever in radio. I’m ready for it all, armed with a giant, fashionably-fringed bag full of allergy meds, portable phone chargers and sunscreen. More importantly, I have a “production” wristband, which will allow me to escape to the Artists Compound backstage when things get too hectic milling about the masses.
Friday, April 10
4 pm: Every year certain trends emerge at Coachella, and this year, the floral and feather menagerie of years past has reached its logical Woodstockian apex. It seems hipster and hippie finally refer to the same thing. For a longtime fan of ‘60s and ‘70s-era Cher/Anita Pallenberg frock rocking, it’s conflicting to see a style you call your own hit the mall, and hence the festivals. My feelings of “dresstress” are fleeting however, as I dive right into the reason I’m here (duh): the music.
Reverend Horton Heat provides a buoyant rockabilly sampler in the Mojave Tent early in the day and I get to interview him afterward. Interviews for Sirius and Coachella’s YouTube channel take place lakeside (yes, there’s a lake), in a hidden area not even the bands know about unless escorted there. It’s lovely and quiet and feels a million miles away from the commotion and clusterfuck of the fest. But I’m actually hungry for the roar and raging of the Coachella crowds. I jump right into it after my interview, meandering through intoxicated gaggles of grass and ass to catch soul singer Charles Bradley followed by rap diva/Playboy cover girl Azealia Banks. These two main stage acts have just about nothing in common, but each have a charisma and command of their respective sounds that’s compelling, even in this monstrous forum. Both will win over new fans for sure today.
Midnight: There are signs everywhere that warn “no photos” backstage and even though I’m a photographer, I totally get why. It could easily turn into a flurry of paparazzi flashbulbs back here if not controlled. A rainbow sherbet-haired Chris Brown and his posse are milling about right in front of me and throughout the weekend, I will see Katy Perry, Rihanna, a Jenner girl, a Jonas brother, a bunch of models I can’t quite ID. Even Coachella “legend” David Hasselhoff, who takes his family every year. There’s a reason you haven’t seen any (good) Justin Bieber getting-kicked-out pics this week. Because no one can take them.
In the hierarchy of access here it looks like my blue and red “P” wristband gets me a lot. There is a pit to the side of each stage sectioned off for artists and their guests which I also get to enter. In many cases this viewing area is just behind the photo pit area where I have access, thanks to a photo pass. It’s a unique perspective, too: The photo pit places you in front of thousands upon thousands of fans. My wristband is great for catching music, but it doesn’t help me avoid walking much. I can circumvent the body bounty by trekking the perimeter of the fest that General Audience and even VIP wristband holders never see, but to get to any of the stages or tents I still need to hike (golf carts back here seem to be for stars and employees).
By the end of day one, as my feet throb to the beat of “Highway to Hell” during AC/DC’s blistering closing set, I’m having a blast but my body is already feeling pretty busted. I realize that I HAVE TWO WHOLE DAYS MORE to go. Wow. And oww.
Saturday, April 11
3 pm: Today the girls’ getups are even skimpier than before — lots of bathing suits and see-thru cover-ups, lots of butt-cheeks and camel toe. Some girls just said to hell with clothes all together opting for bras and panties or teddies and pasties (grandmas doilies as pasties… clever!). I saw a lot of “douchechella” hater-posts online this morning before leaving for the festival, which were to be expected, but they seemed to overshadow the amazing music. I’m vowing not to do that. There are a bunch of bands I’ve been hearing about on the bill today and it’s time to play catch up and see for myself who deserves the buzz.
Royal Blood under the Indio sun early in the day, drained me in a good way. No frills, bluesy yet metallic grooves that hypnotize one minute and rattle your noggin the next. And what is it about a two-piece that makes this kind of thing even more appealing? These guys are like White Stripes or The Black Keys playing Slayer and Nirvana in a garage in England. Badass. Equally riveting to watch, Benjamin Booker in the Gobi brought a similar back to basics approach to his soulfully nuanced rock sounds.
8pm: I’ve seen a mess of music today and however trite it sounds, my faith is restored in artistry again. Sure, I’d heard the music of Glass Animals, Belle and Sebastian, Hozier, Milky Chance, and Father John Misty, but seeing each do their thing live, with not a one phoning it in, was revelatory. Coachella is one of the biggest music festivals in the world, and maybe the most important. Playing it is a career-defining highlight in any musician’s career and nobody can afford to waste it. This means fans get the essence (usually) of each artist and we can judge them by that context.
Your average rock fan will steer clear of the thumping Sahara Tent, but I love dance music too, so it’s always been a check to be marked. This EDM temple has grown exponentially each year and it’s now bigger than a football field, with colossal lighting and backdrops. Again, my wristband comes through, allowing me to enjoy the immersive mojo of the space in a sectioned-off side area (see the selfie I share here) without getting too immersed in the maelstrom of sweat and glow-sticks. I don’t take this for granted.
Midnight: Jack White just cemented his place in my blues-damaged heart with a retro-stylized set that offered nods to his entire career (White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and the solo stuff) but took each and every cut somewhere new. His inspired arrangements on some old favorites may not have always been sing-along friendly-but they were giddy and intense and jam-like in the best way. Somewhere in the past couple years he morphed into the bastard child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Page.
White’s show was almost — almost — worth the hassle of trying to get out of the parking lot. Yes, parking lots are the great equalizer when it comes to big events. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you know in a traffic jam. Everyone still has to wait, even if they’re doing it in a limo or big black Escalade. Actually, sometimes they have to wait longer. Thanks security!
Sunday, April 12
3pm: The ambitiousness I felt on day one and day two has faded somewhat but there’s still a lot to see. Turns out, Sirius is still working out the kinks of a live concert broadcast and there are other guest hosts and interviews to schedule in. I’m off duty and free to play today. I’ve already checked out the Heineken and the Yuma dance “tents,” which are actually air-conditioned nightclubs erected onto the grounds, as well as the VIP Rose Garden near the dance tent (featuring craft beers and food from trendy spots like LA’s Eggslut) plus the gorgeous permanent new bathrooms on the grounds. None of these were here during my last Coachella visit.
4pm: I’m back on the comfy couches of the Artists Compound, running into other likewise privileged pals and high five-ing bands for great sets. I’m marveling at just how much the Coachella experience has evolved over the years, for everyone. For the fans out on the field, there’s more to see and do, and better facilities too (more phone charging hubs, water stations, real bathrooms). For the VIP and artists’ guest crowd, there’s a better-organized set-up and simply a more peaceful, aesthetically pleasing retreat complete with silk flower bouquets and glitter signage decorating every trailer and golf cart. Free filtered-water dispensers and bottled water inside of a giant canoe-turned-ice chest keep everyone hydrated, though a trip to the VIP areas bars are required for the hard stuff. Christmas-light lit walkways around the perimeter of the fest make every strenuous stroll to the far-away stages as pleasant as possible.
For bands, the sound and lighting could not be better and it’s pretty clear that the major acts are given the encouragement to get creative with their production. The Coachella organizers learn from their missteps every year. Now they’ve got it dialed in and it shows.
11pm: Squeezed in a lot since my last entry: the dance rock of RAC, the garage pop-punk of The Cribs, two different types of tangled twang from Jenny Lewis and Ryan Adams, and what I have to call out as truly transcendent performances by St. Vincent and Florence and the Machine. Madonna notwithstanding, my ladies did Coachella proud this year.
Drake has just begun, late. I’m listening to his boastful raps fade as I start to head behind the stage, where this time, I intend to catch a golf cart to my car. I saw the pride of Toronto once at a private party and was impressed, but he’s not worth the traffic tussle before a long drive back to LA. There’s a bit of commotion backstage but it’s not due to Bieber’s bodyguards or the Material Girl. Turns out, Florence Welch, who played just before Drake, broke her foot running around during her fervent set. She looks like a wilted angel in white as she’s driven off in a cart before me, icing her ankle.
She’s obviously in pain and exhausted, but she’s beaming. I know exactly how she feels.
Lina Lecaro is an LA-based music, nightlife and pop culture journalist, photographer and radio host/DJ. Best known for her regular work in LA Weekly, she also freelances for Paper, Los Angeles, LA Times, LAist, Thrillist and many more. She wrote the book, Los Angeles’ Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Angels and is currently finishing her second, a rock n’ roll-themed self-help guide called Nevermind The Rules.