In 1999, Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen put on an event east of Palm Springs that came to be known as “the anti-Woodstock.” Twenty years later, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—Coachella, for short—has not only exploded from an obscure, art-centric gathering into a mainstream sensation, but also become the standard bearer for an entire industry precisely because it elevated the idea of what a music festival could be.
That audience, from the quarter of a million attendees across two weekends to the millions more watching live streamed performances at home, has brought with it a not-unfamiliar mix of opportunity and scrutiny. On the one hand, it’s clear that Coachella, in becoming a blockbuster commercial enterprise, has sacrificed some of the initial authenticity that made it such a hub for indie music. On the other, it’s not clear that crossing over has degraded the Coachella experience. If anything, the seemingly infinite variety of acts and activities at and around the festival has become as much a hallmark worth celebrating as a means of appealing to a mass-market audience.
Coachella’s evolution into a tentpole event on the annual concert calendar has attracted a growing slate of corporate parties that one would find at a major gathering of any entertainment industry. Though Weekend 2 didn’t feature follow-ups to extracurricular scenes like Neon Carnival and Bootsy Bellows, there were still plenty of great vibes to be found outside, be it at Day Club at the Hilton in Palm Springs or during the Soulection Brunch and the “Light the Way” Listening Party inside the Adidas Sports Club at the famed Zenyara Estate.
There was no shortage of VIP options inside the Empire Polo Club either—from veggie burgers, beer and kombucha backstage at the Do LaB to the variety of catered and covered viewing areas at the rest of the stages (not to mention all the “glamping” on the campgrounds) for those with the means and desire to stock up on creature comforts.
While those features may not appeal to some, and might repulse purists, none of those need infringe on one’s experience at Coachella any more than some questionable fashion choices would.
Which is to say, Coachella is big enough for everyone to have fun in their own way.
If you’re a relative newcomer drawn by the pop acts, you would’ve had a blast seeing Ariana Grande share the main stage with Justin Bieber, BLACKPINK plant the flag for K-pop at the Sahara stage, Maggie Rogers bring fans to tears in the Gobi tent or Janelle Monáe summoning the performative spirit of Prince. If hip-hop and R&B is more your speed, you wouldn’t have been at all disappointed by Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals and Childish Gambino closing down Day 1 with their respectively stirring performances on the Coachella stage, Kid Cudi bringing out Kanye West to finish Day 2 at the Sahara, or Khalid, Lizzo, YG, Wiz Khalifa and Pusha T spreading their vibes around the festival grounds.
If electronic dance music strikes your fancy, you had tons of tantalizing options, from big-name DJs with top-notch stage production like Zedd, DJ Snake, Gesaffelstein, Bassnectar, Aphex Twin, and Kaytranada to more progressive, pseudo-instrumental outfits like Rufus Du Sol, Bob Moses, Gorgon City, Polo & Pan, and CHVRCHES. And if you’re an old-school Coachella goer, you had to appreciate seeing veterans like Weezer, Mac DeMarco, and Tame Impala come back bigger and better than ever—especially for Kevin Parker’s mind-blowing display of sound and light—as well as indie up-and-comers like the Interrupters, Khruangbin, Superorganism, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra stake their claims to become the next in line to rise up the ranks.
That’s all before getting into all the other experiences on offer, including some from artists involved in live performances. For a refreshing take on Rufus Du Sol, there was a supremely psychedelic (and visually subaquatic) experience set to “Underwater” inside the Antarctic dome. To catch Childish Gambino in acting form, there were screenings of Donald Glover’s Guava Island, with Rihanna among his co-stars, in the campgrounds. And for those who still haven’t gotten over Beyoncé’s theatrics from 2018, the famous pyramid stage was available for an up-close look.
To delve properly into every aspect of Coachella—including the DJ lineups at the Heineken House and the Do LaB, the indoor bliss available in the Yuma and Sonora tents, the return of the giant astronaut and the Spectra tower, and the ever-improving food and beverage options across the festival—would require volumes of descriptive text written by a seasoned team of experiential connoisseurs. The better move, though, would be to block out a weekend in mid-April, ignore the noise about what Coachella has supposedly “lost” or “regrettably become” over the years, and prepare to party in the desert.