Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 10:07 a.m.
How can such an idyllic scene be such an absolute nightmare? Selling 75,000 tickets is a start...
Dear Goldenvoice, Promoter of the Coachella Valley Arts & Music Festival,
My name is Michael Lopez, I am 26 years old and I have been attending your festival for the past five years. In those past five years, I have had some of the best music experiences in my life. In 2008, you closed out the Sahara Tent on Sunday night with Simian Mobile Disco, Chromeo and Justice. In 2006, I got to witness both rather unknown bands Phoenix and Gnarls Barkley at the Gobi Tent. 2007 afforded me the absolute (guilty) pleasure of seeing Mika as well as watching Spank Rock do things on stage I never thought possible. Lykke Li, Late of the Pier and Friendly Fires compiled a solid Sunday in 2009. I say all of this because I love Coachella and I want to make it clear that I have had immense pleasure attending the festival -- not to simply toot my own horn.
That being said, 2010 was an unimaginable clusterfuck the likes of which I have never witnessed in my five years attending Coachella. Using the term "clusterfuck" is nothing new to describe 2010's version, but it is the most applicable term -- one that I feel sums up what it was like to attend shows for all three days this past weekend.
What I want to know is this: Was selling 75,000 tickets worth it to make the 2010 Coachella experience miserable for many in attendance?
Friday seemed to be going well. My girlfriend and I decided to get to the parking lots a little early before the first set we wanted to see -- Sleigh Bells at 3:30 pm. We were planning on enjoying a couple of beers before heading in to the festival, and we did so by our parked car, enjoying the sun and meeting some new people. Then came along wrinkle number one for the weekend: rogue security guards hired by Goldenvoice. The assholes told us that there "was no tailgating" this year, as they were trying to crack down on underaged drinking. While that is understandable, neither of us were underage and their claims sounded completely unfounded. These rogue security guards would cause problems for festival-goers all weekend long. Quite frankly, the guys were total dicks. There was no reason to hire such blatant assholes to be employed with what basically appeared to be the task of harassing people.
Our heady planning got us in Friday afternoon before the ticketing system went to shit and the festival ran out of wristbands, so that was good. There were no massive lines to wait in for hours when I arrived, so I have nothing to say about that. We made it to our first set in time to watch them start, noticing that the crowd was pretty big. No big deal, though, Sleigh Bells is the epitome of a buzz band right now. Word got out and a healthy number of people attended their afternoon set.
It wasn't until we tried to catch La Roux's 8:20 in Coachella's smallest stage -- the Gobi Tent -- that the situation became clear: this year's festival was pathetically overcrowded. I know La Roux has a very healthy fan base, and perhaps it is our own fault for trying to catch a set that would be one of the more popular of the night. However, we both like La Roux's music and we both had no way of knowing that festival crowds would be this bad. But they were -- the entire weekend.
Grizzly Bear? Packed. Hot Chip? Packed. Beach House? Packed. I got somewhat close for Beach House's set (pic here
) but the set was still unbelievably packed (pic here
). There was a lot to enjoy by listening to their music, but I couldn't help but think just how crowded it was during their entire set -- and it was only 4:30 in the afternoon on Saturday. That's what it was like the majority of the weekend -- awesome live music to enjoy, tons of other shit (clusterfuck crowds, dickhole security guards, massive lines entering and leaving parking areas) to worry about. It didn't used to be like that.
Unless it was a band like Faith No More, The Specials or Pavement (all with fan bases of a decidedly older age), you could bet on the set being packed beyond belief, your only option to get near the stage being to camp out and watch the sets leading up to the one you wanted to see. It made for a very frustratingly crowded weekend, one that could have been avoided had Goldenvoice not needed to set attendance records.
But set attendance records they did, shattering the previous mark of 60,000 set in 2007 -- and yet, the festival still managed to sell out, sending ticket prices through the roof for those who didn't already have their passes. The Monday before the festival -- once it sold out and tickets starting going for over $600 -- should have been a warning of what was to come.
Being inside the festival itself was just an overcrowded mess. Certain acts over the weekend (Tiesto, Deadmau5) brought in the sort of festival-goer loathed by the majority of the attendance, but they were all in the same, overcrowded boat as everyone else. What once had tremendous promise had turned into a flustering, overwhelmingly crowded experience. Coachella -- for the first time in my five years of attendance -- had lost its fun. It was no longer about seeing music and enjoying the atmosphere. Coachella had become about avoiding crowds.
It's a valid point to note that this is my own experience and I made it as such -- but I cannot deny how packed it was inside the Empire Polo Grounds this past weekend. I have been to previous Coachellas where the crowds seemed like half of what they were this weekend. It was decided on Sunday that my girlfriend and I would attend Local Natives' set and then call it a day, so we did just that. Of course, the crowd at that set was rather large, but we got there early enough to get close and actually see the band perform. Local Natives played an amazing set and we both will cherish that moment, but it came at the end our our collective rope for the weekend. By the time the band finished their last song "Sun Hands," we were both plenty done with being at Coachella. We had been kicked, tattered and torn by the massive crowds all weekend, and enough was enough.
My time spent at Coachellas in years past was like spending time with a cousin (or sibling) that you don't see all too often. Sure, you two talk a lot and keep in touch, but you live in different areas of the country and can only see each other a few weekends out of the year. You've always expected that your cousin has a drug/alcohol problem, but they have always been fun to be around and if they did, in fact, have a problem, they did a fantastic job keeping it under wraps. It didn't matter, though, because you don't see your cousin that much, so their problems are really none of your business.
This year's Coachella felt like that cousin had lost control of their problem and was completely off the rails the entire time you were together. Their behavior forced you to witness their every move and, thus, watch over them to make sure they were okay -- adding another dimension of worry to your already busy weekend. You just couldn't relax when you were in your cousin's presence -- their lack of control was too big a problem for you to just look the other way and not let it affect you in any way. They were fun to be around, at times, but your time together was ultimately unrewarding and far too taxing. You care about your cousin, but you know that you've probably spent your last moments with them because you can't bear to be in their presence when they act like that. You hope your cousin can get their shit together, but you don't your breath.
I hope setting record attendance numbers was worth it, Goldenvoice, because you burned bridges with many of your long-time fans, myself included. We might return to your festival, we might not --- and I'm sure you don't give two shits about us. But we have a voice in this, and it is one of displeasure. You're like a beloved cousin to me, Coachella, and I hope you seek out the proper help for your problem.