Ryan Avery’s something of a local music guru. Whether playing with bands like Fathers Day or Drunk and Horny, or booking shows at Trunk Space, they've been involved with hundreds of shows over the years (Avery uses they/them pronouns). Yet there’s one project that stands out among the slew of indie and punk shows: the Real Coachella festival.
"Whenever we'd ask an artist that we want to have perform, we'd say, 'Do you want to perform under the moniker of one of the acts that are playing the other Coachella," they say. "If they said yes, then we'd say, 'Tell us the name and give us some idea of how much time you need or what you want to do. Or don't tell us at all."
The event, which ran from roughly 2005 to 2014, became a kind of satire not just of Coachella but other big, bloated festivals that dominate the music scene and draw talent and attention from smaller operations. But as Avery explains, that wasn’t always the intention.
"When we started doing the Real Coachella, that sort of shit wasn't as apparent," they say. "It was like, here's a bunch of '80s bands reuniting in the desert and people are going apeshit for it. And then indie bands that just a couple months ago that were playing the smaller stage are now thinking that's going to launch their career into something bigger. But as time progressed, it was actually becoming the worst."
They add, "The other thing that was really obnoxious, to me anyway, is it was so frustrating to see a band that we really missed reunite and then only play Coachella. Like, I wanted to see Refused so bad, but I don't want to be surrounded by people who don't care."
While the notion of a faux festival seems silly, Avery admits that all the organizers remained deeply committed to the gag at all stages of planning.
"We'd meet somewhere ridiculous; we wanted every aspect of it to be ridiculous," they say. "So one year, we met at Mastro's and we wore really nice clothes."
Along the way, Avery and company accumulated several memorable performances. There are far too many to encapsulate what made the fest great, but Avery has a couple favorites.
"My old band Nightwolf did a tribute in 2009 to Danzig where we pretty much printed out [his] Wikipedia article and rewrote parts of it to make it sound spookier and make it sound more evil, which is, like, definitely the perception that he wants to give people," they say. "So I read that on stage and my partner Andrew played Misfit and Danzig songs between every couple paragraphs. Then we ended it with the Tuba City incident. But instead of saying that he just got punched, we said that he actually died. Then we reenacted it."
Not every memorable performance had to do with music, either.
"Another performance that I really, really enjoyed, and we did it every year except the last, was JRC, the former co-owner of Trunk Space, performing the opening ceremonies as this performance art project called Pinata Party," they say. "He'd have this spiel about how important the pinata was, and then let people have turns whacking at it. Only it'd be filled with plastic vegetables or rocks or old gumballs."
The event didn't just gross folks out; it actually tricked quite a few hapless concertgoers.
"The year The Specials were going to reunite , it was just some karaoke thing performed by a local ska group," Avery says. "That's the only time that we got regular hate mail from people. They're just like, 'You don't fuck with The Specials like that. I was about to fly down to Phoenix to see them play for $5 at an art gallery.' The same weekend they were going to be in California."
Or, the deeply devoted Scissor Sisters aficionado.
"They just did this real spooky thing for a couple minutes, with white face paint and candles," Avery says of the mock performance. "The person stayed for most of the show. But apparently they went up to the counter and demanded their money back. Like, okay, here's your $5."
Eventually, though, the joke ran its course. However, Real Coachella didn’t merely fold like any other festival.
"The way we decided to send off the Real Coachella, either in 2014 or 2015, was amazing," Avery says. "We'd been getting a lot of heat from this guy on the internet, and he was flagging all of our event pages on Facebook. So we put his name on the event and didn't ask any bands to perform. We told everyone it would be at The Dressing Room, but we didn't ask the people running The Dressing Room. We just set up in the parking lot dressed like ghosts and played Misfits at 16 RPM."
Avery is slightly hesitant to recall the "legacy" of Real Coachella, perhaps because that kind of thinking would only ruin the whole joke. Still, when asked if they were trying to be silly and dumb for the fun of it, or if there’s some deeper meaning, they had at least some insight.
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"I wouldn't say that I want to be weird and wacky, but I would agree with the statement that normal things are boring," they say. "There's a book called Welcome to the Music Business, You're Fucked! If you're doing a local show, you're just a local band playing around your home state.
"You shouldn't be upset when people don't go to see you. Because you need to give them a reason to go outside of just seeing live music. That's the way I feel with pretty much any local event. I'm still not going to go unless there's another factor to it."
Which is to say, great music isn’t enough, and what makes a scene feel more real is how we grow and expand its larger role within a community. It’s a nice tidbit to muse on as folks sit at home, contemplating the eventual return of live music. Could that also include Real Coachella?
"I wouldn't want to do Real Coachella again," Avery says. "I think saying respecting the legacy of what it was is accurate, but it feels like the opposite of what should be."