What's the Story Behind All Those Different Coachella Wristbands?

The author's Coachella 2017 wristband collectionEXPAND
The author's Coachella 2017 wristband collection
Andy Hermann
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When I go to Coachella, I typically get three wristbands: one for media, because I am journalist; one to prove I am over 21, because I drink on the job; and one for VIP, because I'm kind of a big deal. (This year, I got a fourth, giving me backstage access at the DoLaB Stage, ostensibly so I could do a story on them but mostly just because they're nice.)

Between my media and VIP wristbands (and I hasten to note that not all media are given VIP access — just a lucky few who, I guess, Goldenvoice feels can be trusted not to chase Vanessa Hudgens through the restaurant pop-ups yelling, "Who are you wearing?!"), a lot of people assume I can go wherever I please at Coachella. Probably because of movies like Almost Famous, the job title "music journalist" still evokes images of a somebody with a tape recorder following the band from dressing room to stage, peppering them with questions right up until the minute they step out in front of their adoring fans. I think when I tell some of my friends I'm going to Coachella, they picture me taking notes on Lady Gaga's performance from the side of the stage, getting squired around in golf carts, maybe raiding Future's trailer for some dirty Sprite. Big shot that I am, I must have all-access, right?

Well, no. It turns out there's virtually no such thing at Coachella as all-access. Over the years, as the festival has grown, so too has the proliferation of different wristbands designating both who you are (audience, artist, media, crew, etc.) and where you're allowed to go. There are now dozens of wristbands at Coachella in a rainbow of colors, many with an RFID chip that must be scanned before you can enter the festival and/or certain restricted areas.

This is, of course, fascinating to most festivalgoers, myself included. At least once a day at every Coachella I have ever attended in a professional capacity, someone asks me what my media wristband is for (even though it says "media" right on it) or how much I paid for VIP (zero dollars! — this job does have its perks). Unfamiliar wristbands are keys to secret corners of any festival, so there's a mystique about them, even though they're just little strands of paper, plastic, rubber or cloth that starts to smell funny after you've showered with it for the second or third day in a row.

There are wristbands for production and vendors, videographers and visual artists. If you're staying in the staff camping area, there's a separate wristband for that. The most commonly seen wristbands, aside from the Heineken-branded ones that let you into the areas that serve alcohol (and that change color each day — alkies, take note), are the ones with RFID chips, which help the festival track where you are and, more importantly, are extremely hard to counterfeit. Every person on the festival grounds has to wear one at all times — even artists during their sets.

Father John Misty, accenting his dapper ensemble with pop of color in the form of an artist wristbandEXPAND
Father John Misty, accenting his dapper ensemble with pop of color in the form of an artist wristband
Mathew Tucciarone

The artist RFID wristbands look similar to the GA and VIP, but they're orange and pale blue and have a lowercase letter "a" on the piece of plastic that houses the chip. It's a common misconception that anyone with access to the artist compounds backstage gets one, but as far as I was able to tell, this isn't true — there's a separate green "guest" wristband, with no RFID chip, that gets you some backstage privileges and access to super-VIP viewing pits to the left of every stage. When a Goldenvoice crew member escorted me to a press trailer in the artist compound for an interview, I asked if I could get one of these wristbands, but was denied. "I'm your wristband," my escort told me.

Aside from GA, VIP and artist, the most commonly seen RFID wristband at Coachella this year bears a mysterious glyph that, upon closer examination, appears to be a T. rex skull. No one seems to know what exactly these wristbands are for. One guy told me they were for the crews doing lighting and video projections, and someone else told me they were for people who worked on this year's art installations. But then someone else pointed out that the cleanup crews had them. So who knows? The most plausible explanation I heard was that they simply got anyone working at Coachella in and out of the festival via separate staff-only gates. I know that doesn't sound anywhere near cool enough to justify a T. rex icon, but then, very few Coachella wristbands are as cool as you think they are.

Some RFID wristbands, however, are so rarely seen that they achieve mythic status. They're so mythic it's entirely possible they don't exist at all. They are the Bigfoots of Coachella wristbands.

There's the so-called "Empire" RFID wristband issued to the Haagen family, owners of the Empire Polo Club, and their inner circle. The logo on that one is rumored to be a chess piece, although I was unable to find out exactly what kind (not a pawn, presumably — in past years it was a rook, but Goldenvoice often changes wristband designs to make them harder to counterfeit). That one really is all-access, which makes sense — if you own the place, you should be allowed to wander around like you really, well, own the place.

Then there's the one given to the purchasers of the $25,000 ultra-VIP package that includes onsite accommodations in a yurt, a personal concierge and golf cart driver, and access to the artist compound. I have no idea what the logo is for that one, but if I had to guess, it's probably either a burning pile of money or this guy.

Finally, perhaps the most mythic wristband of all is the true final boss-level piece of arm candy, the actual all-access pass. This year, it's allegedly an RFID wristband with a bear logo. Someone texted me a photo of one, and then when I got back from the festival last night, the text had mysteriously disappeared, which freaked me out so much I almost didn't mention this one at all, for fear I'll be carted off to some Goldenvoice black ops site after this article comes out.

But for my money, the best wristband you can have at Coachella doesn't even have an RFID chip. It's a simple red wristband bearing two words: "Golf Cart." And yes, it means you get to hitch golf cart rides anywhere on the festival grounds. I'll take that over getting to watch Gaga from the side of the stage any day.

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