I found out I was going to Coachella mid-morning on a Sunday. Enjoying some Filibertos breakfast burritos with the squad, I saw an email notification come through: Your media pass for Coachella Weekend 1 has been approved.
Holy shit, I thought. This completely fledgling notion of a weekend of coverage was going to happen. My favorite festival lineup in years, and I was going to get to see every minute of it. I immediately told my friends in the circle. One scoffed. “But, you don’t even have an Instagram!”
From a fair distance, this sentiment is not unplaced. The anticipation of Coachella is, in and of itself, a cultural zeitgeist. In a series of production reveals, “surprise” events, and brand activations, Coachella consumes the pop culture attention spectrum for months in advance. Furthermore, the corporate partnerships that once made Van’s Warped Tour feel needlessly opportunistic now take on gargantuan new form.
In just the past week leading up to the festival, I’ve received emails and and invites for a ridiculous array of marketing pushes.
Lil Miquela, the Los Angeles-based AI influencer, is a host for Coachella’s Youtube playlisting. Amazon let me know I can delivery festival essentials directly to the festival, using a curation of favorites from Vanessa Hudgens. American Express card holders get a free ferris wheel ride. JuiceWRLD held a Death Race for Love merch drop Thursday night at the Palm Springs Air Museum. Sean Paul is available for press and media inquiry on sight at Coachella all weekend, simply because he is attending.
All of this makes Kanye West’s Weekend 2 Easter morning co-brand with the risen Lord seem quite wholesome.
It feels notable that this is the first Coachella after the two (very different in intention) Fyre Fest documentaries were released. While the festival disaster occurred several years ago, both documentaries framed the event and its anticipation in a particular light: rich, influential, and very, very millennial.
From the outside in, Coachella flaunts comfortably in this light. The 50 Shades Freed of affluence, imagery wrought with escapism and self-discovery, with the “roughing it” aspect of camping taking place on God’s greenest square mile of polo field grass. But once you arrive, pulling through an eager security check and into the camp grounds, the mood shifts. The age of the crowd diversifies, as does the intention. And when you wake up to the Indio valley mountain ranges and the 50-somethings camping next to you blasting Black Sabbath at 8 a.m. Friday, suddenly, everything feels a little less like a ruse.
Campers posed for the Gram in front of the Beyonce pyramid stage, recycled from last year’s quintessential Coachella performance, now living on the campgrounds for mere mortals to enjoy. Over in the Camping Center, you could choose to spend your $500 weekend, not with the best that modern music has to offer, but on hours and hours of human Foosball and other makeshift group horseplay. One of the great ironies of the grounds: The Field of Dreams’ waiver sign-Up has a more notable sign than the field itself.
Throngs come from far and wide to worship at the altar that is the charging station. There are crafts and activities to kill time while you wait. I made a laminated button out of an old New Order photo in a magazine. The vintage shop is right next door, catering to every decade of festival wear you may or may not have convinced yourself you missed out on. After surveying the markups there, the $16 breakfast burritos and $10 cappuccinos don’t seem like such a gouge.
Horse cops patrol the grounds and keep the masses in check as they wait for gates to open. Then it’s a mad dash for the merch line before it reaches Space Mountain levels of “Hell, no.” Then, after the weight of timing and anticipation lifts, the atmosphere is pure, chaotic joy. Taking pictures with the spaceman as it is dragged around the festival grounds all day. Yelling at your friends to try and understand each other over the bleeding bass from the Sahara stage.
Los Tucanes de Tijuana had the pleasure of opening up the Coachella main stage mid-afternoon as temps capped out for the day. The Norteño band absolutely tore it up, inducing the dance across the giant Coachella field despite the absence of any shade whatsoever. I think that “La Chica Sexy” had one of the best crowd responses of any act all day – pure euphoria, so much so that you can almost ignore the pasty, awkward couples trying to apply the merits of one salsa lesson to join the collective.
While big front artists and “surprises” often take the lion’s share of the Coachella spotlight, the truly great moments often happen in the peripheral. UK producer Ross From Friends took the eternal-night Yuma dance tent early in the day, which was particularly entertaining given that he apparently told no one in booking that he was bringing two friends.
A guitarist and a saxophonist squeezed into the DJ booth alongside Felix Clary Weatherall as he queues up “Pale Blue Dot”. The two mostly danced behind Weatherall as he burns through one house banger after another, occasionally adding live color in really awesome ways. But mostly, it’s just fun seeing three friends fly in from the UK to play a 45-minute dance set at 1:45 p.m on Friday at Coachella and get paid to clink beers and bob to the overpowered bass.
The surprises are fun, though. Cardi B showed up during DJ Snake’s Sahara tent set for “Taki Taki.” Kacey Musgraves brought out 90-year-old Instagram influencer Baddie Winkle to dance during set closer “High Horse”. Dvsn did a medley of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire.” Jaden Smith brought out his sister Willow for a guest vocal underneath the dangling white Tesla. Coachella is recognized by attendees and artists alike as the creme de la creme of name brand awareness opportunities, but more often than not, they use that platform for good rather than evil.
Childish Gambino was no doubt today’s most hyped guest. His presence at Coachella 2019 was nearly unparalleled, what with his headlining spot, his ongoing Google Pixel 3 co-brand, and his film release with Rihanna. There’s even a merch handkerchief detailing all of these things across the Coachella 2019 grounds, as if to measure its ubiquity.
But Donald Glover has never been one to phone it in (Pixel notwithstanding), and his performance closing out the Coachella stage Day 1 was truly marvelous. Rocking the “This Is America” look in the flesh, covering Gnarls Barkley, doing improvised jam sessions with his band, burning the stage down with “Sweatpants”, hugging Janelle Monae ... Glover has embodied so many different forms over the course of his tenure as Childish Gambino, and this crowning moment truly feels like it encompassed them all.
But, one performer stood out above even Glover. Spanish pop singer Rosalía made her Coachella debut on the Mohave stage with a bang. With cross-genre hits like “Con Altura” and “Malamente” it’s only a matter of time before Rosalía is a full-fledged international pop star without clarification or context. But until then, the extent to which she incorporates flamenco into her work is absolutely stunning. A backing set of male and female vocalists provided every voice (and clap) from her El mal querer record. Hardly anything was played from a track.
Meanwhile, her dancers’ routine will be the runnings for best of the weekend. Mixing flamenco with pop dance, mingling matador colors of bright red and stark white, this set was a sight to behold. Rosalía’s James Blake collaboration “Barefoot In the Park” was a particularly captivating moment, as was the crowd participation "Olé!" bit where she jumped on a Roland 404 sampler loaded with her own vocals for a hilariously fun jam.
But in true Rosalía form, the most breathtaking was an a cappella number from her debut LP Los ángeles. Dedicated to her massive crowd, the song showcased how little Rosalía truly needs in terms of production and theatrics. For most of her set, I was secretly hoping that J. Balvin would emerge from the side stage to join Rosalía for “Con Altura” towards the end of the set. By the time she got to it, I had forgotten who else was on the track.
By the end of Day 1, it's hard not to have a "I've seen it all" mentality already. Sophie DJ'd behind what looked like an alien autopsy table. Janelle Monae had giant panthers plastered on her backdrop. Diplo had tunneling kaleidoscope renditions of the kama sutra. The list goes on. But there's still so much to offer, and so much left to see. Coachella’s biggest point of criticism oftentimes proves to be one of its greatest strengths. There is truly no height nor depth it fears to tread, and in the middle, there’s something – a lot of things – for everyone.