By now you have read every possible headline, seen every photo, heard about each and every band, and probably gotten at least one drunk phone call having to do with Coachella. You are probably sick of it. You probably want to drop an atom bomb on Palm Springs and hope that the only things left are a swimming pool and the In-N-Out Burger. Frankly, I cannot say I blame you.
Years ago, Coachella was a destination festival so grand, interesting, educational and fun, I’d have sold my unborn children (who would probably grow up to be human geniuses) to get there. Maybe even cut off a finger? Do I still feel like that today? I’m not sure. I have a hard time differentiating between how I feel about Coachella now, and a feeling I had in my early 20s when the festival was still something to write home about on a level that was incomprehensible.
The biggest problem with my Coachella relationship is almost like that of a raging alcoholic. I’m totally fine with quitting cold turkey and going sober until the most tempting inkling of music info creeps its way into my cranium. For example, this year, I was totally content with NOT going. I didn’t buy a ticket, I didn’t put anything on layaway, and up until about one week before the festival, I had no idea if I actually was going. This did not bother me as much as I thought it would. If in 2009, you asked if I would be comfortable with missing a Coachella, I’d have asked you if you had lost your damn mind, and then gone on to cite 50 bands that were possibilities to play within the next 5 years and why I would be an idiot to miss them. Now it’s 2014, and that 5-year time span is up, and only a handful of those bands have graced the Polo Fields with their presence.
Like I said, no ticket this year. Therefore, in January, when the lineup dropped, I began kicking myself for possibly missing out on the first Outkast reunion in roughly a decade. Also, the thoughts of Lana Del Rey, Pharrell, the Replacements, Arcade Fire, Broken Bells, and AFI on the Polo Fields were enough to make me Dirk Diggler torqued. Therefore, that classic sense of addiction kicked in. Just a taste was all I needed to spark that flame once more. Eventually, I got a pass (being a photographer has its perks) and headed south with my friends for a weekend of debauchery.
It’s not exactly news to me that Coachella is a new breed at this point in time. I can remember going in 2010 and seeing double the people there than my first time in 2007. The festival had sold out, and roughly 20k people had snuck in. It happens, and it was a sign of things changing. Now though, it was different. Before I was even out of San Francisco, I was reading news articles about people like Aaron Paul demanding 15k for attending, and two passes. Designers were paying various other celebrities to wear their clothes while walking around 100-degree heat to see a band called MGMT, and this year, the festival wreaked of celebrity/tabloid bullshit. At one point, I saw a grizzly Jared Leto exit a tent, only to immediately be attacked by several “normals” who wanted their chance to get a selfie with a guy known for playing drug addicts in various feature films. Was Jared Leto there to enjoy himself? Or was he some sort of meta-art installation? I still cannot be sure.
The celebrity status at the festival was almost overwhelming this year. Tyler, the Creator was just about everywhere, along with the rest of his Wolf Gang. Skate photographer Atiba Jefferson was there on assignment, except his assignment was simply to shoot a photo diary alongside Sean White (why? I have no idea, who cares what Sean White sees at Coachella?), meanwhile, I was also on assignment, but had to shoot 10-15 bands a day on opposite sides of this monstrosity of a field. Blake Anderson was also there, moshing to Ty Segall in the middle of the day. It’s almost like Coachella was no longer a music festival, and now like some sort of social media experience. It seemed like a form of art so bizarre and complex, I could hardly process how to take it in.
However, that is the keyword in terms of what Coachella used to be: MUSIC. I hate saying things like “back in my day” because it makes me sound like a jaded old bastard, and I am (unfortunately) broke, inexperienced, and only 25. But…BACK IN MY DAY, Coachella was not a tweet, or a status update, or check-in, or something I even recall caring about in the media sense. I can remember being on a flight home from LA in 2009, and there was Paul McCartney on the cover of the NY Times. This blew my mind. It never crossed my mind that people who didn’t attend would care about something like this.
That idea has become the basis of Coachella since roughly 2011. Coachella is no longer a festival about the music anymore, as much as it is about headlines. BACK IN MY DAY, people would attend to see a very particular set of bands, whether it be Rage Against the Machine or some random European DJ who came to the states once every 5 years. That’s how it was. My first Coachella was solely so I could see Rage Against the Machine when I was 18, and it was an experience like no other. It was smallER, and the crowd was my type of people; nerds. Fast forward today, and being at Coachella is like going to the Olympics. It was a weird feeling during Outkast’s set knowing that the entire western world was paying attention to my current situation, even though it wasn’t mine PERSONALLY.
Not to repeat myself, but this is a festival more about headlines. People want to push to see that “person with that one song”, or “that hip band with the album/music video that will remain cool for five minutes”. This was not more obvious than Sunday night, as I walked over to see Motorhead for just a few moments. My philosophy was, “At least I will photograph and see a legend of rock history in the flesh.” But nobody else seemed to think this way or care. The entire festival seemed to be clamoring for Disclosure, a band that played the previous year in a tent to roughly 100 people. I found myself totally bummed out. Sure, Lemmy Kilmeister is not my hero, but he is a rock and roll icon, and people would rather hear bleeps and bloops like a scene out of Spaceballs as opposed to witness a legend.
I don’t hate Coachella for going this way. I honestly find it inevitable. Everything great eventually catches on and begins to make companies some sort of profit. It’s called business. But do I long for a simpler time, when Coachella was about quality as opposed to quantity? You bet I do, and I know there is no going back as every other festival begins to follow suit. It’s sort of like watching your favorite public park gets turned into a strip mall. You long for how it used to be, but you can’t help but be drawn to the glowing lights. I will miss Coachella, and that nagging addiction will always be in the back of my mind. Until next year…