Diary of a Coachella Virgin
I'm not the guy in the Luchador mask crowdsurfing during Touche Amore, but I wish I was.
Hi, my name is Josh, and until last week, I was a Coachella virgin.
Until this past weekend, I'd never considered setting foot on the grounds of the Empire Polo Club (or even spending a night in Indio, for that matter). I'd never attended a multi-day music festival, wasn't sure I could even pronounce the names of half of the acts playing this year, and I certainly wasn't about to spend hundreds to go spend a weekend with a bunch of sweaty strangers wearing floral headbands and feather headdresses.
A few days before the festival kicked off, I decided to make a list of five things I expected from my weekend in the desert (instead of doing productive things like buying sunscreen and/or packing more than 10 minutes before I left). I'd heard stories from all of my friends who had done Coachella in previous years, and I knew I was in prime Coachella-ing territory as an irresponsible 25-year-old, so I was planning for the worst (best).
The Frights with Slow Hollows
TicketsSun., Oct. 23, 11:00pm
Death From Above 1979 / Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with Deap Vally
TicketsMon., Oct. 24, 7:30pm
Aaron Gillespie & Ace Enders with Vinnie Caruana
TicketsTue., Oct. 25, 7:30pm
The Psychedelic Furs with Bleeker
TicketsTue., Oct. 25, 8:00pm
Here's what I wrote (as well as what actually happened with each one, as written in a post-Coachella stupor at 3:30 a.m.):
Expectation #1: My phone will be dead at the end of every day. Let's face it, iPhones have terrible battery life anyway. Combine that with the fact that I'll have to crank the brightness up to be able to see it in the sunlight, and there's no way it'll survive a 10-12 hour day at Coachella. I'll use it sparingly, but I doubt it'll be enough.
Reality: Shockingly, my phone didn't die on Friday or Saturday. It got as low as 4 percent, but fellow journalist Heidi Darby came through with the portable phone charger right before AC/DC to keep it alive on Friday, and the beer barn proved a solid spot for charging between sets on Saturday. My phone died in the middle of Drake's set on Sunday, but so did my hope for humanity, so I'll blame that on the Canadian and his moronic fans.
Expectation #2: I'll feel like nearly dead by the end of every day. All I've heard from people is how gnarly they feel by the end of the day. I've done some pretty ridiculous shit, so I'm sure I won't be that one person who gets rushed to the emergency room. Short of that, I'm prepared for the worst. I expect to have one of those "I couldn't even breathe in" or "I couldn't feel my face by the time so-and-so came on" stories in less than a week. Between the heat, the booze, the drugs, and the people, there's plenty that could kill me, I just think I'm too resilient.
Reality: I was actually surprised at how good I felt on Friday night, but then I was up at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday with my heart beating out of my chest. There were times when I thought my head would explode on Saturday night and Sunday morning, but ultimately, I've certainly been in worse shape before. If Coachella only lasted one day, it'd be easy. I'm pretty sure it's the three-day length (and probably the camping) that really wears people down. With all of that said, there's no doubt that the "Coachella Cough" is a real thing, and the whole thing feels kind of like having the flu for three days.
Expectation #3: It'll be a success if I don't do something stupid that costs me a ton of money. As I stated, I'm not worried about my own survival. If Coachella is the thing that finally kills me, I'll tip my ghastly hat. I'm more concerned about the aforementioned dangers (for those just joining us: heat, booze, drugs, people) leading me to make a poor decision that ends up setting me back financially. Getting thrown in jail or rushed to the hospital are the obvious options, but there are probably plenty of other things that would prevent me from having rent money for the foreseeable future as well.
Reality: In my book, Coachella was a total success. I saw almost every band I wanted to see, several that I didn't want to see, and I barely even got sunburnt. Despite making some questionable decisions, I never once got into trouble, and managed to spend under $160 for the whole weekend (roughly $90 of which was on overpriced beers). Although, there was a roughly 20-minute stretch on Friday night where I lost my keys, so that could've been a nightmare.
Expectation #4: I'll see a lot of cool bands. I fully admit to only knowing the punk/alternative and hip-hop acts playing Coachella, but I'm sure there are plenty of other artists there who I'll discover during that time. I assume that playing Coachella means that your live show doesn't suck (unless you're a headliner who's only there for name recognition), so I'm looking forward to seeing some of the bands I've never heard of, even if it means spending extra time in the sunshine to do it.
Reality: I did see a lot of really cool acts. The ones I knew would be awesome didn't disappoint (Action Bronson, Interpol, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, Brand New, St. Vincent), but some of the ones I didn't really know much about were just as good (Kimbra, Hozier). Of course, I didn't love every band, because some just weren't my style (Tame Impala, Belle and Sebastian), but you can't win them all. Oh, and Drake was literally the worst hip-hop performance I've ever seen (just throwing that out there).
Expectation #5: There'll be a lot of girls in flower headbands. While I don't understand why ladies feel the need to wear flower headbands to Coachella, every photo I've ever seen of the festival has plenty of them. Maybe this is one of those stereotypes that isn't true, or maybe it's just because basic white chicks like to pretend like they wouldn't find hippies totally repugnant for one weekend out of the year. There's only one way to find out.
Reality: There were a lot of girls in floral headbands, so I was just right about some things. Actually, there were probably more than I thought I'd see. To be fair, I hated them less than the 14 white bros I saw wearing Native American feather headdresses.
Rookie Lesson #1: Only watch bands outside during the day that you really want to see.
Obviously, some of my expectations weren't exactly correct, but that's because Coachella is full of surprises. As I learned firsthand, not everyone has the same experiences their first (or any subsequent) time at Coachella.
Seeing as I've never been one to turn down a good time (unless it includes camping in a dirt parking lot), I knew that I wanted to have as much of the full "Coachella experience" as I possibly could over my first weekend in the desert. I'm generally not one to hang out with a bunch of bros and ravers, but I decided beforehand that I'd do my best to not hate as many people as possible while at the festival.
For three straight days, I hid my inner April Ludgate and embraced Coachella with open arms. Here are five unexpected moments that I'll never forget.
My Greatest Coachella Moments 5. The biggest musical surprise of the weekend (aside from Jack White's superhuman set, perhaps) was Raekwon and Ghostface Killah ending their set with some classic Wu-Tang Clan jams. I expected to hear most of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... and some of their other respective solo stuff, but I wasn't sure they'd give the crowd any actual Wu-Tang songs, despite all of the interlocked-thumbs-Ws in the air. Teenage me was super excited to throw up a W to "Triumph."
4. After talking to a short blonde girl about our mutual excitement to see Kasabian (yes, Kasabian was my guilty pleasure of Coachella 2015), she insisted that I meet her friends. Assuming that they'd be other pleasant-looking young women, I deemed it worth my time to hang out in the back of the Gobi tent to wait for her friends rather than moving up to the soundboard to get a better view (and a railing to lean on).
As I'd learn a short time later, she was actually hanging out with six of the bro-iest bros at Coachella. I was introduced and immediately welcomed into their bro circle (the guy with a neon-colored feather headdress liked my Bananabeat tank top enough to ask me to take a selfie with him), which included offering me two pills right before Kasabian's set started. Considering that I was already high and a little drunk, I figured another drug couldn't hurt, so I popped them in my mouth (after watching them all take theirs) and watched Kasabian as the lights began to grow brighter and I sweated through my tank top and hat.
By the time Heidi dragged me to the best set of the weekend (and possibly ever), Jack White, I had very little idea of what was going on, but I was still composed enough to appreciate White in all of his glory. Hours later, two girls from San Francisco opened a conversation with me by asking if I had any drugs, which made me realize just how out of it I must've looked.
3. Going into Coachella, I obviously expected to see great music. I expected to deal with intense heat and mind-altering substances. I expected to see the worst of the worst of bro and sorority types. One of the main things that I didn't anticipate was my excitement for the Ferris wheel.
I know, it's kind of lame. Hell, it's not even exclusive to Coachella. Apparently, the exact same traveling Ferris wheel shows up at the OC fair, but it's not about the Ferris wheel itself.
When you see pictures of Coachella (for people who don't live in SoCal), you see the mountains, the stages, and the Ferris wheel. While on the multi-mile hike from the parking lot, I got chills the moment we turned a corner and the Ferris wheel (and mountains) became clearly visible in the distance.
I waited until Sunday to actually ride the Ferris wheel (I didn't want to geek out about it in front of my veteran coworkers and friends), but it was totally worth it. Being able to look out over the sprawling campground and festival grounds was totally worth the $8 ticket. It really puts the whole isolation aspect of the massive event into perspective. I even had the opportunity to take a mandatory Coachella selfie or two at the very top. I mean, did you even go to Coachella if you don't post a photo of it on social media?
2. With only a few hours of Coachella left, I decided to settle into the middle of the enormous crowd anxiously awaiting Drake's headlining performance. I could've cared less about Drake (I'd seen him before, and I'm just not an avid fan), but I wanted to see who he'd bring out to make up for the Madonna debacle.
Before the set even started, I'd already lost faith in humanity. For every bit of coolness, knowledge and sincerity that Jack White brought to Coachella on Saturday night, Drake's fans removed (and then some) in the few minutes I spent with them before his set began.
Among the unbelievably stupid conversations going on around me was a challenge between two clearly collegiate tank top-wearing bros. The game was to name as many Jay Z songs as possible, not including Watch the Throne. They got to seven before the two "rap diehards" were stumped.
1. Friday evening, while I was splitting a joint with a couple of friends between sets, a tall brunette (in a floral headband) came up to me and asked if it was cool if she brought her friends over to smoke with us. I told her that anyone could sit anywhere at Coachella (except the VIP section), and soon we were making the standard Coachella small talk ("Where are you from?" "Who are you excited to see?")
A few minutes later, the fine young lady noted that my friend had been holding our joint for quite some time and asked if I'd like some of hers. Never one to say no, I agreed and reached for the burning pre-roll in her hand. Instead of handing over the joint, this classy woman raised it to her lips, got up on her knees, through one leg over me, removed the joint from her mouth, and blew smoke directly into my mouth before proceeding to shove her tongue down my throat.
As my friends cracked up and this lovely chestnut-haired girl continued to do her best to suck the lips off of my face, all I could think was "This is Madonna's fault."
Brand New. Wu-Tang Clan. Bad Religion. Coachella is designed to make the high school kid in you happy.
Honestly, if you'd asked me a month ago, I would've told you that this would probably be the only Coachella I'd ever attend. I don't know if I'll ever be the guy paying $500 to sleep in a parking lot for a few nights, but I'd certainly like to go back next year, regardless of who's playing (they couldn't be much worse than Drake).
The most surprising thing to me was that almost everyone I encountered was extremely nice (except for the stupid little The Weeknd fans who were trying to elbow and push up to the front of the crowd to see their beloved creepy crooner while Jack White's set was still going on), and a good time was generally being had by all.
I wouldn't recommend doing Coachella alone, but with the right people (and possibly a badass totem), it's an experience you really can't have anywhere else. I would've laughed at myself for writing that a couple of weeks ago, but it's absolutely the truth.
Oh, and one more tip for future Coachella rookies: If you go to Coachella and try to fight it, you'll lose. Just let yourself be swept up in the vortex of time and space that is Coachella.
If you want to see my moment-by-moment recap of the weekend, check out @jcchesler on Twitter. I think I did a pretty damn good job of live-tweeting a lot of it without killing my phone.
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