Imagine a world where Coachella exists as a state of mind all year round. Sure, that sounds a little campy—but when you’re talking about the biggest festival on the West Coast, the one that ushers in the start of festival season, you really don’t ever run out of things to talk about. Every year, buying a wristband to Coachella comes with a host of questions, worries, responsibilities and secret advantages that are on everybody’s mind. In order to get our shit together, sometimes we need help. Most importantly, we need people to talk to who can give us real answers on everything from surviving car camping to advice on which bands to catch and the best ways to slink our way to the front of the crowd—and the conversation doesn’t stop in late April after the fest is over, either. To that end, Reddit Coachella and it’s Facebook offshoot (aka RedditChella) are two resources you’d be a fool to pass up once you know they exist.
What started as a simple subreddit group with barely 100 members in 2014 is now growing at a Coachella-esque pace. RedditChella currently boasts over 20,000 members and is attracting 2,000 new users per week, lead admin Charles Holton says. As he’s talking to us on the phone, within the span of 10 minutes Holton’s cell is flooded with updates on posts he has to review before they can go up.
Many people who find their way into the group are often looking for wristbands, people to carpool with or fill up space in their rental houses.
“This time of year is exciting because I go to Coachella every year, it’s the beginning of festival season,” Holton says. “But it’s also a hard time because the group is always really busy when you have 2,000 new posts a day and all the comments and it’s difficult for us to manage it.” Though the level of activity on the pages is highest during the festival, it’s also a time that admins—who maintain the site on their own free time—finally allow themselves to have some time away from it each day when they step into the festival.
On Saturday, we ran into Holton and his girlfriend (who he also met through the Reddit/Facebook group, along with most of the people who he hangs out with in real life) at the DoLab with a beer in his hand soaking in the misters underneath a backstage tent. The smell of veggie barbecue permeated the air as the sun went down. “This is seriously the only place I love to chill all weekend,” he says—and not just because he does a small amount of promotional work for them. Within the borders of a raging 3-day fest, the DoLab brings its own sense of tight knit community, not unlike the Reddit Coachella groups. “Once the festival starts it’s great to finally have the bonus of meeting people and hanging out instead of just seeing their posts online,” Holton says.
Earlier in the day, Reddit members organized a meet-up in the middle of the art installation of surreal, muti-colored phallic statues near the main stage to reconnect with old friends and bond with new ones in the group. Most years, it’s been customary for the group members who show up to Coachella to take a group photo with upwards of about 200 people, sometimes more.
The year they had the huge robot caterpillar in 2015, we took a photo in front of and the amount of people almost spanned the entire thing,” Holton says.
So how did these tandem Reddit/Facebook groups become so popular? From Coachella virgins to seasoned vets from around the world, both bring in a wealth of knowledge about the festival that’s hard to find anywhere else—even on the official Goldenvoice Coachella boards on the festival’s website. The group is not affiliated with the festival promoter, though we’re told that a few people who work for Goldenvoice are members of the subreddit and Facebook groups. Because of that, it’s one of the few places where complaints and grievances about aspects of Coachella life are brought to the table and allowed to be posted without fear of harming the festival’s reputation. That includes this year’s rash of pickpocketing incidents.
By now we’ve all seen the story about the scumbag caught with 100 cellphones in his bag. Days before that news went viral, the first video of the guy getting arrested popped up from one of the users in the group who filmed the arrest with his smartphone.
“We didn’t get any credit for it, but I don’t really care,” Holton says. “But that’s kind of what the group is all about. Nobody posted that to be like ‘haha,’ it was like, ‘No, be safe out there, people are stealing phones’ … a few people even got their phones back because of that post. If that didn’t post, nobody would’ve known that happened.”
And despite this being online, a place that gives any anonymous person license to troll and be rude, there’s an overwhelming sense of genuine camaraderie in the group that echoes the vibes instilled by the festival during its formative years. Upon signing on and getting into discussions with people in the last few days, we’ve seen the amount of dedication most people in the group have towards each other that goes well beyond Coachella.
The group, started in 2014, began with about 100 people who became a tight knit family.
Jackie Swain, one of the group’s original members, joined the Reddit Coachella Facebook group and through it has met at least 100 “awesome souls,” many now some of her closest friends. “Now all year long, we like-minded, music-loving and proudly nerdy individuals meet up at concerts and plan for Coachella. The true value of both festivals and Internet became glaringly apparent: connection,” Swain says. “I love Reddit Coachella!”
With that dynamic came a sense of responsibility toward other members. A big incentive of being in the group is their policy on buying and selling wristbands at face value, something you’ll rarely find on Craigslist.
“We’ve bought twice, never been ripped off and always paid face. Safer than any place else I’ve tried,” says member Donna Johnson Clark.
Another benefit, many members told us, is the ability to meet and get to know people who talk about Coachella and other festivals all year round. In an age where anonymous connections are forged in various forums and social media everyday, the fact that you can connect with an entire group of friends before you even get to the festival as a first timer and physically meet alleviates the anxiety of trying to make friends with strangers in a sea of what is now 125,000 people.
“It makes me feel like there’s a larger group of people that I could meet at anytime and I already kinda know them and kinda like them,” says Jason Brockman, a 12-time veteran of Coachella who started out by visiting the official Coachella message boards and eventually switched over to the Reddit and Facebook Groups. “A guy that I met by the pool at the resort I was staying at was from Canada and I’d never met him before but it was immediately like we were friends and it was a nice experience.”
Looking past the meet-ups, the Facebook group specifically gives you access to different points of view on Coachella from people who are experiencing it in real time. Members trade tips on which parking lot is a complete shit show or which artist or stage is rumored to have a special guest. This past weekend, the news of Skrillex landing at the DoLab to close out the night lit up the group’s page as thousands rushed to get under the stage’s blue canopy for one of the biggest surprises of the weekend.
Like any family, the group is no stranger to squabbles about the rules and regulations that allow it to run without being shut down. A big one is that leaking lineups for festivals, whether they’re tied to Coachella or not, is strictly prohibited. Also any drug-related posts regarding the festival won’t get posted. These two rules, along with the requirement of selling wristbands at face value, can cause infighting among various group members. But at the end of the day, the bond of RedditChella trumps any of that. Even the host of repeat questions from first timers (What can I take into car camping? What can’t I take into car camping, what kind of booze can I bring? Where does the shuttle stop?). But for a first timer who wants to open up to the group, these questions are still go-to icebreakers that lead to conversations that save them lots of headaches.
“It was the little things that helped out,” says Jose Gutierrez, a San Diego native who is a sailor in the Navy. The first timer came to Coachella during Weekend 1. “I learned from the group to bring sandbags for the wind and it helps out because people’s stuff was blowing away and mine was fine because I had 50 pounds of sand holding my canopy down.”
As the group’s numbers continue to soar, Holton and other admins know there’s a chance Goldenvoice may want to wrest some control away or co-opt it someday. Obviously that’s not something anybody in the group wants, though it would make plenty of sense for Goldenvoice to try to do it. Few places would offer them the kind of unabashed market research that comes with 20,000 people telling you what they really love or hate about what the fest has become. However, for those who truly care about the community within Coachella’s culture, it’s best that a group like this is able to roam free and carry on the independent spirit that gave the festival it’s appeal in the first place.
“The capacity of Coachella now is 125,000. You’re talking about 20% of people that could show up to the festival are in that group, so to them it’s a large market. But I don’t want it to turn into an official promo page because that drives people away and makes it more corporate,” Holton says. “Our goal is to keep it the way it is and let it grow naturally.”