Love is to Coachella what LA smog is to sunsets. By 7:15 p.m. on Saturday at the Indio festival, eros covers the sky like a blanket, painting the clouds a pink and purple hue over the booming sounds the Outdoor and Coachella stages. A cocktail of David Byrne and Tyler the Creator swirls in the air, an unlikely-yet-harmonious pairing of two offbeat geniuses during a walk through the Empire Polo Field at dusk. Despite the cameos, collabs and sonic mashups happening throughout the weekend, the melting pot atmosphere of SoCal’s biggest festival also allows strangers to crash randomly into each other’s orbits. The result can be instant and fleeting–or in the case of Myrna and Mike O’Shea, it can last a lifetime.
In a pop-up trailer just outside the camping entrance to the festival, the couple take turns balancing their little 4 year-old daughter Mila on their laps and hoisting her up in the air laughing as chaos of peak Coachella rages inside the gates almost a mile away. It was not too far from here where the couple met in 2010 when they both came to the festival to work for the toll booth operations for campers coming into the festival. Mike as supervisor of the Philadelphia-based company that runs the booths and Myrna as one of his volunteer workers. Few things seem as likely as a couple of strangers from opposite ends of the country meeting at Coachella and forming a bond that lasted well beyond the weekend. Eight years later with one kid and another on the way, they couldn’t have imagined how much of their lives they would owe to a festival.
Both came to Coachella during different crossroads in their lives. When Mike came out to Coachella in 2010 he’d just decided to quit his hard partying bachelor lifestyle (he’s now been 8 years sober). Two weeks before coming to Coachella, he’d almost died, after a drinking incident where he blacked out and woke up in the hospital. His near-death experience forced an epiphany that he had to do something with his life. “So naturally, he went to Coachella to go party,” Myrna says jokingly.
Truthfully, anyone who’s ever worked a job at Coachella knows it’s a nonstop grind. Though he’d only known Myrna for a brief time as a volunteer for his company, he remembers having an instant connection with her. She was easy to talk to and the two became fast friends. He even felt comfortable spilling his guts out about his life and all of his personal issues, despite being someone he just met on the job. She was hired to be one of their volunteers to work the toll booths for campers coming in to the festival. “Thinking back like ‘Why am I telling this girl all the things that are going on with me?,’” he says. “Because I wouldn’t tell anyone else what was going on.”
At the time they met, Myrna was also at a crossroads in her life. After being divorced six years prior, she’d had enough of the online dating wilderness. “I was like between all the profiles and the fake people out there I decided “This is a shit show, I can’t deal with this,’” she says. Instead she occupied her time with school and work. In 2006, Myrna decided to go to Coachella on a whim. None of her friends could go so she opted to do it alone. She applied to work the festival as a volunteer working at the toll booths exchanging concert goer’s tickets for old school, non RFID wristbands to get into the festival. The volunteer group would allow her to work a certain number of hours in exchange for access into the festival after her shift.
“I kinda got lucky that year because my shift was Thursday when people were coming in so I mostly just had to be there on Wednesday to get ready for the campers,” Myrna says. “ [Mike] was my supervisor.”
The volunteer job was stressful, making sure to have an accurate count of all the wristbands that got distributed for Coachella. Workers came out each day (usually around 100 people) to be picked up in vans and taken to toll booth sites. Mike would be the one driving to pick them up in their 15 passenger van scooping them up. Throughout the entire ride, Myrna was accidentally spent their first encounter with each other calling him “Richard.” Polite and stoic as he is, Mike didn’t bother to correct her until the end of the drive.
“I barely even paid attention at the time I was just trying to get the workers to the toll booths,” he says. But they hit it off working together throughout the day. They hardly saw or spoke to each other aside from work until the next year they met up in 2011, the first year Arcade Fire headlined.
That year, Myrna came with friends while Mike returned to work for the same company. They coordinated some time to meet up during the closing set Saturday set, including the magical glowing balloon drop at the end.
Part of what helped the relationship early on was the fact that they were both living sober–Myrna also wasn’t able to drink after getting her gallbladder removed. “I told him I’m sober, I’m not drinking anything…this is just naturally how I am, a little crazy” Myrna says laughing. Since he’s been coming to Coachella Mike says he’s never taken a drug or a drink inside the festival grounds.
During the band’s set they talked about life and where they were headed, while sitting close to each other during the magical balloon drop, feelings bloomed between them, though they still parted ways as friends after only spending a few hours together.
The day after their meetup, Myrna broke her leg at Coachella’s short-lived roller disco [an ill-conceived precursor to the Silent Disco near the campgrounds]. “I ended up falling and breaking my leg and I’d tried to find him the next day but couldn’t because of shoddy cell reception so Saturday was the only day we were together.”
In 2012, Myrna came back again to Coachella with some friends the year of the Tupac hologram. Mike was working until Sunday just in time for the legendary Sunday performance. She met him at the toll booth line just as he was ending his shift. “She came running up to see me, there’s 12 rows of traffic coming in and I was looking for her and we met and made it to see Dre & Snoop,” he remembers.
He ended up meeting between the speakers near the main stage. Finally he got up the courage to ask Myrna is she had a boyfriend. “No I don’t, it’s about time you asked!” Myrna replied. One thing led to another and we were holding hands and he finally kissed me and the hologram came on right after.
After the show was over, they made sure not to let this romance slip away, they exchanged numbers, texting and talking, slowly taking their new relationship outside the festival a bit awkward at first but it was clear they were gonna meet up, Mike mentioned he was going to be working Bonnaroo. In no time, Myrna booked a flight to come out to the Tennessee fest. He got a taste of her independent spirit the moment he pulled the car up to get her. “I was trying to be cool, park up and help her with her stuff, but before I could even get out she’d already opened the back door and thrown her bag in the car and was telling me “Let’s go!”
The weekend went by way too fast but by the time she was returning home, Mike knew she was special. “It was really hard to watch her leave, I knew this wasn’t just another girl.”
They made a couple trips back and forth to visit each other including her trip to Philly to meet his parents, little did she know he’d already bought a ring to propose to her. After dinner one night he popped the question in LOVE Park. “It was pretty romantic, it was all happening so fast and really intense,” Myrna remembers.
The couple agrees that that the energy of the festival definitely makes people them more open to find romance but the sunbeat rawness of three full days in the desert can also show you their true character.
“You bump into a lot of people at this festival, you never know who they might be, but you both already kind of have a connection because you’re at the festival,” Mike says. “You might’ve just bumped into someone at the food line getting Spicy Pie and had a small conversation, you might wanna stay in touch.”
After they got engaged, Mike came back to visit OC that September, they moved in together in October and now live in Tustin. Even though they wanted to do a big, Coachella-themed wedding, they couldn’t pass up the chance to get hitched on October 11, 2012 (10-11-12 represents the years they’d met up at Coachella). They got married at the Santa Ana courthouse and kept it a secret until July of the following year and told their parents at a family barbecue.
They visited Coachella as newlywed, kid-less adults two more times in 2013 and 2014 (they’re pretty sure their daughter Mila was likely conceived there). They came back to the festival the following year but didn’t go in, just visited Mike’s old co-workers at the trailers outside the festival. After taking 2015 off they went back with their daughter in 2016 for her first Coachella.
“It kinda feels like a honeymoon everytime we come,” Myrna says. “When you’re making the drive, and you get here and everyone’s excited, the palm trees, everything plays into it.”
New parent life at Coachella was definitely a change of pace. Carrying their daughter in a stroller, they regularly retreat to the campsite in the afternoon to give the baby a nap, but she still went into the Sahara tent a little bit early in the day when no one was there. “I just remember her looking up and having total sensory overload, like ‘Woah what is going on?’” Myrna says, bobbing her daughter up and down on her knee. The lights were flashing, she did a little dance and we got ice cream.’”
Even went they don’t go to the fest they still come to talk to old friends and relive their experiences and the remind themselves of everything the festival has given them and of course check out the live stream.
In a few years the couple hopes their daughter will be grown enough to pass on the Coachella torch. “We’re hoping that she’s gonna want to go and we’re not forcing her,” Mike says. “ “She’s listening to all the different genres and listen to all the different kind of music and see what she likes.”
This year was supposed to mark the couple’s return to Coachella but in true Beyoncé fashion, Myrna got pregnant again (they’re waiting to find out the sex of the baby) and it was too much to handle so they decided to skip it and come but just hang out at the gate to see old friends. These days they’re more excited to their family grow with each return to Indio. As the Coachella continues to evolve with its tribe of thousands of dedicated festival goers reaching their child bearing years, stories like Mike and Myrna’s may be a lot more common as the young hipster set grow up to have kids of their own. But whether Coachella symbolizes unchained debauchery, artistic liberation or just baby’s day out, it’s weekend getaway that for many will never get old as long as there’s love in the air.
“It’s a good feeling,” Myrna says. “There’s something about Coachella no matter what that we’ll always gonna come back to. Whether Beyonce is playing or someone else we really wanna see, we’ll always make it a point to come back.”
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.