Driving down the roadway leading up to the Coachella festival grounds, it’s easy to be swept up in the romanticism of signs, stages, tents, fans, palm trees, dry heat, sand and mountains as far as the eye can see. The festival, now in its 16th year, has grown from a small one-day event to the highest grossing music festival in the world, a cultural icon and omnipresent entity drawing 198,000 ticketholders to Indio over two weekends.
Amidst the rush and excitement of Coachella, one must stop to wonder how the residents of Indio feel when their quiet retirement town turns into a cesspool of debauchery twice a year (thrice, if you count Stagecoach). Although ‘chella season brings a definite economic boost for the city of Indio’s 76,000 residents who live just outside the festival grounds, there’s no question that it impacts their lives in both welcome and contentious ways. The Weekly walked around a neighborhood closest to the mainstage of Coachella on Thursday afternoon to receive feedback from Indio residents who’ve geared up for colorful visitors since 1999, and well, we got mixed feelings…
(To protect the identities of our Indio sources all of them are only be referred by their first names.)
In the neighborhoods around the Empire Polo Club, a clear socioeconomic divide is apparent. Multiple working class homes and apartments occupy the north side of the street, closest to the festival stages and makeshift parking lots for large working trucks. They’re mostly older structures standing directly across the road from modern homes with privacy walls, mini mansions that embody the style and vibe of the Indian Wells wealthy community: pristine, planned, and detached. On the north side of the street, properties are being purchased and bulldozed to make room for more festival work trucks, on the south side a privacy wall stands protecting the homes from noise, onlookers, and arguably, shielding residents from the melee of the festival, a luxury not awarded to their neighbors across the street. Guess which side gets shitted on by Coachella the most?
Maria has lived on the north side of this street for 18 years and she says Goldenvoice (the production company behind Coachella) is looking to buy out all of the houses on her block for more space. Goldenvoice already purchased the home that once neighbored her, tore it down and turned it into a parking lot for trucks. That move has caused less than comfortable living conditions for Maria and her family. “I’m pretty upset…It’s super dusty and I have a kid with cancer and I called to see if they have any incentives like wristbands because [my son] wanted to go and they said Goldenvoice does not give out anything,” Maria says.
In addition to the added pollution and increased carbon footprint brought to the city by more than 90,000 weekend visitors, noise pollution has become a nuisance for some residents, and a welcomed yearly ritual for others. One woman we spoke with, who chose to remain anonymous, shared memories of attending a community yard sale, only to be terrified shortly after by the entire house shaking due to the noise emitting from the main stage.
Some long time residents have grown to embrace, and even love the sounds of Coachella, no matter how alarming. “I love the noise and hearing the bands inside my house!” says a local man who chose to remain anonymous, and lives a stone’s throw from the festival grounds. An Orange County transplant who relocated to Indio “to get away from people,” the man and his Bay Area transplant roommate are both fans of music and love when the festival rolls into town both for the economic boom and the influx of people, ironic since he moved away from OC because of its dense population.
The two men’s favorite part aside from the people is hearing the music right in their own living room, often clear as a bell. “My only complaint this year is that the mix is bad! I can’t hear anything except for drums, I wish they’d turn the bass up. All the bands mixes sounded off, except Guns N’ Roses, they sounded great.” Although the men genuinely enjoy the culture and calamity of Coachella, they said they had never attended, the price tag just too high.
Loud frequencies are more detrimental to individuals who reside in older houses with thinner walls and windows that provide less insulation than more modern or expensive homes that are better shielded from the festival, literally and figuratively with their better insulation, thicker windows providing more soundproofing, and guarded gates keeping people out of their properties.
One thing most residents agree on is that Coachella brings money into the city, benefitting local businesses and creating seasonal jobs for thousands of people from security staff to dish washers to grounds keepers. Local businesses are packed with weekend transplants, some who even stay for both weekends and the week in between.
A cashier at a local Ralph’s a few blocks away tells us that residents actually do receive discounted tickets but nothing more than that. The cashier has never been to Coachella but she’ll make it out to the polo fields eventually, “I’m actually going to San Diego this weekend.” she says with a laugh.
Other Ralph’s employees reported stores being slammed since before last weekend, with staff maxed out and customers lining up at their doors at 5 a.m. Goldenvoice claims that the festival brings an estimated $90 million dollars in annual economic impact to the Indio alone and $254.4 million dollars to the Coachella Valley.
That’s not counting the underground economy that benefits from the festival. Street vendors hustle water and snacks, and don’t forget the Coachella black market inside the festival. Craigslist hustlers sell seats in cars and vans for ride shares to Coachella, and rent out rooms, sheds, and even parts of their yard for people to camp in at premium prices.
A local who asked to remain anonymous told us about a limo service from their Indio based church that provided safe rides to and from the festival from an offsite parking lot. The revenue from the limo service provided much needed funding for the church programs, but unfortunately when Coachella changed their parking and drop off procedures and regulations last year, the church became unable to operate their limo service which negatively impacted their yearly budget. Even though they were disappointed, the church members appreciated the opportunity while it lasted and seem happy to continue coexisting with the festival as they have since 1999.
Although Maria dislikes the dust storms Goldenvoice’s mini parking lot causes by her home, she says she hasn’t been annoyed by the crowds Coachella attracts, in fact, the drunkards of Coachella have provided extra income for Maria and her family in the past. “Before we use to even give out rides for the people that would get out all drunk and stuff,” she says. “We would charge and we would make our money but they would make it to their party safely.”
Maria is even interested in doing business with her lucrative neighbors. “In the future, if Goldenvoice wants to buy our house we’ll sell it and we’ll leave.”
According to Maria, the people of Indio mostly work in construction or landscaping for the various country clubs found around town–field work is also a common profession.
Lorenzo is a maintenance worker at the Empire Polo Club and lives in neighboring La Quinta. While visiting his sister’s apartment down the street from the Empire Polo Club, Lorenzo (dressed in an Empire Polo Club uniform) describes how he picks up trash every night of Coachella and the strict drug policies enforced on the workers—kinda ironic considering Coachella might as well be called Drugchella for anyone that knows how to slip contraband into their sock.
“For lunch we [Polo Field workers] all gather and talk about everything that happens,” Lorenzo says. When asked if the workers ever party together Lorenzo said, “They don’t let us drink during work hours, every month they give us a drug and alcohol tests.”
Lorenzo’s only Coachella complaints are about the traffic, noise pollution and marijuana odor in the air, the latter is especially concerning to him because his sister’s children can’t help but be exposed to reefer smoke living down the street from the polo fields.
When asked about who lives in the gated community across the street from his sister’s apartment, Lorenzo responded with “Puro gabachos viven allí,” which translates to “pure white folks live there.”
Burdensome traffic is a given at Coachella but the way it affects the residents of Indio can range from minor inconveniences to huge setbacks. For example, Maria’s mother accidentally crushed her finger on Wednesday night and had to take a longer 20 minute commute to reach the emergency room when a usual drive would’ve taken 5 minutes. “It’s pretty inconvenient because the streets are closed sometimes…we get pulled over by the police and we have to show our passes to come to [my] street.”
While the festival of all festivals may bring many pros and cons to the locals of Coachella Valley, every Indio resident theWeekly spoke to agreed that it was interesting to witness and be a part of music history. “It’s pretty cool that we get to experience it. It’s cool to live so close to such an event.” Maria says.