Hard Hitting Investigative Journalism: Coachella 2011

For years I’ve wanted to attend the Coachella Arts and Music Festival in Indio, California. Each year something managed to get in the way of that becoming a reality($, location, lack of motivation) but I was determined to make 2011 a different story. When the lineup was released back in January I knew that this was the year that I’d make my dream a reality. So when April 14th rolled around did I have a wristband? No. Did I have a place to stay? No. Did I plan on going? Yup.  The next three days would be filled with good fortune, good friends and amazing music. They’d also be filled with extreme heat, exhaustion, dehydration, bizarre episodes of self loathing and of course momentary lapses in judgement. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way.

 Day One: Oh, Optimistic Me

In life there are times when even the best laid plans fall apart. I find that if you have no plans at all you can never be disappointed. Just simply surround yourself with good people and have an idea of what you want to get out of an experience, the rest will just come together. I drove out to Coachella with my friend Shayne who had just come in from France and was damn near on his deathbed when he got in on Thursday afternoon. Sick as could be he stockpiled remedies and decided that he’d at least go out to the desert for 48 hours( once we arrived he would quickly realize he wasn’t going to leave until Monday). So the whole drive out to Indio on Friday I was just hoping that somehow I’d be able to get a wristband and get into the show on Friday night. We met up with Shayne’s buddies from Jersey at their RV campground and it quickly became apparent that the heat was no joke. Two minutes after getting out of the truck we were panting like dogs in the Sahara.

Twenty minutes, two doobies and one dip into a heart covered bag later, we were in a cab headed for the show. I still had no wristband but had hope of getting one at will call thanks to my friend Adam. Adam had a friend in England who wasn’t going to be attending the show and had two wristbands at will call. All we had to do was get to will call, show the people working there an email with all this persons info and we’d be good, or so we were told. Adam was on his own time schedule and I had no idea where will call was. We were dropped off as close as the cab could get us(two miles, no joke) and off we went. For a minute I thought I might actually be able to sneak into the venue, oh the naive thoughts I think sometimes. I know that it’s been possible in the past but this year the organizers really stepped up the security. It was really quite a tease because I was able to walk all the way to a point where I could see the entry gate off in the distance before being told that I couldn’t go any further. So I bid Shayne and the boys adieu and began figuring out how to get to will call. For some reason the event organizers thought it would be a good idea to make will call off site. I found out that it was at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, five miles away. So off I went on a nice little five mile walk, in roughly ninety degree desert heat. When I finally arrived at the tennis garden I was so out of it that had I gotten trouble about the whole will call situation I probably would have flipped out and been taken into custody. However, that was not the case. I told the girl what the deal was, showed her the email and fifteen minutes later I was holding two wristbands to Coachella. The girl even gave me a tennis garden shuttle pass so I could get back to the venue easily. Huge. An hour later I was in the show with Adam, Shayne and the crew watching Cut Copy melt faces. We followed that up with a bit of Black Keys and then Kings Of Leon( both of whom we’d see later that night at their after-party, thanks Billy’s g/f). It was also during KOL’s set that we found what would become our “spot” for the next two days when acts were on the main stage. The picnic table in the beer garden near the fence became infamous over those next 48 hours. There we made new friends and had our first random run in with someone we knew, birthday boy Cole Barash. The beer garden was a great place to be to say the least.

I should note that this whole first day I’d stayed true to my vow to not drink. You see I’d been sober the whole month of April and was determined to make it through the weekend without drinking. It took me about ten minutes of being at Kings Of Leon’s party to realize that passing on an open bar at such an event was pretty fucking stupid. So at 12:30 am April 15th I had my first drink since March, it tasted awesome. We mingled awhile longer with the likes of Aziz Ansari, Kate Bosworth, her husband Alexander Skarsgard, the members of Local Natives, the Arab Parrot and the brothers White. If that’s not enough name dropping for you then you’re reading the wrong blog. Seriously though all those people are really nice and certainly didn’t mind being shoulder to shoulder with dusty, saucer eyed kids. I don’t remember what time we called it a morning but I can say it was only just the tip of the iceberg.

Day Two: The Neverending Party

I’ll keep this brief because it’s impossible to convey what Saturday/Sunday morning was like. When I woke up in Shayne’s truck on Saturday it was just after eight, I’d gotten maybe 3 hours of sleep. It was already above 80 degrees and everyone was thinking one thing, pool party.

So after a few phone calls we were headed to the Riviera Hotel where Gus Cawley and the Rhythm Living crew were keeping Palm Springs weird. The valet looked at us like we were aliens when we piled out of Shayne’s pickup(from space, not Mexico) and we got a pretty good “are you sure you’re in the right place” speech from the door guy. None the less we were drinking and dining poolside in twenty minutes. Kudos to the bartender who made me one of the best Moscow Mules I’ve ever had and big ups to Gus for making sure we didn’t get hassled beyond weird looks.

After a few drinks we got word of some friends from Jersey with a house nearby the Riviera. We vacated in hopes of greener pastures(cleaner pools, open chairs) and what we got was exactly what we hoped for. Having been to the house these girls rented I now know how to do it proper next year. Lets just say it’s worth it to stay in Palm Springs and drive to the event each day or if you can, take a shuttle.

After a few hours it was time to head to the Vestal/Red Bull Compund where we could park the truck and catch the bus to the venue. We knew that the compound was going to be cool, but couldn’t have imagined it would be as cool as it turned out to be. Free Titos Vodka and PBR. Enough said. Most of the homies had setup tents there and some people had gone so far as to bring an RV. This was the home of some of the best people watching of the whole weekend.

By 5:30-6 we’d had enough of what the compound had to offer and it was time to board the Red Bull Supercruiser and get to the show. We’d found our Frends and it was time to rock out. Awaiting us at the Polo Grounds were Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Animal Collective, Bright Eyes, and Empire Of The Sun. Though we got back to our spot in the beer garden from the night before with ease, staying together wasn’t so easy. As substances took hold so did the urge to explore and things get a bit fuzzy. I wish I had pictures to do the talking but my disposable didn’t make it to the show and my IPhone quickly died. I will say this, Arcade Fire will go down as one of the greatest bands of our generation. Also, I know everyone has their own musical tastes but if you’re going to pay $350+ to go to a festival, wouldn’t you want to watch something you can’t duplicate with a computer, some friends in a large room and some really good speakers? Just a thought for those of you that stayed in the Mojave, Sahara, and Gobi tents all night.

After Arcade Fire finished I found myself with no phone and no friends(as will sometimes happen at festivals). Getting back to the Vestal compound was the most logical thing to do so I set about trying to make that happen. An hour later I found a familiar face who looked much more lost than I was. We teamed up in finding our way out of the hell that is the Empire Polo Grounds and eventually saw more people we knew waiting for a shuttle. Packing 31 people into a 16 passenger Ford van is no small feat so I feel that I must offer my sincere congratulations to everyone who helped make that happen. Upon arriving back at the compound I was treated to more free substances and Eagles Of Death metal playing some late night tunes. The rest of the crew showed up a bit later and it was quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to end anytime soon. When the DJ stopped spinning tunes, out came the bongos, guitars and tambourine. They didn’t go away until the moon had long set and the sun had begun it’s climb into the desert sky.

Quote of the night, “if you don’t stop shaking that fucking tambourine I’m going to throw it in the fucking lake”-Aussie guy from the tent to the right of our circle. Song of the night is a tie between Mason’s rendition of “Hey Ya” and the multi person freestyle “Where’s me fucking lighter?”.

Day 3: The Tale Of The Eyelids That Wouldn’t Close

I don’t know how I did it I didn’t sleep. I mean sure I might have passed out for a total of 45 minutes but not much more than that. By the time we made it back out to the girls’ house in Palm Springs it was almost 9 AM. Breakfast was on my mind and by 10:30 people were up, walking around like zombies. Shayne took a lil siesta but I’ll forgive him for that because he’d been on the road for a month prior. Our morning and most of the afternoon was fueled with with vodka/ice pops and chicken. After eating damn near nothing for 48 hours a mountain of BBQ was just what the doctor ordered. There was a momentary lapse in my judgement when I was thinking about heading back to LA but that quickly passed when I realized I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror if I did so. Sure I didn’t have a concrete way of getting back because Shayne was planning to go to Mammoth straight from Indio but I figured, fuck it, everything else has worked out this weekend, I’m sure this will too.

Later in the afternoon we made our way back to the compund and once more boarded the bus. Wired, tired, wacked out and jubilant was the general mood. i got the bus DJ to play Tiny Dancer which was a pretty special moment (Almost Famous is one of my favorite movies of all time) and by the time I was at the gate I’d forgotten how little I’d slept. I was ready to see The National, The Strokes and hate on Kanye West (which he made all too easy for me). Just to clarify, I love rap and I loved Kanye’s first album. However, I do not love pompous assholes who acknowledge they can’t sing, but then go ahead and do so in front of 100,000 people citing that “it’s the effort that counts”. No, not in this case it doesn’t., sorry Kanye.

The highlights of Sunday were, not dying, the sunset and The Strokes. All in all Coachella 2011 was the best learning experience I’ve ever had. Can’t wait to do it again next year and put all my new found knowledge of the desert festival to good use. Big thanks to my liver and immune system for not failing me. In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, the original advocate of the lost weekend, “buy the ticket, take the ride”.



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