With a population that swells from zero to more than 90,000 people over the course of a day, the weekend festival at peak hour is about three times the size of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Concluding the first of back-to-back weekends in Indio on Sunday, Coachella in its 16th year filled its vast, well-tended acreage with an efficiently run system that inspired confidence at nearly every turn. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Coachella Vista, a Sim City writ large — cultural barometer, fashion trendsetter, sociology experiment, musical mecca.
FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2015
The city looks great. The administration, Goldenvoice, has over the years added permanent structures, augmented existing areas and rejiggered pathways and access. Mundane as it may seem, for veterans who had endured the stench of portable toilets, the new restrooms were an epiphany.
That, of course, was the least of it. Nearly 200 acts filled nearly 40 hours of programming, and among the most memorable were a range of artistic innovators as complex as the Coachella ecosystem.
The striking British avant-R&B singer FKA Twigs harnessed minimalism both sonically and visually, moving in tight motions in key moments as she sang about desperation and obsession. Father John Misty, playing in front of a heart-shaped neon sign that read "No Photography," sang of digital devices and the distances they create; even as dozens in the crowd ignored his warning and alternated between staring at the stage and their smartphones.
Those who landed at the Coachella stage for Tame Impala's Friday set were feeling a little loopier after a few moments. The Australian guitar project of Kevin Parker, which quickly ascended to headliner status on the success of its breakout album "Lonerism," presented psychedelically tinged rock tracks that wandered with a blissful, fluid sense of curiosity.
Afterward, AC/DC delivered stone-age hard rock. Loud, dumb and occasionally effective, the band closed the first night of Coachella 2015 with gnarly riffs, a rumbling bottom end and Angus Young solos galore. Within songs about rocking hard, going to hell, killing for hire and riding a train while "living on ecstasy," five men roared their way through songs that listeners of all ages have internalized — whether they wanted to or not.
On the same stage Saturday night, Jack White delivered a more nuanced and vital version using similar building blocks, capped by an undeniably powerful take on his former band White Stripes' song "Seven Nation Army." Fellow blues and history advocate Benjamin Booker used a similar tack earlier in the day: While elsewhere on the field musicians were crafting alien tones with miraculously sophisticated instruments, Booker harnessed an Epiphone hollow-body guitar and went to work.
The blues-soul Alabama Shakes teased tracks from their forthcoming album, "Sound and Color," offering a shot of evidence to confirm the advance enthusiasm when lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard hit the climax to "Don't Wanna Fight." A slow-burning track with an insistent funk vibe, it presented a groovier sound for the band, one that drove passers-by to full-on dance mode.
As the sun was setting Sunday, EDM producer
In a bit of an unfortunate conflict Sunday, two of the festival's most prominent female voices, Jenny Lewis and Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds, played at the same time. In a roster starved for gender variety, that was a drag. Still, Lewis tried to connect with her peer between songs. Right after Marina had sung her kiss-off about being a "Bubblegum Bitch," Lewis screamed from the neighboring Outdoor stage, "What's up, Marina?!" She and the Diamonds, didn't hear, of course. They were lost in music.
For all the festival's physical changes, though, one truth remained that's often overlooked when looking at the festival's success from a financial perspective: In every direction, those looking for it can find evidence of Coachella's cultural importance. Within these (ultra-secure) walls, dreams were realized, lifetime memories made. First kisses, chance encounters, overwhelming sounds — it all combined to deliver as many kinds of revelation as there were people. Lives won't be the same come Monday.
At $375 for a general admission ticket, it's an expensive proposition, yes, but like any city, its population is not as well-heeled as the swank VIP and deluxe areas would suggest. The pitch is filled with enclaves, mini neighborhoods, commercial zones. At any given time dozens of cash-starved kids were lined up around the free-water tanks, filling bottles and racing back into the music. The Rose Garden may have had the feel of an open-air Beverly Hills (meat) market, but their level of fun looked no greater than the clumps of kids lounging and eating nachos between tents and toilets among the general population.
What I saw wasn't only the 1-percenters sipping craft cocktails, though there was a lot of that. I saw bliss unfolding everywhere. With looks of gleeful excitement, a wide-eyed generation of kindred spirits packed the Sahara Tent and raged to the rumbling bass of French electronic iconoclast Deorro, bounced to the overdrive beats of Serbian progressive house DJ Dirty South and lost their minds on the Outdoor Stage for Axwell / Ingrosso.
FOR THE RECORD
April 13, 11:41 a.m.: In an earlier version of this story the name of the electronic artist Deorro was misspelled as Deeoro, and his background was mischaracterized as French. He is Mexican American and from West Covina.
These mile-a-minute thrills are what define Coachella. If I'm a kid, I'm already saving up for next year and texting all my friends to do the same. If I'm a parent who paid witness, I'm more comfortable than ever.
Well-policed and organized, the festival this year moved closer toward what seems to be its ultimate goal: to produce the most awesome cultural playground, within which kids of all ages can thrive and pursue a weekend of unfettered joy.
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