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After a year's wait, Beyoncé fans brace for the singer's Coachella set

After a year's wait, Beyoncé fans brace for the singer's Coachella set
Beyonce performs at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Feb. 12, 2017. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

This year the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has a new nickname: Beychella.

Unofficial rechristening aside, the anticipation for Beyoncé's debut at the two-weekend, Goldenvoice-produced desert blowout has been clear for almost a year.

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Shortly after it was revealed early last year that Beyoncé would become the first woman to headline the fest in about a decade, the world found out the pop star was pregnant — with twins.

When she pulled out under doctor's orders, promising instead to come back the following year, both festival organizers and ticket buyers faced a rare dilemma. Organizers needed to find a replacement — they secured Lady Gaga — and fans needed to decide whether they still wanted to make the trek to Indio.

There was a 12% dip in the pricing of tickets on the secondary market after Beyoncé dropped out, according to TicketIQ, which tracks ticket sales on the primary and secondary resale markets. But the demand for Coachella outweighs any single act, as evidenced by the festival's ability to largely sell out before its lineup announcement.

Even without the world's most recognizable superstar, Coachella had no problem drawing 125,000 attendees for each of its two weekends last year and the 2018 edition was again a near-instananeous sell-out.

With a capacity crowd almost guaranteed, and with hotel prices in the surrounding region generally a few hundred dollars more than they were on Friday or Sunday, the questions surrounding this year's Coachella — a largely apolitical event that pairs music with high-end food and larger-than-life art installations — were focused on the act's biggest celebrity. Will she reunite with her old group, Destiny's Child? Will she bring out husband Jay-Z? Or will she use Coachella as an opportunity to release new music?

Fans far from Indio were paying attention, made easier by the fact that Coachella streams many of its first-week performances online, and Beyoncé's late Saturday evening slot was also set to be broadcast via YouTube.

"This is the most important set in her career," said Cornelius Lyons, founder of popular Beyoncé fan site BeyReleases, 17, of Memphis, Tenn. He's streaming the performance at home and readying coverage for his followers. "Considering that last year was her 20th anniversary [as a recording artist], I think this performance will be a celebration of her career."

Still, with baseline tickets priced this year at $429 and about $1,000 for VIP add-ons, going to Coachella largely for Beyoncé was a hefty investment. So perhaps it's no surprise that the effect of Beyoncé was felt beyond just her booking. There was something of a "Beyoncé effect" present throughout the weekend.

It was most closely seen in the singer's young protégés Chloe x Halle, who kicked off the day many festivalgoers referred to as "Beyday." The dynamic sister duo, signed to Beyoncé's Parkwood Entertainment imprint, feel like descendants of Destiny's Child with their bouncy anthems crafted from the viewpoint of young black women, and their set was filled with the same sass and vigor that made their mentor compelling as a girl group ingenue in the late '90s.

Beside SZA's unapologetic stories of black womanhood, Sudan Archives' grit and the ferocious sensuality of Hayley Kiyoko and Jorja Smith, Beyoncé led a bill that was richer in its inclusivity of female, queer and minority artists.

"The bill was worth it for me outside of Beyoncé. Sza's is here, Daniel Caesar is here. Cardi B. People who are having great years," said Brandon Hayes, a fan who traveled from Atlanta to attend the festival. "Looking at the pop charts it made sense that the bill had more R&B and hip-hop. It makes up for not having her last year."

While some fans opted out last year, pawning tickets to eager buyers, others decided the show would go on — knowing that like Beyoncé, they too would return next year.

"I'm glad I still came. The energy here is crazy, and I got an introduction to artists I wouldn't have seen otherwise," Hayes said of last year's Coachella.

Hayes, like many, made his decision to come to his first Coachella strictly because of Beyoncé's booking and returned this year to see the singer.

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Brittaney Belyeu sold her ticket last year and waited. "Coachella is an experience. Ticket price isn't a factor for me, but I really wanted to see her here so I waited," she said.

Beyoncé's performance is also a historic one for the festival.

She's only the third female-centric act to headline Coachella, after Gaga and Björk in 2002 and 2007. Beyoncé is also the first woman of color to top the bill, and she's spent the current act of her career pushing the envelope with provocative, genre-blurring projects.

Her recent albums — 2016's "Lemonade" and her 2013 self-titled surprise release — were extravagant affairs with highly stylized visual components and songs that saw her eschew the carefully crafted veil she's long operated under. Because she's lived on display for much of her life, she's mastered the art of moving in secrecy, placing even more intrigue on her celebrity.

Still, making the trek to the desert to see the singer — who is set to go on tour this summer with Jay-Z — wasn't enough for everyone.

"Initially I was all ready to see Beyoncé at what would have been my first and probably last Coachella," said Jeremy Perkins, an L.A. photographer who stayed home.

"I'm not big on large festivals, and I would've been going primarily to see her. When it came down to it, I know the livestream is incredible and I can save my money to see her on tour. I'll be watching, though, from the comfort of my living room."

For more music news follow me on Twitter:@GerrickKennedy

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