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Coachella campers get communal with yoga, haircuts and snowball fights

Randall Roberts
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
Coachella 2015's camping area affords festivalgoers a communal as well as musical experience

Amid the 90,000-plus fans who traveled each weekend to Indio for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were revelers who, as always, flew from across the world to experience a crammed three days of music and community.

The gathering, which concluded yet another victorious two-weekend run Sunday, continued to prove why it's an international draw for the fanciest 1 percent. Dense with fun money, globe-trotters and celebrities filled area hotels, residences and retreats, then zipped around via Uber or SUV.

FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2015

But since the festival's birth in 1999, just as many fellow travelers, such as Nico Garcia and his family, undertake a more humble, sustainable pilgrimage to the festival: Ride in, park, raise a tent and camp.

Like thousands of others, the Garcias waited in line Thursday and got a choice spot in the densely populated camping area. Or at least his wife, their 4-year-old son, sister-in-law and friends did. Unlike the jet-setters, Garcia was still at work and had just his bike.

"They texted me a photo of the spot, and I rolled up on my beach cruiser," said Garcia, relaxing beneath his tent with his son. Garcia's clan lives in nearby La Quinta, where he's a "professional golfer slash caddie" as well as a music fan and camper who more often escapes to California sand dunes for peace than just down the road to the Empire Polo Fields for the opposite.

Drawn by the opportunity to get lost for three days, though, Garcia was among the many fans who flocked to claim one of the thousands of plots, most of which are less than a 10-minute walk from the concert stages.

To respond (and contribute) to the demand, promoter Goldenvoice (which estimated there were more than 20,000 campers) has invested millions of dollars in expanding the offerings within the camping zone, and the result is a 72-hour-plus experiential wormhole. Once a camper is situated for the weekend, gone are worries of getting pulled over on the way home, dealing with Uber surge pricing or doing anything other than crawling into the tent at night's end.

Among the amenities: a morning farmer's market, daily yoga and Pilates, a general store, post office, locksmith, showers and a WiFi connected lounge area. During late-morning crafting sessions, soon-to-be festival partyers made signs and scepter-like navigation sticks to be employed as focal points within Sahara Tent-sized crowds.

The camping area's "town center" was a place where nighttime snowball fights in the desert actually happened; a fenced-in zone was built for the purpose. (Among the rules: "Do not make or eat yellow snow.") Headphone-assisted "silent disco" parties delivered peaceful after-hours outdoor dancing further into the night. Need a haircut or a blowout? Barbers and a beauty bar were busy from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Want to buy a Jack White LP? Third Man Records, the artist's label, parked its traveling record truck in the camp. Dodgeball? Human foosball? Tournaments both weekends yielded victors.

The goal: to offer not only musical experiences but communal ones. Adding to ideas generated from successful European festivals like Glastonbury in England, Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain, and Burning Man in the Nevada desert, Coachella is harnessing the allure of its surroundings and those breezy if dusty desert winds to deliver adventures that aim to be rites of passage.

"We've got 28 festivals to play this year," Dan Snaith, founder of the Canadian beat group Caribou, told me before his Friday night set. In addition to performing at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, they'll play Glastonbury, the Flow Festival in Slovenia, Rock Werchter in Belgium and the Øya Festival in Norway.

This was Caribou's first crack at Coachella, and Snaith was struck most by the vibe, he said. "It's a different cultural experience than other festivals that we get to play in." Electronic dance music, especially, is a whole different animal stateside, he added.

Pilates instructor Paige Kilgore has seen her share of vibe, she said in the exercise area after finishing one of her morning sessions at the campground. She's been guiding classes here for the past three years.

"I've seen the tweeny-bopper denim diapers up to their chest, and I've seen an older crowd that is way more into the music," she said. She's taught unicorns — or at least people dressed like them — new poses and has dealt with her share of unbalanced partyers, yet Kilgore says she's been most surprised by the devotion.

"During a weekend like this, a lot of people think, 'Oh, my gosh, they're going to rage, and people are drunk,'" she said. "And while there is that, a lot of people want to come together and work out, stretch out a little bit because it is such a long day."

As she said this, an amped-up festivalgoer jumped onto her teaching platform, grabbed the microphone and greeted the many passersby. "My name is Sean. I'll be here all week," he said, pretending to be a comedian. "Have a great day. Complimentary drinks are available at the bar."

With that, he handed Kilgore the microphone, left the platform and headed back into the campgrounds.

randall.roberts@latimes.com

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