Every spring, the entire Coachella Valley turns into one big after-party.
The popularity of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (and its country cousin Stagecoach) had a transformative effect on the region’s nightlife and hospitality industry, jolting a scene best known for LGBT theme parties, modernist architecture and Rat Pack nostalgia into a global music destination.
So where should Rolling Stones fans go if they want to tie one on after this weekend’s Desert Trip? And how are the iconic Palm Springs nightspots preparing for them?
Given the older-skewing talent at Desert Trip, which includes sets from the Stones, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and more, the fest isn’t coming with quite the same all-consuming gyre of EDM hot tubs and vodka-branded Instagram tableaux as its springtime peers. Veterans of Coachella’s skipping-the-fest-but-crashing-the-pool-party circuit will note the lack of a Neon Carnival, Lacoste house or other such similar Kardashian-worthy klatches all weekend.
But that doesn’t mean that the scene around the fest will be sedate.
Back when contemporary desert festivals like Splash House were just highly chlorinated twinkles in a young raver’s eye, Palm Springs was still a fantastic place for music fans to cut loose. If any town is capable of handling tens of thousands of actual grownups cracking open that second bottle of Chardonnay , this is it.
In fact, where kids travel from across the country to attend the annual youth-music frenzy of Coachella each spring and infuse millions of dollars into the local economy, the parents attending Desert Trip will be enjoying Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley not as a road trip but as a vacation, says Michael Bracken, managing partner and chief economist for Development Management Group, which consults for Desert Trip promoter Goldenvoice.
"The length of stay in the Coachella Valley by the average attendee will be about one night longer on average when compared to Coachella or Stagecoach," wrote Bracken via email, adding that attendees will likely also spend money on golf outings, dining, casino gambling and shopping. The average stay for Coachella is three days, and two for Stagecoach, said Bracken.
For Desert Trip week, most of the big Coachella party spots are expecting capacity crowds for both weekends.
“When they announced the dates, we sold out for the first weekend in 24 hours,” said Bryan Terzi, director of marketing for the Sydell Group, which operates the Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs. The Saguaro is known for its lively poolside scene during Coachella, and while their event planning is mellower this time around — a vintage car show and classic-rock DJs — they’re watching closely to see how to build a new scene around it.
“If Desert Trip is successful, and I think it will be, we’ll definitely look at more programming around it in the future,” he said.
While Desert Trip’s on-stage talent may uniformly be pushing past 70, Kelly Sawdon, the chief brand officer for Ace Hotels, predicts more of an intergenerational fan base at their property. And while “tropical house” may be more of a property investing strategy than a music genre to many Desert Trippers, the titans of the ’60s and ’70s never lost their luster for a lot millennials.
“It’s going to be a bit of different crowd than Coachella, but we think of it less in terms of demographic than that it’s another crowd of music lovers,” Sawdon said. The Ace’s Palm Springs outpost is one of Coachella’s hottest tickets for hotel rooms and between-set DJ gigs .
“It’s not just boomers. We’re expecting a pretty diverse audience,” Sawdon added.
(For Desert Trip superfans, the Ace might also be the place to catch another glimpse of headliner Neil Young: his daughter Amber Jean Young is throwing an art exhibition with Jenny Sharaf there on Thursday).
For venues that were already here well before the Coachella Valley festival wave, a packed-out Desert Trip crowd is just gravy on an already-bountiful plate of big events.
“It’s been amazing for the whole Valley,” said Lisa Catef, a bartender at Neil’s Lounge, a popular roadhouse and pool hall just a few blocks from the Polo Club in Indio.
The bar is a a big hit during Stagecoach weekend, and Catef said the venue is well-prepared for a wave of like-minded classic-rock revelers. “We booked a shuttle to take people back and forth to the festival,” she said.
Desert Trip’s after-dark set times should be a godsend for fans who don’t want to bake in the famously toasty Coachella sun.
“Old guys like me have a hard time standing for 12 hours,” said Matt Butorac, the assistant maitre’d at Melvyn’s, a beloved old-Palm Springs piano bar that’s been rediscovered by younger festival hipsters hunting down some Rat Pack-era vibes.
And since Desert Trip weekend will be partly devoted to veteran musicians sitting down at a keyboard for some decades-aged rock standards, Butorac said with a laugh, “We’re hoping that some of the talent drops by.”
Additional reporting by Randall Roberts.