For a big swath of last year's Coachella, I followed around the young Kentucky rock band Sleeper Agent as they made their festival debut. They weren't an especially hyped or sonically au courant act, just a charismatic, road-dogging power-pop group on a slow ride up from the hometown dive circuit into national tours. They had a midday slot, a few powerful backers (like their manager, the son of music mogul Irving Azoff), and they seemed like a perfect band to trail to find out what it feels like to dip a toe into the warm pool of Coachella fame.
And in the hours leading to the fest, it really was the Dream — or at least the suggestion of the Dream. Walking into a mansion used by Lacoste and told you can take whatever high-end clothing you want, by virtue of being cool for that weekend. Being shuttled to radio station performances in your publicist's black convertible. Fashion-magazine photographers flagging you down for portraits. Splaying out by the pool of your borrowed mansion within earshot of the festival.
The one thing I kept thinking as their set time approached was that all of the perks of being a Coachella band are kind of destabilizing. A week before, they were subsisting on gas station snack food and sleeping on whatever floor would have them for the night. Between weekend sets, they had to haul off to Texas to play a slew of random shows outside the fest's radius clause because — as the adage goes — if you're not playing, you're paying.
But for now, they were tasting, in real time, the life that "Making It" affords you in pop music. The band didn't seem overly impressed by all the promo-junket glad-handing or the free stuff. I got the sense the six members really just enjoyed one another's company and the wobbly optimism that comes from being creative and adored for a living. But I suspected somewhere underneath they were beginning to ask the impossible question — is this all going to stay? Forget the clothes and booze and radio interviews. How long will the world want my songs enough to let me do just this, every day?
I don't suppose any musician this side of Paul McCartney can ever give you a definite answer for that one.
Unless you're Justin Bieber and Usher finds you on YouTube and grooms you for superstardom before your voice drops, success in music doesn't really have a pivot point where you can finally breathe easy. It's a steady collection of dashed hopes levied with small things going right — a good opening slot, a song placement in a film, a show where the chemistry unexpectedly clicked. Coachella is a huge thing going right for a band, and even at a brunchtime set, the band played to the few hundred fans there with hair-swishing, throat-ripping aplomb.
A few months later, I'd heard that the band's guitarist Tony Smith and singer Alex Kandel got engaged. I can't imagine a more perfect young-rocker couple. The Coachella sun can make you fall in love. But it can also remind you that come Sunday, it ends. And then you have to see what you've built in the meantime.