As the first arrivals raced onto the wide-open, perfectly tended pitch on the Empire Polo Field for the first day of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, they were greeted by -- what else? -- a gargantuan caterpillar.
Specifically, it's a sculpture called "Papilio Merraculus" by Poetic Kinetics. Roughly the size of a tract home, it will lord over the field this weekend. (A symbol? Perhaps, but only if it transforms into a butterfly over the next three days.)
Other than that, the arrival process this year felt less like a dash for the party and more a stroll toward a pleasant day in the park.
Those headed in were also greeted by an increasingly streamlined, well-imagined Coachella, one that is increasingly assuming a sort of permanence in the massive desert space. A little village near the entrance features a permanent craft beer structure, rows of gourmand vendors and newly imagined shade areas for daytime lounging. Another more mundane, but absolutely welcome, addition are the standalone, permanent bathrooms -- a big deal when it comes to improving the more disgusting aspects of festival life.
One striking feature: The continued shift toward understated branding techniques that aim to deliver marketing opportunities without resorting to jumbo Doritos stages, a la South by Southwest.
Instead, we have the Heineken House, a grand, modernist structure where beer is celebrated. In case of makeup emergency, a Sephora tent stands at the ready. Looking to update your Samsung phone? There's a tent for that. There's even a JBL Speakers tent in case you were looking to up your system during the festival. The goal, it seems: to further alleviate the discomfort of spending the next 36 hours in a hot desert beneath merciless sun rays and EDM beats.
For the Record, 3:17 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said that the Heineken House and the Sephora and Samsung tents were new this year. They were also at Coachella last year. Also, JBL Speakers appeared as JPL.
April 13, 4:04 p.m.: An earlier version of this post referred to an element of "The Corporate Headquarters" sculpture as "Pona Water." The ad is for Pond Water.
The other sculptures that dot the pitch are as awe-inspiring as that caterpillar, too, especially Derek Doublin and Vanessa Bonet's "The Corporate Headquarters." It's a standalone office building with a huge ad for Pond Water, a "fragrance for hippos." Christian Ristow's EarthMover looks like a combination construction vehicle and alien invader.
And oh, yeah, the music. Early beats have arrived via the young British band Ruen Bros., who offered a strange throwback sound that mixed old school rockabilly and rock and roll with British Invasion tones. Still in their teens, the band seemed too giddy to be on stage. "It's a long way to come from Scunthorpe," said singer Henry Stansall.
Less enthused to be here (at least between songs) was Sean Lennon, whose band the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger opened the Outdoor Theatre. Introducing a song from their new album, he said, "This is called 'Hotel Getty.' It's on our new album, too. You won't like it."
In the Sahara Tent, DJP offered a more optimistic gesture as he spun a great reggae disco version of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." As a rolling groove filled the tent, the first dancer of the first set let loose with some moves.
It's all downhill from here.