Coachella 2011: Paul Tollett on the non-musical changes to expect this weekend -- and a thought or two about 2012

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What began as a music fest has now evolved into a vacation destination, and the 2010 edition of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival was overbooked. Overrun with gate-crashers and holders of counterfeit tickets, what was expected to be a crowd of 75,000 to 80,000 in Indio swelled to what promoter Goldenvoice now estimates at 105,000.

Changes were in order.

‘We put a new fence in last year, and we saw all the chain-link cut all the way around the grounds,’ said Paul Tollett, the festival’s architect and head of Goldenvoice. ‘Then we knew this was serious. We found bolt cutters. Not a couple holes. I mean, Swiss cheese. And we were like, ‘We need to fix this.’ We knew it was bad, but we didn’t know how bad.’

The AEG-owned Goldenvoice has found itself in the last 12 months investing heavily in infrastructure, be it fencing, land and even road construction. If Goldenvoice hasn’t given Indio a complete Disney-like makeover, Tollett has embarked on an ambitious crowd-control mission designed to ensure that the West Coast’s most famous music festival will be a manageable one -- and one that in 2011 will be brighter than ever.

What follows is a look at what to expect when gates open Friday.


More space.‘We picked up a quarter of a million square feet of land,’ Tollett said. ‘We took down the horse stables, laser-leveled the land, put in irrigation -- then seed and sprig -- and now we have more land in the show.’ The new space will accommodate a Ferris wheel, as well as many of Coachella’s food stands. The land Goldenvoice picked up is closer to the dance sets -- on the opposite end of the two main stages -- and will hopefully alleviate the bottlenecks that ensued when guests moved from the large Sahara dance tent across the field to the main stage. One of Tollett’s main takeaways from Coachella 2010 was that ‘too many bodies’ were on the grounds. ‘What this has done is it has made that field more spacious,’ he said. ‘So it should feel more open.’

We’re going to need a bigger road. One of Coachella’s biggest headaches has been traffic, as the desert community of Indio isn’t necessarily one built for a sudden influx of 80,000 people. Goldenvoice helped fund an extra lane to Avenue 50, which borders the grounds. Tollett said Goldenvoice is aiming to fund even more roadways before the 2012 edition. ‘It helps us, and it maybe helps us more than the city,’ Tollett said. ‘Not often do they have it full. They had most of it [two lanes] going down, and there was a quarter of a mile that wasn’t finished. We were like, ‘If we could finish that quarter of a mile, that’d change everything for us.’ ‘

Checkpoints. A major change is the establishment of police checkpoints that are designed to prevent anyone without a ticket from getting within about a mile of the festival grounds. This was largely done to prevent crowding in the parking lot, whether those simply wanted to tailgate or had designs on gate-crashing. ‘Our thought was we just do not want people hanging around there who do not have passes,’ Tollett said. ‘We don’t have any will call on-site. Everything is off-site. Credentials have either been sent, or at a will call [in] Indian Wells.’ Goldenvoice has spent much of the last few months essentially telling those who don’t have tickets to stay home. Those inclined not to heed the advice should know that Goldenvoice has spent ‘hundreds of thousands’ investing in bolt-proof fencing. ‘I never dreamt of owning miles of fence,’ Tollett said. ‘That’s not something I cared about.’ Each wristband is digitally encrypted to prevent counterfeiting, and everyone in a car must be wearing one to pass a checkpoint. If not, you will be turned around.

In case you’re thinking of walking... Gate-crashing is a regular occurrence at music fests around the country these days, and for those thinking of avoiding the police checkpoints by hopping through residential backyards, Goldenvoice is thinking about you too. ‘We’re on top of that,’ Tollett said.

Get cozy with your wristband. In addition to moving away from paperless tickets to a wristband-only event, security will not let customers into the venue unless the wristband is fastened tight enough that it cannot slide off. If it’s deemed too loose, it gets thrown away. Don’t worry -- you’ll get a replacement. ‘Don’t put it on loose,’ Tollett said. ‘If it’s on loose, we’re taking it off and putting a new one on. There will be a whole other section [to deal with] that.’

All of the ticketing plans may be revised for 2012. Tollett said he was caught off-guard when Coachella sold out in six days, as previous fests had been on sale for weeks, and typically sold out days before it began. Since the sellout, Goldenvoice has kept an eye on counterfeit tickets -- photos of which are posted on the Coachella site -- and has also taken note of the number of real wristbands being sold on eBay or Craigslist. Had Tollett had any indication that Coachella would have sold out in six days, he said, ‘We maybe would have made the tickets nontransferable.’

Looking ahead, Tollett said he is investigating options, including tickets that could potentially have the buyer’s name and photo on them. ‘There is something hard about this,’ Tollett said. ‘Some people will buy two or four tickets, or maybe even six, and they do plan to take their friends. They may not know which friends. They just know they’re going and they’re hoping they have a girlfriend in three months. So if you make everyone put the name on the ticket, it changes the flexibility.

‘So that’s hard,’ he continued, ‘but then you see everyone re-selling them.’


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Images: A rendering of the new lighting setup for the Sahara Tent, whose hanging lights will sync up with the music. Credit: The Creators Project; the Coachella grounds map. Credit: Goldenvoice.