Coachella 2011: We come because ‘it’s a gathering of the tribes’

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Early arrivers to the 2011 edition of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival spoke with a tentative air of optimism, hoping the 12th edition of the fest would not be stricken with the overcrowding issues that put a damper on last year’s party. ‘They sold 99,000 tickets this year,’ said one security guard, a number that was surely exaggerated as Coachella architect Paul Tollett has repeatedly noted that his company Goldenvoice is only permitted to allow 90,000 people on the grounds.

But perhaps some fest workers can be forgiven for fearing the worse, as gate-crashers and counterfeiters upped last year’s tally to above 105,000 people. The overcrowding almost persuaded six-time Coachella vet Ed Knowlton of San Diego to skip this year’s edition -- almost. ‘Last year was bad,’ Knowlton said, ‘but this is a gathering of the tribes.’

In an effort to alleviate traffic into the venue, which early Friday had concertgoers reporting that they were backed up for about 90 minutes as they neared the grounds, Coachella organizers have been more adamant in showcasing its shuttle services. This year, said Tollett, 15,000 fans had pre-purchased tickets to take shuttles, whereas in 2010 only 3,000 did.

A shuttle ride from neighboring Palm Desert took about 40 minutes, but those who paid $50 for the ride were dropped off near the venue’s entrance and skirted traffic by taking back routes. ‘Convenience’ was the main reason many on board said they opted for the shuttle. One pair of riders were former gate-crashers who said that after two years of sneaking in they had now gone legit.


‘We felt we owed it to them,’ said Riley Dahlson of Yorba Linda, who was riding the shuttle with his friend Michael Burke. The two were not fence-hoppers or fence-cutters, though. They said that in years past they simply would walk in, ‘waiting for the most inept-looking security guard,’ Dahlson said.

Burke noted that in 2010 security was allowing guests in with day-old ticket stubs, as there was a wristband shortage. He said he rounded up old ticket stubs -- ‘it was like candy,’ he said of the effort to acquire them -- and then would leave the concert grounds and dish them out to his non-paying friends.

New security efforts persuaded the two to pay their way in 2011, as organizers promised to not let customers within a half mile of the venue without a wristband, one that was outfitted with high-tech digital encryption. ‘Once they said you couldn’t get within a half mile, forget it,’ Dahlson said.

Those exiting the shuttle had their wristbands scanned twice -- and checked for tightness once. Police squad cars were waiting outside the shuttle drop-off. Once concertgoers reach festival gates, they must hold their wristband up to a body-length scanner, a thin metallic-looking box that looks a bit like a toy from Disney’s Tomorrowland.

A security guard -- who asked not to be quoted by name, saying he was unsure if he was allowed to speak to the press -- said so far the new technology had presented minimal problems. If a wristband doesn’t scan, concertgoers are immediately led outside to a customer service center, no longer greeted with the wave-in they had in years past.


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-- Todd Martens