Coachella 2011: Jeff Goldblum (yes, Jeff Goldblum) and his jazz orchestra shock the campground

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On a day that boasted performances from Foals and Arcade Fire,the shaggy-haired camper sporting dingy, pink angel wings never expected to be gobsmacked by Jeff Goldblum banging on a baby grand. But around 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nova Scotia native Jonathan Murphy, 30, witnessed the actor’s guerrilla-style piano performance unfolding right in front of him on a small portable stage near the festival entrance. He and the throngs of sunscreen-slathered tent folk never saw it coming.

‘Wow, if Jeff Goldblum plays ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the piano right now, I just might kill myself,’ Murphy said. ‘That would truly be the pinnacle of life.’


Up until the time the actor hopped onstage with his five-piece band, most festival-goers hadn’t even fathomed the words ‘Jeff Goldblum’ and ‘Coachella’ in the same sentence. That was exactly what website Funny or Die was thinking when it hatched a plan to trot out the actor for a surprise performance on the campground. For a full 90 minutes he and his band -- the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra -- would commandeer the campground. The plan: to film a mockumentary about the actor’s first -- legendary -- Coachella set. With one minor catch.

Photos: Faces of Coachella 2011

‘It’s not even inside Coachella,’ said Funny or Die producer Allison Hord. ‘It’s on this cheap wedding stage on the campground with people walking by wondering what the .... is Jeff Goldblum doing at Coachella.”

Recently, the comedy video website has tapped behemoth festivals like Bonnaroo and South By Southwest as fertile ground for music-inspired comedy. Last month, the website launched a Web series from the Austin, Texas, festival with comedic actress Jenny Pierson conducting more than a dozen comedy sketch interviews with high-profile bands like Weezer, No Age and the Cult. Naturally, the next target had to be Coachella. ‘This is just an amazingly weird opportunity to combine humor with a music festival. If nothing else, the campers will get a kick out of it,’ Hord said.

Though the audience wasn’t in on the joke Saturday, most bystanders offered up the desired brow-furrowing reaction for Funny or Die’s cameras.

‘Is that ... Jeff Goldblum?,’ asked one husky, shirtless camper. Stopped dead in his tracks, the man squinted and visored his left hand over his eyebrows to ensure he wasn’t seeing a mirage.

Images from the 2011 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival

Goldblum sported a head of buzzed, gray hair and it took many people a minute to equate the 58-year-old man on the piano with the man who played a quick-witted brainiack in epic flicks such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Jurassic Park.’ Of course, all it took was a few words of his deep, deadpan voice to give him away.

Poised in the sun, Goldblum’s orchestra delivered a smooth stable of undulating jazz standards, while cameras and iPhones swirled like sharks.

‘Is there some kind of forbidden dance you can do to this song?’ asked Goldblum. ‘Then do it.’

Goldblum’s surprise set confirmed a universal Coachella truth. No matter how hard you try, there are certain moments that you can’t plan with Coachooser. Sometimes the good stuff just finds you.

‘This pretty much made my entire weekend,’ said law student Chris Murtagh of Ireland, enjoying his second time at Coachella since the festival began in 1999. ‘Never thought I’d come out here and run into the Jeff Goldblum Jazz Band Experience.’


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-- Nate Jackson