What we learned from the first weekend of Coachella 2022
Coachella’s first weekend is in the books.
The desert mega-festival returned to Indio’s sprawling Empire Polo Club on Friday for the first time since 2019, putting dozens of acts — including headliners Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and the pairing of Swedish House Mafia and the Weeknd — in front of an estimated 125,000 fans over a tightly packed three-day schedule due to play out all over again this coming weekend.
The Times’ Mikael Wood and Suzy Exposito report live from the 2022 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.
Given the two years of repeated postponements and cancellations that got us here, it wasn’t surprising to see how pumped people were to be back at this most storied of music festivals. The prevailing mood was a kind of mellow euphoria even when the wind kicked up enough dust to obscure the surrounding mountains (and even when a child’s-size poke bowl could run you more than 20 bucks).
For Goldenvoice, the L.A.-based concert promoter that puts on the show, Coachella’s successful comeback is, of course, a welcome payday. But in its two decades, the much-scrutinized fest has accumulated a sense of cultural importance that means what happens at Coachella tends not to stay at Coachella. Here are five takeaways from Weekend 1:
1. Virus? What virus?
Coachella 2020 was one of the first large-scale live events to fall prey to COVID-19, but two years later the pandemic hardly seemed to leave a mark on the festival. Goldenvoice required no proof of vaccination to attend, nor were masks required, or even seriously encouraged, on the grounds. (Orville Peck, the country singer who never goes without a fringed, Lone Ranger-style mask, was one of the few people seen covering his face.) Time will tell whether all those jam-packed sets inside the Sahara tent turn out to have been superspreader events. For now, though, it’s clear that music fans have decided that normalcy is upon us.
2. But masks aside, it’s safety first in the pit.
In the wake of November’s Astroworld tragedy — Travis Scott’s role in which presumably cost him his planned headlining performance at Coachella — every music fest has become a stress test for renewed efforts regarding crowd safety. Artists including Eilish and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler interrupted performances throughout the weekend to direct concert staff toward people who appeared to be in trouble; security guards handed out free water bottles to thirsty fans on numerous occasions. No major medical emergencies appear to have gone down, nor anything like the horrific violence that claimed Drakeo the Ruler’s life at December’s Once Upon a Time in L.A. festival.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival took a two-year break because of COVID-19, but it’s BACK. We talk about one of the most important music shindigs on Earth.
3. I hope you like our new material.
The intense media coverage of Coachella has always made it a useful launching pad for acts with new projects to promote, and that seemed especially true this year thanks to pent-up demand. Arcade Fire was there (with only a day’s notice) to play tunes from an LP it has coming next month; Swedish House Mafia performed two days after the release of its latest album. Styles played two never-before-heard songs from his upcoming “Harry’s House,” while Doja Cat did a new song she recorded for Baz Luhrmann’s buzzy “Elvis” biopic. And then there was Megan Thee Stallion, who lit up an unnamed nemesis with a savage new diss track.
4. The ’90s revival is still going strong.
Styles brought out Shania Twain to sing her pop-country classics “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and “You’re Still the One”; Eilish brought out Damon Albarn of Blur to do “Feel Good Inc” by his Gorillaz side project. And a set by film composer Danny Elfman — shirtless and extremely ripped at age 68 — featured his deathless theme from “The Simpsons.” But even youngsters were looking back to the decade: Phoebe Bridgers played hushed emo-folk with strong echoes of Elliott Smith, while Beabadoobee expertly channeled the sweet-and-sour fuzz-pop of Veruca Salt and Velocity Girl.
5. Indie schmindie.
Coachella came up as an alt-rock festival with an arm’s-length relationship to Top 40 pop. No longer: Watching Styles lead a massive singalong through his old boy band One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” — and doing it only an hour or so after Justin Bieber had made a surprise appearance with the R&B singer Daniel Caesar — you realized how completely the snobby old barriers have been dismantled.
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