Goldenvoice’s Paul Tollett on Coachella 2022: ‘This one was harder on me than usual’

A man in a black shirt and cap stands in front of a mosaic of palm trees and green lawn.
After two years of COVID-related cancellations, “It crossed our minds: Is anyone going to come back?” said Paul Tollett, president and chief executive of Coachella promoter Goldenvoice.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

As the opening weekend unfolded at the most famous music festival in the world, the pressure on promoter Paul Tollett could still be felt backstage in Indio, Calif.

In the artist compound at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Tollett, president and chief executive of Goldenvoice, ended Saturday night collapsed into an easy chair in his office trailer. Dressed in his usual jeans and black Dodgers cap, he sat beneath a ceiling fan and was becoming increasingly horizontal by the moment, as if the weight of the last two years of coronavirus delays, cancellations and controversies hadn’t yet lifted.

Things had gone well so far, with good weather (mostly below 90 degrees), a trouble-free opening day and a joyous headline set Saturday from Billie Eilish just an hour before. Tollett was happy but clearly tired, more soft-spoken than ever.


He still sounded like a fan, mentioning the Friday afternoon surprise set by Arcade Fire he watched with his 20-something daughter — “We had such a great time” — and stepping into the Sonora tent for space-rockers Spiritualized. “I walked in and I’m like, ‘What a vibe!’”

On a nearby couch was Tim Armstrong, singer-guitarist for the band Rancid and a longtime friend to Goldenvoice, which shares Armstrong’s roots in the California punk rock scene. “You have so much going on, I don’t know how you do it,” Armstrong said, leaning forward. Armstrong has performed at Coachella seven times over its first two decades, both with Rancid and as a guest to other artists, including reggae icon Jimmy Cliff. “I know festivals. This is the best one.”

A male singer in a spangled jumpsuit performs onstage
Harry Styles performs at Coachella on April 15.
(Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for Coachella)

Coachella has seen many highs and lows since its financially stressed debut in 1999, and has earned renown not just for its unmatched profitability, but for its curation of forward-leaning rock, hip-hop, dance music and increasingly, high-profile pop acts and Latin music. But just after celebrating 20 years as an essential music event in the desert, Coachella was forced to cancel its 2020 edition due to the coronavirus. In time, the 2021 festival was also canceled.

“This one was harder on me than usual,” says Tollett, following two years of lineup switches, cancellations and an unprecedented tidal wave of refunds.

“We refunded two Bonnaroos,” he says, using the rival Manchester, Tenn., music festival’s 80,000 annual attendees as one measure. “I’ve seen big ticket counts go on sale, and it’s fun to watch that graph go up: ‘Wow, look how fast it’s selling!’ I had never seen the opposite with refunds. So it crossed our minds: Is anyone going to come back?”


Like Coachella, Stagecoach’s return follows two years of cancellations due to COVID. Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood and Luke Combs are the headliners.

April 27, 2022

When the 2022 edition was finally announced in January, both weekends sold out their daily capacity of 125,000 — at prices ranging from $449 for general admission to $1,119 for VIP — but the long disruption led to abrupt changes at the top of the bill. The original 2020 lineup of Rage Against the Machine, Frank Ocean and Travis Scott, subject of multiple lawsuits over his role in the Astroworld festival disaster, was scrapped. Eilish subbed for Ocean, who is scheduled to headline 2023. Rage was replaced by Harry Styles, the English pop star whom Tollett had seen perform for the first time this year.

“When [Rage] pulled out, I let a day go by and didn’t think about it,” says Tollett. “I just let it sit there for a second. I figured people have been waiting forever for the lineup already, what’s another day? I came back kind of mellow and the Harry thing worked out. We got a really good response on the poster reveal. People seemed to have been waiting a long time for some good news.”

Then, in early April, Kanye West, who was booked to close the festival on Sunday, dropped out, amid erratic behavior in his personal and public life. “I’m good with Kanye,” Tollett says of Ye’s exit. “I Zoomed with him a couple days prior, and I think it was a good decision for him.”

A male singer performs onstage
The Weeknd performs at Coachella 2022.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

When Ye bailed, manager Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, who reps acts including Doja Cat, Swedish House Mafia and the Weeknd, rang up Tollett. “Abel [Tesfaye, a.k.a. the Weeknd] and Sal called and said, ‘What do you need?’” recalls Tollett. “I said, ‘I actually don’t know yet. Right now I’m a little stunned with Kanye leaving. I’ve got to think what to do here.’”

Swedish House Mafia was already booked for the fest, and had recently collaborated with the Weeknd in the studio. It was decided to pool their efforts into a special performance.


“When all these headliners changed, it was hard, I won’t lie,” says Tollett. “But it’s also just part of what you do. Don’t get upset. Just make a change, you know?”

A slew of acts have canceled tour dates as COVID cases rise once again, casting a pall over what was shaping up to be a record-setting concert season.

April 26, 2022

After that final headliner was locked in, the New York Post’s Page Six reported tensions between Goldenvoice and the Weeknd, alleging the singer demanded the same fee as Ye and threatened to walk.

Tollett denies there was any payment conflict, or even a discussion about it. He says he eventually learned the rumor was started by the manager of a rival act who wanted the same slot and payday. (He won’t name the artist.) He took it as a personal vote of confidence when the Weeknd hit the stage on that first Sunday and told the crowd: “Coachella, you know how much I love you? I always got your back when you need me.”

Two women and a man posed backstage at a music festival.
YouTube Chief Executive Susan Wojcicki, musician Michelle Zauner, a.k.a. Japanese Breakfast, and Paul Tollett at Coachella 2022.
(Roger Kisby / Getty Images for YouTube)

Assembling the right mix of Coachella-worthy headliners after two years of COVID-19-related chaos was just one element of uncertainty facing Tollett.

When the 2022 festival was announced, Goldenvoice mandated that attendees would be required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. “We really believed that was the right decision,” he says. The same requirements were announced for Coachella’s country music sister event, Stagecoach, beginning this Friday.


Then a friend gave Tollett a ticket to the Feb. 13 Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. More than 70,000 people attended.

“I got there and no one was wearing a mask in the place. No one. So I took mine off,” he says. He soon decided to announce that things at Coachella and Stagecoach would be “back to normal.”

Fans and artists were thrilled to be back at the nation’s preeminent music festival, despite (or because of) the lack of COVID safety protocols.

April 19, 2022

COVID-19-related deaths in the state have continued to drop sharply, according data from the California Department of Public Health, leading to the removal of many local and statewide safety measures.

“I wanted to be honest [with attendees] that everywhere they turned, it wasn’t going to be on lockdown, because it’s not anymore anywhere. Especially in the desert, in the Inland Empire, it’s just not,” says Tollett. “I didn’t want someone thinking that it was going to be on lockdown and then be caught short. Maybe don’t come if you’re afraid.”

(The Desert Sun reported a 77% increase in cases in nine cities across the Coachella Valley in the week that included the fest’s opening weekend.)

Music fans in blue wigs watch a singer perform onstage.
Karol G fans cheer her set at Coachella on April 17.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The pandemic impacted the festival in other ways. All the usual partners that provide sound, lights, toilets, fencing and more were still standing, but many had lost key personnel and equipment. Also affected were the “supply chain, buses, anything trucking related. We felt it. Things were slow. We were waiting for parts.”

In many ways, Coachella is a different festival than when it began in 1999, but Tollett says complaints that it’s become overly fixated on pop music ignore a deepening commitment to international sounds, from the norteño band Grupo Firme from Mexico to the darkwave pop of Molchat Doma from Belarus.

On the main stage, Colombian pop-reggaeton star Karol G performed in her signature long, Crayola-blue hair, and many fans (of all genders) in the crowd wore matching blue wigs. The international lineup has meant soaring streaming numbers for Coachella on YouTube in Latin America and in Asia for artists from Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.

“The future’s definitely open-ended,” Tollett says.

Even so, some details just can’t be controlled.

“We’ve had three years to prep for this show and doors opened 20 minutes late,” he says with a laugh. “That just shows you how hard it is to get things together.”