Coachella 2011: The pop-up culture of campers

It was 1:30 a.m. at Coachella 2010, and thousands of weary festival-goers waited in long lines of dusty cars to exit the parking area. But just a field away, in the camping zone, hundreds of less-than-sober revelers were partying like the concert never ended. Pushing the Coachella experience deep into the night, they were roller-skating to the sounds of the '70s, starting impromptu soccer games, dancing to a surprise set from one of the day's electronic acts, and sharing drinks in the crisp night air.

Welcome to the Coachella campgrounds, where Indio's midnight noise ordinance is as irrelevant as the need for a designated driver and everyone is your friend.

Once just a patch of grass for tents, Coachella camping has now bloomed into an attraction all its own, complete with after-parties, yoga classes, a farmers market and other attractions that are pulling in revelers who don't even have a sold-out camping pass.

This is no accident, says Paul Tollett, the driving force at Goldenvoice, the L.A.-based concert promotion company that throws the festival.

"We've come up with ideas to just make the camping that much better," he said. "We would like the camping to be just as exciting to go to as the show. That you look forward to that part."

This year, the campgrounds really will be like a festival outside the festival. Returning attractions include the aforementioned roller disco rink, a pinball championship and all manner of ad-hoc sound systems. Daytimes will also see locally grown produce for sale courtesy of Palm Springs' Certified Farmer's Market and the DIY crafting workshop Coachella Art Studios. New additions this year include daily yoga classes and Pink's hot dogs.

Last year, Tollett and the Coachella team introduced car camping, and made it OK to bring in beer. They also made a rule that anyone with a Coachella wristband could now enter the camping zone, and if you could fit in a camping space, you could stay there. Instant party pit.

Frank Mojica, who camped five of the last six years, said that car camping opened up new entertainment possibilities.

"My group used car batteries to power DJ sets for a makeshift dance tent on Thursday night," he said. "Which I think is a perfect example of the creative spirit that attendees bring to camp."

Providing the roller disco will be Down & Derby, the promoters behind a nationwide network of skate and drink parties. Richard Alexander, Down and Derby's co-founder, said that this year they are bringing in DJs Shr3d and Mike Attack from Las Vegas to get the crowd rolling.

Alexander said that, aside from some drunken skate-stealers, "Last year was a huge success, and I have a feeling this year is going to be even better."

Unfortunately for the all-night party animals, the Pure Filth Bassface after-parties, where 10,000 beat freaks danced until 4 a.m. last year, won't be returning. L.A.-based DJs such as Daedelus and Nosaj Thing got the campsite moving last year, but this year have moved on to official sets at the festival.

Tollett said canceling the after-parties was meant to highlight Pure Filth's stage in the festival grounds.

Who knows what else will pop up in its stead? There are a lot of car batteries out there.

Sam XL, who throws the Pure Filth parties, said he was looking forward to a less hectic experience now that he's able to focus on the festival. Still, he said he empathized with campers who wish the after-parties were making a return.

"Trust me, we are [bummed] too, because that's what we do, we do the late-night thing," he said. "But fingers crossed, maybe it'll run next year."

This year, to help prevent hours-long lines, Tollett said they're setting up more entry booths for the cars, as well as setting up shower trucks in each campsite area. And of course, if you really don't want to wait, there will be $5 VIP showers (with power, for those with blow dryers).

The much-touted positive vibe of the camping scene is something that veteran campers consistently cite as the lure that brings them back. For Charlene Volpe of L.A., camping culture was a lifesaver at Coachella 2010; she went without a place to stay and ended up camping with a friend she met on the way.

This year, she organized a Facebook group of likeminded campers and her "Coachella Adoption" group is now 250 strong, with 160 people planning to rendezvous in Indio and drive in to the festival together on Thursday — a whopping 32-car caravan.

Included in her group are Marcus Degas and Zoe Tinsley, who plan to wed at the campsite.

The couple "met at Coachella five years ago, and they were going to get married and then spend their honeymoon at Coachella," Volpe said. "One of the core members of the group … [got] the ability to perform marriages, so he's going to marry them in our campsite."

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