Coachella 2017: Your survival guide


Though the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has become a spring tradition, there are still many questions for those preparing to attend the desert festival for the first time. The festival’s website has its list of tips as well as some do’s and don’ts, but here are a few of ours.

There’s a new stage

Everyone welcome the Sonora Stage to the family. Like the Despacio and Yuma tents of recent years, this one will have a genre focus — punk and garage rock — where super-fans can post up for the day, or pass through when they need a bracing blast of guitar noise. It’s by the entrance, and worth a look for sets by Guided by Voices, Downtown Boys and T.S.O.L.

But there are more people

Last year the Indio, Calif., city council approved an expansion of Coachella’s capacity from 99,000 to 125,000, so expect to see a few more tanned, flower-crowned bodies on the grounds.

There’s no secret route to get there

Campground at the Empire Polo Field.
Campground at the Empire Polo Field. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Are you playing Coachella? Are you a charter member of the Empire Polo Club and riding to the festival on your horse? Are you actually Goldenvoice chief Paul Tollett? If not, there is no undiscovered residential side street you can take to beat traffic. Indio knows all your tricks and will thwart you (though we do love taking Hjorth Street just so we can say the name out loud).

Don’t put your wristband on until you’re in the car

We’ve heard of enthusiastic Coachellans donning their microchipped wristbands immediately after getting them in the mail way in advance of the show. Congratulations, now you’re the office goober advertising to all your co-workers that you’re going to be hung over on Monday.

There are real bathrooms for the plebes

The state of Coachella restrooms, circa 2012.
The state of Coachella restrooms, circa 2012. (Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times)

The future is now! Goldenvoice installed 324 indoor, permanent bathroom stalls on the fest’s Terrace section that are accessible to every lowly general admission ticket holder. They’ll probably look like that scene in “Trainspotting” by 5 p.m. Friday. But, hey, progress.

No selfie sticks

Because there’s only so far you can refract your own narcissism back on yourself before you enter a Mobius strip of meta-obnoxiousness.

Reality is preferable to virtual

Last year, Coachella introduced a new virtual reality app that promises to digitally drop fans into the middle of the field in Indio. That may be transcendant for those staying home, but if we see you actually walking around the polo field staring into a Google Cardboard face box instead of talking to your friends, we're going to call Axl Rose back to Indio for a virtual bout of "Get in the Ring."

Have a meeting place

A giant robot sculpture at Coachella in 2014.
A giant robot sculpture at Coachella in 2014. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Cell reception drops to tin-can-and-string-level reliability on the field. So when your friend decides that she isn’t leaving the dance tent if there’s even a shred of possibility that Daft Punk might show up, you’ll be glad you said ahead of time: “OK, meet at the fire-breathing robot mushroom statue.”

It’s OK to admire the local fauna

Coachella couples: If you catch your significant other’s eye wandering to that pack of body-painted rave girls or a dashing young ringer for Nick Cave, let it go. Honestly, would you want to be dating someone who can make it through that field of California suntans without even an aesthete’s appreciation?

Be a gourmand

Noodles from Little Sister, one of the local restaurants appearing at Coachella this year. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Yes, we usually exist solely on a diet of Spicy Pie and Heineken Light all weekend. But with the recent emphasis on high-end options and an al fresco dinner party with tickets at $225 a head, we’re walking that back to say: Treat yourself. The festival itself capably replicates L.A.’s dining scene with outposts from various L.A. eateries, including Little Sister, Badmaash and Bludso’s. (Find a full rundown here. Plus, pro tip: If you’re still scrambling to buy festival tickets, the Outstanding in the Field dining package gets you in the fest and a great meal to boot.)

Dress in layers

Dressing in layers is a good idea. Having a parasol? Even better.
Dressing in layers is a good idea. Having a parasol? Even better. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

By day, Coachella is essentially a lawn-scented fashion runway showcasing the finest in barely there lace and swimwear. Then the sun goes down, and everyone is instantly freezing in their Stevie Nicks hats and bikini tops. When temperatures drop at night, you’ll be thankful you aren’t stuck buying a $50 Marshmello hoodie just to get through the chill.

Bring cash

You’ll feel like a drug kingpin walking around with a bunch of bills tucked in your socks. But the ATM fees are ridiculous, the machines are often on the fritz, and you don’t want to be the guy trying to split a bar tab across a bunch of credit cards with a six-deep line behind you. We love using those four-card mini-billfolds, so all your cash and documents aren’t in one very droppable location.

Speaking of drugs … it's not worth it

Google “Naked Wizard Gets Tazed at Coachella” for all the evidence you need.

Stick to beer

A game of beer pong breaks out just outside the festival in 2013.
A game of beer pong breaks out just outside the festival in 2013. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Yes, we love whiskey. Vodka too. (And tequila. And gin.) But hard alcohol doesn’t come cheap at Coachella, and the bartenders in the liquor tents pour with icy precision. Stick with beer. It’s cheaper, and your mere existence in this heat is burning enough calories to compensate.

Don’t lose your phone

Every year we’re blown away by the iPhone refugee camp that is the Coachella lost-and-found (where, surprisingly, it’s not all unhappy endings.) Still, remember your back pocket won’t do – keep it up front. And if you put your phone in a pocket of your backpack, be sure to wear your pack on the front of your body when you’re mashed in with a big crowd.

Relax a little

A homemade sign encourages a few smiles in 2013.
A homemade sign encourages a few smiles in 2013. (Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times)

Feeling beat and want to skip Radiohead’s sad-dude experimental rock? Having a good talk about the future of California’s water supply in the beer garden and want to tie one on? There’s an old Coachella koan that we made up, and it says, “She who sees everything at Coachella truly saw nothing.” You don’t lose scene points for showing up at 7 p.m. or posting up at the cocktail tent for the afternoon. You paid through the teeth — enjoy your vacation.

You'll see everyone again

Goldenvoice has made the pre-, between- and post-Coachella calendar a veritable feast of sets from all but the biggest headliners. They've always had between-weekend shows, but now there's a veritable second festival happening all over town (we especially like the pre-party sets at the Palm Springs Air Museum). If you're having a crisis of set-time conflicts, just let it go. The band you missed will probably be playing somewhere in L.A. in a few days.

And if you’re not going? FOMO is nothing to fear

Even though all the suddenly ample parking in Silver Lake and Highland Park may indicate otherwise, not everyone is going to Coachella this year. If you couldn’t make the trip this year, the festival’s YouTube channel will be streaming most of the weekend’s offerings, and Sirius XM just launched a Coachella Radio Channel that promises live performances and artist interviews. Just think of the money you’re saving on sunscreen.