Closing day at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was already in its earliest hours when Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name the Weeknd, shared a new outlook on his experience this year.
“When I said last Saturday that it was the greatest night in my life, well, I take that back. Tonight is the greatest night in my life,” the alt-R&B singer announced toward the end of his set, which closed out Saturday’s main-stage offerings.
The reason? Kanye West.
In what was both the most closely guarded secret and best surprise of this year’s festival — sorry, Madonna (who appeared with Drake last week) — West appeared during the Weeknd’s performance and put on an exhilarating mini-set that included hits “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Black Skinhead” and his latest single, “All Day.”
FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2015
Moments like these have turned Coachella’s dual-weekend approach into a game of endless comparison. Yet as the Goldenvoice-promoted festival closed its 16th year on Sunday (its fourth as a consecutive-weekend event), it’s become more apparent that an event as popular and well organized as Coachella can go whichever direction it pleases and let the fans decide.
When gates opened Friday morning, early arrivals enjoyed a relaxed tone for the festival’s second weekend. Traffic was essentially nonexistent and heading into the grounds was a breeze, a trend that continued each day.
At any given point during the second weekend, hardly anything was out of place on the sprawling grounds of the Empire Polo Club. From the guards checking wristbands to the stagehands to the artists themselves — everything stayed in sync.
The nearly 100,000 ticket buyers who descend upon Indio each year expect this kind of efficiency — and they should, considering passes start at $375 and VIP access reaches into the thousands — and Goldenvoice has worked to make the festival the preeminent destination for music lovers and artists.
With nearly 200 acts over three days and a landscape of lush greenery and trippy art installations, it’s easy to get lost in the utopia — regardless of which weekend you attend.
Those “only at Coachella” moments, like West’s appearance, were in abundance during Weekend 2, however. DMX popped up during DJ Snake’s set in the Sahara Tent, Ciara debuted a dance track with R3hab, Tinashe sang with Ryan Hemsworth, and word spread pretty fast that Beyoncé was among those who saw sets from Tyler the Creator and FKA Twigs.
Highlights from the festival’s scheduled performers were also plentiful.
Vic Mensa worked hard to prove he’s a rising rap star to watch, and buzzy singer-songwriter George Ezra made a great debut after an illness sidelined him; Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires churned out breathtaking vintage soul, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier flourished beyond his monster smash “Take Me to Church,” and enigmatic British collective Jungle delivered an electrifying set of electro-soul, funk and disco. And that’s not covering headliners AC/DC, Jack White or Drake.
And for those more concerned with the amenities than the music, there was enough to satisfy them too.
A lot has been said about the influx of high-priced premium options that can turn the Coachella experience into a three-day vacation with VIP amenities on par with a five-star resort. And for some, that extra comfort is paramount.
When L.A. native Ivan Cruz came to his first Coachella in 2013, he was one of thousands who stayed on-site at the adjacent campgrounds. This year he again chose to camp, but this he spent more than $2,000 for a teepee-style tent at the festival’s nearby Lake El Dorado campground and two general admission passes (the 16-foot diameter set up came with cots, sleeping bags and a 24-hour concierge service and was footsteps away from a sparkling lake).
“I get to experience the festival more. It’s different from a hotel. It’s so scenic, and it’s right here,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s quiet and peaceful. And it’s nice to have no lines to wait in.”
This year even those who didn’t splurge on upgrades got a taste of a premium experience.
More than 300 permanent, flushing toilets were built on-site ahead of this year’s festival. Credit cards were now accepted at all the food, beverage and retail counters. Free WiFi access was also available in beer gardens (and VIP areas too), to better accommodate fans’ ability to upload copious selfies. Artisanal and specialty food options were expanded as well.
Still, despite Coachella’s efforts toward efficiency, the occasional complication is inevitable. Heat was punishing most of the weekend, rarely dipping below the high 90s during peak hours. And there are those festivalgoers who push the limits too far.
Arrest numbers for this weekend weren’t immediately available, but approximately 93 people were arrested on suspicion of offenses mostly related to alcohol and drug possession during Weekend 1, according to authorities.
“This one I would absolutely say is more [mellow],” said Sgt. Dan Marshall, spokesman for the Indio Police Department. “If you notice last weekend, of the arrests only two were related to a physical assault. For 100,000 people over three days — four if you count the [camp] load-in … it’s amazing.
“This weekend has been literally the same.”