Coachella’s second hottest ticket? The Palm Springs Air Museum

In a territory better known for low-slung homes and sparkling pools, the Palm Springs Air Museum focuses on aircraft of World War II. This week, it also hosts Coachella parties featuring cutting-edge acts.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

If the peak-hour Coachella crowds can sometimes feel like a war zone, they still won’t compare with the ambience awaiting fans at two of the music and arts festival’s pre-parties.

The Palm Springs Air Museum has emerged as the (second) hottest ticket in town during Coachella week, on the strength of two massive off-site, Goldenvoice-sanctioned concerts held amid the vintage aviation equipment and military artifacts.

If your aesthetic tastes extend to both Jamie XX’s moody house music and World War I-era “trench art” made from recovered shrapnel, this is the week you’ve been waiting for.


“This is going to expose the museum to a lot of folks who would probably seldom come in here,” said Fred Bell, the museum’s managing director. “It’s an industrial setting that lends itself to these kind of events, and if it gets some people interested in airplanes, it’s a win-win.”

The Thursday showcase highlights the lineup of the U.K. label Young Turks, an imprint of behemoth-indie XL, which will drop in Jamie XX, Drake-beloved crooner Sampha and the ambitious club-music producer Four Tet among the fighter planes of yore (techno producer Ben UFO, Oakland rapper Kamaiyah, Francis and the Lights, and the French hip-hop group PNL round out the bill).

The following night, the widely acclaimed DJ/producers Dixon and Solomon go back-to-back on a bill of sweat-soaked underground club music presented by A Club Called Rhonda and Sound nightclub’s Framework series.

The museum, which opened in 1996, first dipped into the Coachella-crowd scene last year when it hosted an event for Splash House, a Goldenvoice-presented, EDM-focused multi-site festival that proved music fans do have an interest in Palm Springs attractions beyond the polo fields and the hotel pool. “That was super positive for us. We’re a museum of living history. We’re not out to just teach historical facts,” Bell said.

And modern electronic music concerts are an atypical but ingenious complement to the museum’s vast array of mid-century aircraft. Fans who come back for some non-music programming on April 22 can even take a spin a Vietnam War-era attack helicopter (they can’t drop you off at the festival, alas, much as it would be nice to skip the Coachella lines in a Cobra AH-1F Bell).

As Coachella (and Stagecoach, and now perhaps Desert Trip) become a year-round musical lifestyle in the valley, don’t be surprised to see more artists and promoters engage with local — and sometimes overlooked — Palm Springs and Joshua Tree-adjacent sites.

“We’ve watched the community transition into a younger crowd that’s much more interested in arts and culture,” Bell said. “It was more of a spring-break scene in the ‘80s. But people are coming to understand that Palm Springs has hidden gems. Look at something like [the art exhibit] Desert X, and you can see Coachella’s influence expanding all over the valley.”

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