Those who think the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has lost some of its luster in its 12th year, whether because of sell-out crowds, ticket prices or increased competition in the festival market, have not met college-age Yorba Linda residents Michael Burke and Riley Dahlson. The
two are skilled in the art of trespassing, and after two years of sneaking into the Indio grounds, Coachella — which concludes Sunday night — persuaded them to go legit.
"We owed it to them," said Dahlson, a music fan who shelled out for a ticket that topped $300 after service fees. Then again, the pair may not have had much of a choice. Indio police report that new security measures both low- and high-tech have succeeded so far in protecting the annual event from the ticketing issues and waves of gate-crashers that proved so problematic last year.
Security personnel hired by promoter Goldenvoice said that in some places, fence climbers are greeted with greased chains, and those who make it over may land in a small, quicksand-like trap.
More advanced are the new electronically encrypted wristbands that festivalgoers are required to wear, which have helped security patrol the perimeter, said Indio Police spokesman Benjamin Guitron. "From the law enforcement perspective, it clearly identified people as to where they should be."
Other issues appear to have been successfully tweaked, too. Coachella attendees have long complained of lengthy traffic hold-ups. And although waits to get into the festival reportedly hit two hours, that's an improvement over the tales of backups twice that long last year. Exiting the grounds went more smoothly Friday night as well. Guitron said the parking lots were fully cleared within 90 minutes of the event's 1 a.m. conclusion.
Surely alleviating some headaches was an upswing in the number of shuttle users, as Goldenvoice has more heavily championed the service this year. Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett said 15,000 shuttle passes were sold in advance, compared with just 3,000 last year.
Even as temperatures rose toward 100 degrees Saturday afternoon, most attendees seemed to agree that Coachella had officially rebounded from an off, overcrowded 2010 festival.
Lauren Emily Brown, an 18-year-old from Ventura, said she was happy with Goldenvoice's new safeguarding plans. "I like it a lot," she said.
"Last year, I know a lot of my friends snuck in, and that just kind of [ruins it] for everyone. It's not fair to the people who have spent all this money."
Problems on Friday were relatively minor, Guitron said. Only 20 arrests were made, and all were alcohol- and drug-related. "There were a couple [complaints from] the residents, just trespassing, but nothing — nothing — like it was last year," he said.
The only notable scare occurred Friday night, when Indio's Police and Fire departments were alerted that a woman had attempted to jump off a Ferris wheel, fire battalion chief Daniel Talbot said. A helicopter was called, and Talbot said the "young lady mentally altered on substances" was saved by someone on the Ferris wheel before the helicopter arrived. Both riders were uninjured.
Coachella — a sell-out with about 90,000 people expected per day (including festival staff and security personnel) — has established itself as the premier three-day music event on the West Coast and the unofficial kickoff of the annual summer concert season. Dan Whitford of electro-pop act Cut Copy said onstage Friday that he would never turn down an opportunity to play at Coachella. "It's like an oasis," he said.
Even artists not on the bill couldn't resist making the trek. Former Beatle Paul McCartney, who headlined the festival in 2009, jumped onstage to perform alongside electronica producer Afrojack — as did R&B superstar Usher. Actor Danny DeVito popped onstage with the Aquabats.
The allure of the festival wasn't lost on Mick Jones, who as a founding member of the Clash helped shape and advance British punk. He performed with his re-formed post-Clash band, Big Audio Dynamite.
The Clash always resisted a reunion, but Jones said his Coachella 2010 gig as part of Gorillaz helped persuade him to get Big Audio Dynamite back together. Jones said Coachella's Tollett successfully nudged him last year. "He said, 'Mick, tell me when you want to come back and play. We will always have you.'"
While Big Audio Dynamite is celebrating a return, local band Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All had something of a coming-out party at Coachella. The hip-hop collective played the festival's biggest dance tent in the late afternoon and drew a packed crowd. But the impatient masses, initially curious about the Odd Future hype, began to drift away mid-set, leaving a tent that was suddenly only a little more than half full.
Coachella, after all, with its 120-odd acts, is a place that encourages short attention spans. Or, as Stephen Hoyt of San Diego found, more simple pleasures.
"I'm having a great day," he said Friday. "It's beautiful out. I've seen some great bands, and there are beautiful women everywhere."