Coachella festival takes to the sea

Fans wait for Frank Ocean to perform in the Gobi tent, on the first day of week two of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2012.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Concert promoter Goldenvoice has been expanding its Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival yearly, but few would have guessed that the next move for the Southern California music franchise would stretch its reach from the Colorado Desert to the Atlantic Ocean. This winter the festival, established in Indio in 1999, will take to the seas for the first time via the S.S. Coachella cruise.

The maiden voyage sets sail from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Dec. 16, bringing the Coachella brand to the East Coast and Caribbean, and giving its promoter tent-pole events in both the spring and winter. It’s perhaps the most unexpected venture yet for the promoter, which started at the bottom of L.A.'s gritty punk rock scene in the early ‘80s and is now selling admission to multi-thousand-dollar cabins on a luxury cruise liner.

“It probably seems a little posh, and it’s not the most punk rock thing you could probably do,” said Jason Foster, who manages Brooklyn’s Yeasayer, one of the cruise’s headlining acts.


PHOTOS: Coachella 2012

The music festival at sea will feature 20-plus acts over two December trips, one to the Bahamas and one to Jamaica. Each leg will depart from Fort Lauderdale, and music fans will sail on the Celebrity Cruises charter Celebrity Silhouette, which boasts a grass deck, nine bars, 12 dining venues and room for 2,886 guests.

Headlining artists include Brit-pop band Pulp, noise rock act Sleigh Bells and dance aficionado Girl Talk. “This is a chance to play someplace we’ve never been,” said Foster. “We’ve never tasted cruise ship food, and we’ve never played shuffleboard with our fans.”

The Bahamas leg of S.S. Coachella is set to depart Dec. 16 and dock Dec. 19. The Jamaica trek will set sail on Dec. 19 and return on Dec. 23. The S.S. Coachella starts accepting reservations at 10 a.m. Saturday. Prices start at $500 per person, but there are multiple configurations extending into the thousands. Goldenvoice declined to comment regarding its new venture.

Cruises have become a trend of late in the music industry. Music-themed voyages are now a healthy segment of the live-music business. Once the province of ABBA cover bands and smooth jazz acts, artists as diverse as Kid Rock,KISS and R. Kellyhave jumped aboard the movement. And now that fans who were weaned on Coachella have reached their 30s and 40s, a cruise themed around alternative bands such as Weezer is a moneymaking proposition. The fast-rising electronic scene even boasts a cruise, the sold-out Holy Ship!

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Cruises offer fans a more intimate experience, allowing them to mingle with the artists they love and ideally creating a greater sense of community around music. Plus, there’s no curfew, and there’s always a designated driver. “The fan is looking for new experiences and new things they can do and ways to incorporate travel and music in the same boat, no pun intended,” said Foster. “After attending numerous festivals, the fan is looking for something different. We’ve never been on a cruise, and we’re looking to play as many places as we can.”

Coachella fan Erik Massie, who maintains an audio archive of performances at, said he plans to attend, citing the “exotic new scenery.”

Goldenvoice is no stranger to festivals, also promoting the country-focused Stagecoach the weekend after Coachella on the same grounds in Indio, yet this is the first time the promoter has used the Coachella brand for a concert outside the desert. A prior foray into the East Coast market via a New Jersey festival they called All Points West lasted just two years, ending its run in 2009 because of poor attendance. The event was promoted in conjunction with parent company AEG Live.

“While surprising, I think it was inevitable that the Coachella brand was going to expand into other ventures,” Massie said.

Tavia Robb, a spokeswoman for Celebrity Cruises, said the company markets to those “35 and up” and “affluent” customers. No matter, because Coachella fans are used to shelling out cash (three-day passes for the Indio festival start at $349).

Goldenvoice’s two Coachella festivals this year grossed $47.3 million, the largest recorded for a single concert event, according to concert business trade publication Pollstar. The dual-festival approach will continue in 2013 and is set for the weekends of April 12 and 19. Tickets have already been sold for the event.


PHOTOS: Coachella 2012

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