Coachella camp is for the hardy

Times Staff Writer

The sun was well on its way into the sky, the mercury was creeping toward triple digits — and Coachella’s campers were stirring.

It was the morning of Day Two at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and Courtney Michael and Roni Whipple were trudging along the dusty, arid paths of this temporary city, lugging two prized commodities: a case of water and a bag of ice.

Beads of sweat on Michael’s brow were threatening to turn into a steady trickle. “I waited in line 45 minutes this morning for a shower, but it was worth every minute,” she said wistfully.


For thousands of the rock and dance pilgrims who have headed into the desert heat this weekend for this much-hyped, three-day overdose of music, home is a small plot of dry, dusty grass at the event’s massive campground.

Though most of the 60,000 fans attending each day rushed to fill comfortable hotel rooms and posh rental houses that line the ubiquitous golf courses here, the campground represents the heart and soul of the event.

After all, who but the most determined fans are willing to endure three days in the relentless Indio heat?

“Whoa, quite impressive,” Scott Risley said with typical British reserve, his eyes widening as he passed through the chain-link fence and took in the expanse of multicolored tents before him. Risley and three friends made the trip from England, drawn like many others by the chance to see the reunion of long-silent, politically conscious Rage Against the Machine tonight.

Impressive, indeed.

By Saturday morning, nearly 16,000 people who paid $45 to reserve one of the 7-foot-by-7-foot patches of land that organizers had painstakingly measured had arrived, turning a polo field into a teeming mini-city.

“It’s a community,” said Jamie Negley, 20, as he drew on a hand-rolled cigarette while lying on a cot in his tent. “Everybody is here for the exact same reason, and, God forbid, we feel a bit of love for each other because of it.”

The scent of marijuana wafted through the air as Frisbees crisscrossed the landscape. Finding someone not inked with a tattoo took effort. The rhythms of a drumming circle resounded from a distant corner.

“The majority of the people here are hippie-ish,” said Noelle Schriek, one of the many attendants working at the campground. “So I think the attitude of it all comes from that. It’s just a good vibe.”

Before noon, in a clubhouse where prim and proper polo players usually mingle, grungy campers stood 20 deep in line at the bar, waiting to suck down a bloody mary or beer, ID required.

Outside, on the veranda, German, the queen’s English and Spanish mixed with American accents in a buzz of activity.

Hundreds of exhausted campers rested on bean bags or on the ground beneath a tent that offered a respite from the sun and the relative luxury of some high-powered fans. To be certain, it was the heat that colored everything about the camping experience.

Ice and water seemed to be the only two items moving from the general store.

Fashion was minimalist, with bikini tops the norm for women and not much more than shorts for the guys.

“Our only regret was not thinking to bring a canopy to sit under,” said Zachary Chipps, 26, as his girlfriend, Natalie Harden, diligently slathered sunblock over the tattoo of a cross and two cherubs covering his chest. The two glanced over at their pitiful attempt to improvise: a limp cotton sheet pinned to one side of their tent and held aloft with a wobbly stake.

Life was a little grander a few rows down at “Camp Harjaku,” an elaborate mini-compound named after a hipster neighborhood in Tokyo that Tom Daniels, 46, and his son Matthew pulled together with 20 or so friends. animals and Japanese cartoon characters hung from brightly colored umbrellas. A solar panel powered an MP3 music player, and amplifiers and a makeshift system of mist-spraying hoses ringed the setup.

The less fortunate were faced with a no-win dilemma: endure the long lines for the mobile showers mounted on 18-wheel truck rigs or face the prospect of building up a crusty, full-body layer of desert dust. From the looks of it, hundreds couldn’t fathom the latter.

And, then, of course, there were the unavoidable Porta-Potties. “I sure miss the sound of a flushing toilet,” one camper said as she emerged from one with a scrunched-up nose.