I’m often struck by epiphanies and revelations at music festivals. Moments of clarity when a multitude of ideas suddenly dovetail and I see a vision of how my life should unfold. Not this time. This year at Coachella, I was preoccupied with being pragmatic – maintaining a functional body and staying 1 step ahead of nature’s elements. You see, it takes a symphony of well-calculated good decisions and foresight to have a shred of fun at Coachella. One bad decision can pave a downward spiral path that leads to a defeated spirit and lackluster memories.
Coachella offers props to those who navigate through its gauntlet with prudence and good cheer. Of course, the crew embarking on the adventure makes all the difference. This is my tale from Coachella 2014…
Thursday evening, frantic and stressed from trying to find tickets on a secondary markets saturated with demand, I picked up Shea from LAX without a structured plan to get him, Jose, and Gus into the festival. 3 out of 5 in our crew were ticketless. Ticket prices this year may have gone through the roof because the economy has picked up steam and people are willing to spend money again, or maybe because of the stacked lineup, or maybe for no reason at all. Regardless, we pressed onward.
Friday morning rolls around and tension mounts as the security guards of my community operate without any self-guided judgment and proceed to deny entry through the gate to damn-near everyone, including me, the homeowner. I laid down a verbal storm until I was finally let into my own home. Once there, Jose, Shea, and I took in some liquid confidence for the upcoming task of sneaking them in. Lucky for us, Shea’s friend Alana came by and assuaged our unrest by putting out the right vibe.
We gathered our festival survival supplies and caught a lift with Alana to meet our friends from college who rented a house on the perimeter of the camping grounds. After some apprehensive chitchat and bone-crushing brotha hugs with Tommy, Bo, B-rey, JB, Torri, Nick, Jimmy, Benji, and Jordan, we marched toward the festival entrance.
100 feet out, Shea and Jose streamed off the river of people flowing into the gates. They were on their own.
Hours later, I finally heard word. They got caught.
I found Jose hat in hands and sporting a nice shiner around his right eye. He and Shea had jumped several fences and made it all the way into the festival with just one fence between them and the populated grass fields. Unfortunately, that last fence put them within the confines of the VIP area and the security guards assumed that they were stealing something. They were tackled to the ground, escorted out, and told that they would be arrested if seen again. To add insult to injury, their water bottles had been confiscated and they were left in the hot desert with dry-mouths, possessing only a warm bottle of vodka that they had snuck in.
We failed on Friday.
I headed onward into the festival solo to catch A.F.I. They were an ideal act to begin a festival because the band generates a wealth of energy that gets the blood flowing and rids the body of any pesky nerves. Front man Davey Havok still has his phenomenal voice…and he looks like a normal person once again. #daveyisadudeagain As I’m moshing in the pit to one of the hits in their arsenal, Johnny and Gus, the other 2 in the crew, appear out of nowhere. Reinvigorated by the reunion, we chanted along to “Girl’s Not Grey”. “Doesn’t if feel like you’re fucking 14 years old again?” jabbed Davey.
How’d Gus get into the festival? Well, he let his pocketbook do the talking and forked over a bundle of Benjamins for a ticket.
We burned the remainder of daylight catching up with some of the usual suspects including Justin, Daniel, Emily, Diana, Chase, Chloe, Lindsay, Nicole, and Sean. We lay back at the campsite while sipping on cold drinks pulled from ice chests and naturally assembled ourselves in the form of a circle. This circle of friends is something unique to Coachella that all campers know and cherish. There’s something very human about it. It’s completely open communication with no electronics and it facilitates creativity, solidarity, and camaraderie. In Spain, there’s a phrase…”A compartir es vivir”. To share is to live. I’ve found no place where this holds truer than in these groups that I like to call festival circles.
After a long regrouping at the campsite oasis we saw Flume who did not disappoint. I’m stoked to see intense electronic music undergoing a paradigm shift. I’ll touch on that later.
Outkast took center stage as the day came to a close and they had the crowd singing along to hits from yesteryear, but the show lingered on and we had no energy to spare for the two all-but-forgotten performers.
We made our way out towards a taxi, blindly following a friend to the exit. This, as in all situations where one blindly follows, amounted to no good. It happens every year and at the beginning of every festival. You gotta know the location of the proper exit and your orientation to it, otherwise you’ll walk 30 minutes in the wrong direction with no shot at getting a ride home.
I had only one thing on my mind when I awoke the next morning; get a ticket for Shea. Jose managed to craigslist a wristband during Outkast’s performance. He cut it off the seller’s wrist and sewed it onto his own. four tickets down, one to go.
The guys drank morning cocktails and chillaxed poolside and I got busy searching. I got lucky. I found a “moderately” priced ticket, contacted the seller, threw on a tank top and sandals, and darted over to a desolate parking lot to make the purchase. Eureka! 5/5! At long last we all had bracelets!
Finally ready for the thrills we so desperately sought we raised drinks together with rejuvenated spirits. We had no clue what was to come…
Shea slipped the new bracelet onto his wrist without any nipping or tucking and went off to trail blaze his own path for the day with his other friends. Johnny, Gus, Jose and I went to the same homies’ pre-party pad. Supplied with waters and beer to replenish the campsite inventory, we headed toward the entrance once again. This time, nerves were at bay and we had no reason to fret. We were passing the 1st security check and out of the blue, the cruel mistress known as fate took a swing at us. A security guard, who was pretty green behind the ears himself, wanted to demonstrate the proper way to inspect wristbands for a new guard whom he was training. He haphazardly picked Jose out of our group. “You want to tug it a little to see if its been tampered with,” he illustrated. “See, just like that. You can’t let this guy in.” Mouths ajar, we watched Jose walk away for the last time that weekend. The Coachella gods struck him down and we were forced to trek on without him.
It took a figurative minute to get over that ordeal but we had an adventure knocking at our door. We shimmied from Cage the Elephant to Chvrches and soaked up the sun and put down some cold ones. Those carefree moments in the open fields of grass while bathing in sunshine are amongst the best in my book. The gals dressed as California princesses danced around giving in to any self-derived whim. It’s so beautiful to watch.
And while moving through the festival, everyone picks up on the tiniest of social cues, and eye contact conveys a mouthful. This is the true definition of vibing.
The skyscraping palm trees above the horizon began to lean and we knew something powerful was mustering under Mother Nature’s thumb. We headed back to the campsite during prime time to secure and strap down the tents. But as we strolled out, some very deep-rooted and humane music resonated across the fields stemming from the performance of City and Colour. I haven’t heard such music that reaches into your soul and ignites so many powerful emotions since hearing Stevie Wonder at OSL.
I enjoyed the company of good friends in a festival circle and we eventually safe-proofed the campsite for the impending weight that would be thrown around as the wind ramped up. We made our way to the Heineken area for a beer and a slice of ‘za to fulfill the lunch and dinner requisites. The lack of eating at Coachella inevitably leads to a lack of energy and therefore places a ceiling on the capacity your body can endure. This absence of adequate food would prove to be a hindrance late in the night.
The lineup from this point out was stacked.
We tried the nomad technique by jumping from Capital Cities to MGMT to Lorde to Fatboy Slim. It’s not a good strategy. We got mere tastes of the artists’ flavors without experiencing the full affect of any one show. It’s better to stay put for one full set, even if the artist is average, because that’s the only way to actually appreciate the music, not to mention the only way to harness a lasting memory.
As the wind continued to ascend, the crew settled in the Sahara tent for Empire of the Sun and I, having seen them twice before, made the bold decision to leave the flock and venture out to more upbeat pastures; to see Queens of the Stone Age. A superb decision if I do say so myself. Not only did the rock gods smile down on me in the sea of people wearing black, but the show also ruled. The drummer, who was a member of The Mars Volta, was by far the most solid drummer I saw all weekend and I felt an infusion of adrenaline surging through me as I stomped my feet and jounced my head. Queens is the best rock band in existence at the moment.
Pharell’s legions of fans made it impossible to get a view of his act after he had started. It boggled my mind when I heard all the #1 hit collaborations that he had been involved with in the past 2 decades. That guy has found the secret sauce. I got respect for him.
By this time, the wind had become violent and spared no mercy for scantily clad princesses frolicking along. Was I genius for wearing a button down on top of a tank top? Yes. Should I be given a Nobel Prize for equipping my backpack with 5 water bottles to stay hydrated, lollipops to keep the blood sugar up, and a small towel to clean off? I think so. The drawstring backpack may just be the most clutch item at a festival. Even with all my profound foresight and preparation, my body started to close down shop for the night because it had no means to make more energy with no food in the belly.
I disregarding the messages from my body alongside all of my friends and together we endured for one very good reason: Muse.
Muse absolutely killed it. They put on a show with actors depicting pressing issues in our world such as the ongoing lust for oil. Working in the Cleantech industry, I really appreciated that. Not only does Muse create music with the purpose of bettering the world but the music itself is also incredible. Their cohesion was flawless. Flawless. We stood at the foot of the extended catwalk where front man Matthew Belamy came out, 15 ft away us, and sang one of my favorite songs of all time – “Starlight”. That was one of those vivid, magical moments where the stars aligned and we all sung out together with no reservations. Muse even paid homage to the late great Kurt Cobain, who passed 20 years ago, and played Nirvana’s “Lithium”.
I spent the entire evening negotiating the amount of water to drink to stay hydrated and the amount of times I would need to find a porta potty… or a bush. Johnny must have filled up 3 water bottles and a beer can while watching Muse by utilizing his truly beneficial talent that he acquired during his life guarding days.
We bolted out of the festival as soon as the last chord was struck. The campsites were tattered and torn. We headed for the Ubers and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a desert storm. We were battered by gusts of wind carrying sheets of sand for 20 minutes while seeking the refuge of an Uber. We had to wear sunglasses to protect the eyes, so we relied on other senses to navigate. I felt a bit like a Jedi using the force… which is actually how I feel during all festivals because energy is what it’s all about. To maintain bodily operations, to assess friends’ equilibriums, to maneuver quickly through scattered crowds, to make instinctual decisions, to share experiences with others … it all comes down to energy.
After trekking for almost 2 hours by foot and by Uber, we made it home safe and sound.
I awoke the next morning with a sore back and the realization that I no longer had a silver Subaru. I was now the owner of a tan Subaru. The desert storm draped everything in a layer of sand that gave every object a graham cracker tint. But the air was now calm and Johnny, Gus, and I gathered our thoughts to ready ourselves for the final journey of the weekend.
We didn’t know the exact whereabouts of Shea or the details of his own adventure, but it was now his birthday so we busted out a cake, using a long match as a candle and 2 playing cards to denote “2” & “4”. Playing some sesame street birthday songs through the surround sound, we greeted his arrival with open arms. I’m sure it was an amusing sight to see because we were all half-broken but bore big smiles while gallivanting around, doing interpretive dances to birthday songs.
We fixed up a couple of dark and stormys on ice and ate cake while saddling up for the last adventure. When we entered the festival, a little earlier than usual, the security guards were either much more willing to let things slide or they were all stoned. Or both. They said things like, “Empty your backpack, take out the stuff in your pockets, and smile. That last part is for the ladies.” They all cracked jokes and chortled. “I feel pills, but I’m gonna let you keep them.” “Umm, those are skittles,” I replied. “Sure they are.”
We wandered through the nearly vacant grass fields without an ounce of stress to look at the extraordinary sculptures and art for the first time. The giant astronaut that unsuspectingly rolled from place to place at a snails pace was a nice feather in Coachella’s hat. The bubblegum and sky blue pretzel gave off a nice ambiance at the entrance. And the red robot/power ranger acted as the default meeting spot.
We sipped on our first Heinekens of the day while sitting back in a festival circle and digested the handful of oil-drenched vegetables served on the side of a Chinese noodle plate. Shea motivated us to press on to see a group called Flight Facilities.
Strolling up to the outskirts of the Sahara tent, we came across Shea’s friends from school. After some brief introductions, I soon discovered that Flight Facilities rules! Groovy melodies captured my attention but the cherry on top was the girl who sang. The proper word to describe this young lady has yet to be invented … but I’ll do my best to portray her. She not only looked incredible with her golden-kissed skin wrapped in a kimono-colored skirt and jacket while strutting around and kneeling slowly with poise on her heels, but she also sang with a soft and sensual voice that gave new meaning to the word sexy. It was an amazing performance that never topped a conversational level of energy. I actually felt as if I were lying comfortable in bed.
I recently found out her name … Brooke Addamo who goes by the stage name Owl Eyes.
We were all so calm and relaxed after the show and decided to have a beer to get to know the stories behind the new faces. Jackie, Natasha, Alissa, and Alex – great girls with whom I spent the remainder of the festival.
There was a schism when the time came to make the next move. Everyone wanted to see one artist but Shea wanted to have a look at Rudimental. I didn’t care either way so I decided to go with the birthday boy. Big ups to Shea for that decision. Rudimental was the most eclectic band I had seen in my life, bar none. In my eyes, the band perfectly represents America due to its talent and diversity. A Nubian goddess as the singer, a drum and bass drummer, the “best blue eyed soul” as coined by Rolling Stone, a rap artist, and a world-class trumpet on par with the best of DCI. They came together to create a fusion of genres from drum and bass to jazz to swing to R&B. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy the music, you’ve got to appreciate the group. And man … that trumpet player whales. He has distinguished talent.
Immediately after Rudimental ended I split to meet Johnny and Gus. Shea and I made a precise meeting location and time, then said farewell till later.
I looked for Gus at the A1 sound pole and was pleasantly surprised by a gal whom I knew from college. She came up to me and greeted me with a warm hug. I happened to see her Facebook post the night before and hoped that I would run into her. Law of attraction I suppose. The short-lived encounter couldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes but it made me feel really sensational and that feeling flowed through me to the people with whom I interacted.
After meeting up with Johnny, we took a seat in the open field of grass behind the main stage during the time of day when love is abundant and the sun’s rays wrap their warm fingers around everyone and everything. Naked and Famous performed and we watched the Coachella princesses frolic to the feel good music in the feel good aura. The dancing princesses personified the singer’s cute and rhythmic voice.
Johnny and I made the proactive decision to eat a real dinner, which may have been the best move of the weekend. We came up on a salad fit for a king, packed with nutrients. I’m talking the works people – carrots, avocado, cucumber, beets, humus, almonds, etc. My body continued to thank me for that salad the rest of the night as it gave me prolonged energy and warmth.
By this hour the sun had punched out for the night and only “BIV” in “ROYGBIV” remained. Johnny and I shook hands after agreeing on a time and place to meet: the red power ranger @8:10. I had to take my leave to meet Shea and the newfound friends at A1. Calvin Harris began his set and immediately jolted the crowd up several energy levels. Say what you will about the music but this guy moved the masses like no one else at Coachella. Playing hit after hit with pyrotechnics and providing a blanket of lasers and lights, not one person in the audience had a less than stellar time. There was only one problem. The show ended and suddenly swarms of people with immense amounts of energy were released to move in every direction like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.
Shoving inevitably ensued and anxiety peaked. I needed to meet Johnny right then, yet, I had no chance of getting to him because I was a mere spec floating along the river of people. That’s the problem with ultra high-energy EDM music. It’s not sustainable. It’s an absolute party, but when it’s over and practical matters of reality apply, people are left with a cliff to jump off.
We were pushed far past Lana Del Rey and finally came to a halt at a band named Daughter. In the words of the wise Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need.” With the heebie-jeebies pulsing through us, the group’s mellow music and calming vocals was exactly what the doctor ordered. We stayed until we became reasonable creatures again and then made our way to see Disclosure.
The difference between Calvin Harris and Disclosure was night and day. Disclosure’s beats made the crowd cut a rug without bringing the energy level up to an unsustainable level. The value in the music isn’t derived from the rollercoaster ride of highs and lows but rather from beautiful melodies and touches of well-placed accents to help rhythmically challenged individuals get down with their bad selves.
We took a quick spin through the Yuma tent, which was like a cross between a roller disco with waxed hardwood floors and a garage party with extremely muffled bass. It was awesome … for 10 minutes.
By this point, almost everyone in the festival was running on e. But fortunately for me, I ate a salad, and my body thanked and rewarded me with the ability to thoroughly enjoy Arcade Fire’s wonderful set. They are the perfect group to end a festival. Their catchy tunes and melodic hymns make for ideal wind-down music. I also appreciated how they ripped on people who bought VIP wristbands.
We sought to catch one final Uber home and I felt like family surrounded me on that walk out. It was tough saying goodbye but all good things must come to an end.
Johnny and Gus left that night. I awoke early the next morning to a goodbye from Shea. Then, just like that, I was alone and Coachella ’14 was nothing more than a memory. The best way to describe my post Coachella sentiment was … pride. I felt as though I had accomplished something. My energy level was far higher than prior to the festival. My body looked better. I had a grip of fun and made some vivid memories. I connected with others in a very deep and humane sense. And most importantly, I helped some others create stories in their lives … badass adventures that, for at least one weekend, allowed them to be whomever they wanted to be. To be free.