Coachella’s Fall From Music Grace

By Jessica Garcia

I attended the first Coachella in 1999 and the next couple of
years following its launch. I am coming to you now from a point
that even if I’d been handed free tickets last week, I’d have given
them away without blinking.

What’s changed? We all know that an actor can “sell out,” or
that a band could “sell out,” and we could all probably spend days
on end discussing who, when and why. But is it possible for an
entire music festival to “sell out?” Watching Coachella grow from
what I remember it to be back in the day has been surreal and
somewhat unnerving.

This year’s Coachella was the first time promoters Goldenvoice
expanded the gala into a three-day event, charging nearly double
what the tickets cost last year. The sold-out festival’s staggering
lineup, which included a long anticipated Rage Against the Machine
reunion, indeed meant good music, but also meant that
one-night-only tickets were made available for a brief month before
major promoter Goldenvoice sold exclusively three-day passes to
whomever was willing to put up the cash- and believe you me, there
were plenty. 150,000 people plenty.

What I remember most about attending the first Coachella was not
the lineup, but rather that promoters were handing out free water
bottles. There were a mere 40,000 people back then, and making a
hotel reservation or scoring a camping site was still a
probabililty. There was a strong and overt determination to not
“sell-out”: everything was white (all of the tents and stages), and
not much was cluttered with corporate logos. Back then, the
festival relied on ticket and merchandise sales for profit, only a
select few corporate sponsors.

Although there were typical outdoor problems – Coachella Valley
is located in the high desert, an area notorious for its scorching
heat and sub-zero evenings – there was a sense of community and
togetherness, a sense that people were there to see each other as
well as the bands. I guess that was what rock and roll was always
supposed to be about, a reason for coming together.

Fast forward to 2004. There was no longer a sense of
togetherness. There seemed only to be a camaraderie in overheating
and freezing, and complaining about water bottles costing $5 a
piece. Booking a hotel needed to be made at least four months in
advance, or else a few cities over.

Although Coachella has long been considered a music platform on
which bands frequently reunite (Jane’s Addiction, The Pixies, Iggy
Pop and the Stooges, Rage Against the Machine), the festival’s 2004
arrangement proved just the opposite. Just months after reuniting
for Coachella, The Pixies released a new single and launched a
nation-wide tour. Many Coachella bands supposedly coming together
specifically for the weekend inadvertently use the festival to
kick-off individual tours. The “Coachella effect” includes this
year’s headliner Rage Against the Machine – who is rumored to be
rejoining not just for the festival, but indefinitely.

Fast forward another three years, and Coachella is a household
name. In fact, it is practically a national holiday. Visitors from
in state and out of state equally sit on the edge of their seats
waiting for springtime to roll around, eager to cash in their
paychecks and tax returns for $5 water bottles, bipolar weather,
and the poorest sound quality I’ve ever heard. All of this,
combined with the ever-increasing price of gas and lodging, and who
could blame my quintessential affair with falling out of love with
what I once considered an ineffable grassy arena where musicians
and music lovers alike could come together with abandon.

Today I pride myself in having been a Coachella veteran. Call
this arrogance, call this being an elitist – or call it what it is,
just someone’s way of coping with being one of the many faces lost
in an anonymous and commercial youtube-generation.

Jessica Garcia can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at (909) 869-3531.

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