So far, 2015 has been a very fortunate year for me. I have already been able to experience so much in just a few short months and with each new experience, my eyes feel wider than ever. For the past two weeks I was lucky enough to get a position working on staff at the “Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival”. Between the weekends, I spent 12 days on site meeting some of the most incredible people I’ve ever encountered, as well as seeing dozens of absolutely breathtaking audio and visual performances.
Some of the greatest acts of the festival included Ride, Steely Dan, AC/DC, Keys N Krates, Bad Religion, Ratatat, Florence and the Machine, ODESZA, Sturgill Simpson, Squarepusher, Built to Spill, What So Not, and I’d die if I forgot to mention a completely face-melting performance by St. Vincent during which guitarist and vocalist Annie Clark climbed off the front of the stage and rode upon the shoulders of a surprised-looking security guard while absolutely shredding it into the faces of a raging VIP section; which I had snuck into about four songs earlier in the show.
I made what seems like a million new friends, and reconnected with hundreds of old ones. I spoke with thousands of people, and can guarantee that each and every one of them will leave an impact on me for the rest of my life. I found myself in a position where I could meet artists, musicians, production crew members, doctors, lawyers, comedians, restauranteurs and entrepreneurs, security guards, firefighters and police officers, actors and marketing specialists - people from all walks of life contributed to an overall miraculous opportunity to learn about the culture of our modern world.
Some of the best people I interacted with were the two security guards with whom I traded a couple of dabs from an ice pack that I was carrying around in the 96 degree heat along with some delicious gourmet food in exchange for access to the VIP section of the Gobi tent during MØ. Or the guy who had to work a vendor booth and missed some of his favorite bands, but was still off-the-charts stoked because his boss had paid for him to be at the festival, and had even lightened his work schedule so that he could go see his favorite band, AC/DC shoot all sorts of hell fire above the crowd at main stage on back-to-back Friday nights. There was the media specialist who refused to stop smiling after he realized he had just snapped and saved another perfect moment onto his camera. The bicycle cab rider who was just getting off a 14-hour shift and whose eyes exploded when he saw the amazing meal he was about to receive for free in exchange for giving his last ride of the night to a guy that was late to work at his vendor booth. And of course, there was the guy who was high on 4 hits of acid and couldn’t wipe the grin from his face because he was on his way to see Kygo on his birthday.
Yes, the good-time-havers of Coachella were a fantastic group of people, and I have no doubt that they will go forth into our world and have a much more positive influence on today’s society than some of the other ‘human beings’ that were found in Indio over those two weeks. I put that in quotes because lately, I’ve been thinking of human beings as individuals who are capable of doing some things for themselves - because it makes them happy as an individual, aka “just being themselves”. Rather than being ‘human doings’, or people who do things in order to obtain the approval of others. Of course we all desire respect and admiration from our peers, but wouldn’t they respect and admire us more if they saw our ability to be independent?
Unfortunately though, a seemingly large percentage of Coachella’s population appeared to be made up of people who were either intentionally, or mistakenly spending a large majority of their time at the festival bending over backwards to get things done for their “group” or because “we already made plans to do this tonight.” And at times, it seemed that the bad-time-havers were dominating the event because they could be heard adding fuel to the fires by sharing sad tales about having to miss SBTRKT because their friends refused to leave Flosstradamus. I can understand why someone might want to stay as physically close to their friends during a show because they had been planning this trip for months, but sometimes you just need to say “I’ll see you later” and either enjoy the moment you’re in, or move on to another one, because dwelling on something that we think sucks only makes it worse in the long run.
I felt a small pain inside each time I witnessed someone looking at their cell phone with a frown on their face (which may have happened about every 42 seconds), and realized how much it takes out of the experience when someone is trying to send Snapchats to all their friends instead of being in the moment for themselves. Luckily, during Florence and the Machine, lead singer Florence Welch saved the day by making an announcement to the audience, that went something along the lines of ‘the only justifiable reason for holding your cell phone during this performance is if you are sending a heartfelt text to someone with extreme importance to you.”
Besides aren’t stories better when you have the most firsthand experience of what actually happened and are able to share them with people who weren’t there? Everybody likes a story that starts “Hey, remember that one time…?” but they are more likely to get really excited about stories that start out with “Have I ever told you about this other time…?” Stories tend to elicit a stronger response when you hear it for the first time, as opposed to the sixth and seventh time you’ve rehashed it. Plus if you branch off from your friends; then you have the ability to come back together in the campsite at the end of a long night, and everyone has a different awesome story to share of their own -- and people are able to be happy for each other for making sure that everyone had a great time that evening, or by lifting people out of what might not have been such a great time for them with an anecdote about something hilarious that happened earlier that night.
I preferred instead, to find the people who prescribed to the mentality of “Aww man, I missed Gramatik last night. But hey, Gramatik’s career is going strong right now and he’ll probably be touring again next summer. And I feel like missing him this time around could actually make me appreciate it that much more when I eventually do get a chance to see him in the future. So it’ll be alright.” I especially liked meeting the people who were able to put their insecurities behind them and branch out during the festival, to connect with others and make new friends. I feel as though that’s the entire point of attending events like Coachella -- to reach out to others and become a part of a community that shares similar beliefs to yourself. Otherwise you kind of just spent 600 dollars, and 4 hours in the car to have a bad time.
In protest of the bad-timers, I set out on several missions to convert new followers to the religion of positivity and good-vibes. I put on costumes and travelled the festival grounds and began telling bad jokes and dancing like a fool to make others laugh. I stumbled upon an argument between two sorority sisters outside the Mojave tent and helped them mediate a shorter, more relaxed conversation so that they could go back and enjoy the rest of OFF!’s set. I struck up a conversation with some bored-looking police officers and directed them to the best food available inside the venue before I helped them catch the tail end of Chicano Batman during their break.
I was lucky to have had so many separate positive interactions with law enforcement and security during the festival because it helped to even out for me some of the more negative interactions that I had. Some of these included getting a small dose of whiplash when a trio of CSC security guards grabbed my arm and yanked me out of the crowd at Desaparecidos so that they could “just check” my credentials (“Yea, I got the pink one because I work here...”) and then having them threaten me with more violence for giving them “attitude” as my reaction to getting shoved around by three giants twice my size. I also wasn’t much of a fan of seeing the two CSC security guards that tackled, beat up and choked out a patron of the festival because “he had cocaine sir.” I actually enjoy attending events more when the security guards make the people who paid to be there feel more secure, rather than feel like “I better be careful around those guys in purple shirts, because they look like they’re just out here looking for an opportunity to kick someone’s ass.”
The only other one that I care to share about right now was the CSC guard who refused to let a friend of mine into the staff camping area to hang out with me for the last 45 minutes of my free time before I had to go into work until 5am the next morning, that is unless I could have offered him a little money. You see, he couldn’t let my friend through the gate because it would reflect badly on him to his supervisor, and he was trying to move up in the company… (What??) I wish this guy would have just fallen asleep at his post and left me alone, like about 60 percent of the other CSC guards I encountered after 10:30pm each night.
Of course, I want it to be known that I don’t mean for this article to come off as negative towards Coachella as an event. In fact, I found it to be an incredibly positive experience in the way that it revealed and opened my eyes to many of the subtle truths about the people around us every day. As one Coachella attendee/new friend-of-mine said to me, “I was too busy getting silly-eriously weird, and making the ‘normal’ people uncomfortable. That's the point. Shit has gotten too serious, good thing I ran into your goofy ass and your slapstick shenanigans (he’s talking about finding me in the crowd)... Coachella isn't anything but itself, and if people are hating on it, well, their nonjudgmental self just caught themselves judging the mirror…” (WOAH!) The people at the Do Lab and Goldenvoice have always done what they do best, because they produce beautiful events and experiences in the ways that they want, that make them happy -- so it seems a shame that so many of their patrons have yet to catch on.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a wonderful opportunity to do a great deal of learning about yourself and others - to break out of your shell and see what the world has to offer. And I can’t wait to return in years to come to see how the event will evolve over time. In short, just follow the advice of Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin and “DO WHAT YOU WANT!”
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Written by: Jeff Pouliot
Photos by: Alex Fornes