By Laura Hunt Little
The last of the stop-n-go traffic headed west on I-10 just cleared up and the sun is setting on a production crew rather than a hundred thousand music fans. The intensity of Coachella 2017 is just starting to fade into memories to be pulled out and rehashed with friends over the next weeks on back porches holding cold beers. We started last week. A few themes emerge in reliving this larger-than-life common experience. See if you can relate.
1. Size is important, but it’s how you use it that matters. Adding 25,000 more people onto the polo fields took some adjustment. For the most part, it worked. My concert-going AV tech-guy husband relished in the flow between all the stages and the clarity of the PA. Main stage could breathe (finally). The placement of the Gobi and Mojave tents allowed them to not be so overrun by the sound from Sahara. Unfortunately, Sahara was completely overrun, as in couldn’t get in the tent. Put “bigger Sahara” on the 2018 to do list. The Outdoor stage still felt cramped in the corner, because, well, it’s in the corner. Because geometry. And nobody puts Hans Zimmer in the corner.
2. Speaking of Hans Zimmer. This performance will stay in my head as one of my best concert experiences, ever! The familiar melody of the Pirates of the Caribbean was expertly and provocatively delivered by a cello soloist leading an armada of musicians to deliver a tidal wave of sound and fury on a sea of thirsty millennials. (Just go with the analogy.) The wave recedes. To thunderous applause, a very calm maestro thanks the audience and directs his baton to the next piece. The yellow sun of the video wall cracks through the red horizon. A powerful familiar African chant! The Lion King! The. Crowd. Loses. Their. Sh*t. I inexplicably start to cry. Okay, I am not a drama queen. I had to think about this. This music, Hans Zimmer’s compositions, are part of our cultural DNA. My own millennial kids, like the majority of the audience, grew up on this music. These kids were raised on these soundtracks. Emotional was the desired response. Mission accomplished!
3. There’s famous…and there’s famous. Depending on your age, these things are relative. But it doesn’t make the people watching any less spectacular. BFF and her husband working the beer garden near the artist entrance hung out with Charlie Sheen while he was just standing around for a long while, partially unrecognized. Another unicorn-haired friend worked the VIP wrist band check in, spending both weekends hobnobbing daily with celebs while they proved legal to drink. One guy asked if he could use his IMDB profile as his ID. Almost famous!
4. A Star is Born! Which, in real life, would be about a decade ago now. Lady Gaga hit the main stage with so much power and talent and creativity that she both exceeded all expectations and satisfied the monsters eager to see her, even if it was the middle of the night. According to production friends, Gaga is down to earth, grateful and kind, even asking the stage crew their names and thanking everyone working on the show. Gaga is in the middle of shooting a movie with Bradley Cooper, his first directing effort, with several scenes being shot around the valley last week, including actual Weekend 2 footage. I wonder if Coachella will be recognizable when the film comes out. Look for the sculptures.
5. Paper sculptures are awesome. My inner art school student LOVED everything about the packaging the wristbands came in this year. I am still slowly building my paper animals so I don’t finish them too soon. I am using the real, PAPER appointment book to track weekly tasks. With a pen. Upon entering the polo fields, it delighted me to see “is this what brings things into focus?” as a magnified herd of my paper beasts providing shade to music fans. Loved the Lamp Beside the Golden Door for reflection selfies.
6. It’s cold in The Antarctic. Remember when you were a kid and you would brag that you saw a new movie multiple times? I saw The Antarctic three times! Loved the themes of the sculpture from Coachella’s past making cameo appearances during the flick. If you missed it, you didn’t see one of the coolest installations of video projection that’s out there. AV tech-guy husband quite possibly enjoyed it even more than I did, understanding how the projection works. The 10 minute short played on a 120’ dome while viewers comfortably reclined on bean bag chairs in the air conditioning. If you are pregnant or subject to seizures, it’s good that you took a pass.
7. Don’t be stupid. My favorite ID check fail story. ID Checker on the bullhorn announces to the crowd, “If you have a fake ID, come to the front of the line so we can get you banded without a wait.” Oh yes. Three of them come up all together. Busted by Mr. Sugarbritches! “No, you can’t have your fake ID back. No, you don’t get a Heineken bracelet.” Well played, Mr. Sugarbritches…well played!
8. Don’t be stupid, #2. Directing this comment to myself. I left my phone sitting loosely in the top of my bag and wasn’t paying attention. You’ve heard that news story about the guy caught with 100 cell phones in his backpack. Mine was in there. Lots of us basking in the peace, love and music vibe and not securing our things. Fortunately, thanks to super sleuths using the Locate my Phone app, victims of the robbery converged on the moving dot that was the thief. This is the only part about Coachella that made me sad this year; so much petty theft.
9. Take other people’s advice about who to see. In our case, my stepson could not recommend highly enough the Porter Robinson and Madeon performance. He was so right. And, Lasers FTW. My son, whose musical taste is completely opposite told us to go see Thundercat. I had no expectation and was blown away by blue-eyed soul meets EDM. Michael McDonald even joined him onstage for a few songs. Raise your kids to love music. You’ll thank me later. If you don’t have kids to ask, ask Chelsea Sugarbritches. She knows who all the cool bands are. Overall, what impressed her was the Sonora tent for punk bands, a wood floor, art on the walls and the vibe.
10. Logistics are no small task. Finally, have to give kudos to the overall production. Think about it. How many bottles of water would you need for a crowd at Coachella? Husband and I calculated it had to be in the millions. That’s just the water. To me this event improves every year. We didn’t sit in any traffic AT ALL this year in or out of the festival and we used the Day Parking. Security was on point. The thorough checks on all vehicles that could even get close was almost military. The fields were all cleaned every night. I waited maybe 3 minutes for a bathroom at one point. I know not everyone had smooth sailing all the time, but damn. No complaints.
I couldn’t agree more with my husband that Coachella can be whatever you want to make of it. From an all-day endurance marathon of stage hopping to a slow cruise of a handful of key performances, Coachella still delivers if you let it happen. But now, it is with tired eyelids and still tired feet that I go to assemble the last of my paper beasts and put the herd on a shelf to admire until next year. Pre-sale for 2018 is in just a few months. Thank you Coachella 2017, it was good knowing you.
By Laura Hunt Little, with gratitude to Gregory Little, Chelsea and Johnny Sugarbritches, and Kari and Doug Smith for sharing their Coachella 2017 experiences.
(Photos Courtesy of Coachella Music and Arts Festival)