Imagine if you will, that you are traveling with a small and unlikely group, preparing to face the elements.
You drive for hours, and then pull up into a promising-looking row of cars, tents, and sloppily hung blankets. Home sweet home, for now.
Once you choose a camping spot, you try to make it as cozy as possible, and divide up who will be sleeping in tents and who will be in the backs of the cars. You do your best to cook whatever you have with you into some semblance of a breakfast burrito. You put up shields against the sun, and talk amongst yourselves while looking suspiciously at the neighboring tents.
It’s quiet…but you know they’re out there.
Packing up as much ammo and sunscreen as you can fit into your tiny, cross-body bag, and wearing your most comfortable long-walk shoes, you and the others prepare to storm the entrance. There are no children with you—children couldn’t survive here.
You won’t be coming back to camp until the hunt is over for the day.
As you approach, you begin to hear noise. It starts as a low, muttering rumble. You see a Ferris wheel in the distance. Motionless. As you come over the ridge, you see them.
Bodies in torn clothes and half-clothes and no clothes at all, swarming through the valley in every direction. You see a pack of them devouring the contents of a hot dog stand, while another set wanders into a tent labeled “SONY.”
You check the map and mark what you think are your best bets. You take a deep breath, and push through.
You’re inside now.
You can’t risk being completely cut off from each other, but you temporarily split off into smaller groups to divide and conquer. One group finds water, another power. You try to find medication for the other guy you left at camp, whose leg is swollen from an allergic reaction, but no luck. You regroup and survey the horde under the largest tent, looking for a weak spot.
“There,” says one, pointing to a small open patch of grass in the middle.
You choose the attack carefully, coming from the slightly less dense left flank of the crowd. You move quickly, before the bodies have a chance to react. You grab the open spot just before a girl with feathered hair and body paint reaches it. She blinks at you, and then shuffles away.
You catch your breath for only a moment, and then you see the bodies nearer the front grow louder, and their dirty, sweaty hands go up as they press against each other, grunting and reaching towards the fresh meat that just came on stage.
As the music starts, you relax a bit, and you remember:
You are not in an episode of The Walking Dead. You are at Coachella.
(This has been a dramatization of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.)
Please understand: I have nothing against Coachella. I enjoyed myself when I went last year. But there has to be some other, better alternative to buying $400 tickets a year in advance to go risk heatstroke and wait in line to charge your cell phone.
It’s true—there might not be any other chance (except maybe Outside Lands in San Francisco) for you to see all of the bands on that lineup that you like at once again. And there is value in that. I’d rather get a package festival deal than spend $60 on a ticket, $15 on parking, and $10 on Ticketmaster fees to go sit really far up in an amphitheater and watch one artist I like from a mile away. At least at a festival I have a fighting chance of getting closer.
But even though I saw twenty-five bands in two days, I only really got to enjoy probably five full shows by bands I really liked. The rest of the time I was thinking, “I have to run to the Mojave stage to see ten minutes of Calvin Harris! Then I need to stop by Beirut, and start camping out for Florence and the Machine!” It was pretty chaotic. Except for earlier in the day when it was just too hot to move, and most of the bands playing weren’t remotely interesting.
Is the money and effort spent really worth stumbling into the office on Monday morning dead tired, sunburnt, and sporting a dirty wristband?
Jimmy Kimmel’s lovely viral video of Coachella attendees expressing love for bands that don’t exist hit on an important truth: most people who go to Coachella REALLY REALLY want cool points. I know I did. I’m almost unsure how Coachella managed to have any prominence in the days before our social validation came via social media. My very first Instagram photo was of that stupid Ferris wheel.
Maybe one day, a la Woodstock, my kids will ask me to tell them about the time I went to Coachella, and about all of the things I saw. But I sincerely doubt it.
Because the only thing revolutionary about Coachella is the number of different ways teenage girls have invented to paste things onto their bodies to avoid wearing actual clothes. There’s not really anything that makes it special, beyond the fact that you can tell your friends that you went.
Would I go again? Possibly. If it had the most killer lineup of all time, and my friends were going and wanted to see exactly the same bands I wanted to see. Or if someone paid for my ticket. Or if they decided to hold the event some less scorching month of the year, like November.
But in general, it felt like more of a bucket-list conquest that doesn’t need repeating. There are plenty of cheaper ways to see good music, and sometimes it’s a lot more awesome to go to a show without smelling like an animal, and go camping when you’re not wearing a $50 Urban Outfitters top that you’re afraid someone will spill beer on.
Plus, I have a few more episodes of The Walking Dead to watch.