I was told that Coachella is the mother of all festivals. Everyone wants to be at this two-weekend spectacle in Indio, California—the festival you dream of conquering after exhausting all the local options around. I say this with a semblance of credibility now because somehow, I eventually found myself at Coachella. I was there during "Weekend 1" held last April 15 to 17 (The "Weekend 2" phase was from April 22 to 24). Having experienced the whole shebang for myself, it truly was worth the trip. The energy was incredible, the people were fun and messy, and it taught me—a first-time attendee in his 30s—a number of lessons. Such as:
You’re never too old to go to Coachella
Yes, majority of Coachella festival goers are between the ages of 15 to 29 but I did see a lot of Gen X-ers. It helped, too, that older indie favorites (such as Lush and M83) played this year.
If you’re friendly enough, talk to people and maybe you’ll meet a bunch of 30-somethings who have been to the first one in ’99 and are repeat attendees, or are there for the first time like me.
I remember the first time I learned about Coachella and that was in 2002, with a legendary lineup headlined by the Foo Fighters, Oasis, Belle & Sebastian, Elbow, and Björk. The lady beside us at the Guns N' Roses set said she was there at the 2002 show—and it just shows you how this festival has had the ability to connect people from different generations, no matter the biological age.
EDM has not taken over Coachella
Critics have been bashing Coachella for booking too much EDM cheese which I realized didn’t seem to be the case at all. There was a lot of good techno and underground dance music inside the different tents around. You will be overwhelmed by the lists of performers. Don't hassle yourself figuring out what their names are. Instead, just listen and dance to the music.
Off the top of my head, these were the sets I really enjoyed: LCD Soundsystem, Grammy nominee Courtney Barnett, punk rock band Rancid (they were great), and indie pop virtuoso Børns. Sia had a legendary set, Surfjan Stevens was a mind-blowing experience, and hip-hop was well and alive with Ice Cube (who even brought Snoop Dogg and Common!). Those are just a few names, but that should get the blood pumping of any music fan worth his salt.
It isn’t too expensive if you plan ahead
It’s always prudent to buy tickets and book hotels early, but there are other ways to save on money. A couple of friends rented a car and camped all three days, spending just around $200 for parking and camping passes—versus a hotel in Palm Springs (a good 27 miles out) which will cost you about $1,000 for three nights. Shuttle passes from hotel to festival grounds are $50 each.
Food wasn’t too expensive ($200 gourmet meals inside air-conditioned tents don’t count) but wasn’t cheap either, so we made sure we had leftover cash for official merchandise, which sold out fast.
You probably won’t see any celebrities
There were about 99,000 attendees a day so chances of even seeing a celebrity from afar were pretty low. We kept our eyes peeled, though, in case we did spot a Vanessa Hudgens or a Cara Delevingne. No luck there. By Sunday afternoon, we would have gone bonkers if we saw Maxene Magalona.
I learned that if I were desperate to see any famous person, then I should have been on the lookout for people with VIP or GUEST wristbands on. Some were celebrities in disguise.
Consolation prize: lots of underbutts, pubes, labia majora, even an occasional penis peeking out of some guy’s shorts to get you desensitized on the first day.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry
So we created what we thought was a really good plan of shuffling from one stage to another and catching as many artists as we can, plotting their set times and the quickest routes to get from A to B on the map. Well, things didn’t go according to plan. The stages were a good distance from each other and the whole festival area was huge. There was also unfamiliar but good music that made us stop and listen, people who stalled our momentum, and food from a nearby stall that was just impossible to pass up. We realized it was OK to skip the first song or the entire act altogether. It happened to everyone.
If you plan on attending next year, what you can do is identify two or three must-sees, watch the act prior to your must-see, stay for another 30 minutes to an hour in-between sets, then try to get as close to the stage as possible. Worked for us.
It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon
I realized that I shouldn’t get too hyped and over-exert myself the entire weekend, since there’s just too much to take in, especially for a first-timer. Here’s advice for any would-be attendee: Go ahead and ogle the different art installations scattered throughout the festival grounds, visit any of the tents to get under shade and rest a bit, or just sit on the grass a good distance from the stage, enjoying the music while having thoughtful conversations with a partner or even a stranger.
TIP 1: The Yuma tent (one of the several tents in the festival) has air-conditioning and comfy couches where you can lie down for a while, maybe even nap if it’s early and the tent isn’t too crowded.
TIP 2: This can’t be stressed enough: drink lots of fluids. The air is dry so you might not notice that you’ve already perspired a ton. A friend also said to bring packets of ketchup to suck on for an instant energy boost when in a mosh pit or while taking a break from dancing.
Wear anything you like, no one gives a f*ck
Yes, Coachella fashion is indeed a thing, but people won’t judge you for what you wear. I saw people in bikinis (or nipple tape), culturally offensive outfits, and even a few guys in jeans. Denim jeans. In the sun. All were unapologetic.
We just made sure we were comfortable and were wearing good sneakers. Bulky bags were a no-no so we stuck with our drawstrings and vest types.
More tips: wear lots of sunblock because you will get fried if you don’t, a scarf or Headware bandana to protect you from wind gusts carrying sand and dust, and maybe bring a sand-repellant blanket if you’re stuck on a dry patch and need to sit down.
It’s not uncommon at all for Pinoys to fly 7,000 miles just to go to Coachella—it happens every year. So get your squad to save up and just go. You’ll conquer Indio and have the time of your lives, too.
Photos by James Dalusong and Dan Carlo Torres