Perspiring rock’n roll: Coachella and the high cost of massive rock

The biggest music festival in USA, according to Fresno-based agency Pollstar, returns on April 16, 17 and 18. It’s the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival —although there isn’t much art. But plenty of rock’n roll.

In the last 10 years, the most renowned bands and soloists have passed through Coachella, everyone from Madonna and Paul McCartney to Rage Against the Machine in addition to Latino artists like Cafe Tacvba, El Gran Silencio, Manu Chao and more.

Located in Indio in the Coachella Valley, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, this festival has captured the attention of large audiences. “It’s a massive event and it’s inspired by European music festivals, especially those in Britain,” said Bruce Fessier, entertainment critic for the Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs, who has covered all of the Coachella festivals. “Its landscape creates a special atmosphere.”

The palm trees, the sun, the silhouettes of the tents and the stages give the festival its own original personality. This year, according to Fessier, the festival appears to be directing itself more to young people.

“According to the list of artists that will be coming this year, the organizers seem to be focusing more toward a younger audience, leaving aside more traditional rockers,” Fessier said.

The new edition of Coachella will bring artists like Jay-Z, The Cribs, Muse, Gorillaz, Pavement and more. The journalist also said that 2004 was when the festival “matured” and it turned into a modern music reference. And he emphasizes the support of the owner of the land, Alex Haagen III. “He invested in the area and he takes very good care of the land.”

Amidst rumors that the space would be dedicated to housing projects, festival organizers created another musical event that has been very successful: “Stagecoach Festival”, dedicated to country music.

Coachella maintains a classic model of the massive music festivals: three days, four stages —with two more for DJs— food booths and other products, and a high level of marketing: everything sells. The admission price for the three days is $269 and the organizers established a “layaway” system to attract more people. Leftover tickets are sold on a per day basis.


The temperature ranges between 90 and 105 degrees, which is why walking from one stage to the next can allow fatigue to set in. And what a coincidence, there’s beer everywhere!

The food, in general, is expensive and bad: a hamburger costs $10 and it may not have tomato and lettuce, and the “teriyaki” chicken tastes more like cardboard than chicken. Need cash? Be ready to pay almost $4 to use an ATM machine. Need to go to the bathroom? Don’t expect to find a clean one after a few hours into the concert, and it is almost impossible to find where to wash your hands. And during the festival, hotels prices shoot up uncontrollably.

The Coachella Chamber of Commerce didn’t return our phone call requesting a short interview to learn about the economical benefits to the area from the music festival.

The Coachella area has two realities: high poverty levels and luxuroius spaces for the rich and famous, like Palm Springs. It wasn’t by coincidence that this was one of the zones where the United Farmerworkers Union (UFW) fought many battles in the 60s and 70s in order to gain better working and living conditions for farmworkers, whoce conditions are still miserable.

At the festival, the flat terrain and the lack of dividers between the stages sometimes confuses the sounds of each one. There aren’t any privileges for the press. The media tent is small and uncomfortable and if a journalist has a problem, it’s possible that the company in charge of public relations, MSO, of Los Angeles, will respond with a “we can’t resolve that” problem. The only thing that’s free at Coachella is parking.

Outside Lands Festival

For two years, the Outside Lands Festival (at the end of August), in San Francisco, emerged as an alternative for music lovers who live in the central or northern part of the state.

Established in the magical Golden Gate park each of the stages is surrounded by trees and vegetation that isolates the sound. Outside Lands mantains the same format: three days of music on various stages and the inclusion of well-known Latino artists. The climate is cool and the food, although it isn’t more affordable, has flavor. And since it’s San Francisco, there had to be a tent dedicated to the vinicultural delights of the Napa Valley and a dedication to recycling and the environment.

And the music, like in Coachella, is some of the best.

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