When I was 15, I saw a curious looking Coachella DVD in the music documentary section at Best Buy, and bought it on a whim. It turned out to be a collection of select performances from the festival’s recent years. It introduced me to the concept of the contemporary music festival. Watching awe-inspiring sets from the Pixies, Radiohead, and Arcade Fire back then made me long for this mystical festival destination for the ensuing years. What could be better than a music festival in the California desert, surrounded by swaying palm trees and gorgeous sunsets? As an East coast-bred music nerd, it was an ideal but impossible musical destination. It always fell during a school semester, would take a flight to get to, and just never seemed to be within my grasp. Nevertheless, I knew I had to go. In fact, I had dreamed of one day making the trip to Coachella every single year until this one, when I finally decided I was done denying myself, when I saw Radiohead and Godspeed listed alongside Jeff Mangum and Bon Iver. I was sold.
When I got there, though, I realized that, for many, Coachella is just another California party. Whereas I was going to surround myself with music and people who loved music, like I have done repeatedly at Bonnaroo for the past six years, many here were at Coachella, to, well, be at Coachella. There’s certainly nothing wrong with going somewhere for the sake of going somewhere, plus the added bonus of catching sets of music, but the Coachella experience definitely wasn’t all my pubescent dreams had longed for. I expected massive crowds of cultish fans going nuts for reformed acts like At the Drive-in, Refused, and Mazzy Star. I expected Radiohead heads to overtake the polo field and post up all day at the main-stage waiting for their beloved gods of rock to grace their eyes and ears. Maybe I was hoping for something that really doesnt exist anywhere but in my head. Maybe I’m outgrowing the magic of festivals. Or maybe there simply were too many young, neon-clad partiers and not enough music-worshippers.
Photo by Ted Maider
For whatever reason, the music never felt as powerful as I would have expected it to, because, when it comes right down to it, for many sets, I felt alone in my excitement. I may be out of line here, but something about Coachella did not sit well with me. The music was great, the setting was phenomenal, I just wish my dreams weren’t so far from the reality. But I guess that’s the reality of high expectations, they can never be met.
I’ll never forget the unique experience of actually keeping an eye out for the Radiohead fanatics, and actually being able to get close for Jeff Mangum right before he started. In many ways, it kept the performances I wanted to see intimate, but in others, I wish I had a community to look on with. Because nobody goes to a festival just to see music, and sadly, for many here, that seemed to be only one of the fringe perks. Maybe Bonnaroo is my perfect festival after all.
Anyhow, here’s what we all saw.
Senior Staff Writer