The Coachella Valley Arts Festival feels like one big experiment. Every year, for two consecutive weekends in April, people from around the world journey to the sprawling desert of Indio, California for a one-of-a-kind experience. Music is billed as the main attraction. The rest is sensory overload. Sky-scraping sculptures, women clad in lace outfits, sheer tops, guys in odd costumes, a smorgasbord of food, drugs and alcohol are just a tip of the iceberg. On my first trip in 2013 for Mass Appeal, I attempted to indulge in all of the above. This year was different. My lady and I took our son, so I put a lot of the adult-themed activities on the back burner. There is always the thought of just hiding it like we would to our parents when we were once teenagers, but why insult his intelligence.
Coachella is a teenager’s playground though, with a splash of Disney World’s magic. A towering Ferris wheel takes the place of Cinderella’s Castle. Depending on which direction you’re coming from, the Ferris wheel serves as a beacon for the festival’s entrance or exit. It seemed like it was visible from any lookout point on the 78 acres of the Empire Polo Club. Going for four spins on the Ferris wheel was the only excitement for my lil guy because it was reminiscent of Coney Island and Six Flags Great Adventure. I thought the art installations would be more interactive like 2013’s Snail and Mantis. There were a few installations like The Balloon Chain (pictured above) by Robert Bose. It painted white dots in the sky that swayed like flying a bunch of kites. If you were lucky, Bose the “Balloon Guy” would let you hold the string of 50-200 balloons. Numerous people held onto the handle to keep the helium balloons from whipping away from them disastrously like Charlie Brown. We queued up to the ARMPIT, a dark fort filled with flatscreen TVs that pictured men chiseling and tinkering with objects. Katrīna Neiburga, the Latvian video artist behind the project, wanted to display how, “men want to be alone in their garage,” according to Coachella’s website.
The rotating computer head element was one of the 8 dimensions of the ARMPIT. People stood in a separate line to have a 10 minute seat inside this part of the contraption, but I had seen enough. If you’re a New Yorker like me, waiting in line just to get in another line seems like the biggest waste of time, especially on vacation. We already endured a good 30-minute walk from the Uber drop-off and three checkpoints. “Another one,” in a DJ Khaled voice rang through my head at every turn.
My boy was a trooper. We spotted a trash can designed to look like Pokémon’s Pikachu. Over 40 designers were commissioned by Global Inheritance, a non-profit organization that promotes recycling through unique projects like Trashed Coachella. Pikachu, pepperoni pizza, DOOM, Cheech and Chong, and Prince inspired the sights for sore eyes. 2013 was the first time the garbage cans made their first appearance.
Free water—not beer—fueled every step. Everything Coachella is at least $10 and up. With an artist badge, water is always accessible backstage. Camp, Coachella’s official magazine, recommends drinking a bottle of water per hour, and adding an extra bottle for every drink of alcohol. I couldn’t tell you the price of water because having a 5-year-old earned us a free bottle as soon as we entered the festival grounds. Between our first sips, a guy was tackled to the ground by security, presumably for not having a wristband. The risk taken to get into Coachella was real.
Our second night was a little more loose. The Yuma tent featured a DJ set by Maceo Plex from Dallas, TX. It felt like a true rave. Most of the people inside were laid out on enormous mattresses letting the music wash over them. I stood to the side double-fisting beers to chase my iced coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. From a few glances around the room just a few people aimlessly danced to Maceo Plex’s barrage of house and techno. They pinged around the tent at their own pace; the bursts of light reflecting from the disco ball bounced faster. The traditional disco ball effects were a bit easier to watch compared to Calvin Harris’ video accompaniment, which preceded our stop at the Yuma tent. Maceo Plex’s set was a more balanced wave that didn’t play to the predictable roller coaster conventions of electronic dance music where the beat starts low, races to the top, and drops you off into a spiked pit of noise. The sign of warm mattresses was a sign of a more cushioned fall into EDM.
Finally, we took our last ride on the Ferris wheel to close out the second weekend of Coachella. A chill, joyful ride was what we needed before our long walk back to our pick-up truck. The high winds picked up dust and dirt flinging them into our lungs. We were without a bandana or face mask to block the debris. This was hell. Elbow-to-elbow with the Coachella procession on the Yellow Path. Color coated banners directed us to the parking lot. We accidentally took the Red Path until we quickly rerouted. At one point, I looked over at a guy dressed in a Pikachu onesie walking in the opposite direction, and I remembered the Purple Path from 2013. I don’t think it existed this year. The signage was printed in the iconic electric font that paid homage to Purple Rain. I remembered our dearly departed upon our own departure from the sacred grounds.