What to expect for the Coachella Festival?
March 6, 2008 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Things to expect for Coachella Festival in April?

I'm heading to Cali for Coachella this year, and was wondering what sorts of things I could expect for the festival specifically, and for the area in general.

-What's weather usually like there? I've been told hot/dry desert conditions are the norm, what's the area like at the end of April?

-What's the festival usually like for food/drink and the like? Should I be expecting 12 dollar burgers and 8 dollar bottles of water, and bring my own supplies accordingly? The rules page says no outside food/water, but medium backpacks are allowed - is it feasible to smuggle in bottles if prices are ridiculous?

-How's the layout of the fest usually set up? Size of the grounds, number of stages, etc.

-Any other less-than-obvious things I might want to know about?
posted by FatherDagon to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I attended Coachella in '04.

Let me begin by saying that it was the finest outdoor concert / camping experience of my life. I would trade a dozen Bonnaroo's for one Coachella, any day.

Here's the list of stuff that sucked:
ABSOLUTELY NO BRINGING WATER INTO THE FESTIVAL SITE. They will definitely search your bags and they will chuck your water. They even have special gigantic trash barrels for water-bottle disposal.
Workaround: I brought a camel-pack. There was one hose with a long line leading to it, but I was able to fill my camelpack and provide nourishing water to myself and my buds.

Food is ridiculously expensive, which is to say no more or less than any other festival.

Make sure that you get a camping pass. There's no where to stay if you aren't camping. People were sleeping on the side of the road and stuff. Camp. Camping is fun.

It was impossibly hot. 114 degrees. Dress accordingly.

Also, during the Radiohead concert a large section of the audience was attacked by a swarm of bees that rose of out of the ground like an angry tide. It was kinda funny watching the uncomfortable, sun-baked and sweaty emo kids fleeing a massive cloud of bees, though.

While you are in the area, you absolutely should visit Joshua Tree national park - and hang out in the little town of Joshua Tree as well, though they probably wouldn't want everyone to do that. It's a staggeringly beautiful place.

Have fun - this is the best concert event of them all.

Remember! One hose! Find it! No outside water allowed! If I went back I'd bring some kind of inflatable pool toy or something to fill from the hose.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:10 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

The thing that shocked me the most when I got there was how well organized it was. I can't remember the temperature when I was there, but it was pretty comfortable. I wore jeans and a t-shirt the whole time.

For food, the prices were medium for a festival. I remember they had corn on the cob, hamburgers, some vegetarian smoothie options, and some other ethnic option. They weren't bargain, but they also weren't outrageous either. They had separate tables for just water.

They thoroughly check bags, and your food and water will be confiscated. There's the main stage, another stage and 3 smaller stages if I remember correctly. One of these smaller stages is the dance tent.

The worst part for me was that the first day, I had to stand in line for quite a while to get in.
posted by hazyspring at 2:15 PM on March 6, 2008

I've been to two Coachellas (Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine years) and off the top of my head I can think of a few things:

-It's hotter than you can imagine so stay hydrated as much as you can. There's not much in the way of shelter once you're in the concert area, and all shade is at a premium. It's not much better even when it's night time.

-Allow for LOTS of traffic getting into the parking area. You'll sit for an hour or even two because all the traffic funnels into one two-lane road, so be prepared for that.

-There's so much dust, and I forget this every year. Bring a bandana or something similar to filter your breathing. The year that Rage played I was hacking up dirt for a week afterwards.

-I was able to get items into the concert area, but YMMV. I also tended to go a little later in the day when the guards were tired and not searching bags as much. I hid a lot of my water on my person (inside pockets/underwear/jacket/etc.).

-In reference to the heat again, I recommend AGAINST drugs that demand you stay hydrated because it's nearly impossible to do so.

-Watch out for the destruction derby that takes place in the parking lot after the last day of the show. The lot is all dirt, so as everyone starts driving at once the dirt is kicked up and you can't see more than 20 yards ahead of you, so it's just headlights criss-crossing in the dark and searching for exits. Lots of fun, but dangerous and difficult if you don't like driving blind or are under the influence.

-You will not see every band you want to see. It's an unfortunate fact. So figure out who you REALLY want to see and try to minimize walking between stages due to heat and also your view of the stage. The main stage shows are almost too big to be enjoyable for me, and I found my most enjoyable moments were being up front for smaller bands on smaller stages. The longer you stay at one stage, the closer you get because of the exodus that happens in between every set.

-Have a blast.
posted by rooftop secrets at 2:22 PM on March 6, 2008

a) Weather could be pretty variable. I went in 2002 and the weather was great--about 80, sunny, light breeze, no problems whatsoever. I went in 2004, and it was mind-meltingly hot, something like 110. It could be either one of those extremes or anywhere in between, but I'd feel pretty safe betting that it'll be *warm*. I'd plan for high 80's/low to mid-90's.

b) Resistance is futile. They'll search you pretty well, and there's a giant pile of water bottles and other stuff that they've confiscated when you reach the head of the line for the security check. Prices inside aren't great, but they're not totally gougy either. I paid $2 per bottle of water last time I went, which is a bit of a rip but not insane.

c) There's a number of outdoor stages and tents. One stage is the big major stage where the serious headliners play (like Radiohead and the Pixies in '04), then there's a smaller side stage where lesser known bands play (...Trail of the Dead in '04). Your opinions of who's major and who's not may differ from the concert organizers, but generally the level of the acts rises for all stages throughout the day. There's one giant tent that's all DJs and dancing all the time, and a couple smaller tents that have bands or DJs play in them. Then there's one tent that houses a film festival (note: this tent is somewhat air-conditioned). There's also a few booths scattered around selling swag and other stuff, along with the art exhibits that allow the whole thing to be called an arts festival. There are beer gardens, but the lines can be long, and they're not really located next to any stages. I'd avoid them unless you really need a beer (you can't leave the beer garden while still holding a beer), or unless there's a break between acts that you want to see.

d) Oh, lordy.

If you want to be right up front for one of the headliners, it might be good to stock up on water or whatever beforehand and just park yourself in a good spot until the band comes on. In '04, I was 50 feet from the stage before the Pixies came on, but I started feeling the effects of heat exhaustion, so I left to get some water and gatorade before I fainted. By the time I got back, I couldn't get within 400 feet of the stage, and even at his current size, Black Francis was practically a pinpoint from where I was standing.

Hopefully they've fixed things in recent years, but the last time I went, it took well over an hour to get from I-10 to the concert site, and I was getting there pretty early in the day. Even worse, It took *hours* to get out of the parking lot. The concert ends at midnight; I typically have a 2.5 hour drive to get home; I actually got home at 7am. When I got back to my car (it might be helpful to mark your car somehow so it's easier to find in the parking lot), I started the engine and sat there for twenty minutes while nobody moved. At all.

Right near the entrance is the main band swag vending tent. I'd buy whatever you want to get right when you get in, because it's quite likely that they'll be totally sold out by the end of the day.

Figure out ahead of time which bands you want to see when. I think they'll have a schedule up before the day of the concert, so use that to plan an itinerary. I think the LA times also comes out with a list of who's good to see on what day, so you can use that to fill in the gaps if you've got large dead periods and are interested in seeing some new stuff.
posted by LionIndex at 2:26 PM on March 6, 2008

More or less same advice as baby balrog. They're fairly effective about preventing smuggling into the festival proper, it's unlikely you'll be able to get water in undetected. The hose that baby balrog describes came from a source that has a sign on it identifying it as non-potable, but it's probably safe to drink (if it's still there).

You can smuggle beer and liquor into the campgrounds fairly easily.

Temperatures during the day will be hot and dry. Wear more sunscreen than you think you need.

After the sun goes down the weather doesn't get cold, but you'll be happier with a hoodie you can throw on.

Food was pricey, but good selection.

If you've got a group, bring a couple of cheap walkie-talkies. Cell towers are quickly overwhelmed by the number of users.
posted by justkevin at 2:35 PM on March 6, 2008

Good point on the cell-phones that needs to be seconded. Not only do the cell-phones not work half the time, but there's not a whole lot of recognizable meeting points in a mostly large open field, so you may want to pick one meeting point ahead of time before you get separated.
posted by rooftop secrets at 2:40 PM on March 6, 2008

I did Coachella in 2004 as well, so I'll repeat what the others have said - it was mind-bogglingly hot. (Of course, I'd come west from New England, where we'd just had one of the coldest winters in history, so I freakin' *loved* it. But I did bathe in sunscreen every couple of hours.) As I recall, the searching was way over the top - when I went in, they were confiscating *pens* for some reason. But as a veteran of concert searches, I still brought my glass and weed.

Getting in & out was definitely an arduous process; I did not camp and was just fine with that decision (waaay too hot & dusty - I was quite glad to have air conditioning and a pool to retire to after a day in the sun & dust). Get there early, and be prepared to chill for some time afterwards.

LionIndex perfectly describes the crush at the main stage for headliners - I stayed close to the front, but off to the side, for the Pixies (claustrophobia prevents me from even entertaining the idea of being front & center in such a crowd). At one point, Frank Black begged the crowd to stop pushing forward under threat of stopping the show. You do *not* want to be on the rail for a big name, unless you want to risk being carried out by security.

My only bit of advice would be to strongly consider some of the smaller acts that you might not know. I'm not a particularly big Radiohead fan, so while they were doing their thing I wandered over to the hip-hop stage. I'm glad I did, because I was one of maybe a hundred people watching the most skilled turntable operator I've ever seen. (I don't suppose anyone knows who that was? I didn't catch his name, and couldn't figure it out from the concert fliers.) Over the weekend, I saw plenty of bands I loved (often popping in for parts of sets), as well as several artists I'd never heard but instantly fell for. If you go to Coachella and only see the bands you know & love, you're missing a *huge* part of the fun.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 2:43 PM on March 6, 2008

Banky: Wasn't Kid Koala playing that weekend? I think he's Korean, if that helps.

Another word of advice: There's sometimes surprise appearances by other artists who are unbilled, and they just come onstage and play. Tenacious D did a 3-song set in 2002, and I think Beck did some odd thing in '04 between acts. Keep your head on a swivel.
posted by LionIndex at 2:55 PM on March 6, 2008

Kid Koala's Filipino and he's nasty. He could very well qualify as best ever, as he did for me in 2001 when I first saw him.
posted by mkb at 3:09 PM on March 6, 2008

(well, Filipino-Canadian anyway)
posted by mkb at 3:10 PM on March 6, 2008

Just saying that sometimes it's really really hot (high temps of 114 in 2004), and sometimes it's comfortably hot (in the mid-high 80s).

If it's really really hot, then drink lots of water (there are free fountains, but you have to stand in line for them), get your ass on the ground, and get something to shade yourself. I brought in a towel for sitting on and a towel for erecting a sort of tent.

Some security guards let me bring in empty nalgene bottles to fill at the fountains. Some didn't (what, did they think I was smuggling in drugged air?)

Festivals are a lot of fun. Consider skipping the "big name bands" that you don't particularly like and watching some smaller bands and the smaller tents. But if you want to see any of the headliners up close, you'll have to camp out. People tend to rush the stage right when the doors open and camp out right at the guard rail. I'd really reccommend just chilling out and watching the big acts from the back of the lawn.
posted by muddgirl at 3:20 PM on March 6, 2008

Nthing ridiculous heat although both shows I attended were much later in the year. That may help.

Surprised no one has mentioned the oft-praised bottle redemption policy from last year's event. Too lazy to search for a link, but the gist of it was that if you brought 10 empty water bottles (regardless of their condition) to a particular tent, you could redeem them for one free water.

The grounds were *spotless* because of this -- it was actually hard to find water bottles to redeem (and there really weren't enough redemption tents). Great environmental policy, probably not the most efficient means of getting a sip of water.

I suspect they'll bring back a beefed-up version of this program this year, with more redemption tents.
posted by Sinner at 6:59 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am from Southern California and am used to dry heat but the weather in Indio is ridiculous. I've gone to Coachella twice. My boyfriend has been to Coachella five times and he says he can't remember a year that wasn't sweltering.

DO NOT CAMP unless you are a masochist (or the weather is miraculousy in the 80's like previous posters have said... I can't imagine that area not being deadly hot that time of year). Being in the heat, even if you can find some shade, is really draining. Afterwards you probably just want some sleep, but in my experience campers are there for the all night party. If this sounds appealing, remember you'll likely be woken up with the bright sun and it's accompanying heat very early in the morning.

Your best bet for both staying your natural skin color and avoiding heat stroke is to wear long sleeved shirts and pants. Yeah, it's hot, but if you do this, your sweat will be able to do what its meant to.

As has been mentioned, it is very unlikely you would be able to smuggle in much. What I found most useful was a couple of energy bars smuggled via feminine underthings. Water would nearly be impossible to get in, and you can just wait in line for the hose/water fountains to fill a bottle.

And ah yes, Sinner got to the water bottle redemption thing just before I me. If there weren't a lot of bottles lying around (though there really were most times I went looking), a lot of people were taking bottles out of the recycling receptacles to take in. I don't know how you would feel about that, but there it is.

Have fun, and keep your eyes open for famous folk milling around (if you're into that, of course).
posted by liverbisque at 5:16 AM on March 7, 2008

Some thoughts, although I haven't been for about two festivals:

The last one I was at they were denying some people from bringing in Camelbacks, but some people did get in with them, so YMMV with that. I remember Gatorade costing about $3 a pop and I went through at least $20 worth of those in one day. I doubt you'll be able to smuggle in actual water bottles.

I've camped and stayed at a really nice condo nearby, if you can go in with a bunch of friends on a condo, I think it's worth it, but camping is not too bad either.

One thing I noticed is that if you like both Rock and Electronic music, you'll have to make some hard choices, two bands you like may be playing stages on opposite sides of the festival.

Another poster mentioned this but its worth repeating, at a certain point, you'll want to get to the main stage near the front and resign to never leaving that space, because there's no way in hell you're going to get close after the big act has started. I did this on the Sunday in 2004 I think, I stayed near the front of the main stage from 3 p.m. till the end of the night. I was really thirsty afterwards.

Sometimes you just have to give up on certain acts because you're too far away. This happened to me for Daft Punk and also, don't laugh, Madonna. When Beck played instead of Wilco they put him in a tent that was far too small for the intended audience, I wasn't even in the tent when I got there. I was about to give up and then I noticed screaming 16-year old girls tearing down the side of the tent and rushed in with them before security shut down that side.
posted by bertrandom at 8:15 AM on March 7, 2008

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