The Music Festival Fan’s Guide to Coachella
By Mike Swisher
FestPop Staff Writer
There is no feeling quite like walking onto the Empire Polo Field for the first time and witnessing the vast awesomeness that is Coachella. With the sun on your face and the mountains and palm trees as your backdrop, you’ll feel invincible – ready to take on the best weekend of your life with 80,000 smiling and beautiful people.
I’ve been to my fair share of festivals but there are few that exude energy like Coachella does year after year. There is something to be said for a destination festival where people from all over the globe enthusiastically sacrifice their hard earned money to come together to be a part of something epic. Coachella is the weekend that my friends look forward to all year because it has everything a great festival should – up and coming artists making their big debut alongside the greatest performers in the biz and consistent performances that go above and beyond expectations and hold nothing back. At the end of the day, its all about the music and Coachella never disappoints.
Coachella has something for everyone and there is an endless number of ways to experience it. The young and newly initiated will likely find themselves waking up to the sun beating down on their tents, getting an early start exploring the campground, and making new friends at every turn. The older and more veteran festival-goers might opt for a house with a pool and a lunchtime BBQ to get ready for the day. Either way, everyone will come together on the Polo Field to share their love of music and art while bringing life to the best party in California.
If you’re traveling from afar, it will be important to figure out how you’re going to get to the festival before your plane touches down in Southern California. Luckily for you, it becomes easier every year to get to the festival without a car and there are even multiple airports you can choose from if you’re flying. Palm Springs is by far the most convenient, but tickets can get pricey unless you book far in advance. LAX will likely be the cheapest flight, but is a decent distance from the fest. Either way, you can rent a car once you land or catch one of the roundtrip shuttles that will take you straight to your hotel or campground.
Once transportation is taken care of, you’ll need to find a place to rest your tired legs after that last headliner takes the stage at the end of the night and you literally can’t pull off one more dance move. There is no shortage of options for accommodation in Indio and the surrounding area, so it will really be up to what creature comforts you need and how close to the festival you want to be.
Some would say you have to experience camping at least once before you upgrade to hotel or house. I’d agree that camping in the sea of tents is the way to get most connected to the Coachella experience – the people and buzz around the campground make it an unforgettable experience. It’s not necessarily for the fancy types though – shower lines can get really long and the sun will wake you up bright and early no matter what time you finally pass out amidst the music and partying. That being said, camping is definitely where the action is and there is always something going on. There are plenty of food options, people drinking & playing games, booths to buy art and knick knacks, and stages with DJs that spin well after the festival ends for the night. The campground also provides the easiest festival access, which is key for ins & outs if you want to take breaks from the crowds during the day.
If getting down and dirty camping doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, check out listings for one of the many nearby hotels or house rentals in the area. You can stay as far away as Palm Springs and take a convenient shuttle to and from the festival every day. If you’re staying in a hotel or complex without shuttle service, there are also plenty of taxis and locals happy to transport you for a reasonable fee. There are obvious perks to going this route: you’ll enjoy running water, air conditioning and Hollywoodesque pool parties featuring big name acts and DJs. My personal favorite is at the Agua Caliente Casino where they throw parties all weekend long! While this may sound glamorous (and it is), beware of sleeping in too late or losing track of time splashing around with bathing suit clad babes (and dudes). The perks are great and I’ve definitely opted for the added luxury the past few years. Just keep in mind that Coachella is the main event – the lines get longer and the transportation to the festival gets harder as the day goes on (plus there are tons of amazing acts to check out early in the day!)
Once you’ve gotten all the logistics out of the way, it’s time to start enjoying your weekend in the sun. If you’re the type that likes to plan it all out, it is definitely a great idea to download the Coachella App so that you can keep track of set times and avoid missing your favorite artist when you lose track of time dancing in the air conditioned Heineken Dome. For those that like to wing it, wander and get lost exploring the art installations, beer gardens, and 8 stages around the Polo Field while making friends and discovering new acts you’ve never heard of. Most of the stages host a wide variety of musical acts, but each one definitely has its own flavor. The main stage and outdoor stage will host the biggest names in Rock, Folk & Hip Hop, while the tents will lean towards the electronic with the Sahara hosting world famous DJs, the Yuma tent featuring favorites in the Deep House scene and the Do Lab putting on funky shows with refreshing misters to keep you cool.
To further set you up for success, I’ve gone ahead and put together the most important insider tips & Coachella essentials discovered from years of learning the hard way.
- Put on plenty of sunblock – the Coachella sun is strong and beautiful
- Drink more water than you think you need – bring a water bottle and get free refills all day
- Wear comfortable shoes – you will be dancing all day and your feet will thank you
- Remember to eat – sounds like a no-brainer, but with so much awesomeness around you its easy to forget
- Pace yourself – I have seen many a friend peak early and miss ½ the day
- Choose a physical meeting spot at the beginning of the weekend – cell phone reception can be shotty and you’ll thank yourself when you get split up from your friends in a big crowd
- Get yourself a locker at the beginning of the weekend – great for stashing your sweatshirts for the chilly nights and they do sell out quickly
- Understand that you will not see every act that you plan on -remember that while the music is important, its more about having a great experience with your friends
- Put up a marker at your campsite to help you find it – the campsite is huge and you will get lost trying to find your tent
- Pick your top 3 artists for the day and leave the rest to happen organically
- Get to the showers early to avoid the long lines – Nobody wants to wait an hour in the shower line
- Take advantage of the trailer bathrooms at the back of the porta potties – there are real toilets and sinks to wash your hands (just don’t tell anyone our little secret.)
- Accept that there will be lines and embrace it – take the opportunity to meet your line neighbors and make some new friends
- Sunglasses and/or hat
- Fanny pack
- Glow sticks or something that lights up
- Reusable water bottle
- Sunblock and chapstick
When you remember to break away from the music to put something in your stomach, make sure you sample some of the awesome food trucks that come to the festival from all over California. There are tons to choose from and the ones nearest the ferris wheel have great beer to wash it all down. All of the beer gardens are 21+, so grab a wristband when you first arrive to beat the lines. The beer gardens are also a great place to watch shows and they are located near all the big stages so you can enjoy your beer with plenty of space to stretch your legs and soak it all in.
Get excited for an amazing weekend under the Coachella skies and look for me when you get there. I’ll be that guy dancing my ass off with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen, thanking the Coachella gods that I made it there one more time.
After the Festival
If you do Coachella right, you will be exhausted at the end of the weekend and will likely be in need of some respite. Take advantage of the beautiful weather and get a room in nearby Palm Springs so you can relax poolside for a day or two. If you’re some kind of superhuman party animal, Palm Springs also has a great bar scene or you can head back to Agua Caliente for some drinks and blackjack at the casino.
If you need to get home, but want to check out some sites on your way out – grab yourself a world famous Date Shake from Hadley’s fruit orchard and take it with you on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway where you can grab a bite to eat while enjoying the breathtaking views at 8,500 feet!
Sahara Tent, Sahara Tent 2, Yuma Tent
Palm Springs Tram