It’s inevitable. Every year after Coachella’s first weekend wraps, the death knell of the festival is shouted from a flock of online rooftops. Armchair quarterbacks of all shapes and sizes try to out-snark each other in deriding the three-day event: It’s too corporate; too crowded; too passe; too mainstream. This game is nothing new.
And honestly, it wasn’t difficult to call Coachella out this year. Along with the annual list of gripes, the OutKast reunion was a total bust, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler talked smack and Justin Bieber showed up. Combined with the onslaught of pictures clogging music sites and newsfeeds documenting half-baked celebrities hanging out, or scantily clad Orange County trust-fund brats getting wasted, I can sympathize with the distain.
But love it or hate it, the center of the musical universe was in Indio this weekend.
Not only was Sir Paul McCartney taking in the desert action, the weekend’s surprise performer list read like a super-sized fourth day of the music and arts fest - Janelle Monae, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Too $hort, Busta Rhymes, Gwen Stefani, Mary J. Blige, Drake, Childish Gambino, Nelly, Snoop Dogg, Diplo, Debbie Harry, and Slash all made appearances.
Yet all of it -- the bonus unannounced super-star guests, as well as the varying subjects of detractors -- has very little impact on what makes the festival great.
Almost all of the talk (good or bad) surrounding the festival each year deals with the last two hours of performances. But it’s in the 10 hours prior where you find the heart of Coachella. It’s a conundrum. Do you skip the long list of incredible acts that start at noon each day to save enough energy to be present for the possibility of a Jay-Z appearance, or do you check out all of the smaller acts and hope you can rally for the show closers? Not many can do it all. I choose the latter.
I won’t recap the laundry list of amazing acts I took in on Friday and Saturday, but Sunday was incredible. Stay tuned for my photo gallery coming later this week.
Starting at 12:50 p.m., I was lucky enough to catch sets from J Roddy Walston & the Business, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Bombino, Poolside, Courtney Barnett, Chance the Rapper, Frank Turner, Superchunk, Aluna George, Neutral Milk Hotel, Little Dragon, the Toy Dolls, Lana Del Rey, John Newman, Disclosure, and Motorhead.
That’s a complete gamut of genres from rock, jazz, and world, to pop, rap, and punk – not to mention that it’s representative of artists from 5 different countries.
And if you’re a music fan, that’s all you can ask for. Sure, Bombino’s absolutely electrifying afternoon set or Courtney Barnett’s breakout performance is going to get lost among the hype of Beyonce dancing with her sister. That’s how the mainstream works. But if all you can find to complain about is a take on what the media is shoving down your throat, then you’re missing the point.
Like anything, Coachella is what you make of it. And if you take risks on acts you may not know, or shift your focus away from the bright lights, there are rewarding experiences everywhere you turn in Indio.
At the end of the day, I see almost a quarter of a million people making a tremendous effort (time, travel, money, planning) for the right to sit and do nothing but listen to music for three days. And to me, that trumps everything else.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com