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A Coachella Highlight Guide

Find out who to see at the massive annual desert music and art festival

Josh Feeney Photography

Every April, I start perusing the Coachella poster, and the thought of spending an entire weekend wandering the polo grounds checking out great bands eclipses any doubts I may have had about the weather, the walking or the lineup.

Each year, aside from taking pictures, interviewing bands, and doing a daily recap, I also end up writing some kind of preview and survival guide for the massive, double-weekend event. But re-reading some of my past survival guides before sitting down to write this, I realize I’ve become quite proficient in stretching what should be, at longest, a paragraph. So, this year -- for the first time -- is my “Coachella Survival Guide” in 20 words or less:

Drink much water. Wear comfortable shoes. Use sunscreen. Be smart about drugs and alcohol. See bands. Have fun.


And now I have ample space to preview the most important thing about the back-to-back weekends in Indio: the music.

When this year’s line-up was announced, it came with the inevitable backlash and expected cries of Coachella once again shark jumping. It happens annually and this year was no exception. But if you’re worried about things like Drake getting a headlining spot or why a band like Steely Dan made the cut, you’re missing the point.

I honestly believe 2015’s roster of bands is one of the strongest Coachella has ever assembled. I’m actually wondering if I’ll get to all the bands I want to see because each day is so jam-packed. It seems daunting to try and see them all. But here are five bands each day I refuse to miss:


Alabama Shakes: Brittany Howard is a force. I’d happily watch her sing the complete works of Justin Beiber and Yoko Ono -– she’s just that good. And the rest of the band ain’t bad, either.

Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires: The “Screaming Eagle of Soul” is a consummate performer who channels James Brown and Sam Cooke in all the right ways. Backed by the Extraordinaires, this is perfect way to kick off the weekend.

Ride: The term “shoegazing” gets thrown around a lot these days, but Ride is the real deal. This Oxford-based quartet is sure to make you feel (at least a little bit) better about the decision to smoke too much weed on a 100-degree day.

Raekwon and Ghostface Killah: Two of Wu’s finest, and the perfect respite from an otherwise lackluster hip-hop day.

Allah-Las: There has never been a better band to watch in the desert sun than LA’s Allah-Las. Their chill, beachy vibe is infectious and is sure to recalibrate your afternoon.

The rest: Eagulls, Lykke Li, Azealia Banks, Flying Lotus, Todd Terje & the Olsens, Caribou, Cloud Nothings, Brant Bjork & the Low Desert Punk Band, Tame Impala and Hot Natured.


Run The Jewels: Killer Mike and El-P are the hottest thing in hip-hop right now, and for good reason -– they’re smart, have great chemistry together, and write amazing songs. This is sure to be one of the best performances of the weekend. Don’t be surprised if RATM’s Zach De La Rocha makes a guest appearance.

Drive Like Jehu: One of San Diego’s finest on the big stage. This one is a no-brainer for any respectable local music fan.

Benjamin Booker: A unique, wild new voice who dropped an incredible debut last year, and is ready to take his place among the top-tier live performers currently touring. Jack White joining him on stage? Likely.

Swans: Ready to have your face melted, ears bleed, and soul conflicted? If that sounds like a good time, this is for you.

The Gaslamp Killer Experience: One-time San Diego DJ Gaslamp Killer, aka William Bensussen, re-invents the 12-piece ensemble that only performed once prior –- at a 2013 fundraiser to pay for bills relating to Bensussen’s near-fatal scooter accident. Performances two and three should be otherworldly.

The rest: Jack White, Father John Misty, the Weeknd, Belle and Sebastian, Bad Religion, Perfume Genius, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Bostich and Fussible, Chet Faker, Alt-J, War on Drugs, Jungle, Royal Blood, FKA Twigs, Yelle, Parquet Courts, Toro y Moi, and Gramatik.


St. Vincent: Annie Clark is about as dynamic as they come and has honed her live show into something incredible every time. Plus, there’s always a chance she’ll rip off a guitar solo while crowd surfing.

Angel Olsen: This Chicago-based singer dropped last year’s best record, "Burn Your Fire For No Witness," and does a great job re-creating it in the live setting. Chances of being bewitched while watching her perform? High.

Desaparecidos: Shhhhhh. This Nebraska-based sextet is fronted by none other than Bright Eyes’ singer Conor Oberst. But don’t expect any singer/songwriter confessionals here. This is a lot heavier. Just don’t tell anyone.

Ryan Adams: The man. It’s just a rule, when you have a chance to see Ryan Adams, you see Ryan Adams. Plus, this dude has worked with more people than a decades-old temp service, so the probability of an amazing guest (or two) is likely.

Mac DeMarco: Ryan Adams 2.0? Maybe. We’ll have to wait and see. But this young, prolific performer just dropped an incredible record and is well on his way to becoming a consistently solid songwriter.

The rest: Built To Spill, Jenny Lewis, the Orwells, OFF!, Annie Mac, Chicano Batman, Sturgill Simpson, Odesza, and Panda Bear.

Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of
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