So What is Coachella Anyway?
This year Peter and I decided we wanted to go to Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. The day the tickets went on sale we bought two VIP passes for this annual festival in Indio, California.
It’s funny that when we told friends and family that we were going to Coachella most of them responded with, “What is Coachella?” I was surprised by the number of people that didn’t know what we were talking about…which led me to write this blog post. Coachella is such an amazing event, that I wanted to share our experiences with people who might not know about it.
Peter and I are not big concert people. We don’t make an effort to go to these type of events. In fact, before Coachella I had never attended a concert, let alone a huge music festival. It was never on my list of things I needed to do. That also meant that Peter and I had never been to a concert together either.
So this year we were like, yeah, why not? Let’s jump head first into the deep end and see if we sink or swim. The outcome: Let’s just say we loved it so much we wouldn’t mind having a floaty to just chill in the deep end of the music festival waters.
Where is Coachella and How Long is Coachella?
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, simply known as Coachella, is a 3-day-long music festival (Friday – Sunday) held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California in the month of April. This festival was spawned by a beef that Pearl Jam had with Ticketmaster. Refusing to play at Ticketmaster-related venues, they found the Empire Polo Club and staged a concert there, thereby showing the industry that people were willing to trek to the desert in SoCal to see good music. And so, Coachella was born. Originating in 1999, the festival became so popular over the years that it expanded to two weekends back in 2012, giving you two options to attend.
The festival features an array of music genres from electronic dance to indie. There are tons of artists performing over the 3-day weekend event and you’ll most likely find more than a few bands that you love. The year we went (2016) the headliners were LCD Soundsystem, Guns N’ Roses, Calvin Harris, Sia, Major Lazer, Ice Cube, Ellie Goulding, Jack U, and many more amazing artists too numerous to mention here. But you get the idea.
All of these concerts take place at several stages spread throughout the polo grounds. The main stage, Coachella Stage, is where all the main headliners play. This is an open-air stage where thousands of people can enjoy the music. The other open-air stage is the Outdoor Theatre, which is smaller than the main stage but still room for thousands of raving fans. Multiple other stages are held within large tents, which are more intimate.
WHAT TO WEAR TO COACHELLA
If you haven’t been to a large outdoor weekend concert like this, you might be wondering what to wear to Coachella. Well, in broad term, anything goes. That being said, there are a few things to avoid. Much has been made about thematic cultural dressing—Indian headdresses on pale white guys, bindis and sheer saris on women…you get the drift. Keep your cultural sensitivity intact and avoid these mistakes. You’ll also want to avoid anything too restrictive or heavy, as the heat is usually scorching. So leave the thick jeans and flannel at home.
Layering is your best bet, as it is cool in the mornings, warming up into the 100s during the day, and then getting chilly again at night. Oh, and you might get the occasional thunderstorm! I suggest starting with a pair of shorts or skirt. If you’re going for the skirt, long and flowy in a light cotton is best; mini skirts make it impossible to sit on the ground and listen to the artists, so nix those. You can also bring out sundresses, layered with a little jacket or cardigan.
Add a big scarf for those chilly mornings, and know it might come in handy later in the day during the occasional dust storm or at night to put over your legs while sitting and watching one of the acts. A hat is a must, as that sun beats down on you ALL day long. And while sandals are worn by a good number of the concertgoers, I recommend closed-toed shoes. The ground alternates from sandy to rocky to dirty to muddy (with rain). You’ll be more stable in closed-toe shoes (especially after drinking!). You can even rock a pair of boots or booties with your concert attire.
And, finally, make sure you wear sunscreen. The number of bright red bodies we encountered was shocking, and while they might not have been feeling any pain while at the concert, trying to sleep or a day or two down the road after all was said and done, they would be paying the price for their foolishness.
The Good, the Bad & the Awesome!
Now that you know the basics of Coachella, let me share our experience and what is Coachella in detail.
Along with the VIP passes, we also purchased the travel package, which includes hotel and shuttle to and from the festival. Peter and I didn’t want to camp out on the grounds, and we don’t own an RV, so sleeping on site was out. We didn’t want to drive to and from Coachella because it was our first time attending and didn’t want to deal with the headache of figuring out parking and driving after a long day in the sun, so we loved the idea of the shuttles.
The VIP passes, the hotel, and the shuttle were worth every penny. We read a lot of comments online that the VIP ticket is not worth it, but decided to get it anyway and see for ourselves. Let me tell you, if you have the extra cash, go for it!
The VIP passes also provide access to two VIP areas on the grounds and a separate entrance. These areas give you a place to relax and get some rest from the huge—and I do mean HUGE—crowds. In these areas, there is plenty of food, drinks, and shade. Not to mention it’s right next to the main Coachella stage, so you’re closer to the musical acts than most people out in the field. The lines are not long at all, so you don’t have to wait for water, food, drinks, and the restroom. This was a huge benefit. If you needed to refill your water or get some ice cream in the main grounds, you would have a pretty long wait.
Would we buy VIP passes again? Heck yes!
Another good thing about Coachella is the food. There are so many options, with something for everyone. Noteworthy chefs open pop-up restaurants, there is seated dining, food trucks, and plenty of cold beverages (an absolute necessity in the heat). You can nosh on healthy poke bowls, dive into decadence with some milky buns (ice cream-stuffed donuts), try some crab fries, or cool down with some fruity ice pops. I enjoyed the variety of good food and happy it just wasn’t your typical burgers and tacos.
Being able to refill your water bottle at stations throughout the venue was also great, because it was hot and staying hydrated was important.
While we splurged on our tickets to avoid the lines, driving, camping, etc., you can certainly do Coachella much less expensively. You’ll find it a bit more hectic and will take more planning, but either way, I’m betting you’ll have a good experience.
Bonus: The Coachella Valley is home to America’s largest date tree groves, so wander down the road to Shield’s Date Garden Store & Cafe and pick up some sweet dried dates, try a date shake, or pick up some date sugar to add to your latte!
Any negative experience that comes with Coachella comes with the unique environment that is a music festival. These are just some of the “bad” things that we experienced and observed.
Most likely you won’t be able to see every band or DJ you want. Multiple concerts are going on at the same time, so you’ll have to choose which one you want to see more. If you’re watching a headliner, there is no way you’ll make it to another concert that starts immediately after. It’s impossible. Trust me, we tried.
I wanted to see Ellie Goulding, who was on the main Coachella stage, but I also wanted to see Jack U that started 5 minutes after Ellie Goulding’s concert finished. So we stayed to see Ellie Goulding’s entire show and as soon as it finished we rushed to the outdoor theater. Little did we know the tens of thousands of people standing next to us also wanted to see Jack U. We knew we would never make it in, so we missed Jack U ????
We also observed a lot of people doing drugs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in the sense that it doesn’t directly affect you. As festival newbies, we thought it was an exaggeration when people said that there were a lot of drugs at music festivals in general. But, whoa, they weren’t kidding!
Prices are high…on everything. It felt like all drinks, food and snacks cost $15 per item. We would spend $60 every time we wanted something to eat and drink. I think we spent about $200 a day on food and drinks at Coachella. If you are camping at the venue, you can bring in food to your campsite, which can help with the cost. However, no one is allowed to bring outside food into the actual venue, so those of us shuttling or driving in had to purchase items from festival vendors.
For some, the heat can be unbearable. Depending on the year, the temperatures can range from 80s to low 100s, typically with blazing sun overhead. (You also get the occasional dust storm or rain.)
If you don’t like crowds, this is not the place for you. There are people, thousands of them. (In fact, 99,000 of them every day of the festival.)
The amount of music you get to indulge in for such a short amount of time is freaking awesome! I loved going from stage to stage, enjoying everything from rock to electronic dance music to indie pop. The intense music, crowd, heat, dancing, and worry-free environment create an experience you won’t soon forget.
Being there for the closing bands had to be one of my favorite experiences. Standing in the middle of tens of thousands of people was overwhelming and incredibly enjoyable at the same time.
I’m a huge fan of electronic and dance music, so the Sahara tent was one of my favorites! The video graphics on the screen that went along with the music and the crazy amount of people jam packed in the tent was, well…awesome.
The large-scale art installations are second only to the music. Huge, colorful, impressive, they add to the cultural vibe that is Coachella.
Things to Consider if You’re Going to Coachella
Bring a bandana – these are not just for looks. You need it to shield yourself from the dust storms. Just make it a part of your festival clothing, like I did.
Bring a water bottle – it’s important to stay hydrated, and there are plenty of water refill stations throughout the venue.
Wear a hat – protect your face from the sun’s blazing rays. Check out my Coachella style and how I accessorized my outfit with a hat.
Wear plenty of sunscreen – you will get sunburned or extremely tanned if you don’t wear sunscreen.
Plan your schedule ahead of time – know which bands you want to see before you get to the festival. Like I mentioned, you probably won’t be able to see all the ones you want, so plan accordingly.
Get the travel package if you can – for a worry free experience, this is a great option.
Wear closed-toed shoe – if you’re in the middle of it all, surrounded by a mass of humanity, chances are good that you will get stepped on.
Bonus: You might want to stick around after the second weekend, see some desert sights, hike or camp at Joshua Tree National Park, and then return the following weekend to the Polo Grounds for country music’s own party, the Stagecoach Festival.
If you didn’t know about Coachella before, I hope this gave you an idea of what it is like, and if you love music, just how amazing an experience it can be.
What is Coachella and what is Coachella like? It can be difficult to put into words. It’s something you have to experience firsthand to fully appreciate. Try it, I think you’ll like it!
PS: If you want to see what I wore to Coachella check out my music festival outfit posts!