My Coachella Experience

After Coachella, I wrote an article about my experience for ronebreak.com. Check out my article here. While you’re at it, check out ronebreak.com, too. It’s an awesome website.

Here’s the full text of my article in case you don’t click over:

(Just warning you, this is a long one. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop.)

Getting WET at Coachella

Back in the chilly winter months when the Coachella line-up was first released and I saw that every one of my favorite bands would be playing, I knew there was no question about it: I’d be going to Coachella.

As the days went on and my pockets grew lighter, I grew weary that my Coachella dreams would not become a reality. In order to splurge on the $269+ festival ticket I’d have to give up certain things in my life: grocery shopping, going out for meals, eating breakfast. Ya know, the things that don’t really matter. My rumbling stomach beat out my ears’ desire for live music and my Coachella dreams flew through the pipe hole.

Once the end of March neared, Coachella crept into my mind again. How can you so easily forget about me? For a whole weekend I’ll be home to all your favorite musicians. You know you need a break from school and you need a festival in your life. You neeeed me. In bursts, Coachella urgings took over my brain. I had to go.

After coming to grips with the fact that I couldn’t purchase a ticket, I began thinking of my other options. Suddenly it occurred to me. Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier? Festivals don’t run without help from others. Festivals don’t run without volunteers.

Because I have friends that volunteered at festivals before, I knew of a program called WET (Work Exchange Team). In exchange for working a minimum of 18 hours at the festival, WET provides you with a free festival pass. When creating an application there’s a $15 non-refundable fee and they ask for a $325 deposit to secure your spot. The deposit money is returned to you after you work the festival.

So I rounded up three of my friends and we were all set to get wet for Coachella.

Friday

7:25 a.m. Left for Coachella from Tempe, A

12 p.m. Received WET credentials and hopped back in the car to set up camp and hopefully check out some bands before our shift at 2:30 p.m.

3 p.m. Checked into WET 30 minutes late. We spent about an hour in traffic when the festival was less than a mile away. We spent another hour trying to figure out where our camping area was. Everyone that tried to help us gave us conflicting directions. Most people just shooed us away.

We received our schedules and the four of us had the same shifts.

First shift: Friday 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Second Shift: Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Third shift: Sunday 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

I’d still see my top three bands that I asked to see when I filled out the application: Jay-Z, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Miike Snow. I’d be missing Passion Pit, She & Him, Them Crooked Vultures, LCD Soundsystem, Grizzly Bear, La Roux, and Vampire Weekend.

For our first shift we’d be stationed at Water World. Upon hearing Water World we automatically assumed we’d be playing at a giant water slide all night, spraying squirt guns and staying refreshed. My friend Brittany and I even busted into a Water World chant with another volunteer we just met. We were really ready to get wet.

One of our supervisors asked if three of us wanted to extend our shift until 10 p.m. and not work Saturday or Sunday. Because we were so caught up in our fantasy of Water World, we dismissed her offer. But I quickly realized that two more hours of working in exchange for a free day was much better than whatever mystery Water World held. We told her there were four of us and we took the two extra hours in exchange for a free day on Saturday. We got hooooooked up!

So we got shoveled into a crowd of about 20 other volunteers in yellow WET shirts waiting for orders. A truck came, five of us hopped in and they sent us off, destination unknown. We were clueless the whole time as to what was going on.

We arrived at the front entrance where people were coming into the festival. We got dropped off without any directions. It was a madhouse. Screaming festival-goers frustrated from waiting in line saw our yellow volunteer shirts and started attacking us like vultures. They swarmed us, encircled us, cornered us, and demanded wristbands.

An angry man wearing a cowboy hat leaned against the fence and handed us 10 wristbands at a time. We’d take someone’s ticket and sling a wristband on their wrist. Ten wristbands at a time were not enough. I’d run out in five minutes. Around 5:30 the crowd finally died down and we had a couple minutes to actually breathe.

Even though the scene was a mad house, I was on some kind of crazy adrenaline rush from the fast talking, repetitious motion of applying the wrist band, taking the ticket stub, and saying “welcome” over and over.  Also, it was a good feeling to be able to welcome people, to start their festival experience off with a friendly smile.

As the night progressed every volunteer had at least two bribe stories. In hopes of getting a ticket, hopeful festival-goers were offering wads of hundreds, jewelry, blow jobs, sex, you name it. By 9:45 p.m. with no food in my stomach and exhaustion slowly taking over my body, I could barely say, “Hello welcome to freedom brother,” one more time. I was ready to shove some dinner down my throat.

The granola bar five of us shared around 7 p.m. just didn’t cut it. While working we weren’t allowed to leave to eat and no one fed us. Our supervisors at the site didn’t even know what was going on.

 10 p.m. Freedom

 As soon as we got off, we ran to our campsite, changed, I split half a bagel with Brittany, we chugged some 40s and some wine, and sprinted to the festival grounds to see Jay-Z. For years I’ve been dying to see Jay-Z and damn, did he put on a good fucking performance.

Donned in all black, he rose onto the stage like a king and busted into, “Run This Town”.

He flawlessly worked the crowd, and had us throwing our diamonds up, chanting, “Jigga what, Jigga who, Hova,” singing, clapping our hands, and throwing whatever we had- -shirts, hats, hands, in the air. Frankly, I’d do anything he’d ask. He paused for a good 15 minutes just to holla at the crowd.

“I see you baby girl with your blue jumper. I see you with your pink aeroplane. I see you baby girl.” Apparently in Jay-Z’s world, every female is a baby girl and I’m totally fine with that.

He teased us with “Big Pimpin” and “’03 Bonnie and Clyde” then took us through a tutorial of his old jams. I screamed my ass off to every word of “Empire State of Mind”, and Jay-Z said, “I feel like I’m home,” as his monstrous stage, made up of cut out buildings morphed into the Manhattan skyline. Right after “Jockin Jay-Z” he went into “Wonderwall” by Oasis and the crowd went wild singing along to every word.

By the end, it was clear he poured his heart into the performance, his voice was dying and he kept saying he didn’t want to leave us. Then the magical unifying moment that everyone and their grandmother has heard about by now: Beyonce walked onto stage. I don’t think anyone has ever been more excited to see Beyonce. 

“I want you to do me a favor and always feel like this, always feel this good,” Jay-Z told us before breaking into “Young Forever”. In that moment as the fireworks sparked and the crowd roared, I felt like I could live forever. 

Saturday

8 a.m. Woke up to the sun scorching our tent, crawled out of the tent, and chugged some wine. 

1:30 p.m. Tried to bring my SLR into the festival, got denied, left the fair grounds, hid the camera in my backpack and walked back in. 

2:15 p.m. Went to the Gobi stage to see Portugal. The Man, one of my favorite bands. I saw them once in Tempe and was naturally super amped to see them again. When they took the stage, I was grooving and singing as much as I could. I had a pretty decent spot about five rows back, stage right 

However, not many people around me were grooving. If you’re gonna demand a spot up front and just stand there, you’re better off leaving. This happened to me throughout the weekend and left me very disappointed with the crowd. I can’t stand when people claim spots up front, and they don’t sing or dance at all. Then they get mad when I do. I came to the front for a reason: I love the band and want to sing every word. 

Portugal. The Man played a pretty solid set. Twenty minutes in they were still on their second or third song. When they play live, they are masters of shredding and jamming out songs for as long as they can, which is pretty sweet since you wouldn’t really expect that by listening to their albums. They also performed a quick cover of “Weekend Wars” by MGMT, which they did last time I saw them. 

The set was a mixture of songs from The Satanic Satanist, Censored Colors, and older albums. All in all it was a good set and I was pretty exhausted after–the combination of wine and little sleep contributed to that. 

Even though I wanted to catch some of Camera Obscura, Girls, and Beach House, I opted for a nap instead. I plopped down by the Outdoor Theatre stage and woke up to crowds of legs hovering over me. Temper Trap was about to start. I’d never heard of them but I stayed for a couple songs and definitely liked their sound. 

After that I met up with my friends, poured as much water over me as possible to cool down, and rushed the stage left to get a good spot for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. They’re very much a commune band of sorts, with 9-12 members, tales of traveling around in a big white van, and lots of love and good feelin’ vibes. 

5:20 p.m. When they swayed onto the stage, I was ready for a magical journey. I wasn’t prepared for what came next. Alex Ebert, the group’s messiah, began the set by knocking his mic stand onto a member in the audience. Alex leaned down to the guy, ripped his own shirt off his chest and wrapped it around the dude’s head. You could sense the sincerity and empathy Alex felt. 

While he was wrapping his shirt around the dude’s head, the two of them had a sweet little moment. It looked as if Ebert kissed his head and whispered something to him. Heck, I wouldn’t mind trading places with that guy. After that Ebert jumped up and the band began with their most energetic song: “40 Day Dream”. 

It was such an intense moment from the mic falling, the apologizing, the jumping up, and going wild to “40 Day Dream”. My friends and I danced like crazy. 

The set was one of my favorites of the whole festival. Even though the band was a little disorganized and disheveled, they seemed so comfortable just walking around, dancing and bopping freely, just hanging out on stage. However, Jade, Alex’s gal-pal and lead female singer in the group, seemed a bit shy. She sat on the stage for most of the performance and kept shaking her head “no” when Alex would make suggestions to her. 

At one point they brought a baby on stage and sang and danced around the baby. They even mentioned Jay-Z, “Who saw Jay-Z last night? Fucking genius.” And shouted out to the crowd, “I see you baby girl with your pink flamingo.” 

All set I crossed my fingers and waited for them to play, “Home”. An uplifting, sun-shiney song that Jade and Alex sing to each other. It didn’t seem like they would play it but they finally did at the end and it was definitely a crowd pleaser. My voice was shot after belting, “Alabama, Arkansaaaaaaaas.” My smile never left my face their whole set and I can’t wait to see them again. 

We missed Dirty Projectors, the XX, and Hot Chip to go re-energize and eat at our campsite. 

8: 40 p.m. We made it back to the festival in time for MGMT. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, they were the biggest disappointment of the whole festival and they didn’t even play “Kids”. And I almost picked them as my top 3 bands to see. I am sure glad I didn’t. 

They started their set with two new songs off of Congratulations that were pretty slow and boring. Those themes continued throughout. By the time they sang “Electric Feel” and “Time to Pretend” I couldn’t even get into it. Their vocals didn’t even sound that good. They definitely sound better recorded. 

We were able to inch closer to the front without even trying because so many people kept leaving. I’ve never seen so many people leave a set. They seemed pretty unenthused and bored on stage as well. They had nothing to say other than, “There are a lot of people here and a lot of bands. Who’s on drugs?” and, “Go buy our new album.” 

Once MGMT’s set was over we sat in the back of the crowd for Muse. I only know a few of their songs but they definitely put on a good show. Their vocals sounded really clear and strong. The interjection of blue and green laser lights was pretty cool, and the crowd seemed way into it. It was cool to catch a glimpse of their set. Just the basic loud, rock band with clear, strong vocals. Nothing inspiring or moving enough to make me wanna get up and groove. 

Before Muse finished we rushed to the Outdoor Theatre stage to get a good spot for the Dead Weather. Just seeing Jack White and his musical genius was enough for me. He is such a bad-ass and front-woman Alison Mosshart is smoking hot. Their performance was one of my favorites of the whole weekend. 

When Alison took the stage she emanated sex and rock and roll. Every movement she made was filled with vigor, energy, and of course, sex. Clad in her all black outfit she ferociously wiped her hair and commandeered the stage. She was basically fucking the audience with her eyes the whole night. 

The best part of the performance came when Jack White got up from behind the drums, grabbed his guitar and duetted with Alison to, “Will there be enough Water?” 

Their heads were pressed together as they sang into the mic, “Just because you caught me, does that make it a sin?” Even though they were barely touching, it was like they were having sex right there on stage. With each word they got more intense, till they eventually backed off the mic and screamed the lyrics at each other. Sin or not, I felt damn good after their performance. 

As we were leaving we caught the sounds of Tiesto’s beats and decided to stay. His music gave me a second wind. We stayed pretty far back in the crowd so we could have as much dancing space as we wanted. Even though it was past midnight and the temperatures had cooled down, I sweated my ass off twirling, stomping, fist-pumping, and doing all sorts of grinding to Tiesto’s beats. It was the perfect way to end the night. 

Sunday

2:20 p.m. I was dying to see Local Natives at 2:10 but we got into the festival a little late. We still caught the end of their set, which seemed like the most fun anyway. I, along with everyone in the Gobi tent, raised both my hands in the air as they shouted the lyrics to “Sun Hands”. Really catchy song, tribal-y drums, has the “ahhhhhs” and quiet singing of the chorus then they bust into this back of the throat, husky singing that’s really fun to sing along to. Definitely a band that’s about to take off. 

After Local Natives my friends and I split. They went to Matt and Kim, and I went to Florence and the Machine. 

4:30 p.m. As much fun as a Matt and Kim set sounded, Florence is my girl. I knew I had to see her. And damn, I am glad I did. She was 10+ minutes late but when she came out she was an almighty goddess. She wore magnetic gold shorts and a white shirt with wide flowing sleeves that made her look like she just fell from Heaven. 

She opened up with, “Howl” and the audience howled along. Her voice was so powerful, and her energy was radiating as she jumped, pranced, and hopped around stage. She also knew how to work the crowd–constantly saying thanks, and encouraging us to dance. 

I almost lost control when Nathan Willet of Cold War Kids joined Florence to sing my favorite Cold War Kids song, “Hospital Bed”. It was one of my favorite performances of the whole festival. I felt very connected to Florence and could feel her energy throughout. It was one of the only times I felt comfortable in the crowd too. People around me joined in on the singing and jumping around and no one got mad when I sang too loud. 

5:30 p.m. After their set I met Brittany for a quick dance party at Club 75 in the Sahara tent. We snuck in the side and crammed in the corner but still managed to get our groove on as the collaboration of DJ’s spun energetic and dancey beats. 

Left the Sahara tent to get a glimpse of Julian Casablancas set and hydrate at the water station. We stopped the Outdoor Theatre tent to use the Port-o-Potties, and ended up lying down in the grass listening to the peaceful, melodic sounds of Jonsi’s set. 

Then it was off to another dance party. Time for my number 3 band to see: Miike Snow. 

6:45 p.m. We packed in the Mojave tent, stage left, about 10 rows back anxiously waiting to watch our favorite electro-pop Swedish lads take the stage. They came on stage wearing solid white masks and soon ripped them off as the synths and lights buzzed in and out. Most of their tracks started off slow and steady and morphed into an intense build-up of dancetastic sounds. The vocals were clear and almost sounded better than they do on their album. My favorite tracks were, “Silvia”, “Animal”, and “Burial”. I quite possibly danced more in the Mojave tent than I had the night before to Tiesto. Sweat dripped from every inch of my body but it was worth it with each and every beat. 

After Miike Snow, Brittany and I went to the water refill station and literally began bathing. Instead of drinking the water we dumped it over our heads, our arms, and our legs. While “showering” in the water tent, three guys came over to us and insisted we have a dance party. We danced all the way from the water tent to Phoenix’s set. The crowd for Phoenix extended on and on and on and on. We danced through too many groups of people to count. We caught the end of their set then watched a little bit of Pavement before we had to check in for WET. Phoenix definitely stole most of the crowd from Pavement. When we reached the Coachella Stage, we could have easily gotten up front for Pavement’s set. We heard, “Shady Lane”, and a couple other songs before heading back to our campsite. 

9 p.m. We checked in for WET, and this time we were really set to work Water World. We chugged some free Red Bull in order to make it through our 9 p.m.-3 a..m. shift, and rode a golf cart to a water station in front of the festival gates. 

Water World wasn’t the great big slide we hoped it would be. Once again we turned into greeters. We welcomed people into the water refill station and made sure they only entered with a blue water bottle. It was fun because a lot of the people drifting in were rolling or fucked up on some kind of drugs so we got to enhance their experience. “Welcome. You have arrived. Welcome to Water World,” Brittany and I would say in sync. Since we both lost our voices by this point, we welcomed people in lower, hushed voices. It was definitely funny to watch people’s reactions. Our supervisor was bomb and ended up giving us $40 for food. He even let us run into the festival real quick to watch the Gorillaz. We ended up staying at the water station till 1 a.m., walked around the campsites till 1:45ish and then we got to go home. 

Total Hours Worked for WET: 11 

Basically, I got WET at Coachella and I absolutely loved it. 

Overall Impression of Coachella: 

I got to see a lot of incredible performances and I loved the experience, but the festival lacked the community vibe I’ve felt at smaller hippie festivals such as Camp Barefoot and Grassroots. Then again 75,000+ people were at Coachella and less than 10,000 people go to Grassroots and Camp Barefoot. At Coachella I felt like I was going from concert to concert, not welcoming stage to welcoming stage where people are psyched to meet you. Although there were some unifying moments at Coachella that really captured me, I never felt an overwhelming rush of happiness and connectivity. Even so, I’d definitely go again. 

My Highlights of Coachella: 

I threw my diamonds up with Jay-Z and became a part of Roc Nation 

I danced in a field with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (their back drop was a picture of trees and a field) 

I succumbed to the techno bug 

I howled with Florence and the Machine 

I danced like a wild animal to Miike Snow’s ‘Animal’ 

 

 

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One thought on “My Coachella Experience

  1. Pingback: Bonnaroo Highlights Days 3 and 4 « Sunshine Daydream

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