[box] Mustang Daily reporter shares his experiences at his first ever Coachella[/box]
We buzzed along a blank stretch of highway in Palm Springs, Calif., as the tires of our Subaru hummed against the asphalt. To us, it was music. Something about it being 2 a.m. on Monday, or the previous three days we spent at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, brought out a sixth sense that transformed any persistent sound into a melody.
Less than three days earlier, a group of four friends and I pulled into a vast parking lot with the 100-degree heat beating down mercilessly and proceeded to put on absurd amounts of sunscreen. Getting sunburned on day three would be bad enough, but dealing with it after day one would have been unthinkable.
We took a quick shuttle ride to the venue, wound through various gates and passed through two layers of full pat-down security, where I got more action than I have all year. Finally, I stuck out my right arm with an accompanying wristband. A machine beeped as it registered the computer chip housed inside, and I stepped into the venue officially losing my Coachella virginity.
The selling point on the not-so-cheap tickets for me was that The Black Keys were headlining, but with hours left until their 10 p.m. performance, we scoped out under-the-radar groups within the three tented venues in a feeble attempt to stave off the heat. Luckily, we were rewarded with catching Gary Clark Jr. whip off riff after incredible riff in the best feat of guitar skill I witnessed all weekend.
He didn’t say a word other than his soulful lyrics, and he stood onstage in a tank top, beanie and aviator sunglasses that concealed his closed eyes. Before he concluded with his signature “Bright Lights,” the tent was rife with the rumor he was simply a Jimi Hendrix hologram — more on that later.
Soon after on the main stage, the Arctic Monkeys played as the sunset began to unveil the famed purple sky that still defies belief. Frank Ocean brought heat back to the night as he packed one of the tents full of swooning would-be lovers, but eventually, the time was upon us to head back to the main stage to get close to the front for The Black Keys.
I didn’t realize it before I got to Coachella, but there are literally tens of thousands of people at almost every performance, and once you get to the nighttime headliners, the once-empty expanse that stretches out from the main stage is swarmed with people. I wasn’t going to be stuck watching a screen for my favorite band of all time, so we worked our way as far forward as we could. With about 15 people directly in front of me, we hit what might as well have been a brick wall, but the view was as good as it gets, especially when there are more than 50,000 people behind you.
I won’t go through their set song-by-song here (if you come talk to me, I am more than willing to oblige), but I will say that when Dan Auerbach, the master of subtlety, said he wanted someone to help them play a song to honor The Band’s Levon Helm, who passed away the day before, my jaw dropped. I had seen The Black Keys three times before, going back to 2008 when they opened for My Morning Jacket at Red Rocks in Colorado, and the duo had never brought a guest onstage.
But this was Coachella.
And then John Fogerty walked on stage. In what was only the sweetest moment of my short life, the now trio jammed through “The Weight.”
“Take a load off Anny, and put the load right on me,” echoed through my head as I set it down on my pillow and drifted off to sleep in a cramped motel that night.
While Saturday was filled with star performances from classics such as Radiohead and groups that will probably go on to define an era such as Bon Iver, a slender comedian-turned-rapper by the name of Childish Gambino stole the show.
Watching from the second row, which was as close as we got to the main stage all week, Donald Glover’s alter-ego adopted an almost-crazed persona that guided his way through an entertaining set that included some freestyle, Fire Fly and Bonfire.
While Gambino was intended to be the funniest and most light-hearted rap show of the festival, that honor went to A$AP Rocky who performed to conclude the day. Not only did he have about 20 other people, who I can only assume are his friends, on the stage to dance aimlessly around, but he greeted the crowd by saying, “Where are my purple people at?”
I’m not sure it made any sense (neither did his references to “purple swag”), but A$AP Rocky is the only person on earth who would OK a shirt that says, “I be that pretty mother f*cker.” My roommate may have been the only person who bought one.
Day three of Coachella kicked off in earnest as I poured water over my head for the final time while we waited for The Weeknd to take the outdoor stage as the sun dipped behind the desolate mountains. The only way I can describe The Weeknd is that he rips your soul out and breaks it into a million pieces.
Girls literally wept in the front row.
Luckily, the electric-dance group Justice was there to pick up the pieces, give my soul a much-needed pep talk and assure me I would never be alone again. And, to the cute girl from Scripps College I put on my shoulders for the song, I apologize for not getting your number, so if you’re reading this, I owe you lunch.
The last day of the festival was different from the rest — it felt like everyone was sad to see it end while simultaneously eager to see if Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg would bring back Tupac, maybe for real this time. And the two didn’t fall short of expectations.
A star-studded cast of characters from Wiz Khalifa to Eminem rapped alongside Snoop, who puffed on the fattest blunt I have ever seen, and essentially turned the clock back to the ’90s with classic gangster rap. As for the Tupac hologram, it was both impressive and underwhelming. The graphics were extraordinary, especially the animation that appeared on the screens next to the stage, but it was nowhere near “real” enough for me to be sincerely weirded out.
The duo exited the stage by being lowered beneath it, as we left the venue for good. Post-Coachella depression, which I guarantee you is real, began to set it. Only the pact we made to stash away a couple dollars a day in order to continue returning to the festival in the desert helped overcome my malaise.
But for now, all that’s left is a wristband I refuse to take off.