Coachella: A Plan of Attack for Newbies

It's right about this time of year that I start to get really annoying, talking endlessly about Coachella and Bonnaroo. Last year I even doubled down and coined #coachellie, because I will not rest until everyone's eyeballs roll right out of their heads.

And yet, whenever I look at my blog stats, the posts I've written about festivals are consistently among the most viewed - particularly the one I wrote about going solo as a woman. And it's fun to think that something I've blogged could be helpful or informative.

With that in mind, I'm going to limit my Coachella preview (LOL so dumb, I can haz job, Spin?) to three posts, with the hopes that one or all of the posts will be useful to at least someone. And I'll try to get them out as quickly as possible, because it's coming up fast!

Part one, for Coachella newbies - a Festival Plan of Attack
Part two, for lazy/busy Coachella attendees - a 2014 Suggested Artist List, with notes
Part three, for general music fans - a quick list of great new stuff I've discovered in my research


Coachella Preview Part One - A Festival Plan of Attack

Staring down the the list of artists for a festival is daunting to say the least. And I've been to enough fests by now that I know the scheduling apps (which coordinate with the festival's website) are only helpful once you know WHO you want to see. But how do you even start to make selections, when you've got a bajillion bands to choose from, many of whom you've never even heard of?

Well, it's not easy or quick, but I've come up with a system that helps me tackle the list in manageable way. In my experience, it's completely worth the effort and time invested. I find I get so much more enjoyment out of the festival if I've at least familiarized myself a little bit with the entire lineup - and gotten downright cozy with the artists I'm seeing. I don't feel stressed that I might be missing out on something great, because I've done my homework. Plus, there is nothing like discovering and falling in love with a new-to-you band just in time to see them live. (I discovered The Vaccines days before Bonnaroo last year and they are now one of my favorites of all time. I can't imagine how crushed I'd have been if I hadn't given them a listen beforehand).

Here's the way I break down my festival "research".

1. First, I write up a list of all the artists. Forget the website/app lineups - you need to have an actual typed list somewhere handy, whether or on your computer or other device (I use the notepad on my phone), or old fashioned pen and paper. Find a music website where the lineup is actually typed out, and either copy/paste, or manually write it up. Here's one that lists all of Coachella 2014 (beware, though, it has lots of typos). I prefer to list the lineup pretty much as it appears on the poster. Friday - Sunday, headliners first.

2. Now comes the labor-intensive but fun part: lots and lots and lots of listening. Spotify is invaluable here (honestly, I don't know how anyone could plan a festival without it). Band by band, artist by artist, I go through and listen to some of each one. This takes days if not weeks, because I try to give them all a fair shake. I do it here and there, as I have free time (or while doing household stuff like cleaning.) If you've got Spotify mobile, you can check out bands while you're commuting, exercising, etc. (part of why I keep my list on my phone). After I've given each group a listen, I put a number from 1 to 5 next to its name on the list, where 1 = I have no desire to see it and 5 = it's a must-see. Here's a snippet of my (very ambitious) Saturday:


If you already know bands you don't want to see (or those you for sure do), don't waste time listening to them. Just plunk down a 1 and a 5, respectively, and keep going.

3. When you've gone through the entire list, start making playlists for each day. Put all of your 5s in there, and maybe some of your top 4s. You won't have time to see 3s or 2s. Again, Spotify is priceless for this. You can put as much or as little in the lists as you like, obviously. I tend to throw in all the top hits plus the most recent album (with only 50 minute sets, most artists tend to stick to crowd favorites and promoting their most recent work). My playlists tend to be massive, so I don't enable offline listening (since it chews up all of my phone's memory). Now you've got a go-to compilation for the stuff you know you want to hear at the festival, and you can start listening to it whenever you're at home.

4. Next, I get specific. As I'm listening to these massive playlists here and there (usually on shuffle), I start compiling one final "best of" playlist that has all my favorite tunes from the artists I want to see. This isn't necessary, and it's an extra bit of work - but there's nothing like hearing your jam at a festival, when you've been anticipating it for months. It really is the best. And the more jams you've been excited about, the more exciting the whole experience will be.

5. Finally, the hard part - the release of the schedule, which comes out mere days beforehand. Guaranteed this will fuck up your plans, because the chances of you being able to see everything you want are nil. There is always overlap, and you'll always have to make sacrifices. But it's okay! This is where your 1-5 list will come in handy. As you start to schedule your days, you'll see that sometimes overlap will prevent you from getting across the grounds in time to see an artist you like (always allow for at least 10 minutes to get clear across the field at Coachella - 20 or even 30 at Bonnaroo and Outside Lands). But chances are there'll be a 4 somewhere closer that you can catch some of instead. It's much easier to be flexible in your planning when you've got a clearer idea of your yes's and your no's, and you'll be spared the last-minute panic of figuring out how to spend your weekend.

The best thing about doing the research is that as you're walking around all weekend and you see the various marquee lineups at the stages, you'll be familiar enough with the artist to remember, Ah yeah, I think I wanted to catch a bit of this. Or, No way, wasn't interested in this at all. And your time and festival dollars will be maximized.

But again, it is a LOT of listening, and the sooner you start, the better!

Additional tips:

  • Follow the artists you're interested in seeing on social media. It's more fun to see them at festivals if you've gotten to know even them more through snapshots of their daily lives, and backstage glimpse of shows.
  • Many of the newer/smaller EDM artists have limited stuff on Spotify, but you can almost always find them on SoundCloud.
  • If you're going to multiple festivals this year, keep an eye on those other websites/social media accounts for lineup releases or sneak previews (Bonnaroo gives hints every few days on Instagram). There tends to be a lot of overlap during any given season, so if you're lucky enough to have a chance to catch an artist the second time around, you can pull them from your Coachella schedule.