in which I White Knight for a music festival

In a move 0% of those surveyed characterized as "a good idea", I went to Coachella for just one day - Sunday. I'm not often in the habit of wasting two thirds of a music festival ticket, but thanks to my own last minute indecisiveness, a resale glut on StubHub, some flaky Airbnb hosts, and a disinclination to engage with Craigslisters after dark, it was the best I could do to salvage my investment. I drove out, spent eight hours there, and drove home. Intense for sure, but not unbearable. And considering how much incredible music was plied into such a narrow time slot, worth the trip.

Coachella is everyone's favorite festival to hate on, and understandably so. It's expensive, heavily corporate, and has a terrible reputation for superficiality. Fashion has become such an integral part of Coachella culture that it seems to garner just as much attention as the performances themselves. When I saw this photo on The Atlantic, I cringed. A pack of rich, skinny white women striding in imperial lockstep across the field, outfitted in head-to-toe Bohemian Muse™, refusing to break the fourth wall and even acknowledge the photographer (kneeling in apparent fealty) before them. Looking at it tells you absolutely nothing about the festival. It's images like this that scare otherwise enthusiastic live music fans away from Coachella. Hell, it briefly scared me, before I tore my eyes from Alessandra and Co's cheekbones and noticed the reassuring averageness of most everyone else in the photo.

Coachella's excess is undeniable. But what I've experienced in the last three years is that those corporate dollars buy a lot of production value. The festival truly delivers in terms of spectacle, talent, visual and audio design. Also in terms of cleanliness, accessibility, and organization, which are no small considerations when you're exhausted, overheated, dehydrated, and on day three of self-abuse. I for one am happy to pay a little more for a ticket if it means substantially shorter bathroom lines, easier to navigate grounds and exits, less trash, and more shade structures. And the fashion thing? Yes, it can be tiresome. But it's hardly fair to crucify Coachella for glorifying style when the flower children of festivals past are to this day admired as, well, Bohemian muses. Personally, I inwardly snicker when I see girls sweating under the weight of clingy crochet tops and leather fringe bags, dancing stiffly in heeled boots lest they dislodge their headpieces. And if those paper dolls want to blow $7k on a "Safari" tent vs. taking an actual safari, more LOLs for the hoi polloi. (Though I'd happily take their money and their cheekbones.)

Your social media feeds don't lie. Yes, some people at Coachella really look and act like that. And unless you check out the Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, etc. coverage of the festival's raison d'etre, those obnoxious selfies are probably your sole impressions of Coachella.

As a festival lover, this makes me sad.

Coachella could certainly use some tweaking, by everyone from organizers down to attendees. Skip the obnoxious publicity stunts and set up some truly noteworthy reunions and surprise appearances. Kill the over-the-top lodging packages, which attract scenesters and spoiled trust fundies. Stop making it about the clothes and satellite parties.

These failings notwithstanding, however, Coachella is an incredible experience. Seventy-two hours of pure potential: to bond, to explore (within and without), to be surprised, to feel and love and listen intently. This is what every music festival offers - even one whose hype has outpaced its maturation.

The Atlantic photographer who focused on the Coachella Heathers and blurred out everything else got it exactly backwards. If he'd stepped back and taken a wider shot you would have seen, albeit mixed in with the occasional douchebag, thousands of everyday people, concerned with much better things than matching outfits. I know because I notice them. Especially when I'm alone. I see tiny stories unfold, all day long. Some I'm even a part of. And I'll tell you a few, though they might well seem pedestrian and schmoopy. But first, you know what you have to do. That's right. You have to slog through Ellie's Carefully Curated Selection of 'Same Shit, Different Year' Festival Photos, because that is the tradition around here. Now look, goddamnit, LOOK AT THE PRETTY COLORS.

You have to admit that on the scale of obnoxious to cute, a circle of kids with their heads together for a group selfie is definitely at the cuter end of the scale. 


Look at these disgusting, multi-color, multi-size people, milling about all normally and shit. It's like they don't even care that The Atlantic needs clicks.


Are you frightened? It's okay if you are. I was. And I was completely sober. Did I mention it moves?


I heard this variously described as "the earth mover statue", "the machine from Aliens", and "the crane thing." Whatever it was, at least it stayed put.


They keep shoving the Do Lab further and further to the fringes of the festival. At this rate it'll be in Riverside by 2020.


"Hey Ellie, did you finally ride the Ferris Wheel, like you've been promising you would for forever?" "What's that? Oh hey look over there, free popsicles!"


I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that no one could possibly be so messed up at a festival such that alternately seeing a butterfly and a caterpillar could, like, totally screw with their mind and trip them the eff out. You go right on believing that. 

I was glad to see the Corporate Headquarters hippos back this year; they are a hoot. Here's an interview with the people who do it. 


Instagram's hardest working balloons right here, folks.


I rarely insist on being close up but for my first time seeing Ryan Adams? Hells yes.


I think that's the helicopter they used to airlift Drake to the hospital after Madonna sucked out his trachea. 


Not pictured: a mercifully cool breeze.


They ain't pretty, but they is comfy!


Sahara Tent, EDM headquarters of Coachella


"Okay, everybody, since it's almost 4/20 we're gonna put a spotlight on each of the weed smokers in the audience! Remember, it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you!"


Rainbow. Bright.









You made it! You made it through my shitty, indiscernable-from-all-the-others festival photos. Your reward? A recap of the 2/3 of a day I spent there. Next post, though, because the hour is late, recovery is incomplete, and your Festress will be much more apt to produce purple prose vivid description and adjective abuse imagery without foto filler distracting her.