There’s a time every year when hoards of people comes to California for one special event. The Coachella festival is a gathering to celebrate music, arts, and all things hip. What started off as a proverbial ‘middle finger’ to the establishment has grown and evolved within the decade-plus that the festival has been in existence. The ‘middle finger’ is still raised, only now it’s a profitable commercial success attended by some of the hottest stars in the world, both on stage and in the crowd.
The ‘Pre’ Coachella
In 1993, Ticketmaster had a firm grasp on who could play what Southern California auditoriums, when they could perform, and exactly what price attendees were going to be charged. The band Pearl Jam took offense to this perceived monopoly and sought out an independent venue to perform for their legion of fans. The band’s management settled on the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California and the show was attended by over 25,000 fans. This proved to concert promoters and fellow artists that the Empire Polo Grounds was a viable venue for large shows, and it unofficially became the home of Coachella.
The First Festival
While the Pearl Jam concert in 1993 was very successful, some changes were made before the festival became an annual event. One of the main gripes was the location of the Empire Polo Grounds which was in a remote desert area. This inevitably led to a hot, dry, atmosphere. Future concerts would need to be held outside of the summer months and in October of 1999 the first Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was held. The first event lasted two days and roughly 10,000 people came to support such major acts as Rage Against the Machine, Beck, and Tool. Unfortunately even in the fall months the weather was extremely hot and promoters reported they failed to make any profit, leaving the future of Coachella in doubt.
The Beginning of an Annual Event
Because of the issues related to Coachella 1999, promoters skipped a year but decided to give the passion project one more shot in 2001. The event was still held at the Empire Grounds but was moved to April to avoid the heat and was trimmed down to one single day. It could be stated that Perry Farrell was the sole savior of Coachella because as the day of the concert was approaching, there was no main headliner due to numerous back outs. Farrell and his recently reunited Jane’s Addiction band agreed to play the fest, delivering a much anticipated and highly memorable performance.
Starting to Profit
The success of the 2001 Coachella Festival would etch it in stone as a viable annual hotbed for the world’s biggest acts. The 2002 Coachella was still held in April but again moved to a two day show. The organizers made the event more fan-friendly by offering campgrounds to stay at and other forms of entertainment besides music. Headlining acts Bjork, Oasis, and the Foo Fighters again helped to add credibility to the show and help promoters finally turn a substantial profit on the event.
Notable Shows Over the Years
As the festival began to grow and expand, it etched itself as the place to be and more and more A-List acts began to book the show. Coachella also evolved into the format that it currently entails with some memorable changes along the way.
- 2004 – The first sellout in Coachella history was 2004 with all 50,000 tickets being accounted for. The reunited Pixies set a trend that would follow in future fests, that of formerly broken bands playing their first show at Coachella.
- 2006 – Daft Punk performed one of their most talked about United States performances to date. Madonna also appeared at the event.
- 2007 – The festival was moved to three days and the newly reunited Rage Against the Machine along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Arcade Fire set a Coachella record by drawing 100,000 fans. Actress Scarlett Johansson also performed with the Jesus and Mary Chain.
- 2008 – The success of 2007 was short lived, as the 2008 Coachella was the first since ’04 to not sell out. It could be said that many of the low level performers may have been booked before their time including Adele, Calvin Harris, and Aphex Twin and the headliners of Prince and Roger Waters did little to draw people to the show.
- 2010 – Coachella Organizers did away with single day passes and instead sold three day passes only. The new format met some criticism but the event still drew around 225,000 people for the weekend.
- 2012 – The festival again switched formats to two weekends but the popularity was unmatched. Tickets sold out in hours and concertgoers were treated to a memorable performance of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur performing in a holographic sense.
While the music gets all of the mainstream attention, the arts are a huge part of the Coachella culture. The main scope of art on display is visual arts such as three dimensional pieces that seem to bend depth perception. Sculptures are also a big part of the artistic display of Coachella.
In the mid 90’s, the Empire Polo Club was fledgling and seemingly on its last leg, which is kind of what made it endearing to Pearl Jam’s management. The grounds are located in a desert terrain in Indio, CA about two hours from Los Angeles. After the success of the ’03 Coachella festival the Empire Polo Club started sustaining profitability and has gone through significant expansion and remodeling over the years.
Another thing that Coachella organizers stress is reducing the damage to the grounds and environment from such a large event. The organizers promote carpooling, have $10 refillable water bottles to reduce waste, and offer free water to anybody who collects 10 empty plastic bottles. Since the music is so diverse, so is the crowd and there’s no real ‘type’ that makes up the majority of Coachella attendees. The main goal of the weekend is to enjoy top notch music in the outdoor air with an eclectic group of people from literally all over the world.
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