Coachella 2012. Photo by Melissa Bobbitt.
The Internet is awash with tips for having the BEST COACHELLA EVER, from noshing on superlative grub to, erm, outsmarting narcs. All are valuable resources, but if you want to know the real Coachella, take it from me. I’ve attended EVERY YEAR SINCE 1999. That’s right. I was there the first time the Pixies played. I was there when A Perfect Circle was a new side project for Tool’s Maynard James Keenan. And when it was in October.
So as a 15-year Coachella veteran and native to the desert region, here are my words of wisdom to make your festival-going experience a little more perfect.
Get There Early
I know, after shotgunning PBR all night at your hotel/hostel/brothel/RV, you’re nursing a gnarly hangover and probably won’t drag your arse out of bed until the crack of noon. But you’re here for the music, right? (Right?) You’ll more regret sleeping in and missing tomorrow’s potential indie rock superstars that go on at 12:30 than purposefully arriving in the evening to see Skrillex. Again.
Amy Winehouse played during the daytime in a tiny tent in 2007. Photo by Melissa Bobbitt
Pro-tip: The maiden Coachella performance for Saturday headliners Muse was in the early afternoon in 2004. Now they’re one of the most celebrated stadium-rock bands in the world. Don’t snooze on the early “no-name” artists assuming you’ll see them again on the cheap in the future.
Take the Other Presidential Street
Official festival documents recommend you drive on Jefferson Street to get to the venue. Yep, you and tens of thousands of other Carpoolchellas. Take the road less traveled: Washington Street, just slightly to the west of Tommy boy’s namesake. Then hang a left on 52nd, mind the roundabout at Jefferson, and be on your merry, stress-free way.
Pro-tip: There are ample stores along Washington to stock up on water, sunscreen and Fauxchella t-shirts. Go to Vons or Ralph’s to circumvent the clusterf— that occurs in Jefferson Street shops.
Park by the Palms and Ponies
You’re going to be walking (and skipping and pogoing and raving) many miles during your Coachella adventure. What’s a few more ticks on the Fitbit if it means you can more easily escape the premises during the big traffic crush at the end of each night? Save for when Jay Z performed in 2010, the tiny dirt lots off 52nd PAST the main grassy lot are the prime choice for easy outs. Their shrunken stature makes it a piece of cake to identify your ride at day’s end; plus you can see the real stars of the Empire Polo Club: the adorable horses.
Pro-tip: There are bathrooms lining the entire walk to the front gate from this parking area.
Pee by the Outdoor Stage
Because it lies between the ~secret VIP entrance~ and a bustling food court, the bathroomland by the fest’s second-biggest stage is the best maintained facilities. The toilet trailers are downright majestic compared to those at the other gigs, and you won’t have to pray for safety and sanctity when using the Port-o-Potties.
Pro-tip: The worst bathrooms to use? Between the Sahara and Mojave tents. You know all those dancin’ folks who regularly wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care? They don’t. At all. So proceed with caution.
Go to the Artist Signings
Me and the Sounds at Coachella 2004
Too many people skip the autograph sessions at the vinyl emporium because they overlap with midday performances. If you can maturely deal with your Sophie’s choice, pick the autographs. Most of the lines are astonishingly short, and if security sees a band is being underserved, they’ll often let fans bypass the “purchase necessary” rule to speak with their musical heroes.
Pro-tip: If you do have to buy from the record store, get the oldest or most obscure release available. I did that with Stars last year, as I’ve already got the rest of their catalog, and it made the band marvel to see such a relic again. Ask for pictures, too. The artists will almost always oblige.
Don’t Eat the Garlic Fries
Just don’t. Trust me on this one. With globally acclaimed chefs like Josef Centeno (Baco Mercat) and Kris Yenbamroong (Night + Market) coming to Coachella, there’s no reason to relegate yourself to these death sticks.
BaoHaus: A better alternative to garlic fries at Coachella.
Pro-tip: OK, it’s likely the critical darlings of the foodie movement will be hiding in the VIP section. BUT the occasional hot spot, like the mouthwatering BaoHaus last year (above), will crop up in the good ol’ food courts of the proletariat.
Hassle the Hoff
David Hasselhoff sightings at Coachella are the musical equivalent of fish tales: Everyone’s got one, and one-uppmanship is the name of the game.
Pro-tip: The “Baywatch” star usually holds fort at the main stage, mid-crowd. My sister and I caught us a Knight Rider in 2008 during Gogol Bordello’s set.
Put Down the Phone
Yes, it’s imperative you check in on Facebook to brag to your friends that you’re here and they’re at work. But really, you didn’t come to this beautiful desert oasis to stare at a computer screen, like you do every other day of your life. And cell reception is notoriously bunk on the polo fields, so don’t even bother texting your pals, “OMGZ MEET ME AT THE TESLA COIL B4 OUTKAST” because the message won’t go through until sun up. Your shaky, faraway photos of Arcade Fire are going to come out awfully. Put down the phone and enjoy the LIVE MUSIC you paid to see. And if you get that chronically bored, bring a paperback book. Heck, it might impress the girl with the flower crown and Flaming Lips shirt.
Pro-tip: The costumes, guitar theatrics and guest musicians are all integral parts of the experience. Come up with a bingo game with your friends. (Waldo? Check! And actual Daft Punk cameo? Check! A trashcan decorated like a character from “Adventure Time”? Check!) Winner gets to sit on the shoulders of the loser during the headliner next year.