Photos By: Tori Yonker
The second your car enters the campgrounds is the second you enter your wildest dreams and immediately lose touch with any sense of reality – at Coachella, the rules of the real world don’t apply. Indio, California may be an undesirable location during the rest of the year, but on April 14-17, 2011, festival goers ecstatically flooded the desert town to experience a weekend dancing the days and nights away to the most talented and diverse group of 178 different artists.
Campers arrived as early as 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning in anticipation for the 12th annual event that drew people from many different countries. My group proudly staked our tent in the front line of cars next to a traveling couple from Melbourne, Australia on one side and a rowdy group of SoCal boys on the other. With the blistering sun beating down and stereos blasting, no one wasted a minute to build neighborly bonds as beers were cracked and shared.
Welcome to Coachella: it has officially begun.
I thought my excitement level was peaking Thursday afternoon while almost drowning in good vibes until the sunset and night owls dominated the vicinity. Those who were all smiles just hours ago turned wide-eyed while drinks and drugs alike were consumed. People raged on the roof of their cars while universally appreciated bands set to play during the weekend played from stereos in all directions.
But the dance fest quickly moved onto bigger and better activities: the down and derby – a 70’s inspired roller rink. It was wild and chaotic while clearly inebriated individuals rode in circles around the mass crowd gathered in the center.
Unable to keep shut-eye past 8 a.m. any individual morning, early Friday was spent surveying the now completely packed fairgrounds. The festival, equally notorious for its pre-concert activities and art installations as its music, did not fail to disappoint. I made my way to the art studios where crafters created unique Coachella memorabilia, such as picture frames and fans, with unlimited free materials. The popular ‘Postchella’ station table was lined with fashion and music magazines and an old-school typewriter to make personalized postcards mailed on site. Giddy as hell to unleash my inner hippie, I passed through the high security checkpoints and entered the official venue: my musical haven.
People immediately gravitated to the much loved Do Lab stage where water rains down in the ‘oasis of music, art, live paintings, and performance inspired by gravity defying suspension bridges around the world.’ The unique creation was necessary and appreciated while bodies attempted to adjust to the scorching temperatures.
But I ignored the heat to watch the Moving Units open the festival on the main stage. The crowd was especially grooving along to their fun and danceable tunes when they played their popular “Between Us and Them” half-way through the set.
To congregate with another three cars’ worth of UCSBers, I found myself at the Sahara tent for Skrillex. I knew it was time to leave when Korn joined him on stage. The daisies in my hair didn’t fit the scene where Coachella ravers flocked, but I felt right at home at my next stop: the Mojave tent for Brit pop band and 2010 South by Southwest showcasing artist, The Drums. The crowd was pure smiles singing along to the ultimate feel-good songs “I Felt Stupid” and “Let’s Go Surfing.” I felt incredibly satisfied as the set closed and made way to the main stage ten minutes late for Cee Lo Green, the artist whose awesome 2010 Grammy collaboration with Gwynth Paltrow set high expectations for a wild costume and “F*ck you Too” rendition. Unfortunately, Cee Lo was also tardy and after thirty minutes passed with no sign of the artist, I retired from my spot on the grass for a quick dash back to camp before the long night ahead.
More than ready for Friday night, what many deemed, “Conflictchella,” I found myself back at the Sahara tent to catch the last half of A-Trak and first half of Afrojack in their back-to-back sets that turned up the volume and cranked up the energy. But come nightfall, I was more than ready to surrender my love of House music to my deep appreciation of the instrumentally and vocally talented artists of our time. So long for the weekend, Sahara.
I hurried off alone from the raving Santa Barbara posse to make sure I didn’t miss a minute of Cold War Kids, but stopped mid-sprint and immediately changed directions when I heard the tunes from the Gobi tent. Kele, badass lead singer of Bloc Party, was starting off his set with “Everything You Wanted” and it was – without a doubt – everything I wanted and even more. It was hard to believe I didn’t have a single friend to witness him later transition to Bloc Party’s “This Modern Love,” but it didn’t stop me from singing along to his powerful lyrics at the absolute top of my lungs with everyone else in the audience. I arrived at the Outdoor Stage for the perfect moment : Cold War Kids rocking their newest single “Louder Than Ever.” They made sure to play “Hang Me Up to Dry” after mentioning its success during their previous Coachella appearance, and it was apparent their performance was just as successful the second time around.
Tensions of the conflicting artist schedule continued as Interpol took charge of the main stage. To my surprise, I was left even more awed by their mind-blowing display than I had been just two months previous at the UCSB Thunderdome. The fact that a Coachella headliner played at our own Santa Barbara campus in the same year is beyond badass in and of itself. As a fellow Coachella-goer and sidekick was an ultimate, die-hard Marina and the Diamonds fan, we sacrificed a solid half-set to secure a place front and center in the Gobi tent. There the crowd waited – and then anxiously waited some more. Marina was no where to be found, yet Interpol was still killing it on the main stage and The Black Keys would be taking their place immediately after. But alas, fifteen minutes later she arrived and by the end of her first song all was forgiven. Just as La Roux had put on the show of all shows in 2010, Marina’s stage presence made it well worth the wait. The singer strolled out with wine glass in hand and placed herself directly in front of a fan on full-blast. She grooved to the beat of her own drum while the crowd went absolutely wild (and my friend shed tears of happiness) for hits such as “Shampain” and “I Am Not A Robot,” all of which seeing live in person far surpassed any recording.
In a similar fashion as the Kele run-in, a second Coachella miracle occurred en route to The Black Keys. The Killer’s “Read My Mind” blasted from the speakers of the Outdoor stage, making it impossible to continue the speedy journey to the main stage. Although the incredibly memorable moments of the weekend are numbered, singing incessantly to “Mr. Brightside” easily takes precedence on the Top 5 list. I was impressed with Brandon Flower’s ability to play an uncannily identical rendition of the song without the rest of the band, but later discovered that this was due in part to the entire band’s surprise appearance. I saw The Killers live at Coachella and didn’t even know it!
The majority of the festival navigated toward the main stage for one of the most anxiously awaited performances by the Black Keys, which unfortunately didn’t live up to expectations. I couldn’t sing above a whisper to their notoriously famous songs because sound quality failed to match that of any other main stage performer. However, a current obsession with the increasingly popular band forces me to give them the benefit of the doubt for future concerts because with songs as great as “Everlasting Light,” there’s no way I can’t.
Disappointment over their performance was petty in the grand scheme of the event, especially the moment Kings of Leon took over and opened with, “Closer,” and before the packed field sang along to “Use Somebody,” and “Sex on Fire.” If there’s ever a lead singer you want to hear live, it’s Anthony Followill, whose vocals make you disregard whether or not you can even see what’s visually happening on stage. And my elation continued through to a completely different sound of the Swedish pop star Robyn, who rocked her short platinum haircut and futuristic costume. Songs such as “Indestructible” and “Dancing On My Own” made for one of the most crowd-pleasing and energetic sets of the entire weekend.
Saturday morning: slightly tired, slightly dirty, and more than ready for round two.
The Love Language kicked off the day, but quickly forced me to take cover back at camp in the shade as the midday sun drained excess energy that was necessary to keep stored. But returning for Gogol Bordello was an absolute highlight and frenzy of fun. If anyone knows how to put on a wacky and wild show, it’s lead singer and Wonderlust King Eugene Hutz, who poured red wine in the mouths of eager fans while running around like a mad man. You can be sure everyone in the crowd was more than pleased they opted to experience such a sight that can’t accurately be described in words to anyone that wasn’t fortunate enough to see it for themselves.
The much-loved Two Door Cinema Club was nothing less than expected. It’s impossible to not smile and immediately start dancing along to “Undercover Martyn” or “What You Know” through your iPod speakers, and seeing them live just amplifies that happiness. Yelle, the electro-pop star, proved that language is no barrier for her beloved International fans. The packed Gobi tent chanted along with the artist sporting a red cheetah body suit.
Saturday’s main stage line up compensated for Friday’s lost times, hosting back to back artists Broken Social Scene, Bright Eyes, Mumford & Sons, Animal Collective, and Arcade Fire – with only a slight interruption for Empire of the Sun just one stage over. Mumford & Sons amazed a packed crowd as they played their banjos and mandolins for what was claimed the biggest show of their career thus far. Although songs from their debut album Sigh No More take the tones down, fans’ energy continued to soar for the folk-revival band.
It was the next few hours that defined the evening. Electronic duo Empire of the Sun transformed the stage into another world by combining bizarre costumes and wildly entertaining theatrics. The spectacle – characterized by its shock level – was one that was much talked about for the remainder of the weekend and then some.
“Empire of the Sun was awesome because along with performing their songs perfectly, they put on such a visual show with insane dancers and costumes,” said third year Santa Barbara City Colege Liberal Studies student Chris Pombo. “They were super weird, but weird in the best way possible.”
But it was Arcade Fire that stole the show with their hour-and-a-half masterpiece that showcased the legendary band’s Best Album of the Year Winning Grammy The Suburbs. To witness such as scene, where every fan was so completely enthralled in the music as 2,000 light up balls bounced over the crowd throughout their encore, will forever hold a spot on the unforgettable moments of my life list.
“The ball drop at the peak of Arcade Fire’s set was my weekend’s climax, but honestly it never ended,” said fourth-year UCSB Business Economics and Accounting major Greg Goodwin. “With so many amazing people always helping each other out, you couldn’t spend a second without your smile or dancing shoes on.”
Sunday morning: exhausted, dirty, and high on life after peaking at Arcade Fire just hours previous.
Although lead singer Ekhi Lopetegi of Delorean has weaker lyrics live than on recording, their forty minute set left friends previously unfamiliar with songs from their Subiza album raving “I can’t wait to start listening to them when I get home.” That’s all I need to hear: my mission is accomplished. An unfortunate overlap was the equally great, although completely different was Jimmy Eat World and Ellie Goulding. Managing a solid thirty minutes for each artist proved successful. Singing along to the mainstream 90’s hits of Jimmy Eat World was a perfect transition to Goulding, whose flirtatious and slightly raspy voice pleased the packed Gobi tent. The artist even took a break from singing songs such as “Guns and Horses,” and her own rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song,” to briefly rock on the drums in her short dress and tank top.
Afterwards, a perfectly pink sky paved the way for an amazing final night to come. They don’t even have a full album released, yet Foster the People still managed to attract an entire tent full of fans who jumped and screamed during “Pumped Up Kicks,” and “Houdini.” Not a word of complaint was uttered during their delayed twenty-minute arrival due in part to the upbeat environment that came along with such a performance. The National kicked off sunset flawlessly – as expected. The crowd assisted singing intense and powerful songs such as “Fake Empire,” and enjoyed the ending of “Terrible Love,” played with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on guitar.
The Strokes paved way for a Coachella closing on the main stage and although lead vocalist Julian Casablancas seemed drunker than the audience members, his awesome stage presence never faltered and the memory of rocking out atop shoulders for “Last Night” and “Reptilia” still brings a smile to my face. Praise is owed to the notoriously narcissistic Kanye West for a captivating set, dedicated to his deceased mother, which followed him through a whirlwind of emotions down a darker path and a wide range of emotions. Between fireworks and twenty accompanying ballerinas, West executed a performance that defined his reputation as one of our generation’s biggest stars.
Whether attendees were Coachella virgins or seasoned veterans, everyone left life-changed after the weekend.
“My first Coachella experience was unreal, perhaps one of the greatest memories in my life thus far,” said SBCC third-year Communication major Brynne MacInnes. “The energy, the people, the art and the music – Coachella is truly the greatest music festival on the planet. It surpassed my expectations in every way possible.”
As much as I wish it could, Coachella cannot last forever. Thank god for YouTube – and Arcade Fire. Until next year, my music loving friends.