Preparing to hear music's biggest acts under the California sun
It started in 1999 with some of the decade's biggest acts headlining, among them Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Morrissey and Moby. While the lineup has evolved since then, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (known simply as Coachella) retains the same spirit of that first festival. Coachella is still held in Indio, California, about 130 miles east of Los Angeles. One thing has changed, though. While the original festival lasted only a weekend, Coachella now lasts for two weekends each year. But you need to hit only one of the two to get the full experience, because both feature the same performers and nearly identical lineups.
Q: When and where does Coachella happen?
A: The festival is scheduled in mid-April every year. It unfolds over two consecutive weekends with festival events running over three days each weekend, Friday through Sunday. The festival itself is held on the grounds of the Empire Polo Club, but attendees stay in Indio hotels or camp out nearby. People flock to the festival from L.A., and many make the trip for both weekends.
The two weekends follow the same general schedule, with a full day of performances scheduled for each of the festival's stages. The Coachella stage is the largest and is where the biggest headliners perform. The next largest venue is the Outdoor Theatre. A series of large tents house the rest of the stages: Mojave, Gobi, Sahara, Sonora and Yuma. All the stages circle a large central area where people roam all day, buying food and drinks and partying. Several VIP areas also line the grounds. It's common to see celebrities at Coachella, although they tend to keep to the VIP areas.
Q: What's the daily schedule like?
The Coachella crowd parties hard and stays up late, so a typical day doesn't get going on the festival grounds until midday. Gates open at around 11 a.m., and the first performers hit the tent stages around noon. The first shows at the Coachella Stage and Outdoor Theatre may not start until 2:00 p.m. or later.
Acts are generally scheduled in ascending order of popularity, so the more obscure groups tend to play the tents earlier in the day, while the massive headliners hit the main stages between 9 p.m. and midnight. The last shows of the night start around midnight.
In total, about 50 to 60 acts perform on each of the festival's six days, with as many as seven shows going on at the same time. Set times are usually released just a few days before the festival begins.
No two years are the same at Coachella. If you're planning to attend, check the festival's website for updated information about schedules.
Q: How can I go to Coachella?
A: Coachella attracts a massive crowd on both weekends. Attendance has steadily risen over the years, and it's now common for around 100,000 people to stream into Indio for each weekend of Coachella. Despite the high admission numbers, the festival still tends to sell out quickly, sometimes in as little as 40 minutes after passes go on sale in January. If you want to go and miss the short window, you can buy passes at marked-up prices through scalpers and ticket broker sites, but you risk buying illegitimate tickets.
You can't buy a single day's pass to Coachella. Only full weekend passes are available, for a price of around $400 and up. Expect to pay extra for parking, camping privileges and more. Passes come in the form of wristbands, which you must wear all weekend. While your wristband gives you access to all stages and performers, the massive crowds may make it difficult for you to get close to the stage during some shows.
April in the Coachella Valley regularly brings temperatures over 100 degrees F, and much of the festival area is under the open sun. It's essential to bring a lot of water and sunscreen to Coachella every day.