I started paying attention to Coachella Festival following the entire buzz that came with it, when Beyoncé headlined it in 2018. I then added it to my list of must-attend music festivals in addition to iHeartRadio Music Festival. Well this year, I got the chance to attend South by Southwest (SXSW) and Coachella for the first time.
Unlike SXSW, which I received accreditation in good time to allow me plan my trip to the US around it, my Coachella accreditation came just few days to the event, in fact just when I was about leaving Austin, Texas for SXSW. So the planning for Coachella was a bit haphazard, which perhaps made my experience far too eventful than I would like it! Read my troubled journey to Coachella here.
Anyway, I was fortunate to get accredited to attend the 20thedition of Coachella, and here are my highlights from the event.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (commonly called Coachella or the Coachella Festival) is an annual music and arts festival held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, in the heart of the Colorado Desert.
The Empire Polo Club is a 78-acre polo club, which leases out its polo grounds for the festival. The venue is so huge that festivalgoers walk for several miles before getting into the main entrance to the festival grounds. When accounting for land used for parking and camping, the event covers a footprint of over 600 acres!
Across the grounds, several stages continuously host live music. The main stages are the Coachella Stage, Outdoor Theatre, Gobi Tent, Mojave Tent, and Sahara Tent; in addition to the smaller Yuma stage and Sonora stage. Each stage was unique in appearance and suited for the lineup of artists on it. The big stages had elaborate settings to create various visual aesthetic attributes needed to project the individuality of the artists; and make festivalgoers enjoy their performances even better.
It took me a while to figure out the various stages and to find my way around the venue, due to the sheer size of it and the crazy activities and moving around that kept it busy around the clock. In fact I missed Idris Elba’s disc jockeying set because I went to the Do LaB stage, thinking it was rather the Yuma stage. The Do LaB experience has become a space for interaction, music discovery, and participation whereas attendees of Coachella maintain more insular groups with friends engaging with each other and with the music directly.
They bring a breath of fresh air to Coachella, almost building its own festival within a festival
In addition to hosting live music, Coachella is a showcase for visual arts, including installation art and sculpture. Many of the pieces are interactive, providing a visual treat for attendees. People moved from on stage to the next to catch performances from their artists of choice. In between that, they would move around for food, drinks and on-site activation from sponsors among others.
The acoustics in the festival grounds was just perfect, and although there were at least 7 stages hosting performances from live music to DJ sets, the sound from one stage never interfered with another.
Coachella is known for its diverse lineup of artists from around the world. It features musical artists from many genres of music, including rock, pop, indie, hip-hop, and electronic dance music, and now afrobeats. Coachella showcases popular and established musical artists as well as emerging artists and reunited groups.
Coachella in its 20thyear was spread across two weekends to allow thousands of music lovers experience it. So the lineup for Friday to Sunday for weekend one was repeated for weekend two.
I attended weekend two. I arrived on Friday evening and so couldn’t experience the festival that day, since I didn’t have my pass. So I missed out on seeing Childish Gambino, Janelle Monae, Jaden Smith, and Solange…I really wanted to see these acts.
I got my pass on Saturday morning and by noon; I was set to experience Coachella. Although I missed a few artists I had wanted to see, between Saturday and Sunday I got the chance to see a lot of the performers I wanted to see.
I always imagined that rappers would be limited in their stagecraft but the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Pusha T, Juice Wvrld and Kid Cudi proved me wrong. They were exciting to watch, bringing along the crowd with their performances. Each set was different, and the use of imageries on set spiced up the excitement. Kid Cudi brought on his set Kanye West and although Kanye didn’ perform any of his own songs, seeing him was just exciting, though I cannot say same for his offbeat dance moves. Organizers of the festival were forced to abandon plans for Kanye West to headline this year, as they could not accommodate his request to build a giant dome for his performance in the middle of the festival grounds. West was instead allowed to hold a special “Sunday Service” performance on Easter, at the venue’s campgrounds. I was so tired from Saturday’s event that I couldn’t attend the ‘’Sunday Service”.
Kid Cudi was not the only one to bring along surprise guests to his set. I noticed that a lot of the fun and excitement about Coachella is that in addition to the main lineup, there are guest appearances. ASAP Rocky, Ty Dolla $ign, John Mayer were some of the guests I got to see perform on different sets.
German-Russian producer/DJ, Zedd known for some of the biggest hits in the dance-pop scene, blessed fans with live renditions of top 10 hits “The Middle” and “Stay” featuring Maren Morris and Alessia Cara respectively.
Although I have not listened to American rock band, Weezer in a long time, since I first heard them on MTV Europe in the early 2000’s, seeing them on stage was a good ride on the music memory lane. They look older, and I struggled to remember how they looked back in the day!
One of my favorite highlights from the festival was seeing 21-year old Khalid perform on stage. His unique brand of R&B drew several sing-along moments. As for me, I couldn’t help but vibe and sway along.
The headliner for this year, Ariana Grande was a delight to watch. I know just about 5 of her major hit songs, but she was exciting to watch throughout. The crowd singing along while Ariana and her dancers rocked each performance, was simply worth the long hours standing to see her.
She performed for some one hour and thirty minutes and didn’t look tired at any point. Ariana also brought her surprise guest, Justin Bieber, who ended his two-year hiatus from the public stage. He also got the crowd excited when he announced that his new album is coming soon!
Although my personal Coachella mission was to experience music from these top acts, I also explored a few of the emerging musicians that’s I didn’t know. I watched the set of Four Tet, Maggie Rogers, Jambinai on Staurday and was really impressed . On Sunday I circled out mostly the shows on the Coachella Main stage because I was very tired from the stress of travelling and the wandering about on Saturday. I forget to check out the set of YG, Playboi Carti and Gucci Gang, which took place on the Sahara Stage. Next time I know how to plan well and get the most out of the shows.
I also noticed how big Reggaeton is amongst the Latin community generally, and the joy with which they received their acts such as J Balvin and Bad Bunny. J Balvin gave Coachella-goers a full sampling of reggaeton during his appearance, showing that the world-conquering Latin genre has a place in the playlists of the hipsters who attended Coachella.
Africa To The World
Although there wasn’t a deliberate African showcase at Coachella as there was at SXSW, Mr Eazi and Burna Boy represented us well on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Since I missed Mr Eazi at SXSW, I made it a point to catch his set at Coachella. And it was impressive. From his well-crafted Lagos to London danfo bus on stage, to the energetic band and dancers that performed with him, Mr Eazi proved his worth on all angles. He gave the crowd a variety of sounds including reggae, but the afrobeats rhythm was unmissable throughout his set; it reverberated around the Coachella stage. The audience made up of some Africans (mostly Nigerians) and a lot of other nationals danced and even sang along to his songs.
It was simply refreshing to see how he fit into the festival perfectly, representing Africa in his music and speeches on stage. He performed ‘I Surrender’ to my delight and that of the crowd and continued with songs like ‘Miss You Bad’, ‘Open & Close’, ‘Pour Me Water’, ‘Skin Tight’, and ‘She Loves Me’. He also did a special remix of ‘Leg Over’.
I was late to Burna Boy’s set, so I only saw him perform two songs. The vibe was a little different from Mr Eazi’s, I saw more excitement and diversity during the latter’s performance. But all the same, Burna Boy’s confidence and energy proved he is not only of the ‘giants of Africa ‘ but a global artist worth his salt.
One thing I would have loved to see was Mr Eazi and Burna Boy inviting some guest artists from the continent onto their sets as well, just like the top acts did. I only saw Mr Eazi inviting Haitian DJ and Producer, Michael Brun on stage to join him perform ‘Akwaaba’.
Anyway, maybe the next time I go to Coachella, it would be to see Ghanaian artists perform.
Coachella Is Expensive
So being my first Coachella, I kept an eye out on many things. One this is for sure, attending the festival isn’t cheap! From hotel/motel prices to cab prices going up, the city of Indio comes alive economically with Coachella. Thankfully, I didn’t have to buy festival tickets. Tickets for Weekend 2 were selling from $350 to $429 after it was declared sold out!
I never paid anything less than $12 for any trip on Uber, regardless of how short it was. I never bought any food under $14 dollars, and all I was even eating was sandwiches, chips and fried chicken. Even the drinks were expensive. Thankfully water, one of the most essential things to have under the scorching sun of the Colorado Desert was $2, and there was a refill center for those who wanted tap water. I sometimes went to the press tent, where the media had free water, drinks and some snacks to nibble on.
What made was particularly annoying for me, when I bought an item with a card, was the immediate page that came up on the tablet demanding for tip, as you make payments. So even though I hate giving these forced tips, I ended up doing so. In fact one food vendor screamed ‘we have a tipper’ which came with cheers and clapping for me when I did. (If only they knew what was running through my mind). Needless to say, I went to an ATM to withdraw cash for later transactions, and no I didn’t leave any tips when I paid cash!
I loved the way the food and drink vendors were set up beautifully at vantage points throughout the festival grounds. What I didn’t see was an African vendor. It sure would have been nice to eat some African food while there; maybe some ‘waakye’.The closest thing to African food there was Jamaican food.
The best food I had at the festival was on Saturday night when I was leaving the grounds. I was doing the never-ending walk to the exit of the festival grounds. Hungry, and tired, I saw a hot dog vendor along the route. I stopped and ordered one, and it was the best hot dog I’ve ever had, at $5.
On Sunday, I was inspired to try another hot dog but this time at the festival grounds. I was put off by the fact that it was $10. I’m sure it wouldn’t even taste as good as the one from the street vendor, the previous night.
Coachella Is Best Enjoyed In A Group
Being the boring and antisocial person that I am, I felt that I would have enjoyed Coachella better if I were there with friends or family. In fact I noticed that most people came in groups or made friends there. So they would smoke, drink and have fun in groups. In fact a few times, someone would randomly say to me “Come and join the fun”, or ask, “Are you having fun?”
On the final day I made some friends when I was heading to the Ariana Grande set. They had seen me quietly vibing to Khalid’s performances. I guess they saw that I was a loner and wanted me to end the festival not on a loner note. They were good company; after all, the ringleader of the group was only attending his fourth consecutive Coachella.
We talked about music, the festival, our highlights and more as we waited for Ariana Grande to start her set. After the show we parted ways and I went to my motel, yes doing the never-ending walk again, this time in a very thick crowd. And sadly I couldn’t spot my favorite hotdog vendor!
The Coachella Parties
Official and unofficial Coachella parties are quite an attraction on their own. The included parties from small gatherings at private residences, to full-flung mini festivals, complete with live music lineups, carnival rides, parking shuttles and event staff. After parties begin when Coachella ends each night, and continue late into the next morning.
The wide range of parties during the weekend included pool parties, VIP Gifting Suites, brand events, underground music events, private parties, record label showcases and more.
The best Coachella parties of course, are not open to the public, but are invite-only events. A-List celebrities, big influencers and many of the musicians that perform at Coachella attend such events. I was invited to a few of them and although I RSVP’d on most, I was only able to attend The Soulection Brunch hosted at the adidas Sport Club. Held at the poolside of the magnificent Zenyara Estate, we were treated to DJ sets by Esta and Sango with a nice spread including cocktails, mimosas, avocado toast bar, croissants, and fried chicken & waffle bites.
So there you have it, my fun and expensive experience of Coachella. Hopefully I have learnt enough to make my future experiences better. And hopefully if I should do it again, there would be at least a Ghanaian on the lineup. Which Ghanaian artists do you think would be great for such a festival?