Coachella is the household-name-du-jour of music festivals, especially in North America (though its influence has spread abroad) – a behemoth of entertainment spread over two massive weekends, with the industry’s biggest names all on show to enormous crowds of revellers, who pack into the vast fields of the Empire Polo Club in Coachella Valley, which sits within Indio, California, to share the ambience of such a celebrated modern event.
But while the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival may have carved a name for itself in the hearts and minds of festival denizens as America’s, and potentially the world’s, best, it’s how it paved the way for destination music festivals as a whole that makes it historically the greatest.
See, when Coachella first started it was 1999, and the greatest music festivals were touring affairs, travelling with international acts from city to city. Names like Lollapalooza rung sweet in the ears of festivalgoers, bringing some huge acts to the towns of many.
Also in 1999, incidentally, was Woodstock 99. The same Woodstock 99 made famous by the huge plastic fire that incinerated a speaker tower, triggered huge riots (thanks in part to Fred Durst’s vague incitements) and a bevy of seriously pissed off fans. It looked like the music festival was doomed, with poor profits and poor planning a recurrent theme.
Coachella promised to be different though. Promoter Paul Tollett of touring company Goldenvoice didn’t bend at the suggestion that it would be a repeat of Woodstock, or hide in its shadow. The first Coachella went ahead and was a logistic success, with headliners Beck and Rage Against The Machine captivating fans and all concerned parties happy with the outcome.
Apart from the fact it lost money.
Unphased, Tollett promised to return one year later in 2000, on the condition that the festival would be at least as good as the first. A bump in the road saw Coachella 2000 cancelled due to ‘too much festival traffic’ at the same time, but was quickly moved to spring 2001, a minor hiccup in the grand scheme of things.
The one-day second-installment of Coachella, to Goldenvoice’s word, took place mid-2001, and saw the likes of Iggy Pop, Weezer and Fatboy Slim command the stage, and another successful turnout, with no dramas and a happy crowd of patrons praising the event.
It also didn’t make much money, but it didn’t lose any either. Coachella now looked set to make profit from the next event, a prophecy it has staggeringly fulfilled year-on-year ever since.
Since the inception of Coachella, North American festivals like Field Day, Bonnaroo and Stagecoach have been born and continue to flourish,, and Lollapalooza stopped touring, settling for good in Chicago, finding its feet as a fixed-location festival – a destination event if you will.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival turns 18 this year – in Australia that means it’s officially an adult. The line-up is longer than an Enya song and features Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, The XX and Radiohead. Now spanning two huge weekends, its growth is indicative of a grown up festival too. Its shaky roots stood strong against the odds to make it the benchmark for music and lifestyle festivals the world over. It went from a day of songs in a big field to a bucket-list topper for almost every music fan the world over.
This might just be the year you have to make the trek to Cali yourself.