I've been to a decent amount of festivals. Governors Ball (5 times), Panorama, Bonnaroo, FYF Fest, The Meadows...And yet, I'd never made it to the biggest, most iconic one of all time: Coachella. Other than maybe Lollapalooza and Glastonbury, it is the festival with the best acts, but even with its impressive lineup, it's often ridiculed for prioritizing other things like fashion, art, and food. At the end of the two Coachella weekends, you are more likely to see articles titled "The Craziest Outfits We Saw At Coachella" rather than a review of a set. For me, Coachella has always been this far away dream, an untouched idea. It was something that I was curious about. Was it really not about the music? Would I actually see that many flower crowns? I finally had the opportunity to attend this year and I can confirm that it is indeed not all about the music, but not in the way that you think, and it's actually an amazing thing.
First off, the fashion isn't as stereotypical as the media makes it out to be. Sure, I saw a few flower crowns and fringe crop tops, but nothing completely out of the ordinary. Part of my job was to capture people's outfits, and it was almost a struggle to find anything a little crazy that caught my eye. In fact, I'd say I've seen more tutus at Governors Ball due to the younger crowd. Although I saw mostly plain shorts and bathing suit tops, a lot of people were taking photos of themselves, but honestly, who wouldn't take photos when you have a backdrop as gorgeous as that? Palm trees that look soft and blue as the sun sets and light up in neon colors when the moon arrives, balloons flying high in the sky, and a sparkling Ferris wheel overlooking all of it. After all, it is Coachella, and documenting it on social media is what makes people feel like they are a part of it - and isn't that what it's all about? Being able to say that you did it?
Speaking of being a part of it, let's talk about the crowd. This was hands down the nicest crowd I've ever had to deal with. No one pushed and shoved, everyone was patient, and if you decided to talk to a stranger, they didn't look at you like you had eight heads - they were kind and inviting and embraced the opportunity to make new friends. The lines for the water refill stations were outrageous, but when people soon started realizing that the sink water at the bathrooms was the same, they started refilling their bottles there. Only problem? The sink water trickled out at about 12 ounces per hour, making it so that the person trying to fill up their water bottle was an asshole for cutting off the people who actually needed to wash their hands. But instead, we all patiently waited, started conversations, and laughed about it with each other. It's a really small thing, but enough to make someone's experience a great one. Mostly everyone in the crowd was extremely empathetic and comforting.
Maybe the reason for that is because of how stress-free the environment was. The lineup was killer this year, with Radiohead, Bon Iver, Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, and Lady Gaga just being a few of the many incredible acts. And with a lineup like that comes a lot of stress - the stress of getting a good spot for or completely missing your favorite act. I experienced something new for the very first time - the ability to move up to the front of every crowd. The crowds looked intimidating from outside of course, but once you got in, there was a ton of space. Oh, space - what a magical, amazing, uplifting thing. The fact that I wasn't sandwiched in between two sweaty guys for any act was enough to make me think that this may have been my finest festival experience yet. I was dead center for Gaga, Radiohead, and Lorde, third row for Twin Peaks, and I even managed to get pretty close to Tove Lo halfway through her set. And here's the best part: I didn't even try. All of a sudden, the die-hard music fans didn't have to cut their favorite acts early so they could get to the next show an hour in advance. They weren't disappointed by having to watch their idols from a hundred miles away.
This works in everyone's favor. People who want to go take pictures in front of the amazing pieces of work that is the Chiaozza Garden or Crown Ether can do that. People who want to roll on molly and dance to DJ sets instead of live acts in the Do Lab can do that. People who want to munch on exotic eats like fried vegan food or an entire watermelon, or even go vinyl hunting in an actual record shop - guess what? They can do that! And that leaves space for the people who are there for the music - with all of the amazing things that Coachella has to offer, it's much more than just a music festival. They have something for everyone. The people who aren't necessarily there for the music are off getting day drunk in the biergarten, which leaves room for the people like me, who were actually sold on the lineup. Having all of these options makes for the most comfortable experience for the ultimate music fan. Now they can finally see their favorite act close up in a comfortable and unique setting - something that I haven't seen anywhere else. Coachella is not completely about the music, and now I understand why. It's so much more, and it's a damn blessing.