The pre-sale for the 21st Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival went live June 13, but the festival’s typical SOLD OUT post never showed up on their page. Fan chatter between buyers online concluded early bird tickets for Weekend 1 likely did sell out, but Weekend 2 might not have.
This could be a sign of the times: Since Coachella’s launch in 1999 (and especially after the late 2000’s and into the 2010’s), the wealth of American music festivals has been overwhelming. Where we used to have a handful of strong fests across the country, now, everywhere from Sacramento (Aftershock) to Atlanta (Shaky Knees/Beats) to Delaware (Firefly)—and what feels like most mid-level markets in between—are home to or within reasonable driving distance of a multi-day music festival sometime during the year.
While we have plenty to choose from, it’s also led to an over saturation of similar performers across lineup top lines and taken a heavy toll on the uniqueness of each festival’s identity.
The effect didn’t go unnoticed. The New York Times famously didn’t cover Coachella and Bonnaroo in 2016 because “their bookings used to be somewhat exciting, if exciting means special and special means rare and rare means meaningful; they aren’t anymore.” And within the last 5 years this in part led to the closure of high-profile festivals including FYF (Los Angeles), Pemberton (Canada), and Sasquatch (Washington)—all of which struggled to get enough people through the gates.
Promoter Goldenvoice and its mastermind Paul Tollett do have a history of offering initially exclusive or near-exclusive performances near the top lines—think Jane’s Addiction in ‘01; Pixies and Kraftwerk in ‘04; Portishead and Prince in ‘08; Paul McCartney in ‘09; Jay Z and Gorillaz in ‘10; The Strokes in ‘11; Blur in ‘13; AC/DC in ‘15; Guns N’ Roses in ‘16; Lady Gaga in ‘17; Beyonce in ‘18—but in 2019 Coachella headliners Childish Gambino, Tame Impala and Ariana Grande could be found in differing combinations at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits.
Original Coachella 2019 Headliners Justin Timberlake and Kanye West reportedly fell out at the last minute—JT for illness and Ye because his ambition to build a 60,000 person video dome and perform in the round inside of it was too lofty to pull off (this year)—and were replaced by Grande and Tame. Coachella couldn’t help this, but they could help who the replacements were. And when you’re one of the most name-dropped music festivals in the world, sharing multiple headliners with the others takes away the shine fans have waited all year for.
There is a challenge. Goldenvoice is responsible for a large percentage of the most notable music reunions of the last 2 decades, and no longer do (indie/hard) rock bands and older electronic music styles draw masses of people to the Empire Polo Field (see: this Aphex Twin review). Headline-level rap, hip-hop and today’s popular DJ’s are the main reasons the majority of the crowd attend multi-genre music festivals these days.
Not taking into account that for many attendees the Empire Polo Field is a magical place where the lineup doesn’t matter, Coachella has still worked to push itself in different directions over the last 5 years as it caters to the tastes of an increasingly genre-bouncing audience with the inclusion of American and Latin megastars, plus world music—most recently Korean and Japanese pop. Now Goldenvoice is at a crossroads.
For the first time in 20 years Coachella attendees were sent a lengthy survey with the chance to win a pair of VIP tickets attached to it. This was an opportunity for everyone to get their say on who should headline, emerging acts, and the overall festival experience.
Twenty years ago Coachella’s lineup reflected modern tastes while recognizing performers from the 70s and 80s (and sometimes earlier periods). As time shifted so did the lineup, but this vibe has most always been the foundation of the festival. Coachella will never make everyone happy, but a strong return to its roots may be exactly what is needed to WOW the world again. That means shifting focus to top billings/big reunions that reflect primarily the late 80s to mid 2000s.
A return of sorts to format worked for Bonnaroo this year. With sales slouching for the last several years, 2019’s iteration of the Tennessee festival sold out by offering a clever mix of traditional ‘Roo sounds (Phish, The Lumineers, Kacey Musgraves, The Avett Brothers, The National, Grand Ole Opry) with today’s favorites (Post Malone, Odesza, Cardi B, Solange, ZHU, BROCKHAMPTON).
And with Spain’s renowned Primavera Sound slated to make it’s L.A. debut in September 2020 with a lineup that could cater more toward Coachella’s original lineups, there’s no better time than now for ‘Chella to turn back the clock as Goldenvoice heads into a new decade.
Younger people are pulling their cultural references from the 90s and 2000s because that’s how time works and the rest of us are getting older whether we admit it or not. They say rock is past prime, but everything old becomes new again, and the culture seems to be on the verge of that shift. Rap is the new rock and it’s gone emo (see Lil’ Uzi Vert; JUICE WRLD), and 50 percent of new guitar players are women, a recent study from Fender found. We’re poised for a return to form led by the biggest culture creator on this side of the globe and the future could rock if we want it to.
With this hypothesis in mind, we asked the Reddit Coachella group on Facebook who from this timeframe (80s to mid-2000s) should play Coachella 2020 and the community of nearly 30,000 members came up with a list of acts who have not played the festival, or if they have, it’s been a while. We also threw in a couple favorites of our own.
Combining some of these artists with Coachella’s penchant for unearthing worldly gems and providing large platforms to modern talent would surely give the crowd a lineup in the spirit of Coachella they’re looking for.
Here’s a cheat sheet, Goldenvoice!
Justin Timberlake (w/ N*SYNC reunion!)
Kanye West (Let the man build his dome!)
The Killers (Top Headliner at Glastonbury this year!)
My Chemical Romance
Nine Inch Nails
Rage Against the Machine
Legends (some possibly better suited for Desert Trip at this point)
Dead & Co.
The Rolling Stones (at Coachella)
Sting (or The Police)
Modern Acts that Could/Should Headline in the Next 5-7 Years
BTS (if K-Pop’s steam remains)
Cage the Elephant
Lana Del Rey
Swedish House Mafia
Tyler, the Creator (OFWGKTA reunion or not! Long live IGOR!!)
Other Past & Present Acts to Consider for the Lineup:
All Time Low
Armin Van Buren
Boards of Canada
The Chemical Brothers
The Dead Milkmen
Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
Durand Jones & The Indications
Fall Out Boy
The Jonas Brothers
The Mars Volta
Method Man & Redman
Motion City Soundtrack (active again!)
My Bloody Valentine
New Kids on the Block
Queen (with Adam Lambert)
Quintron and Miss Pussycat
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
The Sound of Animals Fighting
System of a Down
Taking Back Sunday
Tears for Fears
Third Eye Blind
The White Stripes
Did we miss an act? Add who you’d want to see in the comments below!