Coachella Should Remember Its Past As It Moves Toward the Future

Towering cacti from Coachella 2019 (Credit: Niyaz Pirani)

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.

Sunset spaceman! (Credit: Niyaz Pirani)

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.

BLACKPINK (Credit: Niyaz Pirani)

Here’s a cheat sheet, Goldenvoice!

90s/2000s Headliners

Daft Punk

Foo Fighters

Green Day

Justin Timberlake (w/ N*SYNC reunion!)

Kanye West (Let the man build his dome!)

The Killers (Top Headliner at Glastonbury this year!)

Missy Elliott

My Chemical Romance

Nine Inch Nails

No Doubt

Pearl Jam

Oasis

Rage Against the Machine

TOOL

Tool in San Bernardino (Credit: Niyaz Pirani)

Legends (some possibly better suited for Desert Trip at this point)

Aerosmith

Bruce Springsteen

The Cure

Dead & Co.

Elton John

Fleetwood Mac

Janet Jackson

The Kinks

Led Zeppelin

Madonna

Metallica

Oingo Boingo

Pink Floyd

The Rolling Stones (at Coachella)

Santana

The Smiths

Stevie Wonder

Sting (or The Police)

Talking Heads

Television

U2

See you next year, rainbow tower! (Credit: Niyaz Pirani)

Modern Acts that Could/Should Headline in the Next 5-7 Years

Adele

Billie Eilish

BTS (if K-Pop’s steam remains)

Cage the Elephant

Disclosure

Flume

Frank Ocean

J.Cole

Lana Del Rey

Lizzo

Rihanna

Swedish House Mafia

Travis Scott

Tyler, the Creator (OFWGKTA reunion or not! Long live IGOR!!)

Other Past & Present Acts to Consider for the Lineup:

311

ABBA

Alicia Keys

All Time Low

Ani DiFranco

Anita Baker

Armin Van Buren

Backstreet Boys

Big Wild

Bikini Kill

Blink-182

Bloc Party

Blondie

Boney M.

Boards of Canada

Bright Eyes

BROCKHAMPTON

Busta Rhymes

Camilla Cabello

The Chemical Brothers

Chicano Batman

Cybotron

Cypress Hill

Dashboard Confessional

The Dead Milkmen

Deftones

Depeche Mode

Dire Straits

Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

DMX

Durand Jones & The Indications

Fall Out Boy

Fangoria

Fugees

Gnarls Barkley

Incubus

Iron Maiden

The Jonas Brothers

Kate Bush

Kelly Clarkson

Korn

Le Tigre

Lil Wayne

Limp Bizkit

Logic

Maluma

Maná

Marilyn Manson

The Mars Volta

Massive Attack

Megadeth

Method Man & Redman

Miley Cyrus

Misfits

Motion City Soundtrack (active again!)

Morrisey

My Bloody Valentine

Nelly

New Kids on the Block

Operation Ivy

Parquet Courts

Paramore

Paul Oakenfold

Pavement

Peter Gabriel

Pulp

Queen (with Adam Lambert)

Queen Latifah

Quintron and Miss Pussycat

The Raconteurs

Rainbow Kitten Surprise

Rammstein

R.E.M.

Rob Zombie

Sade

Sammy Hagar

Shakira

Simple Plan

Slayer

Slipknot

Smashmouth

Smashing Pumpkins

The Sound of Animals Fighting

Spice Girls

Stereolab

Steve Perry

The Strokes

System of a Down

Taking Back Sunday

Tears for Fears

Thom Yorke

Third Eye Blind

TLC

Too Short

Tori Amos

The Verve

The White Stripes

Wu-Tang Clan

Did we miss an act? Add who you’d want to see in the comments below!

10 Replies to “Coachella Should Remember Its Past As It Moves Toward the Future”

  1. Oh how I love this article. So on target. As a Veteran Coachella attendee (18 years – only missing two in ’01 and ’04 as dates were juggling), I love this festival with all my heart. It has and must evolve, but also, it must be true to itself. Year one ’99, I am looking at my scrap book now, just Sat & Sun $50 per day, 2 stages, 3 tents, Tool and Beck headlined. I took a hot air balloon ride, watched B-boys dance to DJs spinning vinyl, danced for what seemed 3 hours straight to Underworld and bought water for $2. Then ’02 has a great example of variety in the line up: Headliners Bjork and Oasis, also the Chemical Brothers, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Sasha & Digweed, the Prodigy, Foo Fighters, the Strokes, Tiesto, Cake, Jack Johnson, Groove Armada, Mos Def, Jurassic 5, Ozomatli … I guess I don’t need to make a list by year showing the diversity, but somehow along the way it got kind homogeneous at the top. The variety of genres seems to have given way to the “popularity” of artists. IMO when you deal solely on who gets streamed the most, to book acts you are cannibalizing the soul of Coachella which, for me, has always been discovery: New MUSIC, new ART, new FRIENDS, which leads to new IDEAS, new INSPIRATION and new EMPATHY (as in understanding of others). Maybe your average Coachella attendee isn’t looking for that. Perhaps there wouldn’t be an “average” Coachella attendee IF the genre variety was there from Headliner to the first on stage. Theoretically, the idea would be that all these different acts would draw different types of folks to see them. Resulting in a giant melting pot of people who love many types of music. It does occur to me that the business model may require that headliners and 2nd liners be tailored to draw the numbers who pay to support the rest. This would result in a lot of kids who just want to see their popular favorite and don’t care about seeing the artist who influenced that favorite artist when she was a kid. IF that is the case, then Goldenvoice seems to do the best with the cards dealt them. They must know, they obviously know, that this type of evolution, does change the vibe of the fest. As I said, Coachella evolves, it must. I have evolved too, but still I want to dance to Odesza and the Chemical Brothers, I want to rock to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tool, I want to hear Mos Def and Lizzo tell me stories, I want to mosh to Rancid and the Interrupters, I want to find new loves like Sofi Tukker and Benjamin Clementine, I want to sing along with Willie and Kacey Musgraves and whomever else wants to come over before Stagecoach. Actually, how about move that one to the fall, so I can go to both? Yet, again I digress, the point is I want to see all of these different types of acts over 3 days in the desert as I’ve done since 1999. As much as the food is better, the shuttle system is the bomb, the toilets are much better managed and water, still just $2! It is FIRST about the MUSIC and the MISCELLANY of the acts that makes me love most Coachella. See you in 2020 Weekend 1! xxx’s Auntiechella 😀

  2. The kinks
    Talking Heads
    Cypress Hill
    Oingo Boingo
    Limp Bizkit
    Blondie
    Alicia Keys
    Elton
    DMX
    That’s one heck of a potential line up. ♥️

  3. Missing from Above:

    CAKE!
    Sleater Kinney!
    NOFX!
    Passion Pit!

    And although it’s listed in the article, I can’t emphasize enough how many people would come out in 2020 for an exclusive festival appearance by… RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE.

    My dream 2020 Coachella closers

    Headliners: RATM / Rihanna / Kanye
    Pre-H: Mars Volta / Cardi B / Frank Ocean

    Granted, it likely makes more sense to place The Mars Volta on the outdoor theater, and have their set end 15 mins before RATM starts.

    Other Acts Coachella Should Book:

    Robyn
    Pure Bathing Culture
    Barrie
    Jonathan Richman

    Please and thank you, Paul Tollet!

  4. Coachella should be about current and up and coming artists. Leave Elton, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, etc for Oldchella. This way there are 2 separate festivals and thus we all have an opportunity to go to both and everyone wins =)

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