Every year, hundreds of reporters, bloggers, social media influencers, and regular people come home from the desert (often accompanied by a sinus infection and/or the dreaded “Coachella Cough”) to tell everyone how the biggest festival of the year just wasn’t a good time. It’s either A) not as good as they expected it to be or B) not as good as it had been in previous years — depending entirely on whether or not they’ve been to Coachella before. Either way, they’re nostalgic for a time that never really existed.
But among all of their complaints, the vast majority of the critics all seem to forget one thing: Coachella will never be for everyone. When you design a festival catering to over 200,000 people in the middle of the desert, at least a few of them are bound to be disappointed. The sheer size and diversity in the Coachella crowd leads to the booking of at least an act or two from dozens of different genres to fill out the lineup rather than just focusing on what they know will sell tickets. A Perfect Circle’s diehard fans (all 12 of them) won’t necessarily love the rest of the festival this year, but they’ll get to watch their beloved Maynard sing for his second-best band. That lineup variety is Goldenvoice’s way of appealing to the broadest range of people, meaning the only non-financial barrier is whether or not you’re willing to deal with the dust, parking, and other minor inconveniences of Coachella in order to go.
So what’s the difference between the hundreds of unhappy campers (although not literally, since most of camping slots go to people who actually want to be there) and the thousands upon thousands of folks who return every year and jump at the chance to spend $400 on an early bird ticket for a festival with an unannounced lineup? Age.
Of course, physical age is irrelevant (to a point) as far as enjoying Coachella goes — just ask the dozens of baby boomers who can generally be found dancing and/or pleasantly meandering around with or without their kids. It’s the depressing mindset of adulthood that ruins the livelihood of Coachella and pretty much everything else fun.
When you’re getting paid to cover an event like Coachella, it’s easy to forget what a special weekend it is for some people. Sure, it might just be another assignment for a jaded writer/blogger/Instagrammer — one that involves far more dust, people, and desert remoteness than most — but it’s still the weekend that many others look forward to literally all year and happily blow entire paychecks on, and that doesn’t make them any dumber or lesser than those who get to attend for free.
Maybe I have a slightly different perspective on it than someone who’s been covering the festival for over a decade, as it was only a few years ago when I was writing about my wild romp through my first Coachella. At the time, I was so excited to be able to cover the weekend that I didn’t even really have a plan for what I’d write. I had no idea what to expect other than what I’d seen on TV, but I was ready and willing to dive headfirst into everything the desert had to offer.
Four Coachellas later, I just don’t feel that different.
Yes, there was the brief feeling of dread on Wednesday night when I realized I would be leaving my usual +1 at home and spending all three days sober (trying to find a full-time job means the possibility of a drug test at any moment while also being too broke to afford enough $12 beers to get a buzz), but then I stopped to think about why I was going in the first place. Even when having to cover 72-hour extravaganzas as a semi-responsible adult, no one has ever forced me to go to Coachella or any other music festival.
I’m at Coachella early because I was the kid in high school who showed up to punk shows two hours before doors opened so I could be the first person to the barricade. I share the drinks in the press area because I remember splitting $4 water bottles among all of my friends during a parking lot hip-hop festival in triple-digit heat. I spend all weekend wearing a big floppy hat because I’m still scarred from a sunburn I got at Warped Tour in 2005 and quickly had to learn how to see all of my favorite acts without giving myself skin cancer before I finished college.
I know that half of the journalists, bloggers, and grumpy old men who love to hate on Coachella will shrug off this entire essay simply because I was born in the ‘90s and can’t reminisce about attending a Skid Row concert where piss was thrown at me. I’m fine with that. As one of the younger people in most festivals’ media tents, I’m happy to be the guy who stops in for a bottle of water and then goes back out to sweat, sing, and interact with the ticket-buying public (except at Outside Lands, because their press area has a great view and is exceptionally stocked with beer and food) because that’s what I would’ve paid to do a handful of years ago.
It doesn’t matter if I’m not familiar with half of the acts or I’m not wearing the right clothes, because 16-year-old me would be stoked to discover dozens of new bands and see what all the rich kids were wearing outside of school. If you can’t let yourself think like a teenager at a music festival, then you probably know how to tie a necktie and should be doing something that involves suits and air conditioning instead of tank tops and sunscreen — and would your high school self really be that upset over not getting a VIP wristband or some underwhelming catering?
The hatred on Coachella from so many people in the 30+ crowd is no different than their grandparents criticizing Woodstock as a breeding ground for dirty hippies or the Beatles as a band of heathens. Trashing the colossal festival might be a nice ego boost these days, but history will always side with the countless young people having a blast — with or without drugs — rather than the handful of curmudgeons reminiscing about the days when Coachella was “pure” and only two days rather than two weekends.
Sure, maybe the food options are a little healthier and outfits are made up of trends you don’t understand, but Coachella really hasn’t gotten any worse over the years in any measurable way. Instead, the people who still consider themselves to be the experts of “cool” haven’t realized they’re no longer anywhere near the target demographic for the festival — and they’re predictably blaming the youths instead of coming to terms with their own aging.
As plenty of famous people have probably said in the past, enjoying Coachella as a semi-responsible adult is all about growing up without growing old. Or in the words of the American cinematic masterpiece known as Step Brothers, “Don’t lose your dinosaur.”