April is a magical month. It’s the first month of spring, meaning poppies and wild flowers color California’s hillsides. It’s the month the unofficial international day of weed is celebrated, which is a big deal this year considering it’s the first rotation of 4/20 under the state’s new legislation. April’s also the commencement of festival season, in which Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival hosts a double-weekend kick-off celebration of pop culture, music, food and art.
If any other music festival started the season it wouldn’t be the same. Coachella isn’t even the first festival of the year—South By Southwest in Austin technically is—but it was the event that set the music-festival trend aflame. I mean, how can lineups with Paul McCartney, Prince, Madonna, Radiohead, OutKast, Jack White, Portishead, Air, etc. not be infectious to music-lovers around the world? Plus, its location adds an otherworldly element to Coachella’s magic. Between the vibrant pink, orange and purple sunsets and the night sky spangled with stars, the desert makes it hard to not fall in love with music, the people you’re with and life in general.
This is my ninth consecutive year attending Coachella. I don’t think I’ve done anything else in life for nine consecutive years aside from living and attending school. I don’t love the lineups these days as much as I used to. There’s no comparing Prince or Sir Paul to The Weeknd or Calvin Harris. But I still find myself returning to the Empire Polo Fields each spring—even when I’m only stoked to see one person on the lineup. I’ve contemplated why it’s so hard for me to say no to this festival, and the same two reasons always come to mind: 1) It changed my life, as I’d found my open-minded, music-loving people, and 2) I’ve witnessed the strangest things of my life at Coachella.
And I say that having been to Burning Man, the land of the sexually free and steam-punk acid trippers named “Thumper.” I’ve attended Lightning In a Bottle, the home of dreadlocked vegan hippies who smell like patchouli and gather dirt under their toenails because they don’t own shoes, who walk around while munching a bag of magic mushrooms, popping molly and snorting ketamine for three days straight. I’ve gone to Austin City Limits, where no weed existed on the festival grounds and everyone was piss-whiskey-drunk to the point they seemed as if they were on Quaaludes. I’ve also been to FYF, where attendees openly discuss with strangers the Adderall they just sniffed off their hand.
But I’ve had two experiences at Coachella that top all of that combined. The first one took place in 2011. It was Sunday, day three, and the desert sun cooked festivalgoers in 106-degree heat—you didn’t even need drugs to hallucinate. But that was the year the godfather of electronic music, Sven Väth, played the Sahara Tent. I’ve never been much of a dance-music fan, but this was Sven’s first performance in America, so I had to check it out. With the exception of the die-hard ravers who swarmed the front barrier and danced as if the heat were a non-issue, the Sahara was oddly empty for his set.
Two girls sharing a Minute Maid Frozen Lemonade walked through the Sahara Tent, also amazed at how empty it was. Making their way to the opposite side of the Sahara (where I was sitting), a raver in a ripped T-shirt pulled away from the swarm of people around the barrier to do some high-speed breakdancing. After a spazzy cartwheel kick, he noticed the girls walking by, lunged toward them, and ripped the frozen lemonade from their hands. He then scooped up some of the lemonade and snorted it up his nose. He threw the rest of the treat on the ground and proceeded to breakdance like a psycho. The girls screamed in horror at what happened—and so did I.
What tops watching a drugged-out dude snorting frozen lemonade he stole from innocent passersby? On day three of Coachella 2015, I was backstage at the Do Lab, sitting with friends and having a beer at the tables. For those who don’t know, the Do Lab is a psychedelic art structure you go to when you want to get sprayed with water (it’s often a refuge from the heat), find people who will share their weed with you, and dance to electronic music with girls wearing fringed bikinis and lots of body paint. It’s also the place where you’ll find some of those aforementioned patchouli-soaked, dreadlocked, vegan hippies.
A young woman with sun-leathered skin sat at the table adjacent to me. She looked flustered and totally in her own world. Her hands were adorned with spectacular rings, one of which was an amethyst that seemed to be radiating violet celestial beams. (Or maybe it was something in the beer?) I was drawn to tell her I liked her ring. She smiled at me and shyly said, “Thank you.” I went back to listening in on the conversation between my friends. About three minutes later, she tapped my hand and said, “I like your ring, too. Is that a carnelian stone?”
I confirmed it was and told her I was impressed she could identify what stone it was (I am a mineral/crystal nerd). “I have something to show you,” she said. She pulled out a makeup bag, opened it up and took out another, smaller medicine bag, which she unzipped to display an oval-shaped, red carnelian stone. She reached out and put it in my hand, whispering, “This has been in my vagina a number of times. My name’s Matilda, by the way.”
I looked over at my friends who were knee-deep in conversation and were unaware of what was going on at my end of the table. I then looked at Matilda and scream-laughed. What else do you do in that situation? As I handed the stone back to her, I said, “Matilda, it’s really wonderful to meet you.” She put the stone back in the medicine bag, which was returned to the makeup kit and dropped into in her massive tote. She then skipped away.
I had no place to wash my hands. My friends had no idea what had happened. I honestly didn’t really understand what had happened either. But it was one of the weirdest interactions of my life. Another April memory I won’t forget as long as I live.