15 Things I Learned About Coachella By Actually Going There

Coachella. That smelly/douchey/basic music festival for over-privileged teenage assholes. You know it well…or do you? For years, I knew from reading the articles that I was a Coachella hater – I would never be a tank topped, foul-smelling douchebag. But after having a gaygasm over the lineup online (Outkast? Solange? Girl Talk!!!) I knew I had to go. So, I shelled out five hundred (yes, five hundred) of my hard-earned dollars for a weekend-one wristband, and was shocked to discover that…it didn’t suck. I wondered, had the people who’d written about Coachella even been there before? Well, I now have, so here are a few things that I learned about Coachella from actually going there.

1. It doesn’t actually smell bad.

image - Flickr / Miguel Noriega
image – Flickr / Miguel Noriega

Unless you’re going camping (I don’t do camping. More on that later), Coachella is not a horrifyingly smelly experience. Even in this hipster fantasia, the basic rules of polite society, in which people bathe, wear deodorant and don’t shove, still apply.

2. There aren’t as many teenagers as you thought.

Coachella is close to LA. LA has lots of rich kids. Rich kids like things involving drugs and music. Therefore, there should be lots of rich kids. So, while there were a good number of Free People-clad citizens of Calabasas roaming the polo grounds, the majority of the young looking ones were college students. I did see a few lost, hairless tweens that looked like they desperately needed a nap and stronger parental boundaries, but the best part is that, if at any point you do tire of them, you can go to the grown-up area – where they have booze and wristbands and where neon is kept to a minimum.

3. There are no black people. Like, at all.

image - Flickr / Fred von Lohmann
image – Flickr / Fred von Lohmann

There’s a picture of me at the 1975 with my hair wrapped like someone told Harpo to beat me. Looking at the picture afterwards, I can guarantee that no one around me got that joke. Coachella is not the most diverse place, but that didn’t stop the crowd from knowing all the lyrics to every single off of Illmatic. I could barely get through ‘One Mic’.

4. You don’t have to do drugs.

Contrary to popular opinion, everyone at Coachella is not actually rolling their faces off on molly/ecstasy/coke/shrooms/acid or Soylent Green. Frankly, you don’t really need it. There were more than 90,000 people there, floating light sculptures, six different concert venues playing music at the same time and a FUCKING ASTRONAUT ROBOT THAT WAS 30 FEET TALL that wandered the grounds by remote control. Just walking to the parking lots felt like escaping the zombie apocalypse. If that isn’t enough of a sensory overload for you, then you should probably seek professional help.

5. But if you do, you’ll have lots of company.

Here’s a standard Coachella greeting: “OMG, How are you? Did you see ABCF3R4? What are you rolling on?” If what you meant when you said, “I want to go to Coachella” was, “I’m looking for an open space where I can do psychedelics and there aren’t sharp objects. Also stare at stuff,” then Coachella is also the place to be. You should probably just head straight to the Sahara tent.

6. The Sahara tent is Heaven.

I hate EDM. I hate EDM now, I hated EDM in the early 2000’s when it was called techno and I wore wide-leg JNCO raver pants, and I hated EDM in 1991 when it was called “Pop-step” and I was six. However, The Sahara tent, where they play EDM, is kind of amazing. It’s packed, and has a three story light installation with lasers and projection screens on the ceilings, and when Dillon Francis dropped that beat and commanded everyone to jump in unison, I got lost. It felt religious. It felt like church.

7. The Sahara Tent is hell.

But don’t get it twisted – there are a lot of people in there, and a lot of them are fucked up. There are only so many times that a bro in a neon tank top can step on your foot while he gives his girlfriend a light show before you’re just kind of done. It may be a religious experience, but it’s one that should be taken in very small doses.

8. Stay to the end of your favorite shows. Or else.

image - Flickr / Paul Carless
image – Flickr / Paul Carless

The best part of Coachella is the special appearances, but to see them you must time them correctly. I watched many a homosexual’s heart break when he learned he had missed Beyoncé by one song because he wanted to go watch Lana Del Rey take a nap onstage. Stay to the end my friends, that’s when they play the good stuff anyway.

9. Your phone is actually just a fancy flashlight.

You will come to Coachella with friends, and at some point, you will become separated from them. You will try to send a text. It will not go through. In fact, I got a text from Saturday this morning. Go old school and pick a meeting place with actual times to meet there. Otherwise, you’ll be one of those people walking very slowly through the polo grounds, hoping to get service.

10. Also, your debit card is useless.

Cash only what now? All of the food and beer places were SUPPOSED to take debit cards, but in practice, that mostly meant a lot of yelling and then walking forever to pay four dollars at a skeezy looking ATM.

11. Camping is dumb.

Look, I get it, you’re cheap and think there’s something romantic about spending the weekend with 30,000 of your best friends. But sometimes the toilets don’t work. And there’s no wi-fi. And it’s 90 degrees at 10am. And there are dust storms. And they usually store horses there, so when the ground gets wet, it smells a bit…interesting. There’s this thing called AirBnB. Instead of thirty thousand, gather five of your best friends, and, you know…use it.

12. Poop at home.

The toilet situation at Coachella is…a delicate one. There are lots of porta-potties all over the site, but have you ever seen a porta-potty that’s been used for three days by people whose only food options are burritos, beer and chicken strips? It isn’t cute. So, maybe stick to small portions until you get back to your hotel.

13. Your car is actually in Canada.

Getting onto the site was easy. I parked my car on some sort of organized dirt patch and went on my merry way. I did not, however, realize that in doing so, I had placed my car more than a mile away from the actual concert stage. I was so far that there were literally rickshaws ferrying people to and from the lots. There is no way around this – except to get VIP parking. That rickshaw is starting to look good.

14. There are a lot of ways to hide a flask.

Just a friendly reminder that when beers are 12 dollars, there are some very easy ways to hide a flask and make your way inside ::Cough:: Backpack ::Cough::. Pro tip: tequila doesn’t keep well in the sun.

15. You will have a spectacular time.

From what you read about it, it’s easy to think you’ll hate Coachella. But at some point you’ll be out there, dancing to a song by a band that you love, while all the new friends you never met cheer you on, and you’ll get it. It’s not about fashion, or drugs or getting just the right space at Disclosure. It’s about communion. It’s about celebrating music with like-minded souls. So, if the lineup is good enough, I’ll see you there next year. TC mark

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