By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Read all of our Coachella 2010 coverage here and view photos in our "40 Most Memorable People at Coachella" slideshow.
Before April 2010, if you had asked local music fans about the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, you would have heard a pretty consensual answer that reflected its well-earned reputation as one of the nation's most satisfying rock fests. Since the festival's 1999 founding by Goldenvoice Productions, the Coachella sensibility had been rooted in the original L.A. punk-rock scene, delivering good vibes and genuine excitement along with a wide range of alternative sounds chosen with a connoisseur's touch, from this year's headlining muscle of Jay-Z and Thom Yorke to the dreamier waves of emotion unfurled by the xx as the afternoon sun slowly slid behind the palm trees.
But something went very wrong for many fans in 2010, even as the stages erupted with the sounds of more than 100 bands and DJs. There were serious gripes about overcrowding, ticket snafus, parking gridlock and a creeping suspicion of new profit motives. It wasn't anything on the scale of June's Electric Daisy Carnival, marred by the fatal overdose of a teenage girland hundreds of injuries after fans crashed through event barricades at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. And yet it was alarming by Coachella standards, as repeat customers reacted to the problems less with anger than with something resembling heartbreak.
For James Faulkner, making his fourth trip to Indio, his only desire was to recapture the experience of his first Coachella, in 2004, when he watched the Cure perform in an epic landscape with a peaceful, ecstatic crowd of music fans much like himself. "I don't want to say it changed my life, but ...," he recalls of that first year, but as he struggles to find the words, you know that maybe it had. Now he's not sure he'll ever return, calling the 2010 festival a clusterfuck, a word that has come up repeatedly online following this year's edition.
On the Coachella.com message board, one member posting as "Frazzles" wrote: "Just don't sell 75k tickets when there's no fucking space for 75k people." Another, "Joebizz," lamented: "Coachella means so much to me, and this year really twisted my head about what it is all about anymore."
None of this has gone unnoticed by Paul Tollett, the president of Goldenvoice, who co-founded Coachella with the late Rick Van Santen. He's talked to fans and read the online criticism.
"I've heard some people ask, 'Is this how it's going to be in the future?,'" Tollett says. "It's not for the faint of heart. I've been called out more than a few times. Our staff has been called out for decisions that we've made."
It's a Friday afternoon on the Goldenvoice side of AEG Live's headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. Tollett's understated fifth-floor office overlooks the La Brea Tar Pits, and is decorated more like a living room than a corporate meeting place, with comfortable, minimalist furniture built by his brother. On the walls are huge photographs of great moments from the festival: Daft Punk atop its dazzling pyramid of lights, Roger Waters unveiling his inflatable pig and, out on the field, the fest's iconic Tesla coil, firing epic bolts of electricity into the night air.
In a few days, Tollett and his team were set to travel back out to the desert town of Indio to make plans for next year's festival, now scheduled for April 15, 16 and 17. "It's been a hundred days now since the show, and we've been writing notes down [about] how to make this show better," he says. "Almost across the board, each one of us came up with the same note: less people.
"The No. 1 thing was just too many bodies," Tollett adds. "That came from a few things. Number one, we sold more tickets than we have in the past." Specifically, Goldenvoice sold an additional 6,000 three-day tickets compared with the previous year, a jump in attendance compounded by a tidal wave of "sneak-ins, fence-cutting, counterfeit wristbands, counterfeit tickets," says Tollett. "We had a lame ticketing thing that we have to change, that actually made no sense."
The "lame ticketing thing" is Tollett's euphemism for the biggest opening-day mess, which kick-started the whole "Clusterfuckchella" meme. Ticket-scanning devices had technical failures, and fans complained of waiting hours in line just to get inside, a dramatic change from years before.
Jeremiah Henderson, 27, remembers waiting just 20 minutes to enter in 2009. This year, it took four hours. "I was searching for the beginning of the line to get into it, and I couldn't see where it began and ended. You're talking a couple of miles," says Henderson. "The crowd was starting to chant 'Fuck you' and 'Fuck the police' and 'Fuck Coachella.' People were pushing and shoving, and girls were starting to cry. It was insane."
Staff and volunteers eventually began accepting tickets and online-ticket printouts without scanning them, speeding up the process but also encouraging mass counterfeiting. Goldenvoice staff spotted people at a local copy store making duplicates of ticket printouts. A few bands were even found selling their VIP passes in the parking lot, says Tollett. Three-day tickets and counterfeits were being scalped for $500.