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
The result was a frequently packed crowd that could stretch virtually unbroken from one stage or tent to the other, leaving little room for the comfort level that has been a Coachella tradition.
As fans exited on Friday night after explosive sets by Them Crooked Vultures and Public Image Ltd., they were funneled toward a narrow gate near the Ferris wheel, which forced the crowd into a tight area. At one point, several people leaped over a generator's trailer-hitch and a low fence to escape the crush.
I was one of them. It was the first time since attending the very first Coachella, in 1999, that I ever felt unsafe at the annual show.
These are not fun stories for the soft-spoken Tollett to hear. Fortunately the weather was exceptional, and there were fewer than 80 arrests the entire weekend, a number lower than at Coachella 2009, according to Indio Police spokesman Benjamin Guitron.
Tollett promises that the unusual problems of 2010 are being addressed by Goldenvoice. "Once you've had a great Coachella, the truth is you're in search of that feeling again," he says. "You really don't want that feeling to go backwards. We have to deliver for everyone the best feeling they've ever had.
"I admit, Coachella is not cheap. It's not even the ticket price — the ticket price is actually fairly low when you analyze all the talent you get. It's the whole getting out there, traveling, hotel. There's ways to do it cheap, but a lot of people don't."
This year, there were also complaints that single-day tickets were not available for the first time, requiring fans to purchase three-day passes at $269 apiece. Tollett has his reasons. His goal with this is not about profit, he insists, but to encourage fans to commit for the full three days rather than pop in for a few favorite acts. Goldenvoice could potentially earn more, he says, by again selling single-day tickets at $99 each.
"It's only once a year. This is a special moment," he says. "It's like the Super Bowl — you can't buy the fourth quarter only. Also, we do have a layaway program that gives you a chance to put some money away, little by little.
"The last-minute impulse if you're broke? That show isn't going to work for you. But it is coming up nine months from now. I can almost promise it will be a great show — I would start saving now if it's trouble," he suggests. "I think we've made it to where you can actually do it on a budget. The person who complains and says, 'I can only go one night because of money,' and then they stay at La Quinta Resort? I don't really feel that's fair."
Even as fans began to complain openly online about the experience, AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips was boasting in The Hollywood Reporter of this year's record Coachella three-day attendance of 225,000 (well above the previous peak head count of 186,636, in 2007). Not mentioned in the article was how much bottom-line success had cost in terms of customer dissatisfaction.
Tollett says decisions about tickets, price and comfort were not made under any influence from corporate parent AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group), which absorbed the independent Goldenvoice into its Concerts West division at the beginning of the last decade.
"That pressure is not coming from them. We're setting our own pace," Tollett says. "They've been great the whole way — I'm glad they're my partner. They are not pushing to make a certain amount of money. They know that show can be up or down. We clearly want a great show, and it costs. Some years are not a great show financially, but we don't back down. We had a year recently that lost money — and I didn't cut one dollar from anything. I never would. People that paid their money, they want a certain show. It's on us if we're going to make or lose. We're not going to cut to a bad experience just because I booked it a certain way and it didn't resonate in huge numbers."
Goldenvoice also has come under attack for restricting Coachella acts from performing other shows in the region, shutting out any Los Angeles fans not heading out to the desert from seeing their favorite bands. There have been exceptions. In 2009, the promoter allowed Leonard Cohen another local show just prior to the festival. Three days in the desert is not for everyone. "I didn't want the burden of every Leonard Cohen fan," Tollett says. "There are some people who are his fans that clearly would not have dealt with Coachella well."
He adds, "We've lightened up a little bit. We don't want to be too overreaching in keeping bands out of L.A., partly because we are a concert promoter and we have the El Rey and the Fonda. I don't want the average Los Angeles fan not liking Coachella because it sucks up all the bands. But I clearly need some exclusivity to get people to go to the desert for something fun."
The promoter's aim is to operate with the same attitude set by Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar, who sold the punk-rock company to Tollett and Van Santen two decades ago. The company still flies a vintage logo created by Chuck Dukowski of Black Flag, and owes its success to an ongoing awareness of new, forward-looking sounds forever rising from club level.