Every Friday (#FlashbackFriday), longtime L.A. Weekly writer Lina Lecaro revisits significant events and topics covered for this publication from the past two decades, particularly those that remain relevant today. Behind-the-scenes insight and reflection culled from now-gone, nightlife-driven columns including "Nightranger," "Slush" and "Lina in L.A.," as well as weekly slideshows, the Weekly's first lifestyle blog, "The Style Council," its music blog West Coast Sound and right here on Public Spectacle, will provide an irreverent yet adulatory take on L.A.'s creative communities, music, art, events and the evolving cultural landscape.
I attended and covered my first Coachella back in 2003, the year Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys headlined, and Iggy and The Stooges reunited. Back then, the paper was given a good number of passes so the coverage could be as extensive as possible. Writers Jay Babcock, Alec-Haley Bemis, Andrew Lentz (where are they now?) and I each had a different beat, and since I hadn't really dug into live music critique yet, I was just the "party girl" reporter, doing snazzy scene reports inspired by the Weekly's legendary "LA Dee Da" column. Basically my job that year consisted of hanging out in the VIP area waiting to spot boldface-worthy people. I stayed there until I discovered the glitter sign–covered trailer area where the bands hung out and had access to golf carts, rides around the perimeter of the festival and dropoffs behind each stage. In the early days of Coachella, these carts were more coveted than limos, and I happened to be lucky to know many of the drivers who volunteered for Goldenvoice. Coachella is grueling but my first year, I gotta admit, it wasn't that much. I saw some great performances, but at that point in my life, I didn't have the desire as a writer to deconstruct them. I just wanted to enjoy them and be hedonistic in the desert heat. (See links below.)
The following year it was all about The Cure's epic closing set. I remember my legs throbbing to the beat of "Boys Don't Cry" while watching them, but in true goth fashion, I suffered through the beauteous torture of the moment. When L.A. Weekly chronicled the Best Coachella Performances of All Time, I couldn't believe this performance did not make the cut. I still think about this set and how the band got cut off but the crowd kept singing along. It was mystical. The party scene really started to take off this year, and URB mag threw one of the most legendary: a Converse swag–filled soiree with free Chucks for all. I still wear the kicks I got that evening, and sometimes when my toes hurt after a long day of wear, I get Coachella foot flashbacks.
For the next decade, I made my way out to the desert every year and it didn't really matter who was playing. Coachella had become an event to attend not only for the bands one loved but for the bands one might love. It was almost mandatory to go to see who the "hot new thing" was or would be, and I discovered so many artists that remain favorites to this day (The Black Keys, The Horrors, Amy Winehouse, Charles Bradley, St. Vincent).
When I look back at my Coachella adventures, I think of friends made and friends lost (nothing tests a relationship like a road trip or sharing a hotel room when consumed with utter exhaustion). I think of cold beer and Spicy Pie. I think of discovering Mark the Cobrasnake taking pictures there and bringing him on at the Weekly afterward. I think of riding golf carts next to the Dresden Dolls, Trent Reznor, Katy Perry and Florence Welch. I think of dancing on top of a porta-potty during Madonna, marveling at the agitated wave of bodies during Rage Against the Machine, Sly Stone losing his goddamn mind, cussing out his band, and Peter Murphy hanging upside down like a bat during Bauhaus' set. All of these happened in different years, and if it wasn't for Google (sweet Google) providing links and dates, I think it'd be a big mess in my mind, which is filled with beautiful music memories but also a lot of chronological chaos.
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I also think about being pregnant, which I was in 2006. It was my first sober Coachella and I had to take lots of naps in the VIP area and out on the grass. I didn't need to be intoxicated to enjoy it, but I did need energy (and clean porta-potties). Speaking of which, I think about the following year, when I was a lactating new mom, separated from my baby daughter for the first time since she was born, forced to pump my breasts in the sweltering and stinky toilet chambers so I wouldn't go dry when I got back to L.A. At least I got to drink! I like to drink, and especially at the off-side parties, that's what it's all about. Signature cocktails and swag. When I think about Coachella parties, I think about Thom Yorke spinning at the Parker Hotel at 4 in the morning, and A Club Called Rhonda's pool parties, along with Anthem mag, Filter mag, Vestal Village, Lacoste, Neon Carnival and Jeremy Scott's bashes at the Frank Sinatra estate, the latter of which is where I hung out/smoked out with Snoop Dogg (see photo) the night before his and Dr. Dre's infamous set with "Tupac Hologram."
The party scene surrounding Coachella exploded much in the same way it did with South by Southwest; in later years, the gifting and social scene attracted just as many to the desert as the fest itself. But sometimes the shameless marketing was gross, and running into Paris Hilton and David Hasselhoff at every bash quickly started to lose its novelty appeal. Nevertheless, one very ambitious year (see 2011) I attempted to attend two full days of parties, plus the fest, plus afterparties! I took my job very seriously, and yes, I was insane.
While I am not one of those "get off of my polo field" types and I'm morally opposed to anyone who says they are "too old" for anything, today, as hundreds of friends and fellow journos head out for a weekend of festival frolic and unparalleled exertion, I am happy not to be with them. Maybe my age and lack of energy have something to do with it (I actually love Beyoncé and Eminem, so it's not the lineup). I'm not jaded about the joy a festival experience can bring to one's life, without or without the privileges I've been lucky enough to enjoy as a journalist. Coachella can be life-changing because music is life-changing and being with other humans who love it can be, too. People who hate crowds have their reasons, but I love them, at least in a festival environment, because the intention is always to feel good. Right now, though, looking back at how Coachella made me feel in the past is more than good enough.
My Coachella Chronology
2003: Miracle in the Desert
2004: Coachella 2004
2005: The Year of The Cult
2006- Cobrasnake at Coachella
2007: Hella Coachella
2008: Behind the Velvet Fence
2009: Coachella Saturday: Off-site Parties, On-site Tripping, M.I.A.'s Dayglo Circus & Do-Lab Love
Slideshow: I'm in Coachella Bitch!
2010: Super Massive Black Hell
Slideshow: Coachella Crashed
2011: Coachella Party Report 1 & Coachella Party Report 2
Slideshow: Non-Stop Coachella Party
Lina Lecaro's Coachella Do's & Don'ts
2012: Lina in L.A.: Coachella
2013: Palm Springs Party People
10 Types of People You See at Coachella Parties
2015- Female Artists Defined Coachella