The similarities between music festivals and fandom conventions are remarkable. Both center around a need for community. You go to hang out with your friends and meet new people who have similar interests. Both have scenes surrounding them. Just as there are people who hop from one convention to the next, there are people who spend the bulk of the year traveling from festival to festival. Occasionally, even the artists will overlap, like Coheed and Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez, who we've seen at both.
Music festivals and conventions vary in genre, size and influence, but within both scenes, there's one event that even your grandma has seen on the nightly news at some point. For music festivals, it's Coachella, the three day music extravaganza that occurs in the California desert city of Indio. Within the fandom communities, that event is San Diego Comic-Con. Since we've covered both mega-gatherings, along with many other smaller fests and cons, we've put together a breakdown of the two.
Get Ready to Stand in Line
Getting into Coachella takes serious patience. Even after the Friday afternoon fiasco, where people reported waiting in line for hours thanks to a disorganized entrance plan, wristband-holders still had to wait it out as the weekend progressed (was it necessary to check everyone's bags twice before entering?). Inside the venue, you'll need to wait in line for food, water, beer garden access and those lovely port-a-potties. You'll also have to wait in line to exit the festival and, most likely, sit in your car, sometimes for hours, as you try to get out of the parking lot. Of course, this is after you've exhausted yourself by spending two hours looking for your car.
At Comic-Con, after you get your badge, you can enter and exit the convention center without much of a problem, but if you want to attend a panel, you will spend a good chunk of your day standing in line. Some people will even camp out for a panel seat. At Coachella, you can simply walk into any show. However, there will be some, like La Roux and Deadmau5 this year, where the tents will be so crowded that you'll have to find a spot on the grass somewhere within earshot and give up trying to see anything.
The Hollywood Takeover
Music festivals bring in rock stars and famed DJs, cons draw actors, directors and comic book creators, that's the nature of the events. But both Coachella and Comic-Con differ in that they are ridiculously Hollywood. Both have VIP-friendly parties and oodles of paparazzi popping out of the corners. You're more likely to see Coachella and Comic-Con on TMZ than, say, Burning Man and Dragon*Con. While this creates more hype has inevitably contributed to growth and brand recognition, it can alienate longtime attendees.
What's That Smell?
Many within the convention scene have mentioned about the funky smell that can grow in the venues. Yeah, it does get a little stuffy inside the Comic-Con exhibit hall, but it's not that bad, at least it isn't if you've ever caught a whiff of Eau de Coachella. The three-day festival is held on a polo field lined with portable toilets, which on its own leads to a pretty potent odor. Add to that intense heat, carnival food and tents that are packed with sweaty dancers and you have something that can't be replicated. Comic-Con is a finely perfumed oasis in comparison.
Is This the Year We'll End Up Sleeping in the Car?
Both Coachella and Comic-Con have grown rapidly over the years, but their hometowns haven't. That makes finding a hotel room for either event a trying experience. We're among the many who have to try to get creative with our accommodations. Last year at Comic-Con, we stayed with friends in the San Diego suburbs and drove into the city every day. For Coachella, our team rented an RV and found lodging at an “RV resort” in the retiree paradise of Palm Desert. Talk to anyone who has been to these events and you'll probably hear some good anecdotes about the great quest for lodging. Both Indio and San Diego need more hotels.
The Schedule Is Overwhelming
At Coachella, there will be tons of bands you want to see. You might get to see half of them. Many of the shows at the festival overlap, and there's a huge stretch of land to cross between stages. You'll get sidetracked when you have to stand in line for the necessities or look for your friends. You might also stumble on a great performance somewhere and lose track of time. It's the same at Comic-Con. The panels you want to see will overlap. You'll have to miss something to stand in line for another event. You'll spend a lot of time looking for your friends and you'll get sidetracked by something amazing in the exhibit hall. You're best bet for getting through either Coachella or Comic-Con without major disappointment is to let things happen.
Watching the Crowd
During your few minutes of downtime at Coachella and Comic-Con, it's nice to sit back and watch people file past you. At Coachella, there is the festival/rave crowd, who can dress as outrageously as comfortable in scorching desert heat. They might be decked out in face paint or dressed in costumes. They usually dance when they walk. Meanwhile, at Comic-Con you have cosplayers, ranging in theme from Star Wars to anime to Marvel and D.C. heroes. You'll see tons of free hug signs at both. However, neither Coachella nor Comic-Con is the best place for spotting outrageous fashions. If that's your thing, you might want to find some less mainstream events with good followings.
Is It Worth It?
Your post-Coachella sunburn might be worse than one from Comic-Con, but you'll come home from both exhausted, sore and possibly sick. At the same time, you'll will feel accomplished. You probably walked more miles in one day than you ever thought you could and learned the art of patience while waiting in line. You'll constantly surprise yourself over the weekend when you find new music to love, new comic books to read and new movies to watch. You'll meet new people and see things that you never knew existed. If you're particularly lucky, you might bump into one your favorite artists. Most importantly, you will have passed the endurance test. That's worth it.