Following reports of three-hour waits to get in, a bizarre appearance by Sly Stone and a dirt-lot parking situation that had festival-goers walking for up to an hour in desert dust to get to their cars, the Los Angeles Times declared the 11th annual Coachella festival a rousing success, arguing that it is “considered among the most gracefully appointed major rock festivals in the U.S.”
Its “lush lawns, giant stages and pristine white dance tents could lure fans wanting to escape the arenas and asphalt lots of radio-station shows,” the Times stated. We saw plenty of dirt, fistfights, near-riot conditions at the gates on Friday. While the festival retained some of its magic, especially at dusk, its expansion to 75,000 people (and surely there were more Friday as people crashed the gates, got in with counterfeit tickets, or simply walked in without paying) changed the vibe for the worst. We must have been at a different event than the one the Times attended. So with organizers announcing they have signed a 10-year lease for the Empire Polo Club grounds for future Coachellas, we thought of five ways they could make the event better:
- Pare it back down to a 60,000-a-day capacity: Make a statement that vibe is a key piece of Coachella's draw and business plan. Having more than 75,000 people show up on Friday nearly ended in disaster. Later in the weekend, as popular acts took to the main stage, the sea of people was nearly insurmountable, and there's not really anything besides the draw of the side tents to prevent everyone there from rushing the big stage. Having so many people on the grounds really shifted the festival's energy from sunny and laid back to scary at times in 2010. Leaving the grounds on Sunday, we were caught in a near-crush of thousands of people who helped create a bottleneck at an exit.
- Bring the edge back: The lineup, while deep with genre acts, was way too pop to reflect the A&R man's playground that was once Coachella. The likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce, Tiesto and Vampire Weekend feel more like headliners for San Diego's Street Scene than America's most critically acclaimed music festival. The festival was once a beacon of dance music talent. This year its talent was mostly well-worn. We'd bet Lady Gaga will be on the bill next year. We hope to lose that wager.
- Build some bathrooms: It's been 11 years since Coachella started, and organizers are looking at at least 10 more. Most people paid nearly $300 each to attend. Porta-potties for three days is a drag. Hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed through those polo fields over the years. The land owner can't build a half dozen or so permanent restroom facilities? Really?
- Organize the parking situation: The event this year added miles of new parking, but that meant miles of walking and eating dust. And with hardly any signage (and keep in mind its a flat, desert area with lines of ubiquitous palm trees), we witnessed many festival-goers who were completely lost. Some were in no condition to regain their bearings, either. Erect a few signs. Offer shuttles. It's a pilgrimage, but with an hour getting in (with traffic) and often one hour exiting, Coachella 2010 was a hike, and many fans who were there this year will reconsider whether it's all really worth it as a result.
- Treat people nice: We know it must be hard when 75,000 people come to your house to play, but they paid, so be nice. Fans were corralled and barked at like prisoners. At times it felt like we were at a mega-rave at the National Orange Show Even Center in San Bernardino circa 1999. We had volunteers tell us they were made to sign contracts stating they would be responsible for missing wrist-straps — and could be searched. These people were giving their own time to help a large media company make money. As Coachella has grown into a 225,000-attendee beast, consideration was sometimes in short supply. We'd recommend having a staff of ombudsmen at the gates and throughout the grounds authorized to help fans navigate the experience.