In spite of its characteristic debauchery, Coachella may just be the perfect site for some family bonding. It’s prime for photo ops, held in a confined space and has virtually no cell reception to interrupt your quality time. And hey, the festival grounds are probably no filthier than the ball pit at your local Chuck E. Cheese’s.
“I mean, it’s basically Disneyland, but 90 percent of the people are adults,” says Amy Conrad, the impressively unfazed mother of 4-year-old Jack, who stands next to her coated in the remnants of a melted popsicle and chattering excitedly her friend Nate Change's 5-year-old daughter, Lexie, about their first festival experience.
Navigating Coachella with a group of grownups is a challenge in itself. Doing so with your children sounds like another story entirely. Yet Conrad and Chang appeared calm, not necessarily cool (with temperatures topping 100, no one here is) but remarkably collected considering the circumstances.
“You have to manage some of it because you just don’t know what to expect behaviorally,” Chang says. “Lexie likes Lady Gaga, but in reality, Lady Gaga isn’t really appropriate for a 5-year-old” — especially given her 11:10 p.m. set time.
In traveling to Indio from San Francisco with their kids, Chang and Conrad may have to sacrifice some of their their own festival fantasies. Though Conrad hoped to catch Father John Misty, she seemed to expect that her preschool-age kids might not appreciate his performance. (The bizarre Pure Comedy visuals projected onto the mainstage screens might even give them nightmares — they did for me.) That’s why Dan and Melinda Berman and Christian and Sheryn Payne opted to go both weekends this year: one with the kids, one without.
Based in L.A. and San Diego, the couples went as a group of four last weekend and came back with their respective 15-year-olds this time around. The parents have been friends for a decade and both came to Coachella for the first time about 10 years ago. Now, doubling up on their festival experiences holds a dual purpose. According to Dan, the first weekend was for his own self-interest, while the second is more about his son, Tommy. As a pair of seasoned Coachella veterans, Tommy's parents can show him the ropes.
But the kids can teach them a few things, too. Ella, daughter of Sheryn and Christian, was looking forward to seeing Dillon Francis and Martin Garrix — two acts that her parents probably wouldn’t have caught on their own.
“Coming with my daughter, we end up seeing totally different acts than we saw the weekend before,” Christian says. “That’s great. That’s the whole point of the festival. I’m gonna see some stuff I didn’t see last week and hopefully she’ll see some stuff she wouldn’t see on her own.”
Approaching Coachella as a family affair will inevitably push attendees to view the festival and their family members in new ways — unless they’re too young to remember going. Anyone age 5 or younger gets into the festival for free, so it’s not uncommon to see infants or toddlers donning noise-canceling headphones, passed out in their strollers even as DJ Snake’s set achieves the same ground-shaking effect as a 6.0 earthquake.
When Ben and Claudia Adams brought their first child, Florence, to Coachella in 2015, she was just over a year old. This year, they’ve returned with her for round two, along with her 1½-year-old brother, Phoenix. He slept in the shade of one of the festival's massive art installations while his parents and sister caught Glass Animals’ set from afar.
The Adams are a Coachella family in every sense of the term. Ben and Claudia have been together for seven years and attended the festival eight and six times, respectively (Ben went last weekend, too). Their wedding was Coachella-themed, with tables labeled as bands they'd seen together at the festival over the years. Phoenix is named after the French group of the same name that headlined in 2013. The couple also named Florence in honor of Florence and the Machine, hence their reasoning for bringing her to the festival in 2015.
“We thought that if Florence and the Machine were going to perform at Coachella, we would have to bring her,” Claudia says. “When the lineup came out, we knew we had to. So that was her first.”
There’s an undeniable sweetness in the couple’s effort to integrate their children into a story so central to their relationship. Rather than leaving the kids at home and escaping for a weekend, they brought them along and tailored the experience to their interests.
Claudia says the family is waiting outside by the mainstage to see The xx because Florence is a fan. Ben looks forward to Hans Zimmer’s set so he can watch his kids react to the live renditions of songs from The Lion King.
They’re just hoping to inspire the same festival infatuation in their kids. Hopefully the lineup won’t be hologram-only by the time Florence and Phoenix are old enough to attend on their own.
[Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Amy Conrad and Nate Chang as co-parents. In fact, they are friends who traveled to Coachella together, each with their own child. We regret the error.]