[Editor's Note: Longtime concert photographer Andrew Youssef found out almost two years ago that he had stage IV colon cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events for outlets including our sister paper OC Weekly, on top of his day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this column, called Last Shot, gives him a platform to tell his story in his own words.]
I am happy to report that I survived Coachella. It wasn't without some close calls and numerous trips to the bathroom. I'm still sore from walking around the polo grounds and have a few bumps and bruises to prove it. My feet also despised me for a couple of days although I wore my comfortable Nike running shoes. The sandstorm that hit on Sunday, the first weekend, was the ultimate souvenir from Coachella as I'm still finding sand in various places.
I didn't really heed my own advice about resting before Coachella. It was a busy week as I flew to Reno to see the first show from The Postal Service, then the debut of Trent Reznor's new project How To Destroy Angels at the Fox Theatre Pomona and then see Phoenix prove why they are headlining Coachella as they electrified the Fox Theatre Pomona.
The Friday, the temperature was 90 degrees. Since the place I was staying at had a washer and dryer, my uniform for Coachella is the same every day. After applying 50+ SPF sunscreen from head to toe, I donned my lucky bucket hat, a white long sleeve Disneyland half marathon running shirt from 2006, camouflage shorts and some medications for my stomach.
Even though I survived Coachella last year, I was still very anxious. This anxiety did not help my stomach. As long as I can hold on until the sun goes down, I would be safe. Luckily, the media area was stocked with water and I strategically downed a bottle at every stop in between shooting bands. Blur, The Stone Roses and How To Destroy Angels were on my high priority list of must-shoot bands and I succeeded in shooting all three. I did use my emergency stomach medication early on as I think the combination of anxiety and heat caused some problems but I made sure to hydrate as necessary. In total, I think I drank close to six liters of water, sports drinks and coconut water to make sure nothing would happen to me.
After approximately six hours of sleep since I had to edit photos and submit them, I was back on the polo fields yet again. Savages, The Postal Service, Phoenix and Sigur Ros were the highlights of the day. The max temperature for the day was 92 degrees and I still ended up using my stomach medication again as the heat and exhaustion were starting to accumulate. I thought I was doing okay but later at night around 2 a.m. while editing photos I was really feeling sick. I took some more medication in hopes that it would prop me up and summoned some will power to keep me moving onto Sunday.
With two days of using my stomach medications on the polo fields, I decided to take some medication earlier in the day and bring along some as emergency back up. This plan finally worked! The fact that the temperature was a much more manageable 88 degrees definitely worked in my favor. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, OMD and Dinosaur Jr. were the highlights of this particular day. Incredibly, gusts of winds topping near 20 mph turned things into a sandstorm very quickly. I soon found myself shivering after shooting Red Hot Chili Peppers and quickly retreated to the car.
Overall, it still was an incredible experience. Although I still desperately wish I was fully healthy and could run fast enough as some of the other photographers, I have to still remember that I should be dead and that I'm lucky that I survived. It is a bittersweet feeling but being able to photograph Blur and The Stone Roses was a feat I never thought I would accomplish. It is with great pride I can strike those bands of my way too literal “bucket list.”