Update: On March 10, Coachella organizers postponed the 2020 festival until October, citing safety concerns over the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
If you hear that word and think "yes, the Colorado Desert in the Coachella Valley of Indio, California, is a lovely place to visit," you might want to take a seat. For hundreds of thousands of music fans, it has a very different meaning. So here, a little education about the California music festival officially known as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, aka Coachella.
What is Coachella?
As mentioned, it's a music and arts festival held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, about two and a half-hours east of Los Angeles Airport (which is the closest major air hub). Dozens of bands continuously play over two three-day weekends in April amid art installations, gourmet and lowbrow food options, dance parties, games, a vintage market, a record shop and a Ferris wheel.
When is Coachella?
This year's festival takes place April 10-12 and April 17-19.
Artists include: Rage Against the Machine, Thom Yorke, Lana Del Rey, Lil Uzi Vert, FKA twigs, DaBaby, Run the Jewels, Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Nas X, City Girls, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Charli XCX, 21 Savage, Disclosure, Big Sean, Carly Rae Jepsen, Yaeji, Snail Mail, Swae Lee, Noname, Caribou (and Daphni), DJ Koze, Calvin Harris, Denzel Curry, Danny Elfman, Cuco, 100 gecs, and Fatboy Slim. For a full lineup, go here.
How Many People Attend?
The last numbers reported were from 2017, when an average of 127,000 people attended each day, with 250,000 attending in total.
What Does Coachella Cost?
A general admission ticket that permits day parking over each weekend is $429 (plus fees). A VIP ticket, which gives you access to parking (though not preferred parking!) and the VIP areas in the venues, is $999 (plus fees). If you're staying over, the cost is higher (see below). For more on tickets, go here.
It's Out in the Middle of Nowhere! Where Do I Stay?
Sure, you could find a nearby hotel, but most folks land a camping pass and stay on the premises. Options include car and tent camping, Safari tents, lodges and tents by Lake Eldorado or … more camping elsewhere in the Valley.
Be aware, prices are steep: a Safari tent for two costs $9,500 per weekend (and $2,500 more for each additional guest). By contrast, a tent or car camping ticket is $102 (plus fees) and gives you a 30-foot by 10-foot slot, with no additional charges for more guests. More on where to stay here.
What's the History?
After Pearl Jam tried bucking TicketMaster's iron grip on the live show industry in 1993 by performing at the Polo Club, the site proved to be a solid attractant for large acts. In 1999, the inaugural Coachella Fest kicked off, then returned two years later as a singe-day event. It's gone back and forth between a two-day and three-day event since then; campers have been allowed since 2003.
Though it started out as an alternative-act, almost underground fest that was affordable for the average attendee who didn't mind a little grit (1999's headliners included Beck, Morrissey, Moby, Ben Harper and Pavement), it's since expanded into a music event attended by more moneyed fans who prefer their creature comforts (hence the nearly-$10K tents). That said, there's still some of the old in with the new: Rage Against the Machine also headlined in 1999.
The fest is not without controversy, either; in 2016 the bipartisan LGBT campaign Freedom for All Americans listed AGT (and Coachella) owner and billionaire Philip Anschutz as an "enemy of equality," who has used his influence in anti-progressive causes. In 2018, Teen Vogue reported that there was "rampant" sexual harassment and assault at the festival.
Last year organizers Goldenvoice created the Every One initiative, which is designed to provide "safety ambassadors" to help respond to problems attendees may have. But also in 2019, The Daily Beast reported on "inhumane treatment" of festival security guards — the same folks who, in theory, are meant to help keep the festival safe.
I'm Not Into Music. What Else Is There to Do?
Eat, for one thing: The Indio Central Market has over 15 "carefully curated restaurants from around the country," according to the festival's website; VIPs can share four-course family-style meals at a seated table. Down in the campgrounds, food trucks and vendors are ready and waiting for fast meals.
You can also enjoy architectural installations from international designers including Kiki Van Eijk and Architensions. There's also the interactive Coachella Art Studio, The Dome (for late-night grooving), a Field of Dreams for "recreational fun & games" a Record Store Day (April 18) a curated Vintage Market and … did we mention a Ferris wheel?