The Coachella Valley Music Festival has been my white whale for years. I attend the Sasquatch! Music Festival each year, and I try to make it to one other festival. I choose my second festival based on the strength of the lineup, but by the time the other festivals have announced their lineups, Coachella has already occurred, or is sold out. At the end of each festival season, I compare the lineups, and Coachella is always the best (for my taste). This is why I decided last summer, regardless of the lineup, I am going to Coachella 2011.
When I was first able to afford going to a lot of shows, I dealt with friends backing out, or not wanting to go, so I started going to most shows alone. I became so used to flying solo, I preferred it. There are no boundaries, no group decisions on where to stand, no having to move if your short friend/date can’t see. There is no missing opening bands because your friends want another prefunk beer at the bar. It is 100% based on what you want to see, where you want to go, and what you want to do.
Fast forward a couple years, and now I’m in the same situation with festivals. I'm tired of friends backing out, and I’ve never attended a festival alone. I’ve never been on vacation alone, so this experience will be brand new to me. And just to make the trip that much more epic and memorable, I’m going to road trip it. It’s only 17 hours each way. Airplanes are for pussies.
Now that the boring background information is out of the way, let’s get the trip started. I should say another reason I decided to drive is because I have never driven through California, and I have a lot of friends who live between Portland and Indio. Another good thing about driving, there is no need to worry about trying to fit everything you need in one suit case, so I am taking advantage of this. Anything from my apartment that fits is going with. You never know when you might need a toilet plunger, or a VCR, or a 25 pound dumb bell.
Wednesday, April 13th, Departure Day.
I’m putting my couch back together since it wouldn’t fit in the SUV. Everything else is loaded, camping chairs, coolers, tents, blankets, two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls. I'm heading to the desert after all.
I’ve already broken the first rule of surviving a camping music festival, which is getting caught up on sleep the night before you leave. Against better judgement, I went to see Wire at Dante’s the night before, and ended up with five hours of sleep before working a full day mildly hung-over. Luckily, the first leg of this trip is only a 4.5 hour drive to Southern Oregon to stay with some friends. They all have jobs, and wives, and kids, so they’ll want to turn in early. I’m sure I'll get plenty of sleep.
But what happens when some old buddies who haven't hung out in over a year get together? One beer turns into four or nine, and the next thing you know, it’s 1 a.m. (again). Drats. I curled up on the couch shortly after 1:30 a.m.
Thursday, April 14th, Arrival Day
The alarm goes off at 5:43 a.m. and I’m on the road a couple minutes short of 6:00 a.m. I hit the grocery store on the way out of Medford to pick up all the supplies I should have purchased before leaving Portland. Hey, look at this, cases of PBR are really cheap. I’ll take four. Better to have way too much than to run out, right? We ran out of beer at Sasquatch one year sharing with neighbors. Since then, I've operated under the theory, “A case per person per day.” Sure I’ll never drink that much, but combining forces with others makes finishing that much easy. Shoot, I should have bought ten cases. Since the couch wouldn’t fit, I have room in the truck.
I didn’t do the greatest job planning this trip, so I’m pretty much winging it. I don’t have a map, or directions printed out, I’m just relying on my phone for directions. Having taken the long way to my friend's house the night before, I know the directions aren't always the fasted route, but I won't get lost. So when the phone tells me Los Angeles at rush hour is the way to go, who was I to argue?
I'm 45 minutes into my stop and go L.A. rush hour nightmare and it seems like three times as many cars are entering I-5 than getting off per exit. I’m still waiting for that connection to the next highway my phone is leading me to when my phone's navigation quits working. Before that happened, I had zoomed in close enough on the map to see that it didn't look like I-5 even connected to the highway I’m trying to find (Hwy 60). Screw the phone, I'll figure it out.
I had turned off the music so it wouldn’t be a distraction in the heavy traffic, but at this point, I'm barely moving. I decided to check out what L.A. has to offer for local radio. The second station I found was playing Soundgarden, so I stayed there. The song ended 30 seconds later, and the host says, “I'm jealous of all of you on Highway 10 heading to Coachella right now.” I look up, and the exit sign says, “Hwy 10 to San Bernadino, Next Exit.” I was already in one of the far right lanes, where I could exit or continue on, so I exited. I tend to exaggerate here and there for entertainment purposes, but I swear this is how it happened. Had I heard the Hwy 10 comment 60 seconds later, I would have passed the exit. Radio ain’t that bad after all.
I spend the next 20 minutes on the ramp waiting to get on Hwy 10, then another 25 minutes in stop and go traffic on Hwy 10, traveling about two miles per hour. Reading the speed limit sign stating, “65 MPH, Radar enforced,” gave me an out loud chuckle. I finally got through the worst of the traffic, and I'm back to traveling at more or less the speed limit. Luckily I had been making pretty good time before L.A., only having a couple brief pit stops for gas, so I’m still on pace to get to Indio before 10 p.m. I start thinking about how I can’t wait to jump out of the truck, and immediately shotgun a beer.
I’m going to be too tired to set up the grill for dinner tonight, so I make one last stop to get a bag of burgers for dinner/late night munchies, and fill up on gas one last time to avoid having to do so the morning after the festival when I feel like shit. Only 20 miles away from Indio now, and I’m noticing all the trucks/vans with Coachella and various band names written all over the windows. This got me thinking, Isn’t writing Coachella all over your vehicle just like saying, “Hey cops, I have drugs, pull me over.” They were all going 10-15 mph faster than the speed limit as well. Maybe this is some sort of L.A. reverse psychology. Maybe the cops see the flashy “Coachella or Bust” vehicle speeding and think it’s normal, but are more skeptical about the middle aged guy driving the not-so-trendy SUV going the speed limit? I quickly increased my speed.
10:00 p.m. and I arrive in Indio. I was able to follow street signs all the way to the Coachella campground from L.A., and I haven't touched my phone in a couple hours. I’m now in the usual line of cars waiting to get in the campground, moving about a car length every 75 seconds. 45 minutes later, I get to the front of the line, expecting to be setting up camp in ten minutes or so. Strange thing happened though, it was just a crosswalk which we were waived through. Why did it take 100 cars 45 minutes to make it through a crosswalk?
I ended up driving another four or five blocks, partially being directed which way to go, partially guessing on my own. Just when I thought I was lost, and the train of cars behind me were idiots for following me, I stumble across a lit up sign reading, “Camping Entrance.” I’m pretty sure I could have made it there 45 minutes ago had I not turned on the street I was instructed to. I'll remember this if I come back next year. Oh well, I’m here, finally, almost time to shotgun a beer, right?
Wrong, really wrong. We were directed to follow the car in front of us until we quit moving. Once our line of cars was full, they directed the next cars to start a new line a couple feet to the right. After several minutes, this large field was filled to the brim with parked cars. Everyone eventually shuts off their engines and the party begins. After about 15 minutes of not moving, I got out and walked up to the front of the line. The guy I spoke with told me everyone is in line to get their car searched prior to entering the campground. Looking around, I saw zero people checking cars, so I asked, “does this line ever move?” He said, “yeah, it will start moving in a couple minutes.
I went back to the car and watched the guys in the truck in front of me pound beers. I am so tired, and very much ready to start drinking, but I still have to drive the vehicle to my camping spot after getting searched, and there are cops everywhere. The last thing I need is a DUI after arriving at the festival.
An hour an a half later, engines and head lights start turning on, and I can see a line of cars actually moving! The guys in the truck in front of me have already reached the eyes half shut, face red from laughing, level of drunkenness. Everyone is half wasted actually. The holding tank quickly turned into a party bigger than the party in the actual camping ground, because everyone was so amped to have finally arrived, and everyone was packed in much closer. People have been dancing on the roofs of cars, and everyone is screaming. One guy was having a tough time finding his vehicle after 90 minutes of partying, so he was wandering around talking to himself. I knew he was lost, and could hear what he was saying because he was speaking into a megaphone. Another guy is laying in the grass in front of a stranger’s car to prevent them from moving forward, so his chain of cars could all get in the moving line without being separated. I should be six beers deep already.
I finally make it to the car search. I get out of the vehicle and get patted down. They ask me if I have any glass, and I answer no (horse pasture most of the year, broken glass and horses don’t mix well). Then a couple security guards start checking the truck. When they opened the back, there were a couple cases of beer visible. The security dude says, “How many cases of beer do you have?” Now I know a loaded question when I hear it. For some reason, I wasn’t expecting the security guard’s response to my four case admission to be, “Right on man, you’re going to get totally fucked up.” Knowing two cases were noticeably visible, and there was at least another case in the coolers, I admitted to having three. “You are only allowed one case per person,” he said. I replied, “I didn’t know that, so what are we going to do about this?” He said, “we’ll have to confiscate two cases.” As one security guard grabs a case of beer (she may or may not have been licking her lips), the security guard asks me, “are you by yourself?” I also know a door being left slightly ajar when I hear it, so I reply, “nah, I just had to work late, all my friends showed up a couple hours ago.” The security guard replies, “oh, you're meeting people inside, that’s fine then,” and they place my beer back in the truck. They didn’t check any of my bags, they were more concerned about the glass and excess beer. They didn’t find the gallon of liquor I also had with me, which I later heard was not permitted. I’m not sure how I missed the liquor and beer campground rules when reading the Coachella website. I would have done a much better job trying to hide the stash. Either way, it worked out, and I now have enough alcohol to get me good and wasted for a month.
A couple minutes later, I’m waiting in line to be parked in what I later find out to be one of the furthest campgrounds from the venue. The car in front of me is then directed to a different lot. So I follow, and a quarter mile later, I am parked in the lot closest to the venue’s entrance, pretty close to the food court. Nice. It is now 1:00 a.m. I originally showed up in Indio at 10:00 p.m. I left Southern Oregon at 6:00 a.m., 17 hours ago. The long awaited “Hello Coachella Shotgun” was grand, really fucking grand.
Why is “getting there” such a jolt of energy? It’s 2:00 a.m., I’ve set up camp, briefly met my neighbors, and I have the energy of a frat boy after three Jager bombs, four high fives, and three chest bumps. I fill my pockets with beers, and wander around the campground to familiarize myself with the area. I eventually found the front gates to the festival. It was pretty obvious that was the part of the campground they filled up first, since that section was dark and quiet. The sounds of partiers screaming from where I am camped (the people who just arrived) can still be heard in the distance.
I found a break in the fence where I could see the main stage while they were testing the lighting. That was my first, “I made it, I’m at Coachella,” moment. I stood there for a half hour watching my personal light show. I was so excited, I grabbed my phone to text some friends, before realizing it was 3:30 a.m. They probably wouldn’t share the same level of intrigue, and would think I was completely wasted.
I finally pulled myself away from the light show and eventually made it back to my tent. Those burgers I was going to eat about five hours ago are now ready to put me down for the count. As I crawl in my sleeping bag and finish my last bite, I check the time. 4:30 a.m., 22.5 hours after I woke up this morning. I'm asleep almost instantly.
Day 1 Review coming soon.