Coachella 2013

Although much ink [digital and otherwise] understandably has been spilled about Coachella 2013, here are a few observations from my fifth visit to the musical smorgasbord in the desert.

–         By all accounts Weekend 2 was easier to digest weather-wise than Weekend 1. There were no sandstorms greeting Sunday’s headliner Red Hot Chili Peppers. That said, on Weekend 2 the days seemed hotter and the nights colder than in years past. Not even Paul Tollett, the main brain at promoter Goldenvoice and sole talent buyer, could organize the temperatures.

–         Duplicating the line-up over successive weekends gave diehards the opportunity to attend both weekends, thereby alleviating the happy problems of choosing equally compelling acts performing simultaneously. I had several such happy problems: Local Natives or Modest Mouse? Stars or Policia or Jake Bugg? Sigur Ros or Phoenix? Father John Misty or Vampire Weekend?

–         A few subtle time changes were made, most notably switching Blur to follow Stone Roses on the Weekend 2’s Saturday. I preferred the guitar-heavy explorations of Stone Roses, but Blur certainly gave the fans a workout. I believe Tollett when he says the switch was planned all along, but I’d be curious if it was a coin toss that determined the order.

Of all the cool art, the seemingly endless strings of balloons was the most mesmerizing

Also cool was the slow roving mammoth snail

Three of the many hipsters in attendance

–         Johnny Marr was in great form. The former Smiths’ guitarist and the Stone Roses gave punters a clue where Oasis got a fair amount of inspiration.

–         The curiosity remains about where bands would prefer to be: earlier on the main stage or later on one of the other smaller four stages? As always, some happy discoveries were made early each day. Who knew Little Green Cars would be so intriguing?

–         Macca once headlined Coachella. His only son had a mid-day set on Friday, and Dad did not appear [although he did join his son onstage with Ronnie Wood a few weeks earlier].

–         Lee Scratch Perry and The Selecter provided some old school reggae/ska/two-tone vibes to very good effect.

–         New Order closed the Saturday night Mojave tent, but they seemed to have a chip on their shoulder. Their video backdrop was more an infomercial about the band and its members, perhaps as an instructional tool for folks unaware of their seminal Joy Division roots.

–         Speaking of elder British statesmen, OMD [formerly more often known as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark] gave the Pretty in Pink crowd reason for joy. But lead singer Andrew McCluskey freely admitted his dorky dance moves, which prompted my question: if Tollett was able to reunite Midnight Oil with their supremely dorky dancing but hugely compelling lead singer, where would they appear on the schedule? I don’t care, but count me in.

–         Ben Harper enjoyed the coveted sunset slot on the Outdoor stage, but he spent a lot of time fiddling about between songs. Once underway, his songs were the perfect vibe as the shadows grew longer in the late afternoon. Harper is helping to raise money for the family of Australian pro skateboarder Lewis Marnell, whose untimely death in January at the age of 30 left his family in dire financial straits. A lifelong skateboarding enthusiast and friend to skaters around the world, Harper has reunited with the Innocent Criminals for the first time since 2007 to re-record the song “Jah Work” from his 1997 album, “The Will to Live.” The song is available on iTunes, with all proceeds going to the family memorial fund.

–         Rodriguez was the oldest performer at Coachella [but for Rastaman Perry], and his performance was well-attended by a full house of folks who had never heard of him a year ago. Thanks to the Academy Award winning documentary “Searching For Sugarman” millions of folks now know Rodriguez’s impossibly wonderful story. On a recent trip to South Africa I was able to test the reality, was he in that country more important than the Beatles, the Stones or Elvis? “Yes indeed,” was the uniform response I received, the most valid of which came from the lead singer of a band which recently opened for U2 in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Rodriguez is now leveraging decades of no musical revenue, but he apparently is giving away most of the fees from his myriad global gigs. At Coachella the audience gave him the lengthiest ovation I saw all weekend, probably more for his legacy than performance. He adroitly told a few jokes between songs, but for my taste he relied too often on vintage cover songs in lieu of his rich but brief catalog.

–         For those with corporate connections [or sufficient dollars], the two VIP areas offered respite from the heat and crowds. The smaller VIP area was far more beautiful, as it was situated in a large rose garden. But that bliss was fully offset by proximity to the Yuma tent, which had painful auditory bleeding of DJs ‘creating’ electronic dance music. EDM is the only new genre of music in decades, so I acknowledge its novelty but I also sound like an oldster when I admit I can’t see or hear the musicality or the talent. Give me strings to be plucked, strings to be hammered, skins to be beat and I am happy. And that was the bulk of what Tollett had on offer at Goldenvoice’s 13th Coachella.

–         Last item: Coachella lost money on more than a few of their first few years. Now they are so successful Coachella sells out before the line-up is announced. That is brand quality that other festival promoters dream about.




Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.