Coachella

19 Apr

People who have known me for a while know that I do not use moderate descriptors. Things are “the best ever,” “the worst ever,” “over” or “AMAZING!!!!” (with just enough exclamation points to drive Zack totally insane). I’m a bit over-the-top, and have a flair for the dramatic. It isn’t that I’m looking for drama in my life — on the contrary, I detest false fronts, mean gossip or anything that isn’t as honest as a person possibly can be. I just love to find drama in life. I love everyday miracles and tragedies, because these are the things that help me feel connected to the world and human. So I understand why my tent-mates Zack and Andy laughed at me, but I promise you I meant it in the moment when I unzipped the front door, climbed into the tent and proclaimed triumphantly, “Brushing your teeth outside is the best thing of all time!!” (with two full exclamation points in my vocal styling). 

California offered me a weekend full of dramatic life realizations. It reminded me why I love music, it helped me to love myself unconditionally in a place where I was concerned I would loathe myself and be crippled with self-doubt, and it let me know that I absolutely love camping. It was a crapshoot, really — I was either going to love it or hate it, because my parents are on opposite extremes. My mom loves her creature comforts, and I don’t think she’ll ever really enjoy sleeping on the ground, going without showering or pooping somewhere that doesn’t immediately flush it away (and I cannot fault her for any of these things). My dad, however, introduced himself to Zack’s dad by explaining that when he dies, he wants us to leave him in the desert for the buzzards. So, I have learned:  I’m buzzard meat.

The clouds in the picture above really should have tipped us off* on what was to come in our first day of Coachella-ing. I was so mesmerized by the gorgeous mountains surrounding me, though, that I just smiled, trusting still that I had made the correct decision in not packing any pairs of long jeans in my suitcases (Spoiler:  I was wrong.) Zack and I had flown into L.A.X. late Thursday night, after a long and heartbreaking day** of leaving Scooby in our dear friends, the Doodles’, backyard in his crate to prevent escape, and then the rough descent into our layover city of Denver, CO, where we dropped so much and quickly that audible gasps*** boomeranged around our aircraft. It was a long one. But we still managed to peel ourselves out of bed at 7AM the next morning, get showered, and get on the road for the 2-plus hour long drive to Indio.

*We always knew. Even when I tweeted that the weather was perfect, we knew “a hard rain’s a gonna fall.” 

**I was the weak one when we dropped him off. It was so sad! He was desperately trying to get out of that crate, pawing at it like a fiend. It’s especially hard since he’s been returned twice before. I kept trying to tell him, “you’re ours forever!” but he didn’t understand.

***It was some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever been apart of, though I was probably more worried about Caitlin ripping my arm off during it than anything really bad actually happening.

After we arrived, our first order of business was to set up our tent. This was a thing I’d never done before, but it really wasn’t as terribly tricky as I’d feared it would be. We secured it in the ground (we thought), foregoing using the extra wind ropes and using the “extra*push pins stakes to tack our bottom tarp layer in the ground. We decided we’d be exhausted when we got in from the festival that evening, so we blew up our air mattresses, put our sleeping bags on top of them, then put our pillows and blankets on top of those. We sat around for a bit, making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches (my brunch for all 3 days) and then put our cooler in the tent** for extra security, we thought.

*Andy and I are old pros at this and I blame us for going along with Caitlin’s plan to put them in the tarp. We really needed the stakes to hold down the tent, there was no reason to lock the tarp down.

**As windy as it was, I’m surprised the cooler didn’t hold the tent down, but I guess I’m no physics major.

I was already wary of having to use the Port-o-Pottys, but over the weekend I became an expert at squatting* over the seat instead of having to sit down on it. It was still pretty disgusting in there, but I discovered that the toilets inside the festival grounds seemed to be cleaned and re-stocked with toilet paper more often, so I began to use those as much as I could**, instead of the ones out in the camping grounds.

*This is a skill I have not acquired. Even if there’s no toilet seat (Hello, Mohawk bathroom) I refuse to squat. TMI?

**#ProMove

Although I was loving our surroundings, I was still nervous about the realities of camping, and that festival spirit still wasn’t in me as we trudged toward the entrance. I felt a bit tired, and already annoyed* at the folks from L.A. who I (for the most part wrongfully) judged as being “judgey” and uninterested in the music. There definitely were some** of those folks, but overall I think there were music fans at Coachella just like anywhere else. Once we got in the gate, I took stock of my surroundings, ogled a bit at the gorgeous ferris wheel, and then Zack and I split from Andy and headed for GIVERS. This Lafayette band has played festivals and shows near me myriad times before, and one of my college classmates is actually one of the band member’s cousins, but I’d never been able to see them live before now. I was hopeful and excited, and the band totally blew me away. Their genuine smiles, intensely happy energy and catchy, lovely sound shook me from my grumpiness, and suddenly I was at a music festival with my wonderful boyfriend in the middle of a desert in California, rocking it. 

*Caitlin gave me a serious look and said “I don’t like this place.” 

**A lot. The self-entitlement among the crowd was pretty excruciating. There definitely were some warm, friendly people, but not the majority.

We hung back for most of the shows we saw on Friday, choosing to take it easy and take the whole scene in. It was nice to see a couple wearing University of Texas ponchos — it gave me just a taste of home and made me feel proud. The drizzle was off and on throughout the day, and I was happy that I had brought a hoodie and poncho with me in my purse, even though that still didn’t really keep me warm and my goosebumps* were visible throughout the day.

*”I’m one giant goose bump” was one of my favorite Caitlin quotes of the weekend.

Although I am sad that much of my first day was spent frustrated with L.A. residents who, for the most part, just did their own thing, there were a couple actual incidents of douchebaggery that still make me cringe. First, a group of about 5 girls (and I mean GIRLS — they appeared to be about 16 years of age) pushed ahead of me, somehow, despite there being no space during Arctic Monkeys. This happens at most shows I attend, but these girls were physically touching me as they pushed me out of the way, which was a new low. Once they were in front of me, they proceeded to obliviously toss their hair over and over again right in my face, snort SOMEthing from a lotion bottle with a Kleenex wrapped around it, and generally talk to each other and people-watch instead of, oh I don’t know, WATCH THE PERFORMANCE*. They eventually moved up a bit, but shortly after that, a very short, bald guy put his hand around my waist and tried once again to physically move me out of his way so he could push past to a place where there was no room. I slowly turned around and gave him the meanest mug I think I’ve ever bestowed upon anyone in my life. His super nerdy, skinny guy friend got wide eyes and said, “Ohmigosh, I’m so sorry, are you OK? I’m so sorry!” as if he somehow didn’t know his friend was consciously trying to move me out of their way? Right. I eventually rolled my eyes at them both and turned slowly back around, at which point Napoleon felt it was safe to badmouth me. I know I’m tall, dude, but don’t be afraid. Say it to my face. See what happens.

*Yeah, this is more of what I was saying. If you want to talk and drink during a show, that’s fine, stay back. The people who push forward and then proceed to talk all throughout the show need a special VIP section in hell.

As we walked back to our camp at the end of a cold, wet Friday, I was feeling a bit dejected. I usually love music festivals — live for them, really. But this one was wiping me out and leaving me with a terrible taste in my mouth. I proclaimed (as we have established I am wont to do) that I did not like Coachella at all, and would not ever want to return.

To add to this, when we got to our campsite, everything inside of our tent had been moved around, and one of our pillows, Zack’s sleeping bag, and Andy’s blankets were sopping wet. We scratched our heads, wondering if someone had raided the tent and just trashed it, when our friendly* Australian neighbor explained that the wind had tipped our tent over altogether on the car behind us, so they had righted it for us. We thanked him profusely, and then tried to lay out everything we could that was soaking.

*If it wasn’t for these friendly Aussies, I’d think everyone at the fest was a total dick head.

I thankfully had brought both PJs and my Max onesie that I’d made my Halloween costume a few years back, so I had multiple layers to wear that night. Still, I was freezing cold and Zack and I huddled as best we could for warmth* on our air mattress. It was not an easy night, and each of us kicked ourselves awake from being cold that night.

*It was pretty miserable. We shared one pillow (sans case), a sleeping bag w/ a broken zipper and two tiny blankets. 

I woke up first the next morning, and somehow, the cold had shocked me into an attitude adjustment. As I “washed my face” with a wet cloth and brushed my teeth in the bright sun and cool breeze, that was when I had my, “This is the best of all time,” moment. I realized that the day before, I’d seen tons of people dressed normally, of all ages and in all shapes and sizes, so that despite what the media makes the rest of the world believe about Coachella being full of only well-dressed types, it was just as random as any other music festival, with maybe just a touch more self-conscious people there for each other, not the music. And that was the lightbulb moment — the well-dressed were there for EACH OTHER*, and weren’t going to even pay attention to me since I wasn’t trying to be one of them. I could just be happy in myself and my clothes and do my own thing, and their judgment would pass me right up, deciding to rest instead on another of “their kind.” It was the biggest relief ever, and every moment moving forward was incredible.

*This has always been a big selling point of music festivals for me. I don’t dress well. I just never cared. So being able to just wear whatever and be comfortable and know that no matter what I do, I won’t be the weirdest dressed person there is comforting. I can just relax.

I managed to find my close friend Melissa that morning*, and we attended the Big Pink together after Zack and I had a very luxurious, deliciously warm afternoon nap in our tent. Really, Saturday was the strongest day musically, with stand-out acts like tUnE-yArDs, Buzzcocks, and Feist, but Miike Snow not only stole the day, but the whole weekend. I knew my Swedes would figure out their shtick and rock it out, and they absolutely destroyed. It was the first show where Zack and I really camped out in the front, and we were second row** for a sweaty, club-worthy dance party led by the band. 

*Her campsite was all of 75 feet away from ours.

**Thanks for leaving me the “Weekend at Bernie’s” story. We waited through Feist’s excellent set to get 2nd row, center forMiike Snow and this incredibly obnoxious girl was telling wildly inappropriate stories about how her boyfriend or whoever got a jar of peanut butter stuck inside of…himself. Of course, she kept pushing closer and closer to the front. But as Feist ended and everyone made that last push to the front, she went from telling inappropriate stories to not being able to lift her head. Her sister was literally holding her up and her eyes were rolling around in her head. It was some serious “Weekend at Bernie’s” action, but she was not the life of the party. After her bobble-head landed on my shoulder and didn’t move the second time, I told her sister that if she did it one more time I’d tell security and have her thrown out. She was pretty much unconscious at this point. Not more than eight seconds later, her head was lifeless on my shoulder and I asked security to carry her out. Security looked at her and wasn’t sure what to do. They asked her sister, who assured him she was fine. Everyone around us agreed she needed to go. After watching her for a few seconds he agreed she needed to go and head the head security guard carry her out the front like a crowd surfer. She couldn’t even put her feet on the ground once he carried her out. It was pretty sad, but had to happen.

We still managed to get a great spot for Radiohead, and despite being totally exhausted, we managed to stay through their entire two-encore set. Their moody, beautiful music were a perfect fit for the rolling mountains of California, and Thom was as devious as ever, giving the crowd another “Wassaaaaap?” and saying something under his breath about Ronald Reagan. As Zack and I predicted, the Coachella Radiohead crowd* was leaps and bounds above the Austin Erwin Center crowd, and we found a great little pocket of dancers in the back who got as into everything as we were.

*Definitely one of the better crowds. Except one dude who was clearly into Radiohead, but couldn’t help himself from talking about two other bands as Thom did a quiet Neil Young tease. WTF?! Shut up and listen, you self-important douche!

On the final day, after we were all awake, we packed up our camping gear so we’d be ready to escape right at the close of the festival. We had a flight out of L.A.X. at 6:30AM, and a two-plus hour drive back to Andy’s, so we wanted to leave right after Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s set was over. I took this day easy, chilling out under a tented stage for my first two shows of the day by the folksy, gentle First Aid Kit and the experimental and gentle Wild Beasts. 

I finally met up with my new friend Emily during Wild Flag, which is appropriate because we are making an all-girl surf rock band together*. I got the best hug of all time from her when I finally spotted her, since we’d been trying to meet up all weekend but terrible cell phone service was preventing it.

Zack and I braved the ridiculous crowd for Gotye, but only made it through two songs as everyone around us talked loudly and paid no attention to someone they were purportedly excited to see, and then we just left. Gotye sounded great, but we need to see him in a different venue — the L.Assholes** had come out for this one.

*Desert Queen

**Ha. Great name. Not just LAssholes, though. 8 Aussies walked in a line passed us, shoving as they went, as one went “Sooooory, we’re thooooooose people who walk byyyyy.” VIP in hell.  

I was finally able to make a trek to the ferris wheel with Zack at this point, and even though I had been the one championing a ride all weekend, I ended up being terrified of it. As we stood in line to get on the ride, I got more and more nervous about it. Luckily, David Hasselhoff was there to set me straight. OK, so I actually didn’t talk to him, but he did walk up and fans began taking tons of photos with him while he waited in line to ride. He was definitely on the ride while Zack and I were, so there you have it — I have ridden a ferris wheel with “The Hoff*.” He is the only celebrity I saw all weekend, and I think that is about perfect.

*That wasn’t on our bucket list, but we’ll gladly cross it off any way.

When we got on the ride, Zack tried to be sweet by leaning forward and kissing me. I clutched my purse to my knees and snapped frantically, “Please stop moving!! You’re moving the car!!!” He laughed heartily at my goofiness, but we were still both able to enjoy our view from atop the wheel.

We had been hoping to catch the opening of Justice’s set from the ferris wheel, but they ran 25 minutes late. It was ridiculous and we almost left their set for Girl Talk, but I am SO glad we didn’t. When they finally took the stage, it was the biggest dance party of the weekend that we attended. We were far back — behind the sound booth, even — but where we were and even far behind us, there was dancing as far as the eye could see. Everyone was jamming out in their own special way, some raving, some pogoing, and it was a joyous, exciting thing.

Minute for minute, Justice was the best show of the festival

We wandered to Girl Talk after, but it just couldn’t compare to Justice. Really, nothing else that night did. Not a balloon drop, nor a 2Pac hologram could outdo those French DJs. When Dr. Dre and Snoop were done, we stopped in at the Coachella boutique to pick up some souvenirs for our friends, and then headed back to the car. We got lost at first, but finally righted ourselves, and then — I saw it. A traffic sign that was flashing, “Camp lockdown from 10PM until 2AM. No in or out.” My heart sunk, my eyes got wide, and I turned to Zack and asked, “Are they kidding*?” It was just after midnight at this point and I’d been so excited to escape and possibly get an hour or two at Andy’s to shower and relax. But that was it…we were stuck until 2AM.

*I tried to be re-assuring, but after a minute I was like, yeah, this super sucks. 

We all sat in the car in a line pointing toward the exit, the boys sleeping* as I tried to fight it to ensure we didn’t miss our exit. When 2AM hit, cars turned on to indicate that there was movement somewhere, but we only pulled forward a little bit over the course of the next hour. We finally got out of the campsite around 3:15AM, and then it was a race to the finish. We had a 2 hour drive to Andy’s, and then would have to almost immediately turn around and head to the airport. There would be no nap, no shower for Zack or me — Andy had to since he had to go to work right after he dropped us at the airport.

*Don’t forget that this is when we ate the giant gummy bear!

Zack drove us home so Andy could sleep, and somehow he managed to not kill us. I tried to stay awake to keep Zack company, but my head tilted and my eyes got so heavy on the drive home. We arrived at Andy’s just at 5AM, and he raced inside to shower. I brushed my teeth in the kitchen sink, with 3 days’ worth of festivaling gunk still covering my body, and then we turned right back around, and got in the car to race to the airport. We arrived at our terminal at 6:10AM, checked our bags in a second, and then ran to the security entrance and our gate. When we arrived at the gate, we walked straight through the doors and onto the plane, and just a beat later, the doors were closed and we were taxiing to the runway. It was a whirlwind, absolutely nuts, but I managed to sleep off and on for the next two hours before we got into Denver, and Zack slept on our connecting flight, too.

Today, I am still tired and suffering from a “Cold-chella*,” but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I sorely miss Coachella already. I miss the mountains, and the music, and the time spent with wonderful people I love. I can’t wait for the next festival, or the next time I find myself brushing my teeth in the open air of Indio, California.

*I’ve slept and worked 10+ hours a day every day since and I still feel like garbage. Worth it!

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