Success changes everything, and no other annual festival in the world has been as successful as the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.
This year’s edition, which runs Friday through Sunday and April 21-23 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, will be headlined by Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga (who replaces the very pregnant Beyoncé ). The lineup also includes Lorde, Future, Thundercat, Bon Iver, San Diego-bred DJ Gaslamp Killer and such young buzz acts as Holland’s Klangstof, Australia’s King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, the all-woman Spanish band Hinds, feminist American music duo Tennis and Haitian-born EDM favorite Kaytranada.
Last year’s edition of Coachella drew a capacity daily audience of just under 100,000 to each of the annual music, food, drink and visual art marathon’s consecutive, three-day weekends. The gross was a reported $94.2 million, up from $84 million in 2015. And, once again, approximately 20 percent of the attendees came from San Diego County.
By comparison, the debut edition of Coachella in 1999 attracted only 27,000 people over two days. It lost nearly $1 million and went dark in 2000. The festival resumed in 2001, but only after concert industry giant AEG partnered with the previously independently owned Goldenvoice, which could no longer afford to produce the festival on its own.
By 2007, Coachella had grown so popular that it was expanded to three days. In 2012, the festival added a second weekend. It, too, sold out in the blink of an eye.
Last year, the Indio City Council voted unanimously to approve a daily increase in attendance at Coachella from 99,000 to 125,000. A third outdoor stage may be in the offing, which would bring the total at the festival to three outdoor and five tented indoor stages, plus several smaller performance areas.
As has been the case for much of the past decade, Coachella again sold out in an instant this year, with many of the tickets being sold before any of the performers had even been announced.
Yet, while Coachella used to be all about the music, the festival’s success has changed that equation. Now, thanks to its immense popularity, Coachella has become a mass party in the desert whose appeal is so great that the event itself supersedes the music.
2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
When: Friday through Sunday, and April 21-23
Where: Empire Polo Club, 81800 Avenue 51, Indio
Tickets: Sold out. A limited number of Outstanding in the Field gourmet dinner packages are available. They include a three-day festival pass and one dinner, and cost $624 (general admission) and $1,124 (VIP package) per person.
“People go for the event,” said Gary Bongiovanni, the publisher of Pollstar, the concert industry’s leading weekly publication.
No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal agreed.
“I think Coachella has always had the right kind of vibe and attitude, and has always felt like a really well-done festival,” said Kanal, who performs at the festival with his new band, Dreamcar, this weekend and next weekend.
"(Coachella mastermind) Paul Tollett has done such an incredible job. He makes it really easy and fun for the people attending, and there’s a lot of care paid to all the details. That’s why it has become a rite of passage.”
The festival has also become an opportunity for established companies and young entrepreneurs alike to try and tie in with Coachella, some with more success than others.
At one end of the spectrum is the H&M Loves Coachella clothing collection, which debuted in 2015. The 2017 line includes everything from “faded festival jeans” and a sheer black lace spaghetti-strap dress to “the essential floral-embroidered denim jacket.”
At the other end is the Santa Barbara-based Lowell Herb Co. Its plans for a special 2017 Coachella blend of pre-rolled joints recently prompted a cease-and-desist letter from the festival’s producers.
In between these two extremes is Jade J, a La Brea-based company founded in 2015 by Jason Jen, a 28-year-old UC San Diego economics graduate. He is marketing his company’s Powerboost phone charger directly at Coachella attendees, although - like Lowell Herb Co. - he has no affiliation wth the festival.
Jade J’s marketing pitch reads: “Number one crime at a music festival? Not being able to put those selfies on your Snapchat story. Each charger is named (for) a gem-stone. How much more Coachella can you get?”
“My frends go to Coachella every year and I see pictures on social media,” Jen said. “I’ve just never had time to go. But it seems like a great time, with good vibes, good music and leaving the stress of work behind to get away to Palm Springs.”
Coachella, live on YouTube
For the seventh year in a row, YouTube will exclusively live stream performances from the festival’s weekend. More than 50 artists will be featured on YouTube’s three designated Coachella channels and viewers can use live 360-degree mode to watch from different vantage points. Artists whose performances will be streamed include Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Lorde, The xx, Bon Iver, Future, New Order, Two Door Cinema Club, ScHoolboy Q and Gucci Mane.
Six not-to-miss Coachella performances
Radiohead: This 2012 Coachella performance by this constantly shape-shifting English band was a sensory feast. Expect no less this time.
Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis: The opening act on Radiohead’s 2017 U.S. tour is an arresting, borders-leaping Jewish-Arabic band from Israel that specializes in the music of Iraqi composers the Al-Kuwaiti Brothers.
Bon Iver: A gentle balladeer-turned-electronic-music-adventurer, Justin Vernon (to use Bon Iver’s real name) delivered a soul-shaking San Diego concert in October. With any luck, he’ll ratchet things up even more at Coachella.
Bishop Briggs: Still only 25, Sarah McLaughlin is still a work-in-progress. But her spirited singing and intriguing blend of rock, folk, pop and gospel suggests she is worth checking out.
Kendrick Lamar: The biggest winner at the 2016 Grammy Awards, this Los Angeles maverick has elevated hip-hop like few others, with his heady combination of wildly ambitious sonic invention, socially charged lyrics and fiery vocal delivery.
Toots & The Maytals: At 74, pioneering Jamaican singer Frederick “Toots” Hibbert may be the oldest performer at Coachella this year - and, very likely, the most soulful.