Can We All Just Admit Coachella Isn’t A Music Festival?

Last summer I spent four days down at Bonnaroo in the middle of nowhere Manchester, Tennessee. In my recap article for the website I was writing for, I specifically mentioned how one of the huge draws of the festival is the community of kind-hearted concertgoers that attend:

“The nature of the festival itself means all Bonnaroo attendees are people that decided it was worth it to drive to a farm in Manchester, Tennessee, not shower for days on end, and camp on the ground in order to experience great music. Because of this, it means that most of the people I met were all pretty awesome.”

It’s one of the reasons I will be attending again this June. And it’s one of the many reasons why I will not be attending Coachella…

Coachella in 2014 isn’t even a music festival anymore; it’s a lifestyle decision.

Thanks to a self-perpetuating cycle of money-grabbing marketers and money-wasting audiences looking to “party,” Coachella has devolved from a festival to an event to an excuse.

“It’s a thing to do, and that’s all any of us really want in the end, isn’t it? A place to plan to go to, telling people we’re planning on going to it, then actually going through with the whole thing of schlepping over to it, being there, telling people we’re there, leaving, telling people we’re leaving, coming home, telling people we were at the thing, and making plans for the next one.” – Luke O’Neil

Maybe that’s why it’s not even worth feigning outrage over the news that, according to New York Daily News, stars like Lea Michele and Vanessa Hudgens are being paid to attend by Lacoste and McDonalds, respectively, while other celebs like Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul and That Surf Movie‘s Kate Bosworth are reportedly seeking deals as well.

When Funny or Die’s Dashiell Driscoll broke down the demographic makeup of Coachella’s attendees he came up with:

Hopeless Drug Addicts


Industry Assholes

Dirty Hippies

Kids on Ecstasy

People with Babies

and then finally

Music Lovers

Yet somehow there are still people like Travel Grom’s Hayley Eyer, a senior at University of Santa Barbara, who excitedly write things like: “Perhaps it is that today’s multi-day musical festival is redolent of the same sort of adventure and spirit of our parent’s Woodstock (though hopefully less rainy, dirty and unorganized, with nightmare parking – but I digress).”

Even though most music lovers are, to quote Owl Mag, left with the dilemma of “watching the headliners from 300 yards away on a TV screen…or getting close, getting crushed, and having a panic attack.”

But that’s because it isn’t about the music at Coachella.

It’s about Coachella, period.

“For Coachella, people go to have an experience that’s going to be unlike any experience that they can get at home. The lineups are less and less important, ” says David Brooks, managing editor of Venues Today.

Which is unfortunate, as the lineup is pretty great this year. I would pay (or have paid in the past) to see at least half of the 140 some odd artists.

I just wouldn’t want to do it at an event that figured out it could make twice as much money by just doing the exact same show two weekends in a row, promising that lightning in a bottle can be mass manufactured.

A place that sells a pass “that includes a four-course dinner from Outstanding in the Field in the exclusive VIP area rose garden” and where hotel options hit $300/night minimums even before tickets go on sale.

A place where even its defenders, like LA Weekly’s Ben Westhoff — who swears “if you don’t go during rush hour it’s not that bad” — have to remind us that yes “it’s a logistical pain in the ass, but that’s part of the experience.”

And the “experience” is all that matters.

It’s why the 180,000 people that flock to Indio, California over the course of two weekends forget that you can always watch a video of 2Pac performing “Hail Mary”; it’s called YouTube and it comes with the major advantage of starring the actual Tupac Shakur.

It’s why E! gets to publish articles speculating about what celebrities are going to show up this year and what they’ll be (and you should be) wearing, and it’s why it’s “news” that Lindsay Lohan has said that she would be attending.

Because this is Coachella.

Because while it used to be  “proof that underground dance and independent music could draw thousands and had an audience that was underserved,” and “proof that risks paid off,” this is now the place that proves that it’s the right marketing agency that really pays off.

Because, like Luke O’Neil says, “Festivals like this aren’t for people who like music, they’re for people who kind of like the idea of drinking in a crowd in a field near other potential sexual partners, while somewhere off in the distance dancing ants on a stage go through the motions of in-real-time content creation.”

Because, as Dashiell Driscoll says, “The sentence, ‘I only go to Coachella for the music,’ makes me think of the words, ‘I only read Playboy for the articles’ because they’re both things that nobody has ever said.”