In one of the gospels, possibly in more than one, is the oft-referenced story of Jesus’ temptation. He is taken to the wilderness and receives no food or water for 40 days and nights while Satan comes along every once in a while to suggest something obvious (“if you’re God why not make some bread or cheese poppers?”). Perhaps humankind has taken a cue from Jesus and decided the only place to go and be properly tempted is the wilderness, the desert more specifically. The only difference is that we give into the temptation, in every way possible.
Several months ago when my friend thought he might get a house for Coachella, and his 21st birthday, I was excited. As excited as I would be to hear that he had just bought a fifth of Jack Daniels and he wanted to get drunk and play Halo. Over the course of the next couple of months things casually fell into place. The diverse group of people who would help celebrate this 21st birthday made plans and looked at lineups. By March everyone wanted to know what show you were going to see or if you were excited (who pays $300 for a ticket and isn’t excited? You better be excited.). Our plan was to leave Thursday morning, settle into the house and drink before the festival kicked off Friday morning. Wednesday night was another friend’s 21st birthday and had it not been for the drinking that night, I may have killed anyone who mentioned Coachella to me. There was simply no way the hype could possibly be warranted. And then the festival began…
But first, we drank. We arrived at the house around 2, unloaded the car and then went for groceries. Then we stocked the fridge, laid out some snacks and ground rules, decided sleeping arrangements for 8-10 guys in a four bedroom house and from there the rest is history. A typical day consisted of waking up around 11, drinking away your headache, stumbling to the venue by 2, dancing until 1 in the morning, stumbling home, drinking more, repeat. That makes it sound oh so simple, however, so below I will go into much more detail:
I’d be lying if I said I remember setting out for the venue on Thursday night. The idea was to see any pre-shows we could and possibly, if the night were to be so kind, find some girls from the camp site. All in all Thursday night was a bust. None of us danced, save one who had the best possible time you can have at a music festival, and after about an hour we turned back and decided that the next three days would have to make up for that night. At the very least we were able to get our wristbands and scope out the enormity of the venue.
A nice little pool party ensued Friday when a couple of girls came over with a few guy friends who were allowed to come over under the pretense that they were gay. They were very far from gay. Nevertheless, they were nice people and we all had a good time. Sometime around 2 we headed to the venue. About five minutes into said walk everyone decided that they were too drunk/hot/high to not take a ride from one of the dozens of unlicensed “taxis” that clung to concert-goers like flies to feces. Up until this point I was still naïve about the force that is Coachella. I had seen her the night previous, and I had thought she wasn’t much to handle. I chugged my 20 oz water bottle, filled with liquor, as if daring Coachella to punish my indiscretion. She did. Upon entrance I was immediately thrown into a sea of people going all directions. I put my shoes in a locker and followed one of my buddies to meet up with some other friends who had their own house. They were met with a mixture of pure, drug-fueled emotion and the relief that somewhere in this scorching field of debauchery there was at least one familiar face. Our combined group split into two smaller groups that went separate ways.
Now I’m not quite sure what shows we went to; I believe the first two were Proxy and Wolfgang Gartner. Both fun, both good dance music. I slowly started to realize that nobody there was there for the music. 90 percent of people come to Coachella to dance and do drugs, 5 percent come to listen to the music, and the other 5 percent come to see what’s what. I was in the final 5 percent. Them Crooked Vultures was the first show I saw that had any elements of musicianship that impressed me, and that was only because of John Paul Jones who can still shred (I don’t like that word but it’s appropriate). After that we decided to regroup and take a breather before Jay-Z or Deadmau5 or Vampire Weekend or Imogen Heap. There were too many choices. We took a seat and watched LCD Soundsytem who sounded good, but I was so overwhelmed/dehydrated/hanging-on-by-a-thread that I didn’t pay much attention. By this point I was beat. Coachella had officially done a number on me. I borrowed one of the $12, all-weekend water bottles and drank for about 20 minutes. It didn’t help, well it did but not as much as I wanted it too. I wandered for about an hour, unsure of where I left the group. Like a true novice, I had left my phone at the house, assuming I would easily navigate through the maze of people. Something, possibly God or some enlightened e-tard, said turn right and I did and suddenly I was back. And it was time to go see Jay-Z. I was highly skeptical. Usually I will vehemently defend live hip-hop, which gets a bad rap (punny!), but I truly didn’t believe that Jay-Z could get a bunch of cynical, sweaty hipsters to go dumb. Not only did he accomplish that, he was the best show of the weekend.
Jay-Z hit the stage with an unparalleled amount of energy, for a main act, and he kept it there. At no point did he lull or lose the crowd (even when he spent 15 minutes shouting out people), he kept everyone on there feet and moving for 2 hours. He busted out a string of oldies, he brought on an Alicia Keys look-a-like and his wife Beyonce. In short, he pulled no punches and the sold out audience reaped the benefits. I’m literally having chills recounting the experience. Sadly, Coachella didn’t care about my euphoria and a little more than halfway through the set I had to leave. To be fair he played for two hours and I really had to urinate. Once I finished in the bathroom, it made better sense to meet up at the pre-determined checkpoint (lockers) than walk back to the show. It can be assumed that if I had trouble going from my group to a water tent, that was only about 100 feet away, it would have been next to impossible for me to find the lockers without help. Luckily my buddy had a map and we were able to get to the lockers before anyone else. And that’s where I shut down. People walked by, things were shouted, my friends came back and I turned on auto pilot. I literally didn’t talk for the next hour that it took to get home. I walked into the door, made a frozen pizza, drank some Jack Daniels, grunted some one-word/inaudible responses and collapsed into my bed. I was joined shortly thereafter by the guy-who-had-the-best-time-possible-at-a-music-festival. He had taken 2-3 too many of a couple substances. It was our first time at Coachella and we had underestimated her power. It didn’t stop people from coming into the room to mess with us, but that didn’t stop me from dropping off into an extremely deep sleep.
Something clicked Saturday. I woke up excited. I had some weird dream, something to do with cornbread and drugs, that I did not even begin to understand or try to interpret. I started drinking almost immediately. Someone called over a few girls. Another friend had shown up to the house at 5 in the morning, hours after I conked out. 2 more friends drove in the night before, but I was too rude/drunk to have said hello properly. The point is that we had ourselves a serious crew. Everyone drank, got into the pool (which was salt water by the way), and enjoyed themselves. Then it was time to go. Two of the people who had come over had cars and they had enough room to schlep the whole 14 person party to the venue. I saved a couple of things to take (use your imagination) and another water bottle brimming with liquor. With a proper lift, one that took us a little further than the one we paid for the day previous, we hit the ground running. We got into the venue, stashed our stuff at the lockers and headed to a show. The first thing I remember seeing was some guy jumping over the lockers and eluding 3 or 4 horse cops to get into the venue. I was sure it was going to be a good day after that. I could not tell what the first show I saw on Saturday was. There were about four of us still together; my buddy and I met up with the same group from yesterday. I took what I had been waiting to take as we waited for the next show to start. That’s when everything changed, naturally, and I finally started to have fun.
If I had to describe what Coachella looks like, if I had to close my eyes and I was given a word association concerning Coachella, my answer would invariably be “flesh.” Everywhere you looked there were girls, scantily-clad and wanting more than anything to dance in a sea of people. There were shirtless guys, bikini tops, basketball shorts, daisy-dukes, long legs, muscular torsos, petite waists, etc. Everywhere you turned there were body parts and they were all waiting to move along with any beat that they heard. Suddenly I dropped my prejudice against all of the people who came to do nothing but have a good time and before you knew it I was having a good time. And before my mind could take over and launch itself down the rabbit hole, we went to Dirty South where I danced it all out. I had not danced in 3 years. Not properly; I had bobbed my head or bent a knee, but not let loose. Well, I let loose at Dirty South and then Hot Chip. And then we rested because what was to come next required all the energy we could summon.
We went 30 minutes early to the Major Lazer show. We ingested a few things, smoked some and met up with more friends and then we found a nice spot 50 feet away, dead-center, from the stage. I have never felt anything like I felt at that Major Lazer show. Other shows where bigger and had great energy, but this was by far the most fun, adrenaline-pumping show of the weekend. Early on everyone was doing the traditional head bob. Guys stand in a group of 2-3 and bob their heads, waiting, and refusing to dance until they find a female who will dance with them. 5 minutes in, waiting was not an option. If you didn’t want to dance you best leave, because it got ridiculous. The entire crowd became one giant perspiring organism that wanted to rage and rage and rage. Each song sent the crowd into more and more hysterics. Once Pon De Floor came on, and the Major Lazer hype man dove onto his female counterpart from a ladder, everyone had lost it. You couldn’t move an inch without bumping or grinding something. If you kept your shirt on it was covered in sweat, but most had gone shirtless. The set ended and we walked into that sweet desert air, and everyone could not stop talking about Major Lazer. Least of all me. The change in my person was evident. A couple of my friends immediately noticed that I was much happier than usual. I had finally experienced rebirth; I walked into the night with the full-realization of what makes music festivals so special. Words like energy are thrown around far too often, and they begin to weaken and lose meaning, but I felt that energy this weekend. I understood why people can wait a year to go to Coachella, because afterwards they’ve sweated out all anxiety, all pain. They’ve left everything in the desert to die and gone onto a full year of living; living with the awareness that they once felt like they touched the heavens only a few short days/weeks/months earlier. To put it bluntly, I felt alive, gloriously, gloriously alive, and it was nice. Real nice.
The rest of the night was fun. We saw Flying Lotus and 2ManyDJ’s and they were both fun and acceptable. Of course it’s not even fair to ask someone to attend those shows after the time I had at Major Lazer. I had fun at the later shows because I had crossed a certain threshold, but for me nothing was going to match the adrenaline from earlier. Once the music ended, we decided to investigate the campgrounds and see if we couldn’t find a few girls or a campsite or something. It was me, a friend and the guy-who-had-the-best-time-possible-at-a-music-festival. He had really gone for it that night, taking probably double what he had the day before. I had seen him briefly throughout the day, shining his flashlight at random people, jumping into people’s pictures without them noticing, and causing a general ruckus. We lasted at the camp site for a very short time before heading back to the house. Everyone came back from the festival buzzing. Our two friends who had come the night before, ticket-less, had managed to sneak in. Everyone else was amped from the music or the girls or the drugs. A hot tub session was in order. Drinking was in order. The night ended with the sun coming up.
We dragged our battered bodies from our collective beds and out to the backyard. The house was in disarray. Someone had lost their cell phone at Coachella, guy-who-had-the-best-time-possible-at-a-music-festival had screamed loud enough for father to grab his child out of fear (we have video evidence to support this, but my question is why bring a child to a music festival? There were so many there and I can understand the reasoning and yes it‘s as safe as an environment as you are going to get at a music festival, but it seems a tad irresponsible) and everyone only wanted to make it to the Gorillaz show. That was our one goal. And then when we got back we would clean up. At least that was the plan. I drank whatever beer I could find, a little whiskey, and then a much too large cup of Red Bull and Vodka. Then I was chided into drinking 151 (I felt guilty because it was my suggestion to get it and I hadn’t drank a sip). By that time it was 4ish and time to go. Once again I brought a water bottle of liquor, but only one person in my walking group was drinking with me. The last thing I remember clearly is not getting into the festival the very first time. It seems my fellow drinker was a bit too intoxicated. We got in 3 minutes later. I guess we went to the lockers. I obviously wasn’t paying attention because for the first time that weekend I kept my shoes on. Probably around 30 minutes later I told my friend I was going to lay down for a while. I woke up 3-4 hours later. I had effectively missed 4 groups that I actually wanted to see, including the beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg.
When I awoke from my drunken stupor I texted my friends and luckily they were about 20 feet away. I don’t know how they didn’t see me, but I was happy to be reunited and awake. A couple of us went over to see Thom Yourke, but he proved to be uninteresting; I was too woozy to flat out say he was bad, but he certainly didn’t revive me. We left early and went to the Gorillaz show at the main stage. We took up residence at a patch of grass and waited for the show to start. Someone gave me a free pack of cigarettes because, “…you (me) need it more than me.” It is highly unlikely that they saw me passed out, so I’m assuming the look on my face warranted this comment alone. The Gorillaz came on and performed well. It wasn’t spectacular, and as far as headliners go, it was not the best. It was a solid send off, however, and most everyone in our group left the venue fulfilled.
Back at the house, no one made an attempt to clean a single thing. We drank more and attempted to come down. It was clear that a few people were not going to be able to sleep. No one went to sleep before 5. One of the guys hooked up with a ridiculously gorgeous black girl. Everyone was too in awe to be jealous. I shook his hand. Eventually it was 6:30. I passed out until 8. And then everyone was woken up. The house was cleaned. Bags were packed. Good byes were said. And I was honestly sad.
On the road, I realized that I had had more fun than I thought possible. I got caught up in the fever and let loose and surprised myself. The lead up to Coachella had been like a blocked pipe; the obstruction is loosened piece by piece until finally the water bursts through. Coachella was a tsunami that had been repressed for 365 days. It’s full force was realized Saturday, mid-festival, and it left in it’s wake an exhausted populace who was forced to return to reality. The car I rode back in decided that reality could wait. The driver had me take over as he passed out in the passenger seat. We drove to my buddy’s house and waited for him to get back from Coachella. On the way back we saw car after car, filled with beautiful young people returning from Coachella. When we stopped at a gas station, no one said a word. Other passengers in other cars looked at each other; we all shared the same thoughts, the same feelings. Our hearts were left into the desert where we howled into the night. We returned to the land of the living, closing the valve, until another year goes by.