We Love Music: Field Trip: What I learned at Coachella 2012

Coachella at dusk, photo by Martin Silbiger

Last weekend I spent a sunny, super-hot, music-filled 3 days at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, in Indio, California, just outside of Palm Springs. The festival, which has taken place since 1999, features five main stages/tents set up with music of many genres playing from as early as noon each day until after 1am, and art installations spread throughout the festival grounds. This was my fifth year attending the festival. I’ve never written about the experience before, so I thought I’d compile a few things I have learned from the Coachella experience. (While these are based on my experience at Coachella, they can be applied to most big music festivals with success too…)

1. Hydration is key. Temperatures for weekend two of Coachella 2012 got to a high of 106. I think the hottest I felt was during Yuck‘s 3:15pm set on the Outdoor Stage on Friday. I felt approximately like a baked potato, wrapped in foil, on the surface of the sun. I credit spf 110 spray (yes, they make spf that strong), drinking copious amounts of water, iced lemonade and some powerade to my ability to have fun and stay standing, dancing, and running around for 13 hours a day, for the 3-day festival.

2. Ask people who they’re excited to see. Taking recommendations from people on what bands to see can be a great thing. There is nothing quite as magical as discovering a band you didn’t know, or haven’t listened to yet and finding out how amazing they are. And if they’re not your thing, you just run off to the next stage or tent and listen to something else. This is how I came to see some of my favorite acts of the festival! Other Lives and Wild Beasts are a couple of these.

3. Don’t be too shy to dance! Here’s a tip- no one gives a @#$! how you dance, or how silly you look. Everyone is there to have a good time, and they’re paying attention to the band/dj. Let loose- you’ll have more fun!

Kasabian @ Coachella 2012, photo by author

4. It’s ok to hang in the back for a set, but get close to the front for at least one band you like! It isn’t easy to get up front for big acts, and sometimes it isn’t even enjoyable. But it’s certainly a different experience being up close vs. being in the back for a set. There are upsides and downsides to both. Sometimes you just need air and space that being in the back or middle allows. But being close up can be a much more interactive and exciting experience. I was right up front for Atari Teenage Riot, and the energy was awesome. Also I got in the front row for Kasabian, which was super exciting! I didn’t expect Kasabian fans to be so insane- I got crowd-surfers passed over my head, and got bruises in the pattern of the guardrail on my knees. But it was exhilarating and super-fun! Definitely a unique experience. (Truth be told, you may decide being right up front isn’t for you- it’s not for everyone. And to get in the front row you usually have to camp out in that spot for quite a while, and may miss other bands on other stages- that is the compromise.)

 5. Make a plan, but be flexible. When going to a big festival, there are a ton of bands playing, and it’s just a fact- you won’t see them all. Make a plan of attack- who do you have to see, who do you kind of want to see, etc. If you don’t plan it out a little, you’ll risk missing someone you wanted to see. At Coachella this is key, because there are 5 stages, schedule conflicts galore. With a little planning you can make the most out of your time. Compromise is key, and with flexibility you can also check out bands you haven’t seen or heard before, which is one of the most amazing parts of a festival for me- finding new awesome music.

Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

2 thoughts on “We Love Music: Field Trip: What I learned at Coachella 2012

  1. Another tip from a 3-time Bonnaroo veteran: Don’t overdo it the first night! It’s easy to get super excited to be there and drink/smoke/[insert substance] like crazy, but it will make waking up for the next day’s awesome acts that much harder. Especially with the heat. Take ‘er easy that first night!