20 Years Later — Coachella Brings Back ‘99 Vibes

Credit: Coachella

Coachella 2019 is officially over and the retrospective analysis of what took place can now begin. The collective interest in attending this year’s Coachella was strangely low, as substantiated by the excess amount of tickets available for resale, a situation unimaginable in previous years. On many reselling sites and pages, Weekend 1 and 2 were being sold for lower than $300 (original value beginning at $429 for a GA ticket), with prices only piquing slightly due to the torment that FOMO instills. In fact, Weekend 2 had so many extra tickets available that Coachella re-released official sales on their site in the beginning of April, adding Kanye’s Sunday Service to the lineup (happening only on Day 3 of Weekend 2) seemingly as an incentive to drive up ticket purchases. What happened with this year’s Coachella sales, and why have they failed to garner the unanimous interest that came alongside the word “Coachella” during previous years?

The ever hyped Coachella has been ubiquitous to SoCal’s landscape ever since it added its second weekend in 2012, with sales reaching an all time high in 2017. Since 2012, ticket sales have been incredible for Goldenvoice’s Coachella, as the coming of the new year came in accordance with Coachella’s eagerly awaited lineup, and thusly, ticket drop.

Coachella’s conception actually begins in October 1999, when co-founders Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen decided to create a festival held only a few months after Woodstock 1999's infamous chaos. With ticket sales priced at $50 per day, this overnight festival was still heavily scrutinized as many were skeptical to its inception, with the savages of Woodstock still fresh in their mind. But Coachella promised a new vision of the summer music festival ideal, with free parking and $2 water bottles for attendees (both of which still take place to this day!). They also promised sets that would be full length shows, well-mannered security guards, daily cleaned bathrooms and facilities, and overall, a comfortable experience for all concert-goers.

Coachella took a big risk in the U.S. with their decision to incorporate European festival ideals in an American landscape. Destination based festivals were relatively unheard of in the States, as many companies chose to do traveling festivals instead, hitting a number of cities across the nation (e.g. Lilith Fair, Vans’ Warped Tour, Lollapalooza), all operating under the the market strategy of “bringing the festival to a city near you.” Coachella was flipping the current model of the American festival culture, creating a musical oasis 2 hours away in the California desert, expecting attendees to travel out west to a festival that had a deep focus on comfort and music as the two focuses above all.

And the crowd responded to that. Polite behavior was showcased across the 2 days of the festival, with crowds essentially policing themselves. Right before Rage Against the Machine’s closing set, a burning object was tossed on stage and instead of gleeful cheering that was found at Woodstock, the crowd began chanting “asshole, asshole” scolding the culprit and showcasing that such an offense was not going to be accepted. According to a Rolling Stones article covering the festival, Officer J. Garadena of the Indio Police Department called the crowd “very well-behaved” citing that even he would be interested in attending, had he not had to work.

The booking of the ’99 lineup was a musical gamble, as Tollett and Van Santen decided to book artists in genres like punk rock, hip hop, rock, and electronic dance music, genres that were sparsely seen in mainstream festival settings. This intersection of music created newfound interest from festival attendees, as many who originally attended for the rock groups would traverse between stages to check out electronica and hip hop — for the pure enjoyment of music exploration. The New York Times describes their choice of booking as a “strong emphasis on dance music and college radio bands, as opposed to acts that are popular on the Billboard pop charts or commercial modern-rock stations.”

Despite the praise many gave Coachella for its pleasurable festival experience, it was a financial ruining for Goldenvoice, with a loss of $750,000 and a delay for the second Coachella until 2001. But 1999’s Coachella set the stage for an even more impactful reunion that was to take place in 2001.

The devastating financial loss of the first Coachella prompted Goldenvoice to change the length of Coachella into a single-day event. The second Coachella came to fruition with the help of Perry Farrell, the frontman of alternative rock band, Jane’s Addiction. For the first time since 1997, Farrell reunited Jane’s Addiction for the prestigious spot of headliner. Farrell even played for deferred compensation, which allowed his friends at Goldenvoice to accrue more revenue to regain their financial stephold, as they refused to have sponsorships fund the event. Tollett attributes this decision to uphold the vibe, culture, and atmosphere of Coachella, saying “We don’t pass out pamphlets and advertisements and stickers during the show. Some of the festivals across the country are just a marketing convention masquerading as a festival.” This decision was still costly; Coachella again lost money (in the low six figures) but had a hopeful and encouraging spike in attendance in comparison to the first year. Another big difference was the new partnership with Concerts West (which is now AEG and is owned by Phil Anschutz — an anti-LGBTQ, anti-marijuana, powerful, problematic man) who still owns Coachella to this day.

And their reach has only grown since then. According to Billboard, in 2012 Coachella reported a gross revenue of $47.3 million, with a huge peak in revenue due to the start of their 2 weekend agreement with Indio. Their revenue and capacity has only steadily increased since, with 2014 reaching $78.3 million, 2015 reaching $84.3 million, and 2017 reaching a record-breaking $114.6 million, becoming the first yearly-recurring festival to break the 3 figure million mark.

But why has this year’s Coachella ticket sales fallen flat? Even throughout the entirety of Weekend 2, tickets were still available on Coachella’s official site, a prospect unheard of in previous years. Many complaints came from fans who thought the lineup was disappointing, especially with Kanye’s drop out of the spot of headliner, 2 days before the lineup was supposed to be released. Instead Tame Impala, an Australian psychedelic rock group, took the spot of headliner, with doubts thrown around about whether or not they would be able to rise up to the challenge of taking main stage. Which they absolutely did.

As the Coachella name brand has grown (with fast fashion brands profiting off Coachella’s name — whether legal or not), so has the interest in attending the festival purely for the sake of attending — or rather, documenting your attendance to post on the gram later. This has been the complaint of many loyal festival goers, as they see influencers flock far and wide to gather and mob at the art pieces, focusing on taking pictures of each other and themselves while legendary artists play in the background. The narcissistic behavior associated with this also seeps into their stage attitude, with pushing and shoving becoming of the norm, showcasing a huge regression from Coachella ’99, where respect and compassion were showcased from festival goers. Coachella is first and foremost a music and arts festival, but over the years, that has slowly taken backseat to a rising interest in personal documentation of attendance at the festival, rather than for the love of music and arts exploration. And it’s not surprising that the booking agents have also chosen to cater to the masses’ interest in music, which consists more of the top 10 at 10 radio staples. The acts over the years have shifted from the smaller rock, dance, and radio bands that Coachella has been known for into a wide display of the popular Billboard pop chart artists. Not surprisingly, Coachella began catering to the growing crowd that has begun to attend the festival not for the spontaneity of music discovery and exploration, but for the expectation of seeing and experiencing artists they already know or have heard of from mainstream radio.

But this year signified a huge change in the collective mindset of festival goers. The majority of those who attended portrayed attitudes akin to the reports of the crowds and demeanor of Coachella ’99. With every accidental bump, push, or shove came an instantaneous apology, and people looked out for one another. This was a landmark year for Coachella’s lineup, and the crowd, once again, responded to it.

This shift is exactly what Coachella has needed over the years, bringing back core values that Coachella ’99 boasted of. This year’s lineup was wildly different from previous years, with international acts peppering the stages across Coachella. Two of the biggest hip hop acts on the lineup were Latin trap artists Bad Bunny (Puerto Rico) and J Balvin (Colombia). Mon Laferte (Chile) and Los Tucanes De Tijuana (Mexico) also performed, singing out to crowds that were ecstatic at seeing classic Latinx and Hispanic acts on the main stage of an American festival. Asian artists BLACKPINK and HYUKOH from South Korea and Perfume from Japan were also present, taking the Sahara, Sonora, and Gobi stages by storm. Other countries such as France (Jain), Tobago (Calypso Rose — at 78, the first person booked to perform calypsonian music and the oldest person to ever perform at Coachella!), and England (Aphex Twin) were also represented. This isn’t to say that previous Coachella lineups didn’t also feature similar bands, but this year, the intersectionality of culture and music was much more prevalent.

The shift in culture at Coachella is undeniable, but it is a shift back in the right direction. Music festivals are a dime a dozen now, with more focusing on a specific genre of music for a specific fan base. Coachella harmoniously blends together genres across the board, providing the attendee the opportunity to listen to dark techno one minute, hopping over to calypsonian music the next, and finishing off the night with Korean indie rock, all while meeting other festival goers from around the world. The promise of Coachella returning back to its roots of providing smaller, upcoming artists a stage to perform their music is upon us, and we’re all excited to see what’s next.

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