But the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which launches its 19th installment on Friday and runs over the next two weekends at Indio’s Empire Polo Club, has more or less pulled it off.
Promoters have widened its music offerings to better grapple with social issues such as lineup representation and have also had to learn to navigate logistical headaches such as harassment and substance abuse. In turn, Coachella has transitioned from a scrappy Gen X rock outing to a perpetually sold-out fixture of late-millennial life in SoCal.
“It was surprising to see just how luxurious of an experience Coachella was the first time I went,” said Jennifer Utz Ilecki, Marriott International’s vice president of buzz marketing and global partnerships. “The quality of food, the high-end experiences. People are willing to spend a lot of money on that. For a lot of people, Coachella becomes a great, Instagrammable vacation.”
At a time when the American live music scene continues to revolve around a culture of super festivals, there’s an exhaustive array of multi-day blowouts with similar lineups and multi-hundred-dollar pricetags. There are indications that ticket buyers are growing weary.
Lollapalooza took over a week to sell out this year — partly due to security concerns after news broke that the gunman who killed 58 country music fans at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas had considered Lolla as a target. Additionally, both Sasquatch and Bonnaroo have seen drops in sales over recent years.
Praised upon its 1999 debut as “the anti-Woodstock” for its free-spirited vibe and lineup that skewed away from hitmakers, the festival is now a can’t miss cultural moment with multi-million dollar brand “activations” and enough ticket demand to warrant two consecutive weekends (and probably more, if promoters wanted to).
A baseline ticket for one weekend of Coachella is $429, which isn’t far from the price tag of other multiday blowouts such as Lollapalooza, Governors Ball, Outside Lands or Bonnaroo. But anyone who has ever set foot on the festival grounds knows this is an event where perks and upgrades matter — and there’s enough to make Coachella akin to a luxury resort.
For about $1,000, fans can buy VIP passes that grant access to fancier food, artisanal cocktails, lounges, shade and far better restrooms. Companies tout travel packages to get you there by black car, helicopter or even private jet, and there’s boutique shopping, beauty bars and plush lounges if you grow tired of seeing live music.
Yet, for all the perks Coachella has added one thing remains the same: the festival’s place as the definitive contemporary image of California’s allure.
Even Saturday’s headliner, Beyoncé, arguably the most influential person in American pop culture, needed to save a Coachella date after bowing out last year to have twins. That Coachella is the first stage she’s gracing after giving birth last summer just further speaks to the festival’s unrivaled cultural significance.
After years of chasing Boomers by recruiting classic rock headliners such as Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and even Guns N ‘ Roses, Coachella — which now draws…