The fascination of a multi-day festival started from stories of Burning Man. Why would going out into the desert for a few days to build a make shift colony and various art installations only to burn them all down be appealing? Not just to anyone, but to a whopping herd of more than 50,000? I suppose the only way to logically describe the draw could be the appeal of temporal community where you could in theory reduce yourselves into the most fundamental needs (water, shelter, toilets, friends) in the most inhospitable place to celebrate art, humanity, and whatever floats your alternate universe. A mass escape from reality, if you will. After many small talks with newbies and veterans of Burning Man, I decided it would be a worthwhile experience to attend some day. Thus emerged a new item on the bucket list: burning man.
Now that was many years ago. The logistics and expense required to attend this alternate universe, despite its commercialization, is truly a bitch. Not only do you have to be planning it out well in advance, you have to also have a bunch of friends and cash ready to roll with you. I never pulled the trigger. Coachella came on to my radar in the last 4-5 years, maybe. To me it's kind of like Burning Man, but with more music and less planning - both of which i prefer. It still has all the appeal of that alternate universe business, the draw of the Californian desert, and the massive temporal community existing between cars, tents, and loads of dust. I figured the Burning Man on my bucket list will be better replaced with Coachella. This year, on a spontaneous whim, I joined Jlee on her pilgrimage. We tagged along with her LA friends and stayed in a beautiful southwestern style house.
The first, and most striking aspect of the event I noticed right away was how impeccably organized everything was. This is an event of monstrous logistical nightmare -- everything from band, sound, a/v, bathrooms, lines, paths and walkways around the premise, food, camp site, security, traffic control, medical patrol, signage, storage space, heat and hydration plans, corporate sponsors, art installations, had to be perfectly executed in synchrony to ensure success. I admire the master mind who can orchestrate something of this magnitude down to the level of detail so whimsical you can't help but smile. For example, the path ways that connect the festival ground to various parking lot are labeled with color. At the end of the pink path you will hear an eerie yet memorable sound recording of a voice whispering pink panthers from behind the trees. The yellow path had a yellow brick road oz theme. Fun.
The festival ground itself is ginormous. Multiple stages ranging in sizes scattered about with something happening at all times to ensure there is no shortage of music to hear. The lineup this year range from popular alt rock to obscure EDM to mega throwback old school band coming out of the woodwork. See the full list here. Outside of that we had this amazing space called the Do.Lab which brought out an amazing array of avant garde DJs playing music you will never be able to put a genre label on. Shaded areas constructed in various themes dotted the remaining grassy area. One can always find a nap spot anywhere. The grounds are clean. And best of all, people are amazingly nice. You never have to worry about your stuff getting picked off while napping. Sit down anywhere you want. Lie down and watch the glow of the electric light against cool night sky. The sound engineering is class A -- loud but never ringing. Perfectly pitched throughout all stages and spaces. At night the festival lights up all around, as if you are walking in a dreamland. Your favorite bands playing. Your friends - new and old - chilling out. Or jump into the front of the stage and riff off the energy from the crowd and dance the afternoon, evening, night, away, for multiple days.
Main line up saw (in no particular order): Blur, Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, Tegan and Sara, Band of Horses, Metric, Stars, Foals, Wolfgang Gartner, Thomas Gold, Jamie xx, Postal Service, New Order, Hot Chip, Major Lazer, Booka Shade, Two Door Cinema Club, and Moby.
My favorite moments:
- throwing hands in the air for Passion Pit and sun down with 100,000 strangers.
- watching the Postal Service live. An album that changed my life. They were surreal. No other word describes it.
- seeing how Major Lazer throws down with the crowd. I've never seen mass stripping for the sake of music until this guy showed up on stage.
- late afternoon mist, bubbles, sunlight, sick beats by DJ pumpkin (yes, his name is pumpkin), and a super energetic dancing crowd. JLee and I going ape shit over a Prince remix. This was the moment I realize, right when everything was happening, that happiness is all about recognizing the joyous present. I know that I will always remember this moment, and it will always bring a smile to my face.
The cost of these blissful memories? Rolling aside the self-inflicted whip lash from excessive head nodding, the giant knots formed on your upper back from excessive fist pumping, the sore feet or knees or lower back or all of the above from excessive dancing, there is the heat, the self-inflicted poisons, the greasy food, the sugary drinks, and the not having any time to recover. This is not an experience for older people for sure. I think if I were in my 20s, I would find it to be very different. Now in my mid 30s the recovery time is even more necessary. This festival is a marathon. And I am thoroughly defeated.
So what did I learn from all this? I guess I learned that music is a vehicle for connection that transcends all race, gender, class, country, age, etc. When we come together to celebrate creativity, we are more open, more accepting, more generous. It's a bit like a magical invisible thread that words alone cannot describe. Sometimes the grind of everyday life requires us to lament the past and worry about the future. A temporal community like this festival shifts you into the present, and the present only. So you can be reminded that joy exists here.
Bucket list checked. Would I do it again? Hells no. :)