There was nothing like my first time camping at Coachella Valley Music Arts and Festival in 2011. I had purchased passes with some of my closest friends to this annual music festival in Indio, months before the electric lineup was made public. This was going to be an experience of a lifetime.
We packed the back of my Toyota Tacoma to the brim, a fully loaded cooler serving as the nucleus to a bursting cell of truck bed space. As our campsite was a few miles outside of the festival grounds, we brought along our bicycles which we hardly had room for, their handlebars spilling over the sides of the truck. We were set to hit the open road.
A few short hours later and we arrived to our campsite. Arriving earlier in the day than most, we were able to choose a prime camping location and setup shop. As other Coachella fans began to trickle in and pitch their tents – some clusters looking like little colonies – the mood in the area began to change. Music was playing from every direction, a condition which would be impossible to change for the next 72 hours. Sleep was a luxury.
The first morning of the festival we mounted our bicycles and rode through the streets of Indio to reach the Coachella grounds. The heat was quickly creeping into this sunny California day, making any available shade a commodity. A relatively painless jaunt through the extensive security and I’d arrived — my very first Coachella music festival.
As a music fan, it’s impossible not to flip whatever switch that is that instantly makes you a giddy tourist. I immediately pulled out my camera phone and started flashing pictures of the green rolling hills and towering stages erected in the distance. With a sold out show, it’s difficult not to gloat and broadcast to everyone in your grid you’re having an amazing vacation without them.
When I finally made my way off the grid, we started taking in the amazing artists playing the festival. My favorite during the afternoon were Jenny and Johnny, a small indie act. It was strange to think that only weeks before I had been playing their record on repeat in the privacy of my room, now here I was rubbing elbows with sweaty strangers and Jenny Lewis 50 feet away from me. Directly behind me the California sun was setting gracefully over the trademark Ferris wheel. There’s no where else in the world I’d rather be.
The next night we stayed for the final performance of the night on the main stage, The Chemical Brothers, a boombastic electronic super group that had been active for years. After an elaborate setup of their stage show – a chandelier of lights literally draping the entire DJ stand – the show began. I vividly remember when the bass first dropped, a stirring reverberation I could feel in the bottom of my throat. In the height of the show I looked upwards and couldn’t even make out the sky with all the laser lights streaming out from the stage.
The highlight of the entire festival was seeing Arcade Fire the following night, delivering a performance I couldn’t believe could possibly top the Chemical Brothers. During the final stretch of Arcade Fire’s set, a sea of glowing beach balls rained down over the crowd, changing colors intermittently. Listening to one of my favorite artists play one of my favorite songs, standing in a sea of people including some of my best friends in the world — that’s one moment I’ll never forget.