Since 1999, elite musicians across genres from rock, pop to hip hop and EDM have convened in the Coachella Valley near Indio, California. With a star-powered feature act, Coachella is an annual smorgasbord of music, art, and fashion that has increasingly become a draw for celebrities and wannabes capturing color for Instagram. The energy around the event is seductive. To enjoy the atmosphere and music of Coachella, there are some tips and tricks from veteran festival-goers who know their way around the live music stages and beer tents.
Many set up camp for the three days of Coachella, which can be its own epic experience. It's not the only way to partake, however. You can also dip in and out of the event and stay in lodgings around Indio or Palm Springs. Just be aware of transportation options getting to and from the stages, as the traffic is notoriously horrendous.
Buying commemorative merchandise from your fave acts is a charming music festival tradition. However, everyone decides to buy their souvenirs on their way home. Avoid the madness by identifying and purchasing your festival merch early on the first day. There are on-site lockers available for a small fee you can split with friends—this way you can buy early, stick your souvenirs in a locker along with a warm sweater for the ride home, and you're done.
Trying to keep up with friends can be challenging in such a sea of activity famous for spotty cell phone reception. Keep texts short and to the point. Having a physical muster point as a "just in case" place to meet at the end of the night can be valuable, especially if your group is attending shows on different stages. There's a fun tradition among large groups in attendance to have a leader carry a decorated pole for everyone to spot in the crowd. Some have political or fashion themes, while others have been mounted with caricatures such as Chrissy Teigen's cry face.
After years of porta-potties, Coachella finally acquired permanent restrooms in 2014. Originally only for women, the restrooms are now accessible to every general admission ticket holder—you can imagine what shape they are in on day 2. There are still portable toilets scattered around the various tents, stages, and campground areas. Regardless of where you go, any veteran will tell you to always bring a small stash of the following to any music festival: toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer.
Of all the various protections an event like Coachella demands, the most important might be earplugs. If your vantage point is close to the stage or speakers, the decibel level can be damaging. Disposable earplugs are available on-site, but consider bringing your own. State of the art Loop earplugs are an affordable step up from foam plugs and won't distort the sound. If you bring children, they should always wear ear-covering headphones.
At Coachella, with its California desert climate, it's essential to drink a LOT of water. You'll likely be doing a lot of activities that deplete your body's supply—from dancing, seating, to drinking beer and alcohol. Expect to down a large bottle every few hours. At the food trucks, look for hydrating fruits like watermelon and electrolyte replacement drinks like Gatorade. If you want to be pro, bring a refillable water bottle rather than contribute to the massive pile of Coachella litter.
Celeb spotting is pretty easy at Coachella. The festival's proximity to the entertainment hot spots of Hollywood means A-listers regularly helicopter in to support the music talent. Although there are segregated talent compounds and VIP areas, celebs understand the social media value of hobnobbing with general admission types. So check out who's dancing next to you and prepare to snap a star selfie for the ages.
Dressing up has become part of the show at Coachella and it's a fun way to be creative and generate interactions and attention. But comfort also matters, so be sure to bring a few layers to put over that sequined halter or micro jumpsuit when the temperature starts to plummet. Mind the headgear or anything that juts away from your body too much; fellow audience members won't appreciate getting poked in the eye by an angel wing. Save those for Burning Man.
Don't believe those photos of celebs wearing gladiator sandals to Coachella. You can't get away with that on a general admission ticket. If there was ever a time for sensible footwear, it's a three-day music festival in the desert. Happily, the fashion trend continues for classic sneakers and boots—think Adidas, Pumas, or Frye. Leave anything delicate, complicated, or high-heeled at home.
Music festivals are gatherings of freaks, in the best way. All that reveling humanity constitutes a life lesson on how to behave in a crowd. Be kind and considerate to those around you, or anyone in trouble, but don't be naive. Don't take drugs from strangers, don't bring items of value along for the ride, and keep your friends close.