FERG BLURBS -- Coachella Joins The Corporation

January 4, 2018

So, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival announced their 2018 lineup for their two-weekend stint at the Empire Polo Club in southern California in April.

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A quick look at the lineup will, no doubt, yield some curious reactions from regulars at Coachella. After all, the lineup is very, very different from the usual. 

Coachella was started in 1999, and has since become the most popular of all the massive music festivals that dominate the summer throughout the country. Coachella is the first festival of the season, taking place in April, and has always served as the haven for indie artists, both the established and the still up-and-coming. Where it will sometimes share similarities with the other festivals (Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Firefly, etc), Coachella will often have its own blend of seemingly random assortments of indie music acts, nostalgia bands and a massive headliner to anchor the weekend. The festival grew from a two-day, one-weekend show to a three-day, two-consecutive-weekend monster that pulled in over $100 million in revenue last year, while drawing well over 300,000 people. It has exploded in popularity, and has become the destination for celebrities and fashion. If you're not tweeting about being at Coachella, and showing off your brand new, off-the-wall outfit, you're going to be left in the dust...literally, as the festival takes place in what little grassy area there is in the desert of the Coachella Valley.

Coachella's past lineups have included some of the biggest names in music as headliners, including rock royalty such as Guns N Roses, AC/DC, Roger Waters, and Paul McCartney, and also indie and alternative darlings like Radiohead, The Cure, Muse and Arcade Fire. Other artists like Bjork, Beck, Depeche Mode and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have headlined the festival, further exemplifying their dedication to seeking out not only the big guns, but also some of the most influential, if not popular, bands of their respective genres. But, another glance at Coachella's 2018 lineup reveals the completion of a shift that started a few years ago for festival organizers.

As the years have gone on, and the festival has gotten both larger in the literal sense (The festival has added several side tents over the years to accommodate the number of bands present) and the figurative sense, the organizers have no doubt begun to see the chance to bring more people to the desert, through the turnstiles at the Empire Polo Club, and onto the concert grounds. And so, they started to slowly, but surely, add acts that didn't quite fit the original molding of a Coachella act. First, it was DJs like Daft Punk, Justice, and others who were well-respected throughout the music world, but didn't necessarily have the mainstream popularity you'd think. Then, when that worked and expanded their customer base, it was time for the underground or "alternative" (for lack of a better term) rap and hip-hop groups that certainly had a following and a certain "cool" factor, while not being overly "popular" or well-known to the typical music fan. 

Soon enough, Coachella saw the money continuing to grow, and felt they needed to dive in head-first, rather than just dip their toes in, to really make this work. And so, in 2010, they jumped in with rapper Jay-Z as a headliner. Their revenue grew by $6 million from the prior year. In 2011, they brought in Kanye West as a co-headliner with the Strokes, and had Wiz Khalifa as third-line support. Their revenue grew an extra $3 million from 2010, and by 2014, Coachella had expanded to two weekends and made sure to always have at least one headliner that could be considered a "popular" act. Revenue was skyrocketing, and so was their popularity. It was no longer just for the cool people. Suddenly, in 2017, it became two of their three headliners as popular acts. And now, in 2018, it's all three of their headliners. Alternative and indie rock, while still making up the majority of bands and acts at the festival, suddenly doesn't have the spotlight.

Please don't read this as me calling today's music out, or even necessarily faulting Coachella for chasing money and fame; it is, after all, what needs to happen for this festival to continue. But, what I am saying is that we are witnessing the changing of the guard at Coachella. It is no longer a safe-haven for just the music lover. It's no longer about the discovery of unknown, indie acts and seeing them grow into eventual headliners. Instead, it's become the "place to be" for celebrities in music, television and the movies. Now, it's less about seeing a band first, before anybody knows who they are, and more about celebrities standing in VIP while half-paying attention to whatever pop star has been dragged to the desert, being paid a king's ransom to play for music business elites and celebrities, with the occasional actual music fan mixed in. It's a long cry from what it used to be.

The festival began as something that was both instantly fresh and cool, while also being counter-culture. They didn't care about celebrities, or necessarily bringing giant crowds to the Empire Polo Club, but just about curating the coolest music festival. And for a while, that's what Coachella did best. But, as the money began to roll in, and the festival organizers saw their chance to make more money, things changed. Coachella went corporate, and, in the process, has become everything that it seemingly set out to not be. Whether that's good, or bad, is up to you.

-- Ferg