Like Madonna, I too was like a virgina Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival virgin. Neither the Material Girl nor I had ever been to the giant festival in Indio, Calif. (near Palm Springs), but this year we can both add that notch to our belts.
Having been to assorted dusty summer music festivals in the past, I was planning on an indie rock crowd dressed for comfort in the 90-degree heatyou know, wearing clothes that you dont mind sitting down on the ground in and possibly spilling your beer on. Perhaps owing to the spots on the bill for major mainstream acts like Madonna, James Blunt, Kanye West, Franz Ferdinand, and Depeche Mode, the crowd was a more mixed bag. There were plenty of tattoos, ironic music-geek-chic message T-shirts (I Hate Your Favorite Band), and white guys with dreds, but also lots of designer denim and Dior sunglasses. Maybe it was the influence of the venuethe vast green lawn is more often populated with the polo ponies of the rich. In any case, many attendees thought the presence of West, Madonna, and Blunt was a poke in the eye to the fests alternative sensibilities.
But thank God for the heat. The soaring temperatures had guys stripping off all day and well into the evening. The hunky-and-shirtless quotient was through the roof. I was rubbernecking all weekend long, and while plenty of the beefcake appeared to be of the breeder variety, guys were clearly checking each other out all over the place. The location is so close to Palm Springs, the cruising is practically required.
For a festival of its size95 music acts performing over two daysthe festival event was largely well run. With the heat, the 60,000 music fans, and the long days, I expected to see fights and riots. Everyone was pretty well behaved, and even in crowded areas, revelers were considerate of those who had overdone their capacity to handle the sun (and the E, the booze, and the weed) and were passed out on the grass.
On Saturday, my queer contingent of nine guys and one gal caught sets from the Walkmen, Common, Kanye West, Sigur Ros, Franz Ferdinand, and Depeche Mode at the Coachella Stage, the large outdoor stage flanked by huge video screens. Kanye West got the wholemostly whitecrowd waving their arms in the air. Hes clearly aiming for a share of the rock audience with his appearance at this festival and his plans to open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their upcoming tour. Still it was cool to see that he and sexy hip-hopper Common were interested in playing to this crowd, even if it did get a little MTV Spring Breaklike when Common pulled a tipsy, sunburned bottle blonde from the crowd onto the stage for a little trashy bump-and-grind. It was a sight to see Kanyes preppy, sportswear attired fans filter out and pale indie-boy fans of Icelandic art-rockers Sigur Ros (and its gay lead singer Jnsi) filter in.
In the VIP area, band members and queer and straight celebs including Viggo Mortenson, Scott Speedman, Jorja Fox, Scissor Sisterss Paddy Boom, Chle Sevigny, Norm Korpi, Nicky Hilton, Sanaa Lathan, and Kevin Connolly mingled and listened to the bands on the main stage from shaded pavillions.
Joey Beltrams afternoon DJ set in the Sahara tent (where Madonna would perform the next day) was a trip, with rave kids and queer, buffed circuit boys zoning in and out mingling to the thumping beats. Though the tents provided shade, they also produced a greenhouse effect, and the temperature regularly topped 100 degrees. In the nearby Mojave tent, Australian band Wolfmother had the crowd screaming with heavy guitar-riffing, 70s-influenced rock.
As the sun set, a more determined hipster crowd appeared for Franz Ferdinand. While they didnt sound or look like they were giving 100%, the band still hit the proverbial high notes, rocking This Fire and Take Me Out. The big production of the night was Depeche Mode who lit up the screens with custom visuals while Dave Gahan leapt and spun on stage like Mick Jagger. Knowing that festivals include both die-hard and casual fans, the band trotted out popular hits Personal Jesus and Strangelove as well as some newer material.
Queer house parties popped up all over town and in the large camping area near the polo fields. While my crew reunited to drink and swim at our rental condo pool Saturday evening, telling tales of sexy guys and bands we missed, others were having a wild time too. We missed a friends party due to bad cell phone reception: It was L.A. gays getting drunk and misbehaving badly, he told me the next day. There were quite a few hunky guys there. I left when they all decided to get naked and jump in the Jacuzzi. It was like sensory overload.
I kicked day two off with a little Matisyahu on the Coachella Stage. He is pretty sexy for an orthodox reggae/hip-hop artistnot that theres really much of a pool to draw on for comparison. The scorching heat during Bloc Partys afternoon dance-punk set didnt slow the band down, but it did keep a few fans sitting or lying on the ground rather than shaking their butts.
Madonna fans, including throngs of sweaty shirtless homos, began arriving at the Sahara Tent several hours early for her 8:10 p.m.-scheduled start time. Though they got great sets from superstar DJs Kaskade and Paul Oakenfold in the meantime, the tent was impenetrable by 6:30 p.m. with an estimated 30,000 people crowding in by the start of the show. Madonna arrived by police escort about 30 minutes behind schedule. Its fucking hot in here! she shouted as she emerged from a giant disco ball wearing a blue-violet jumpsuit and dark glasses. This is my first festival. Now whos going to share the drugs with me? Dont be selfish. Share the love! She apparently took her festival-crashing gig very seriously, training tirelessly with her Le Parkour dancers prior to Coachella. Getting physically much closer to fans than shes likely ever been on tour, Madonna danced, writhed, and crawled to four tracks from Confessions on a Dance Floor (Hung Up, Get Together, I Love New York, and Let It Will Be), Ray of Light, and one of her very first hits, Everybody. Naturally, she got in a few wisecracks, making a dig at George Bush and asking the audience, Does my ass look OK? The set was a short one, under 30 minutes, and ended abruptly.
Queer powerhouse act Scissor Sisters closed out the festivals Outdoor Stage, unleashing a few new high-energy tracks from their much-anticipated sophomore album and a few familiar numbers. Out coverboy Jake Shears introduced Mary with a somber tribute. I just lost her a few weeks ago, he said, of the real-life Mary, his best friend and the songs inspiration, who died of an aneurysm.
Coachella is an overwhelming menu of music. If I could have been in two places at once, Id have also seen some other great acts like Sleater-Kinney, Digable Planets, Mylo, My Morning Jacket, Phoenix, Editors, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Daft Punk, The Go! Team, Head Automatica, and Ladytron, but the laws of physics would not permit it. A Coachella virgin no more, Im already planning my 2007 trip. And, yes, I made a mental note to plan my Jacuzzi party-hopping ahead of time next year.