Coachella: the singular word itself is evocative of fantastic music, powerful Instagrams and culturally appropriative feathers. But what was it really like to attend Vanessa Hudgens' desert domain? Are there really standoffish celebrities singing along to buzzy indie-pop anthems alongside rich Beverly Hills brats? Does otherworldly magic unfold as Lady Gaga sings "Edge of Glory" underneath the stars? And, perhaps most importantly, are there hot mysterious men lurking near the porta potties, ready and willing to engage in the festival fling of a lifetime? Armed with my colleague and sister, Justin Moran, we decided to find out:
Friday (2:30 PM) Sore Butts and Sorer Attitudes
Anyone operating under the assumption that the life of a magazine editor attending Coachella is nothing but glamour and glitter eyeshadow is (at least partially) woefully incorrect. We left Los Angeles (a city of traffic, tans and the phrase "I almost dated someone on that show") around 2 PM in the afternoon--it wasn't until approximately 8 in the evening that we pulled into our home for the weekend a few miles outside the Coachella grounds. We were exhausted, in desperate need of butt massages, and not-so-jokingly repeating to one another, "Why don't you slit your throat?"
Friday (9 PM) Uber Sucks and So Do We
Still, we decided we might be able to make Travis Scott and Radiohead if we hopped in an Uber immediately. After hitching a ride to the front gate and making the mile-long, winding trek from street to festival entrance, we promptly were informed we needed to pick up our press passes at a tennis court six miles away, a tennis court that had, conveniently, closed four hours ago. Chanting the phrase, "We're having fun!" in the tone of a frazzled mother of three stuck in a van on a road trip to Florida, we marched back to the street.
It was then we discovered Uber and Coachella had partnered up to deliver surge pricing of 90+ dollars for a brief, 15-minute drive--something that'd cost us 10 dollars riding a more familiar, cramped Uber Pool in New York City. Those assholes. Thankfully, when we left the festival grounds, we were able to call a 29 dollar Lyft from a block away. Support Lyft--they're better to their drivers and have a gayer color scheme!
Saturday (12 PM) Irritable Nostrils and Irritatingly Hot Pectorals
We finally made it in Saturday morning--and I promptly proceeded to begin a weekend-long allergy attack, which meant I kept having to snot onto the dusty ground out of sheer necessity as the February and March cover models of Men's Fitness stalked by, girls in see-through lace bell-bottoms clinging lazily to their bulging biceps.
Here's one mystery about Coachella I can definitively confirm: there's an alarming amount of men strolling the grounds who appear to do nothing but push-ups (aside from attending elitist music festivals). Seriously, almost everyone man who took his shirt off immediately elicited a guttural reaction from one of us along the lines of, "Please, sir, I'm begging you to throw me against a porta potty and pummel me so hard we start a concert of our own." These requests were, obviously, made in the hoarsest, most Golem-esque of croaking whispers, and, naturally, entirely unrequited.
So I order overpriced chicken tenders, instead.
Saturday (11:30 PM) God Exists, and She's Actually Named Gaga
After a day of attending the shows of bands I pretended to have heard of (Roisin Murphy, Shura, The Head and the Heart--all great performances) it came time for the moment that had spurred us to apply for Coachella press passes in the first place: the religious, emotional and life-altering prospect of coming within one hundred yards of Lady Gaga. Before her was Bon Iver, whom we caught the gorgeous tail end of after getting trashed on warm Vodka mixed with red Gatorade in the Coachella campsite (reminiscent of the camps of the Quidditch World Cup but without the magic or Death Eater attacks).
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Words cannot accurately convey what happened when Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta took to the Coachella Stage that night, but I'll try my best to capture the feeling of hearing "Edge of Glory" under the desert stars. My involuntary response was to thrash and wail and screech for her entire hour and a half set, much to the chagrin of the straight couples bobbing gently around me, all of whom happen to be assholes. True fans will be shocked and delighted to hear that she sang "Scheibe," "Teeth" and "Speechless," in addition to the chart-topping singles we've come to expect from sweet Stef. Her performance was magical, metaphysical and made us remember why we forced 15 kids in high school to wear bloody homemade tees and learn choreography to a 15-minute Fame Monster medley we mixed ourselves and performed in the school auditorium.
Sunday (2:40 PM) Navigating Gender and Queer Visibility With Ezra Furman
I stumbled into Ezra Furman's glam rock set about halfway through, wearing a long, silky black slip dress and circular red sunglasses. Ezra was wearing red lipstick, pearl and a black tee, thrashing around the stage and growling out gorgeous, electric punk anthems. At one point, Furman screamed "Trans Power!" Later on, he told the problematic sponsor of Coachella, AEG, to "Fuck off," and ended the show with the line, "Tell 'em all to go to hell!"
I felt exhilarated, energized and ready to walk up to the next straight man I saw and shove my middle finger up his nostril (or asshole, if, as was fairly likely, he looked like he'd be a great casting choice for a porno titled "Seducing My Straight Poolboy Who Could Break My Arm By Poking Me In The Foot"). After the set, Ezra and I were able to chat on the record about how festivals can feel uncomfortably straight and cis-normative, and how we both felt our own respective gender identities to be something we didn't quite understand nor had much of a desire to figure out. We like to wear dresses sometimes--call us what you want, but we're just trying to feel as much like ourselves as we can.
Sunday (8:45 PM) We Bow Down to Our Lorde and Savior
Other than Gaga, the moment I was anticipating most over the weekend was hearing my current favorite song, "Green Light," live. I'd already proven how little control of my body I was able to maintain when, while dancing along to the pre-chorus in my friend's basement, I smashed my head into the ceiling, cut my scalp open, and bled all over my hand, neck kerchief and his tile floor. Suffice to say, the concert-goers around me were appropriately on edge as I kept croaking "I'm about to severely hurt all of you" while we waited for Lorde to make her grand entrance.
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What followed was a show of incredible artistry, intelligence and talent. Lorde had a large, translucent cage positioned on stage behind her, where partygoers appeared to be drinking and laughing before breaking into weird, fluid choreography that caused me to shriek "Oh my GOD" so loudly into some blonde girl's ear that she decided to jab me in the back with her hand out of irritation at various intervals for the rest of the show.
Those following my sex life with a vigorous interest (none of you) will be pleased to learn that a cute gay boy dancing in front of me was just as into writhing and shoving and screaming every lyric to "Team," "Liability" and "Ribs" as I was that, after an inevitably timid courtship in which we spent the first two thirds of the concert intentionally bumping into each other by feigned accident, we began grinding as Lorde crooned "Even the comatose, they don't dance and tell."
Monday (12 AM) The Road More Travelled
After catching the first half of Kendrick Lamar's incredible headlining set, we decided to book it and try to beat the traffic out of the park so as to make the two-hour drive from Indio to Los Angeles in under six hours. Justin went on about all the incredible bands who'd been given such a unique platform to showcase their artistry, and I found every chance I could to remind the jury that I grinded upon a cute boy who sang along with me to "400 Lux." We made it home in record time and both agreed the weekend had been one for the books.
To answers the aforementioned questions: we didn't see any celebrities swaying under the ungodly heat alongside us in the crowd (except a girl in a floral dress with long batons that we prayed, for a moment, could have been Ms. Hudgens), but according to various Instagram stories, they were mysteriously among us. The festival was cool in that we were able to see a ton of incredible acts in the span of just a few days, and I didn't notice one weird glance as I strolled about in my favorite new article of negligee.
However, I'll say this: Coachella's parent company is owned by a man named Philip Anschutz, who's proven on the record to support anti-LGBTQ hate groups and is a known denier of climate change. Artists agreed, like Ezra Furman, who called out Anschutz during his Coachella set, and Downtown Boys, who donated part of their paycheck to organizations fighting for LGBTQ rights.
Related | Downtown Boys Donate Portion of Coachella Paycheck to LGBTQ Organizations
Further, the festival creates a very visible space for cultural appropriation: the amount of diamond bindis and feather headdresses we saw floating aroud us would have only met its match at an Animal-era Kesha concert in Wisconsin. Lastly, I need to mention the classist component of all of this; while we got in for free, general admission tickets cost upwards of 400 dollars--perhaps pocket change to the muscle bros working in administrative finance (I don't know what I'm saying) and the children of bridplastys with impressive divorce settlements.
Super fun, though, and (in case I haven't made it clear), there's a supernatural amount of incredibly hot guys. I'd like to close with the words of a great sorcerer: "Cause honey I'll come get my things but I can't let go. I'm waiting for it. That green light. I want it."