Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Apr 15th 2010 3:00PM by Steve Baltin
It's all the more impressive when you look at how many newer festivals have struggled to find a footing, whether it's Vegoose, All Points West (which or may not come back this year) or Rothbury (on hiatus this year).
Of course, those fests can learn lessons from Coachella, which struggled financially in 1999 to the point that organizers took 2000 off to regroup, returning in 2001 as a one-day event. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello was at that 1999 fest and returned eight years later when Rage reunited, one of Coachella's most memorable moments. What was the biggest difference he saw from 1999 from 2007? "The major change I noticed was when Rage played in '99, they asked for half the money back," he tells Spinner, cracking up. "They were like, 'Oh, we didn't really make ends meet this year. Could you guys give us a deal?' I believe we did and I think they made it up later, but it was pretty funny."
So how did Coachella ascend to being what Ben Harper calls "one of the best festivals in America"? Well, for starters, DJ Christopher Lawrence, who was on that bill in '99 and has returned three more times, says even when the fest struggled from its inception, he could see it was something special. "I felt from the beginning that Coachella was special and unique," Lawrence says. "The combination of the Palm Springs location, seemingly eclectic yet somehow cohesive lineup, top notch production and the love that Goldenvoice [the festival's promoters] put into it combine to make one of the best, if not the best US festival. It doesn't feel like a corporate event; it feels authentic, like a true music lover's festival."
Morello seconds Lawrence's assertion that it doesn't feel like a big business. "I've known the Goldenvoice guys since my days in Lock Up and they've always kind of held up. The core of what they do is kind of a punk rock model of 'we're gonna do it right for the fans and take care of each other,'" he says. "And that's something that's at the core of it and you can feel that on the site."
Even the corporate sponsors like the fact it doesn't feel corporate. Kevin Costa, Western Regional Manager of Heineken, which has been a sponsor of Coachella since 2001, says part of the reason his company has stayed with the fest for nine years is because of its punk ethos. "It's very limited with any type of advertising onsite. What we do is bring in wristbands, beer cups -- these are all items that have a useful purpose within the event," Costa says. "It's not just to put a banner up."
Heineken jumped on board in 2001 when Coachella wasn't the powerhouse it was today. Like Lawrence, Costa says he could tell there was something there. "You got the sense in dealing with Paul [Tollett, Coachella founder] and with Goldenvoice that they definitely knew their business and he had a long-term approach to it," he says. "It wasn't to make it in the next one or two years and Paul brought that whole feel towards the event. You could see it was engrained in him -- he wanted to make this thing a success."
But wanting to make a success and being able to make one are two very different things. So, what are some of the keys to Coachella's relevance here in 2010? For starters, they've been able to adapt. When Jay-Z takes the stage Friday night, it will mark the first time a hip-hop artist has closed the main stage. Kanye West played an afternoon set in 2006, the same year Madonna made her festival-transforming appearance in the Sahara Tent, which brought pop to the desert and opened things up for the likes of Prince in 2008. Also, in 2008, classic rock made its debut foray at Coachella with Roger Waters performing 'Dark Side of the Moon' and setting things up for Paul McCartney's closing set in 2009.
Lisa Worden, Music Director of L.A.'s influential KROQ, says the shifts musically have been born of necessity. "To me, if I'm Paul Tollett and the people at Goldenvoice, you constantly have to try to up the ante and make it interesting and compelling and try not to repeat artists too much. So, to be honest, I feel like they're almost forced to push the envelope through the years," she says. "I feel like they're in a way forced to explore with different genres."
Sure, the headliners have changed and evolved, but the core of Coachella's line up hasn't changed, mixing reunions, up-and-coming bands and a solid dose of electronic music. Morello argues that's really where the heart of Coachella comes in. "The thing that keeps Coachella relevant is, leaving alone the top three acts every year, everything that happens underneath," he says. "That's why people travel thousands of miles to come to this festival. You know you're gonna get the big headliners, you know you're gonna get new music, you know you're gonna get a lot in between."
Lawrence concurs. "The breadth of Coachella's lineups are what continue to make it relevant. Goldenvoice has an uncanny knack for picking artists who are pushing musical boundaries, whether they are proven stars or cutting edge artists about to break," he says. "This gives the festival its credibility, consistency and popularity. It also keeps people interested and keeps the festival fresh."
Director Jason Reitman is a huge music fan and he says Coachella has been a bastion of discovery for him. "I always liked the Chemical Brothers, but I didn't realize how strong a show it was until I saw it. Now I'm flying to London in May just to see them," he says. "I've become kind of a diehard fan and the first time I saw them live was at Coachella. Coachella for me is reserved for all the kinds of bands in the middle that I would never end up seeing."
Another important aspect of Coachella's consistency is the Empire Polo Fields themselves. Goldenvoice just entered into a long-term contract with the facility to keep both Coachella and Stagecoach, their country festival, there. Bruce Fessier, a journalist for the Palm Springs Desert Sun has covered Coachella from day one. Asked why he thinks the fest has prospered he says, "I think it's part of the same reason people have been attracted to the Coachella Valley for as long as they have. This place has been a winter destination since the 1920s. It's changed dramatically, but those mountains are still there, the sunsets are still there. They put on a great band against that backdrop and they always call the 7PM time slot the magic hour because that's when the sun's going down, it gets cool and it's the combination of the great sights and sounds that makes the magic."