Coachella Sells Out With Three-Day Passes, Towering Ferris Wheel, and Upgraded Camping

By Alesandra Dubin April 19, 2010, 2:02 PM EDT

The Coachella crowd

Photo: Dan Eldridge Photography

Not even sidelined in the depths of the recession last year, the sold-out Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival returned to the desert this weekend with a conspicuously more massive throng—and new sponsors like American Express. The festival again presented a packed and eclectic lineup of close to 130 acts, although some had trouble reaching the festival on account of the volcanic eruption in Iceland. The headliners were Muse, the Gorillaz, and Jay-Z, who concluded the opening-night program close to 1 a.m. (which marked a new, later curfew) with fireworks and a cameo by Beyoncé.

Banking on the 11-year-old festival's popularity, Goldenvoice, led by Paul Tollett, for the first time sold only complete three-day packages, at a cost of $269. All 75,000 of them sold out by the time the event began its run from April 16 through 18 on the 90-acre Empire Polo Field in Indio, California.

Notes on the Coachella Web site, “sold-out” signs lining the streets leading to the venue, and nontransferable wristbands good for all three days hampered would-be scalpers. The proceedings felt more cramped than in the past, and the crowd brought gridlock traffic to the area. (Now that word has come down that Goldenvoice has secured a new 10-year contract with the Indio venue, traffic, electrical, and landscaping improvements are planned each year going forward.)

Among the big non-music stories from the festival was the program's ongoing environmental efforts, with nonprofit Global Inheritance on site again. The partnership debuted new artist-designed recycle bins as well as an installation known as the “Energy FACTory’s Sweat Shop Mixer,” which allowed festivalgoers to DJ a 30-minute set, using a Coachella-curated music hard drive. The catch: Each DJ was required to bring 12 friends to generate energy to power the equipment by running on hamster wheels, riding bikes, turning hand cranks, and riding seesaws. Winners for the best sets each day scooped up prizes like V.I.P. access and food vouchers.

Returning sustainability initiatives included the Carpoolchella carpool initiative, and the 10-for-1 bottle exchange, in which attendees could recycle 10 empties in exchange for a full bottle. Shuttles from local hotels and buses from the Los Angeles and Orange County areas also attempted to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“Coachella is attended by music fans of every shape, size, and economic bracket from around the world,” said Global Inheritance founder Eric Ritz. “Thanks to the Internet, these individuals document and comment on their experiences at the festival. It's our job to create educational programming that’s inspiring enough for people to not only embrace on site, but to bring to their community online and offline.”

Coachella also continued to grow its on-site camping program, with new offerings like a farmer's market near the general store and the Down & Derby roller skate rink in the camping area. And, for those to whom “luxury camping” did not sound like an oxymoron, the $5,000 Safari tent options for 2010 included fully furnished tents with air conditioning, showers, golf cart shuttles to stages, private parking, added security, and food.

On site, a selection of grown-up brands joined the roster of sponsors. Microsoft offered an air-conditioned tent where attendees could recharge phones and use the computers to tweet, blog, upload photos, and otherwise broadcast their experiences. American Express promoted its new card, Zync, marketed to twenty- and thirtysomethings, with a V.I.P. area with a Twitter wall, KCRW DJs, air conditioning, charging stations, and brand ambassadors. “We recognize that a festival like Coachella is exactly the demographic we're trying to hit to help this group engage with the brand and let them know it fits their lifestyle. For us, it's about how an established brand connects to a younger age group,” said Jennie Platt, the New York-based director of Zync product management.

And then there was the art. Among the creators of the massive installations was the Do Lab, which built a structure of 19 truss towers covered with wood panels and connected by fabric canopies to create considerable shade over a 180- by 180-foot plot. How did the massive structure come together? In short, Coachella provides an easy sell for volunteer labor. “We had people [about 50 at the height of installation, which lasted six days] doing 14- to 17-hour days, just happy to be out there, having a good time,” said the Do Lab's Josh Flemming. 

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