Coachella Weekend One: From Queen Bey and Drones to Kendrick and Yodel Boy

Beyonce Coachella
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)
– Beyonce Coachella

Beyonce remains queen of everything as this weekend California’s Coachella Valley heated up.  Other than some high-profile collaborations and celebrity sightings, the first weekend of the massive Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival seemed  a routine if well-oiled affair April 13-15, which is what year-after-year makes Coachella consistently the top-grossing festival with last year’s Goldenvoice/AEG Live-promoted event earning a record-setting $114,593,00 on its way to topping Pollstar‘s Year End Worldwide Festival Grosses chart.

“Coachella, thank you for allowing me to be the first black woman to headline,” Beyoncé said from the stage Saturday night, before kicking off the song “Run the World (Girls).”

The performance featured a Destiny’s Child reunion, as Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams also joined her as they sang their smash “Say My Name,” and husband Jay-Z also came out for a collaboration.

Of course, Bey was scheduled to play the 2017 event but pulled out after announcing she was pregnant with twins.

She may be the first black woman to headline the massive event that is the unofficial kickoff of the summer concert and festival season, but this year’s event was unquestionably diverse.

Beyonce Jerseys
Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
– Beyonce Jerseys
Beychella in full force

SZA may not have had quite the headline slot that Queen Bey ruled from but also had a late-night mainstage slot Friday, where she was joined for a surprise cameo from Kendrick Lamar on “All The Stars.” He did the same during Vince Staples’ final tune of the night, “Yeah Right,” taking the crowd into a frenzy.

Of course, The Weeknd had the top slot that night, continuing the theme of R&B and hip-hop dominating the lineup.

SoCal native Vince Staples, taking the stage Friday night, thanked the crowd and joked that, after last time playing the Sahara Tent tradtionally reserved for electronic artists, was now playing what he called “the white people stage,” adding, “thanks for letting my skinny black ass up here.”

The festival that started nearly 20 years ago in 1999 was often headlined by alternative rockers and filled out with cutting-edge indie bands this year saw a scant few true rock acts on the bill at all. 

A Perfect Circle had the highest billing of anything remotely close to a metal band high billing Sunday night, while The War On Drugs brought the heartland rock, Springsteen-esque vibes Friday night before St. Vincent’s arty dance-pop kept the crowd bouncing and garnered multiple audible wails of “I Love You Annie!” from the crowd. David Byrne performed the following night, and even held a brain during his set, but was not joined by Annie Clark (St. Vincent) despite the two collaborating on an album a few years ago and the rumor mill being ripe with hints of them playing together. 

Mason Ramsey
Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
– Mason Ramsey
the yodeling kid

Maybe the most-talked about set was from 11-year-old Mason Ramsey, who went from meme to red-hot festival booking after being discovered on YouTube yodeling at his local Wal-Mart in Illinois. The crowd went nuts when he was brought onstage by DJ Whethan, who said young Mason needed no introduction. 

While fun, the fact that such a meme made headlines may be testament to the event’s flawless production and solid lineup — no news is good news when so many people congregate in one place. 

Paul Tollett, CEO of Coachella producer Goldenvoice, said at an interview last month at the Indio Polo Club festival site any beefed-up security mirrors the festival’s growth. 

 “It’s just a part of safety,” he said last month from the festival grounds, according to USA Today. “There are more people at the show, so, it’s a higher profile.”  With roughly 250,000 people expected at the site over the two weekends, the story making news was that drones were being used to monitor safety at the festival. Goldenvoice has reportedly contracted with a licensed, certified drone service to be used in conjunction with Indio police, which planned to use it to view traffic problems and unspecified issues.

Ashour Ebrahim, director of health and safety for Goldenvoice partner AEG Presents, said in an interview at the XLIVE conference that each festival has a unique security plan. 

“It takes all security professionals to work together with federal, state and local partners, private sector security companies,” he said according to USA Today. “How are we going to try to prevent these (mass shooting) events from happening? That takes a lot of proper planning in order to see what the needs are.”

Fans may be noticing an increased focus on safety. “If you’ve been to Coachella, you see the police presence in trying to guide the traffic,” Ebrahim said. “If they’re standing in our queues, they see our security personnel. We have dog patrols, and those are tangible things that people can actually see. Granted, some people may feel, why do I have to have my bags searched? Well, it’s exactly for that reason. It’s a tangible approach. We’re not trying to inconvenience you, we’re trying to protect everyone else, including yourself.”

While no one would complain of a safe event with no catastrophes, some artists seemed a little disappointed in the crowd’s energy.

Tyler, The Creator Coachella 2018
Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
– Tyler, The Creator Coachella 2018

Tyler, The Creator, who is on tour with Staples and performed a mainstage set the following night, seemed to be surprised by a lackluster response from the crowd, repeatedly trying to get the crowd excited and at one point saying “Vince wasn’t lying.” A flurry of social media complained about the notoriously chill California crowds.

However, the one-time controversial teenaged lyrical agitator – turned critics darling put on a flawless performance incorporating impressive visuals and top notch production to match the music from his acclaimed Flower Boy LP.

Some excitement may be in store Sunday night, as headliner Eminem hasn’t played any North American concerts since 2014 and is doing select appearances this year after his new album Revival dropped in December.

Coachella even got a “Mom’s Spaghetti” pop-up restaurant to get people pumped ahead of the real Slim Shady’s set, harkening back to a line from his breakout hit “Lose Yourself.”