Coachella Beyond Beyoncé: So Much Worthiness Everywhere

St. Vincent
Rich Fury / Getty Images for Coachella
– St. Vincent
playing Coachella 2018

Queen Bey may have eclipsed the sun and dominated all media coverage of this year’s Beychella (as the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will eternally be known), with an over-the-top and insanely impressive performance, but truth be told there was equally wondrous music and experiences of many stripes to be had and reveled at throughout this year’s Coachella. 

How else could the Goldenvoice/AEG Presents-promoted festival remain the perennial No. 1 grossing music festival in the world as it has all these years? Since Pollstar began releasing year-end festival grosses in 2012, Coachella has topped out every year with the exception of 2016, when the festival fell to second place behind Goldenvoice/AEG’s own Desert Trip, dubbed “Oldchella” and featuring classic rock icons. Last year’s gross, with headliners RadioheadLady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar, hit a new high of $114,593,000 with some 250,000 fans over two weekends. That was 20.4 million more than 2016’s event (topped by LCD SoundsystemGuns N’ Roses and Calvin Harris) – an increase of 21.63% percent.

Part of that revenue rise was due to capacity, which went from 99,000 in 2015 to 125,000 in 2017. Coachella 2018 felt like the year Coachella fully absorbed that capacity and operated like a well-oiled machine in the middle of the desert providing a platform for a huge swath of humanity to move freely and create their own rollicking good time together without impediment. Sure, there’s a lot of walking and excessive heat, but with easy access to music, food, beverages, shade and communal experiences, it’s easy to forget that you forgot your Dr. Scholls.

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

Indeed, Beyonce’s performance was transcendent. It was brilliantly choreographed and stadium-ready for an upcoming tour (and probably a film to boot as good as it looked on the fest’s big screens), but there were many other incredible experiences to be had. Here, then, are other some of the other excellent aspects of this year’s Coachella far beyond Beyonce.

The Sunset Set:  Few music experiences on the planet can compare to hearing sublime sounds as the sweltering Indio desert goes from parboiled to temperate while the desert colors explode. Goldenvoice exquisitely nailed it this year by programming three disparate and worthy acts: The War On Drugs, David Byrne (who played the Talking Heads’ stunner “This Must Be the Place”) and Kamasi Washington all led this year’s salute to the sun and provided three of the weekend’s best moments.

Diversity: Perhaps it was having Queen Bey, The Weeknd and Eminem atop the bill that made the fest seem more ethnically diverse than in previous years; but Coachella 2018 thankfully had a lot of different flavors. Part of it is surely  a reflection of the stellar hip-hop and R&B curation which included Migos, SZA, Dej Loaf, Brockhampton, Cardi B, No Name, 6Lack, Post Malone, French Montana, Miguel, Jidenna, Tyler the Creator, Amine, Daniel Caesar, Flatbush Zombies, Jorja Smith, and Kali Uchis among many others. Whatever the reason, let’s hope it continues.

The Art is Burning-Man Worthy: The art installations this year would not have been out of place on The Playa (i.e. Black Rock Desert, Nevada, where Burning Man does its awesome thing). Interactive and jaw-dropping upon first approach, the multi-hued Spectra was a circular building with a transparent rainbow hued exterior and an interior circular ramp. Walking to the top, festivalgoers could see the Coachella vista in a myriad of colors and a 360 view. The brilliant installation helped provide colorful coordinates  throughout the weekend. As impressive was Etherea, composed of three classical architectural buildings that looked like phantom-like projections but were actually made of wire; and Lodestar, an upside-down plane on its nose with a miniature universe inside.

Discovery:  The experience of going from heat and feet exhaustion to unexpected music epiphany at Coachella is a common one. This year stumbling on to Detroit legends Carl Craig, Moodymann and Kyle Hall was a wondrous stroke of good fortune. As was catching a revelatory sets by R&B queen-in-the-making Jorja Smith,  hyper-creative and charismatic Chicago MC No Name, UK soul stirrers Jungle, pounding Portland rock lords the Oh Sees, the bombastic Japanese pop metal of X Japan, the techno goodness of Detroit’s Omar-S, and the soul goddess that is Kimberly Davis, who electrified Nile Rogers and Chic’s classic set. All brought forth unexpected joy.

Branding—Not An Imposition:  From HP’s immersive, tripped-out Laser-Floyd-like Antarctic experience to AmEx sponsorship that got you a $10 rebate and reservations on the Ferris Wheel; to structures by Marriott, Sephora, New Era, Absolut. and Heineken — brands were present but not omnipresent and clobbering festival attendees over the head with banners or aggressive marketing. Instead, brands had their own structures with activations hidden from the masses and modest signage.

GA Is Catching Up To VIP: Bling Bling dumplings, Shake Shack Burgers, David Chang’s Fuku were there for everyone. As was a craft beer garden, a central food market and wine with shade and seating options which help give GA far more value and an experience closer to the VIP one (which had many of the same vendors). There’s also a killer record store (courtesy of the Glass House in Pomona) and art installations and the iconic Ferris wheel that can only be found in GA.

VIPs Badges Are Great; An Artist Pass Divine: As good as GA is, VIP is great and an artist pass is sublime. A VIP pass will get you grass, shade and better amenities like pop-up restaurants (Little Pine and Gwen) or say a gin and tonic booth near the main Coachella stage as well as outposts near the Gobi and the Rose Garden. The Artist Pass, however, is the holy grail.  Here you can intrepidly circle the festival from the backstage perimeter (sometimes with golf cart), take in the music from VIP pens at the front of most stages or cool down near a pond. It’s well-worth pulling every string you have or parting with the pennies you’ve saved if you can swing it.

Ariana Grande
Christopher Polk / Getty Images for Coachella)
– Ariana Grande
Joins Kygo for a surprise appearance at Coachella 2018

Wondrous Production:  Stage production at Coachella continues to a whole other level allowing artists to express themselves ever-expansive creative and technologically-advanced ways. St. Vincent’s set from top to bottom was a compelling integration of video, lighting, audio and performance that coalesced into a stunning performance. Soulwax, from Belgium had a sleek chrome stage set-up with three drummers (including Sepultura’s Igor Cavalera) and a large silver head pop out; Jean-Michel Jarre’s lasers and LED panels are something one would expect to find at a stadium; much as X Japan’s pyro, cannon and streamers at the Mojave stage made the set a worthy alternative to Bey’s performance.

Keeping It Green: As mass gatherings go, Coachella is serious in its commitment to environmentalism. There’s colorful recycling bins, water refill stations and garbage bins classified by type of refuse throughout. There’s also devoted environmental area where fest goers can trade in empty bottles for merch, create kinetic energy on a seesaw to re-charge cell phones and 501c3 Global Inheritance to take the environmental activism beyond Indio.

Flowing the Humans: Getting 125,000 people – let alone 10 – from one place to another is no easy feat. Coachella however, is well set-up for the masses to flow large distances between stages, f&b, restrooms, art and more. Beer pens and loos keep a good chunk of people on the sides in GA. There are shortcuts you learn by day two like cutting through the Central Market to go between the Gobi and Mojave stages. If you lose friends, there’s cell phone service to text the laggards and charging stations when your battery dies (though you needed a cord.) You can also buy a battery for $40 that you can trade in as it loses power at booths around the polo grounds. First aid, general stores and knowledgeable staffers and security keep the humans moving.

Cameos: It’s a guessing game as to who’s going to turn up on whose stage. One would have reasonably thought St. Vincent and David Byrne who collaborated on an album together would share a stage, but that never happened.  But SZA joined Cardi B for her track “I Do” as well as Khalid on “Young, Dumb and Broke.” Also joining Cardi was Bad Bunny and J. Balvin (who also turned up for Beyonce’s “Mi Gente”) for “I Like It”

Bleachers and St. Vincent did a rousing rendition of Depeche Mode’s “I just Can’t Get Enough;” Ariana Grande dropped a new track “No Tears Left To Cry” during Kygo’s DJ set; Marilyn Manson came out during X Japan’s set (and are recording together); and Rae Stremmurd’s Swae Lee performed “Spoil My Night” with Post Malone.

No one, however, outdid the collab firepower of Eminem who brought out Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Bebe Rexha, Skylar Grey and Kehlani.