Paul Tollett, President and CEO, Goldenvoice

Paul Tollett
– Paul Tollett

A Long, Strange Trip

Paul Tollett
President and CEO, Goldenvoice  

When Coachella Valley Music & Art Festival and its country cohort, Stagecoach, became among the earliest megafests on the 2020 calendar to be postponed because of the then-emerging coronavirus pandemic, other major fests fell like dominoes. 

Ultimately, Coachella was postponed twice – once, until October and, as the virus surged in the fall, to April 2021. It has yet to be rescheduled, but no doubt will inspire a frenzy of ticketbuying when it is.

Such has been the impact of Tollett’s dream of bringing an array of artists across genres and tens of thousands of music fans to the California desert for three days of music that, even when forced to shutter for two consecutive years, is still considered the granddaddy of North American music festivals. 

If past is prologue, the time off will only make fans’ hearts grow stronger. After its legendary (and money-losing) first incarnation, for which it was named Pollstar’s Festival of the Year, Tollett and partner Rick Van Santen took a year off to regroup. When Coachella returned in 2001, even as only a one-day event, the rejoicing across Southern California was palpable.

In the ensuing years, Coachella grew to three days, then to two three-day weekends and from 37,000 attendance to a capacity of 250,000. It spawned a decidedly more family-friendly country music peer in Stagecoach, which in 2019 reportedly sold out for an estimated daily attendance of 75,000. Then there was Desert Trip – the historic three-day event headlined by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who, and replicated on two consecutive weekends – which also reportedly sold out.  

So, when Paul Tollett speaks, people listen. And they listen even when he doesn’t. 

“If you got a Coachella offer, then you routed everything around your Coachella [play],” Amy Madrigali, who books the Troubadour, told Pollstar last year, after the initial postponement. “If you’re a band from Baltimore like Future Islands, for example, Coachella is a big highlight of your calendar that’s going to kick off your year. 

“So you route from March through May and then you make sure you get to California in time for your festival play. Then it’s two weekends, you get in there and work with the promoters to do your Coachella play, you throw in a Pappy and Harriet’s, you do the week in between. Let’s say then you go up to Seattle, you zip into Canada, you dip back down for Chicago and then you get yourself back to Baltimore going through New York. There were patterns that everybody did around anchor dates, they’re financial anchors, they’re tentpoles of your year as you release a record or whatever your assets are for that year.”