Updated: Mar 14
It almost falls under the category of holidays: music, art, party, friends, that's Coachella, a three-day festival, taking place over the course of two weekends in the California desert.
Twenty years in the music industry is twenty lives lived. Throughout the lifespan of Coachella, one of the most important music and art festivals in the world, so many things happened that those twenty lives could be added up to by twenty more. Throughout this article, we will take you through the rich history of the festival, our personal experiences as an audience, and delve into the role of women on stage.
By the end of the 90s, the American company for sale and distribution of tickets Ticketmaster had the monopoly of the sale of all concert tickets, blocking 90% of the tour circuit of the country. That is to say, that basically all concert tickets of the nation were sold through them. However, the band Pearl Jam, who then was at the peak of their career, had promised that their North American tour would skip all the places that worked with Ticketmaster because they didn't want to be part of the biggest conglomerate in music. That was when Goldenvoice came on the scene, a music production company that started almost four decades ago as a leading punk rock proselytizer.
The production company booked a place in the California desert for Pearl Jam to perform a concert in protest against Ticketmaster. The venue was located in the town of Indio, more specifically in an area called "Coachella Valley". Although the concert was a success and proved that the venue was 100% viable, at the time, Goldenvoice was still a company that could not compete with the giant Ticketmaster; so the idea of doing more band concerts in the valley was complicated. Still, they had one advantage: they were able to pay the artists directly, as opposed to their major competitor. Immediately, they started to focus on a concept of grouping several bands in one day - a 100% festival format - hoping that the amount of audience would be profitable.
The first edition of Coachella took place in October 1999.
And so in 1999, Paul Tollett founded the first Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival which was divided into two days, where, with a $50 ticket on both dates, people could see top-notch artists like Beck, Morrisey, Tool, and Rage Against the Machine. While the festival was a success, Goldenvoice made financial losses amounting to about $850,000. One of the reasons they "survived" regardless was because one of the headliners agreed to receive something called "deferred compensation", an arrangement in which a portion of an employee's income is paid out at a later date after which the income was earned.
Over time, the festival evolved from two to three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). Musically, from its beginning on, Coachella covered a very large variety of musical genres, allowing each person who attended to go to different stages respecting their interest. Still, that was not enough. The venue needed to organize more than one big event a year to remain profitable. As a result, Goldenvoice branched out into a second festival called Stagecoach, which took place on the same grounds but was mainly focused on country music.
In 2009, Coachella gathered more than 200.000 people in just one weekend, a very good result for the festival - but not for the city of Indio. The nearby city suffered a lot from this massive increase in traffic. To lift the pressure of Indio, Goldenvoice invested in the area by building an additional highway near the site, plus some investments in the area of lighting and security, making the place safer and more reliable for its visitors.
Starting in the early 2010s, ticket sales were steadily increasing, and the festival became incredibly profitable. This lead to an agreement between Goldenvoice and the city of Indio, agreeing to maintain the tradition of the festival in that city until 2030, in addition to a deal manifesting that from each ticket sold, 5 dollars would go to the city.
In 2012, Coachella expanded to two weekends with the same lineup.
In 2012, the festival had its second big change, the tickets were sold out in record time, many people complained about the speed at which they were sold out, leaving them without the possibility of attending the most important festival in California. In order to solve the problem, the company took a major risk and decided to expand the festival to two weekends of gigs with the same lineup. Then, they were unaware that this edition of the festival would later become one of the most important at the artistic level. During a set of the rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, the figure of the Tupac Shakur (died in 1996) in hologram format was present, something extremely precursory for the shows of the festival.
Since the same year, Coachella has a condition called "radius clauses" which largely prevents the acts confirmed in the lineup from booking other concerts on the west coast of the country during the three months before and after the festival, thus maintaining the exclusive mystique of the festival.
The exhibitions generate such a level of exposure that the festival becomes as important for the artists as it is for the musicians.
However, as the name says, Coachella is not only a music festival but also an art festival. Every year, the design and visual presentation of the venue is renewed, using all the artistic formats that it offers: visual art, interactive exhibitions, displays, and giant size sculptures. In addition to the stages and exhibitions, the site also has a tent area where the public can camp during the three days of the festival.
The festival is characterized by providing a large number of previously separate band meetings.
Another main feature of the festival is that it provides the largest number of previously separate band meetings. The first one was in the second edition of the festival in April 2001, the appearance of Jane's Addiction was a surprise since the band had been inactive since their reunion tour in 1997. And the list goes on:
2002: The third edition of the festival brought together the British group Siouxsie and the Banshees, after their separation in 1996. 2004: After almost 11 years apart, the Pixies returned to the stage, something that was practically impossible to imagine for many fans.
2005: The gothic rock band Bauhaus, kicked off a three-year tour at Coachella that would end in 2008, after having been seven years apart.
2007: After seven years of absence from the Rage Against the Machine scouts, he met and returned to the Coachella stages for the second time.
2008: The Irish band My Bloody Valentine split up in 1997 and eleven years later they reunited at the Coachella stage.
2012: The English band Pulp joined the list of meetings this year, giving continuity to a series of presentations made in Europe during 2011.
2013: The Stone Roses got back together at the American festival after 7 years apart.
2014: After 8 years, the American Hip Hop duo Outkast returned to the stage.
2016: In this edition, two great bands would be performing again after years of absence on stage. LCD Sound System was in charge of closing the first night of the festival, after 5 years apart. But without a doubt, the highlight of this edition of Coachella was the reunion of one of the most important rock groups of the '90s: Guns N'Roses. However, there was a third meeting, which although it was not in a full concert format, it happened as part of a set held on the second weekend of the festival at the presentation of rapper Ice Cube, who gathered his former NWA teammates along with Young E, the son of the late Eazy-E.
In the 2020 edition, which has been rescheduled for October, Rage Against the Machine returns for the third time to the Coachella stage after its separation in 2011.
This was a look back at the twenty years of history of Coachella, one of the most important music festivals in the world. Now, let's get into a more personal context!
From the beginning I never had the idea "I want to go to Coachella", I just wanted to go see my favorite band, however it all took a 360-degree turn from day one.
In particular, I traveled to Coachella to witness the return of a group that marked my childhood and adolescence: "Guns N Roses". From the beginning on, I never had the idea "I want to go to Coachella", I just wanted to go and see my favorite band. However, I experienced a 360-degree change from the first day of the six days I was at the festival on. Although I have been going to concerts and music festivals since I was a child, the feeling I had at Coachella is not like any experience I had before. To begin with, before I entered the venue, I found myself walking next to Taylor Swift and the Haim sisters with total normality. I met bands and genres to which I then did not give the importance that I give them today. Disclosure was one of the great surprises that took me both weekends; I got see live bands like The Kills, or artists like Sia, amounting to an overall spectacle impossible to explain - all those were moments that from each individual artistic point of view left me with unique memories of the festival. And not to mention the magic that comes with every evening of the festival. For about an hour, the sky of Indio turns every day into an atmospheric spectacle impossible to put into words.
At the same time, the atmosphere that inhibits the cities of the surroundings during the week that bridges the two festival weekends generates a sensation that for any lover of the music is only comparable to being at Disney Land for the first time. The small concerts that take place in the clubs of the cities leave a mark for life. A good example was one night we went to the Roxy in Los Angeles to see the British Punk band "The Damned", who although they were part of the Coachella lineup both weekends, in this case, presented a more intimate format for 500 people. During that gig, only 4 meters away from us was Morrisey, watching the same concert and singing the same songs and getting as excited as we were when the band made a beautiful tribute to Pince, who had passed away that morning.
Compared to my experience before the festival, where I only wanted to go to see a band, today, I would love to return to Coachella because I know that it will surprise me at all times. I know that within only one weekend, I will gather unforgettable moments for a lifetime. All of these impressions, however, are amplified exponentially when attending the concert with a VERY close friend.
Now it's Mias' turn to describe her personal Coachella experience:
"I was lucky enough to travel to the Coachella Festival in April 2016, which had an absolutely spectacular line-up with Guns n Roses, LCD Soundsystem, Major Lazer, Sia, and Grimes - just to name a few. After the first Coachella Festival weekend, it was also clear to me why it makes sense to visit the festival on both weekends: because as a person interested in music you don't have the chance to see all your favorite bands. I have been allowed to visit many festivals throughout the course of my life, but this one was special in every respect, first of all: the location. The sunset in Coachella Valley is unique - the light, the palm tree-lined mountains, and the expanse of the well-tended polo field. The festival is so extremely well organized that even on the evening of the last day of the festival there are still clean toilets with toilet paper for all visitors. Also, wifi was not an issue at all. The visitors are extremely obliging, good-humored, and they shower each other with compliments. For me, it was an unforgettable, excellently organized festival of music, which I was allowed to celebrate together with incredibly good-looking new and old friends."
Unfortunately, Coachella is yet another festival that accounts for very low number of female headliners.
Fast forward to another very important topic for the music is her passion team: equality in regard to female headliners. Madonna, the queen of pop, with a career of more successful and countless #1 singles didn't lead the lineup when she performed in 2006. To this day, only four women headed the festival. Coachella is only another example of perhaps the most absurd thing: to be used to the fact that everything a woman leads today is accompanied by the label "the first woman in...".
The Icelandic singer Björk became the first woman to lead the festival twice, the first time in 2002 when she performed pregnant with her first child, and the next time in 2007.
Eight years passed until a woman came back to take over the lineup. Lady Gaga was in charge of leading Coachella 2017, a lineup that was originally led by Beyonce, who at the time had to cancel her performance due to a medical recommendation because she was already pregnant with her twins.
"What impressed me most was his work ethic and the creativity of the message he was conveying"
Paul Tollett about Beyoncé.
However, in 2018 #beychella became a reality. Beyoncé became the first black woman to lead the festival with one of the most impressive, most radical, and perhaps not one of them, but the best performance of the festival to date. Along with a cast of approximately 100 musicians and dancers, she paid tribute to the historically black colleges and universities of the United States. This incredible spectacle was recorded in her film"Homecoming" released in 2019. "What impressed me most was his work ethic and the creativity of the message he was conveying," said Coachella founder Paul Tollett, when he was at rehearsal in the week leading up to the festival.
Ariana Grande became the youngest woman to lead the festival.
In the last edition of the festival (2019), Ariana Grande was recruited at the last minute to replace Kanye West and Justin Timberlake who left the festival just a short time before the release of the Lineup. However, Coachella got more than they expected. Picking Ariana as a royal replacement was a smart choice, indicating Coachella's determination to stay afloat in the increasingly fast-paced waters of modern pop, two decades after its birth as an alternative rock festival. That same night, Ari became the youngest woman to ever lead the festival's line-up. So far, she is the last one to occupy this coveted space, since in the 2020 edition, postponed to October, there are no women leading the cartel. Still, there is hope: Lady Gaga, confessed a few days ago that she was considering a Coachella-related surprise to promote the postponed launch of her new album, after the postponement of the festival that was planned to include a set of hers.
In the last three editions, the % of female artists within the entire lineup showed a slow but positive growth.
Of 61 headliners Coachella accounts for, throughout its history, only five have been women - 8.1%, if you count Björk twice, as male acts have also been repeated. In other words, 8% of these acts have occurred in the last ten years. However, within the last three editions with women heading the lineup, the percentage of female artists within the entire lineup showed a slow but positive growth : 2017: 25.1 % / 2018: 33.3% / 2019: 35%
In a 2019 interview with the LA Times, founder Paul Tollett acknowledges and takes on board the criticism that he has not presented enough female headliners."They were right, so we started to correct it. You shouldn't be afraid to fix things. The bad thing is when you get defensive," said Coachella's founder.
Still, the controversy of imbalanced gender-representation is not, like many other things, exclusive to Coachella. In 2018, the online magazine Pitchfork tracked the line-ups of the top music festivals in the U.S. that year and charted the genres of the top 10 acts billed for each. Seven out of 10 were marked as men for Coachella; for Bonnaroo and Boston Calling, the number was nine out of 10; for Lollapalooza and Sasquatch, it was 10 out of 10 for the men's acts. It is also important to recognize that not all women artists are available or willing to perform in a given year.
Recently, 45 festivals around the world promised gender parity in their line-ups by 2022. Will it happen?