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Long Day's Night at Music Festival

Culture: Tens of thousands do a lot of waiting at desert event, but payoff is 50 acts.


INDIO, Calif. — For the tens of thousands of fans who trekked to this small desert town Saturday for the third annual Coachella Music & Arts Festival, the eclectic fare was worth the wait--which is saying a lot.

Long lines in traffic, long lines at the gate and long lines at every vending stand tested the patience of even the hardiest fans at the first installment of the two-day festival.

The payoff was a lineup of 50 acts representing music strains ranging from old-fashioned guitar rock to the audio alchemy of DJs from Europe's electronic dance scene, along with gorgeous weather and the pleasant grassy venue of the vast Empire Polo Fields.

Attendance figures were unavailable at press time, but local police officials said a survey of the venue's parking lots at midday suggested that the first-day show would easily surpass last year's single-day total of 30,000. Police reported no major incidents or significant arrests as the sun began to set on the mountain-ringed site.

Crowd favorites during the daylight hours included singer-songwriter Pete Yorn on the main stage and Cornershop, a British duo that melds Indian traditions and electronic sensibilities. The nighttime sets certain to draw major interest were headliners Bjork and the Chemical Brothers, while today's bill includes Oasis, the Strokes and the Foo Fighters.

The third edition of Coachella also appears to mark a turning point for the franchise. The festival was launched with an eye toward importing the European model of a huge standing festival with eclectic sounds that defy radio popularity. The first festival ended up in the red, and last year's staging was more or less a break-even proposition, according to Paul Tollett, a partner for promoter Goldenvoice.

"This year," Tollett said Saturday, "we will make a profit."

More important to fans was the simple proposition of a good time.

The 80-acre venue was packed with young people, many dancing, many lolling back in the warm sun and sounds. This year's bill lacked the sure-fire huge crowd pleaser that had led the previous two festivals (such as Rage Against the Machine and Jane's Addiction), but most fans were happy to track down favored obscure acts and imported DJs.

Among those fans was Chaly 2na, the lanky front man of Jurassic 5, the celebrated Los Angeles hip-hop collective. Between his fights through traffic ("It was awful," he said) and his group's set, 2na was thrilled to shuttle between stages to sample exotic sonic flavors.

"It's always a treat to have an outlet for creativity, especially one like this," 2na said. "A lot of pop culture nowadays seems anti-creativity. So this is beautiful. The mix of it all: It's a wonderful thing to see and hear."

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