THE Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is held on the lush grounds of the Empire Polo Field. In its seventh incarnation, the largest music festival in California has smoothed over many of the problems that plagued it in the past, such as major parking hassles, but don't let that lull you into a false security. Some tips for the optimal experience:
With a population around 60,000, modest Indio is taken over each year by scads of Coachellans, most of whom arrive in cars. Naturally, traffic jams ensue. Last year the promoters and venue got the local officials to loosen up the small roads linking the freeway to the polo fields and allow for one-way traffic, easing the flow of cars before and after shows. It helped, and the same deal stands this year.
The parking lot can be a scary thing at Coachella. By the bright light of day, the lot seems reasonable; by nightfall, it has transformed into a dimly glittering sea of metal with every other vehicle looking exactly like yours. This year, as with last, hot-air balloons will mark the rows in the vast lots adjacent to the polo field. Event staffers will guide drivers into spaces that will point the cars toward the exits, so the end-of-the-night crawl should be better.
As of Wednesday afternoon, two-day passes and single-day tickets for Sunday were sold out. One-day passes for Saturday were still available. The parking lot and box office open at 9 a.m. each day; gates at 11 a.m. Inside, there will be an assortment of food available from about 100 vendors -- in addition to hot dogs, burgers, pizza, barbecue, Chinese and Mexican food, there will be vegan and vegetarian options, plus Thai, Indian and lots of other international cuisine. Most meals are priced between $5 and $10. Water is $2 a bottle. Parking is free, as always, and don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.
Cancellations have included the Subways and Hard-Fi, both for health reasons. As far as cancellations from other performers, such as the famously skittish Cat Power, who nixed her tour earlier this year, promoter Paul Tollett has his fingers crossed. "I'm always amazed that you can get 90 groups of musicians to agree on this and that everyone actually gets there," he said.
A short list of things you can bring in to the show: backpacks (no bigger than 20 inches tall, 15 inches wide and 9 inches thick), hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, lighters, cigarettes, small beach towels, fanny packs, disposable cameras, digital and film cameras (nonprofessional).
Items that you will need to leave at home include: musical instruments, knives, weapons, chains or chain wallets, blankets, food or drink from outside (including water), chairs, tents, video cameras or audio-recording devices, flags, bota bags, camel packs, stuffed or real animals, drugs or drug paraphernalia. As always, undercover police officers will monitor the grounds.
Coachella is at the mercy of the various sport seasons held at the Empire Polo Field, so each year the organizers book the show for the end of April and pray the sun won't roast everyone alive. This year is shaping up to be a scorcher, with temperatures Saturday forecast in the mid-90s and, gulp, upper-90s on Sunday. The nights will bring some relief, with temperatures in the upper 60s to low 70s, but considering the range, layering with breathable fabrics such as cotton is key. Don't underestimate the power of the sun, or the greenhouse-on-crack atmosphere of the dance tents. Be sure to hydrate and eat well, and take advantage of the drinking fountains and fans. Eyedrops also come in handy.
Flush with cash
Nobody takes credit cards at Coachella. There are 15 ATMs, but prepare for long lines during peak hours, and cash shortages (on the machine's part, natch) by night's end. Bring money with you to save time. It also can't hurt to bring paper with a different sort of value -- the toilet paper in the bathrooms can become scarce as the evening wears on.