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COACHELLA PREVIEW

The hits are starting long before the shows

A website only for those with tickets helps fans connect.

April 27, 2006|Geoff Boucher

PROMOTER Paul Tollett looks around the country and sees plenty of competition; his Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival may have been a trailblazer in the modern American concert festival business, but now the music-industry map is cluttered with similar ventures. How to keep the magic in the Coachella brand and experience?

"The way, I think, is to make it not hinge always on who's on stage," Tollett said. "You have to get great music and artists, of course, but it needs to be more than that. That's what we worked on this year, to make the festival as much about the fans as it is about the stage."

That led directly to the website Community.Coachella.com. Every fan who buys an advance ticket to the show will find a code on the ducat that will get them logged on to the site. If you don't have a ticket, you can't get in. Once inside, you can create a profile of yourself and then browse and search others' profiles by hometown (or state or country), Indio-area lodging and personal tastes (such as: Who's your favorite performer this year? Or in past years?). On the homepage, profile photos are posted of folks from different Coachella categories (vets, newbies, locals, international visitor, etc.) and the bulletin boards have been churning with topics as varied as camping tips and the delicious slagging on the Madonna booking. Tollett even invited submissions of sound files from acts that wanted to vie for a performance slot at the show. The winner was Octopus Project, out of Austin, Texas.

Tollett wanted to unite fans under a Coachella banner, and it has succeeded beyond his hopes: More than 5,000 people had logged profiles onto the site as of Wednesday.

Home delivery

If you can't make it to Coachella but you want to fool your friends into thinking you did, it's easier than ever this year. Not only can you buy T-shirts online, you can tune in to the best stage moments from the comfort of your keyboard. Go to AT&T's website at blueroom.att.com for live, streaming feeds from the main stage and other points of interest at the two-day festival. After the dust settles, some performances will also be posted there so actual attendees can revisit memorable moments.

Tollett said he is always a bit itchy about bringing in major corporate partners but he relented when he saw the technology that AT&T brought to the table. He also had memories of the Coachella past, when some of the webcasts made it look as if bands were playing in molasses. "We just couldn't do it as good as them, so why try?"

Inflation returns

The sound of Coachella is famous, but the look is almost as important. The emerald polo fields dotted with horse statues, hemmed in by palm trees and surrounded by mountains create one of the nation's most distinctive concert-venue visuals. Veterans of the festival will remember that there used to be another signature sight -- hot-air balloons. Two of the gentle-flying giants were on hand at the first and fourth Coachellas, but wind conditions have nixed their return. This year, they'll try again.

"We love having them, they add a great feel to the whole view when you walk in and see them there," Tollett said. "We used to rent them every year and lose money when the weather wouldn't let us send them up. Then we got smart and just had them on a stand-by status. It looks good this year."

It's free for fans to take a quick ride up for the bird's-eye view, but the line, as you can imagine, isn't short. "Still, I definitely recommend it," Tollett said. "It's amazing."

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