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A mostly harmonious crowd

Despite the heat, a few scrapes and VIP infestation, a polite tradition was upheld.

May 01, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

The perfect confluence of Coachella's new star cultures came Saturday during the Red Hot Chili Peppers set: That's when a giggling Paris Hilton climbed a stack of amps on the side of the stage, both to see and to be seen, while, a few yards away, Tom Morello, the firebrand guitarist of Rage Against the Machine -- a man more interested in coups than club life -- bobbed to the beat and tried to blend in beneath his ball cap.

The next night, Morello and his bandmates gave a searing finale to the biggest edition yet of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (three days, 123 bands, 60,000 people a day), an affair that went off smoothly for its size and sometimes dizzying heat. Coming in to the show, promoters had worried about the mosh pits for the Rage reunion (security was quadrupled for the band's set), but as the dust settles, perhaps they should be more concerned about the "celebrity problem," as a key member of on the show staff called it.

The VIP area was dense with star power, with Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Courtney Love, Nicky Hilton, Danny DeVito, Corbin Bernsen, Lars Ulrich, Jason Statham, Kelly Osbourne, Rosanna Arquette and others sweating like they were enrolled in the world's loudest celebrity summer camp. The concert grounds were also being prowled by paparazzi. This would be good if Coachella were an awards show, but promoter Paul Tollett acknowledged that the attention of the Us Weekly world is not what his festival needs to maintain credibility with rock kids.

The eighth Coachella festival was so vast and varied that fans left this low desert town with different memories of the affair. For some, it was the year of Rage returning to the main stage with its slabs of political rock; for others, it was the new faces in the tents, like the bracing first-festival set anywhere by the Klaxons. The deep bill had enough room for the Texas twang of Willie Nelson and the elfin opera of Bjork, and the only completely shared memory was of the temperature, which hit triple digits.

The intense heat kept the medical tents busy, but none of the emergencies was life-threatening. By early Sunday evening, 41 people had been taken to a local hospital. Three fans, all in their 20s, were airlifted: a woman with a serious ankle fracture, a man with cuts from a fight and another man who tried to hop the fence of the venue and suffered a bad gash. Traffic was a challenge on the streets and at the venue, where lines (especially a major delay on Friday at the will-call windows) tested patience. But the festival seemed to hold on to its reputation as a surprisingly polite affair.

Arrests averaged about 30 each day, most for alcohol- and drug-related offenses, and Indio police spokesman Ben Guitron said the biggest incident was early Sunday in the campground, where more than 15,000 fans pitched tents. In the predawn hours, a drum circle grew to a full-volume party, and, according to police, about 200 fans refused to comply with a restriction against overnight noise. One arrest was made. Some complained that police were too rough, but, by Sunday night, there seemed to be little lasting effect from the dust-up.

Inside the venue, Coachella organizers had created a multi-section barricade for the main stage and came up with a crisp plan to handle the crowd-surfing and moshing that came with Rage. For months, Tollett and company privately fretted that the lightning-in-a-bottle booking of Rage's first show since 2000 would make history, but they knew that it also came with risk considering the bruising nature of the band's gigs. During the set, fans began climbing the rigging set up for the sound board that sent security into a scramble. Other fans ignited flags, plastic bottles or debris, but none of it amounted to much. "We had a great plan in place, and we're just happy with the way it went," Tollett said Monday morning. He was on his way to a television interview to promote inaugural Stagecoach, next weekend's country music festival that is essentially a cousin to Coachella and is also being held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.

Coachella this year sold tickets in all 50 states and in two dozen countries and has become the signature festival of the West Coast. Ticket grosses this year were about $16 million.

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