The three-day Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival is playing to sellout crowds this weekend and shattering attendance records, festival officials said.
The Goldenvoice-promoted festival, now in its 11th year, is drawing a record 75,000 people per day to the Empire Polo Club in the desert community of Indio, up nearly 15,000 from last year's daily average.
But the record attendance and a later curfew -- 1 a.m. instead of midnight -- weren't the only new wrinkles in the festival. Promoters found themselves worrying about the eruption of an Icelandic volcano and its massive ash cloud, which halted flights in and out of Britain and northern Europe. A festival spokeswoman said seven artists were grounded in Britain, including Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, which had been on tour in Europe. British rock bands the Cribs and Frightened Rabbit were among those unable to get to the U.S. for the festival.
"We would have taken any slot, any time, just to play this festival," said Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison. "If you're playing to people who've come to see you at a club show, the battle has been won."
The band had a prime Friday afternoon slot, and was counting on Coachella to increase its standing in the U.S. "This is bad for us on all levels," Hutchison said. "We were about to head out on a U.S. tour, and this would have been a good way to get a few more fans on board."
Getting to Coachella wasn't easy, even for those in Southern California. Traffic was at a near-standstill for much of Friday afternoon, as the four-mile route from the 10 Freeway to the venue was at a crawl throughout the day. Once they parked, fans spoke of hour-plus waits to get into the gates.
Henry Conklin, a 19-year-old New York University student, said his friend paid a woman $40 to cut in line.
Indio police spokesman Ben Guitron confirmed reports that a small number of ticketless fans had jumped the gate, but police made only 12 arrests Friday, and all were alcohol- or drug-related. Despite the increase in attendance, the arrest number was on pace to be down slightly from last year, when 69 arrests were made throughout the weekend.
Police were also adjusting to the later curfew. After Goldenvoice was slapped with more than $50,000 in fines last year when headliner Paul McCartney played past the midnight deadline, the company won approval to extend Friday and Saturday curfew to 1 a.m.
As a compromise, the department said Goldenvoice's country-music Stagecoach festival will end at 11 p.m. rather than midnight next weekend.
Even with longer hours and five stages of music, many festivalgoers had to strain for a glimpse of the more hotly anticipated acts. Up-and-coming rock group Yeasayer and beloved electronic act La Roux were performing at one of Coachella's three tent-covered side stages, which overflowed in the afternoon heat, keeping many fans 30 or more feet away from snaring a glimpse of the artists.
Yet the mood on the grounds was far from tense. Attendees were eager to brave the heat and lines for a Friday-night headlining set from one of music's biggest stars, hip-hop artist Jay-Z. He had an unbilled, A-list surprise guest in tow -- his pop-star wife, Beyonce.
"That was one of those Madonna moments," Conklin said, referring to the material girl's 2006 appearance at Coachella. "Seeing larger-than-life superstars like that is kind of surreal."