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The Coachella ka-ching

The festival floods the parched region with dollars. Now, a second weekend promises double the effect.

April 13, 2012|Randy Lewis and Todd Martens
  • Members of a work crew set up the Do Lab on Thursday in preparation for this weekend's Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival in Indio.
Members of a work crew set up the Do Lab on Thursday in preparation for this… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

Inside his mini-mart in the desert town of Indio, store manager John Stafford is busy stockpiling caffeinated drinks. Monster and Red Bulls mostly. He knows from experience that he'll need plenty this weekend.

Tens of thousands of visitors will descend upon the desert region beginning Friday for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. "Cigarettes and energy drinks," Stafford said. "They need to stay awake out there."

Fans and bands may need an extra stamina boost this year. Coachella, one of the biggest events for pop fans, the music industry and the Mojave Desert, is expanding for the first time from one weekend to two and will feature 143 bands. By cloning itself into twin festivals, with identical lineups, spread over consecutive three-day weekends, it will easily rank as the highest-grossing festival in the world this year, according to Billboard magazine.

The expansion of the festival is a boon for the economically challenged Indio, a city of 76,000 where the median income is just above $36,000 a year, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. It will more than double in population with the addition of 80,000 or more Coachella guests each weekend, and those two waves of visitors will bring money to spend. The influx of visitors also means sold-out hotels, packed cafes and a run on Smartwater in more affluent, surrounding areas such as the resort towns of Indian Wells and La Quinta.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, April 14, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival: An article in the April 13 Section A referred to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival as taking place in the Mojave Desert. It is in the Colorado Desert.

The festival is a bright light for an increasingly fragmented music business still scrambling to find a solid revenue stream. Labels, band managers and concert promoters are watching the festival closely to see if this two-weekend model is a solution to at least some of the industry's financial woes.

Last year's one-weekend event grossed $25 million in tickets. This year that figure is expected to jump to the $50-million mark by the time the event closes on April 22. Three-day passes cost $285 sans service fees, and all 150,000 passes were gone within three hours of the lineup being announced in January.

"There were enough buyers in queue to buy online that we probably could have added another two Coachella weekends, and another Stagecoach weekend," said Randy Phillips, president of AEG Live, which is equal partners with Coachella's promoter Goldenvoice in that event and its country music cousin, Stagecoach, coming the weekend after Coachella ends.

Coachella also brings a payday bonanza for the acts that grace its five stages (this year that roster includes Dr. Dre, Pulp, Radiohead and Black Keys). Artists make double what they would have been paid to play a single weekend -- and perform in front of twice as many people.

"It's pretty much 'Groundhog Day,' isn't it?" said Pelle Almqvist, lead singer of the Hives, the Swedish rock band playing both Sundays. "It's going to feel pretty surreal the second weekend, when it's all the same people and the same set times. That week in between will be the highest rock star ratio in California of all time."

The Coachella footprint is not only getting larger, it's becoming permanent. This year AEG-owned Goldenvoice announced that it had purchased 280 acres of land that surround the Empire Polo Grounds. It signaled a commitment by the promoter not only to stay in the area but to continue to shape its surroundings.

"You're talking 100,000-people-plus when you start adding in security, vendors and support staff. It becomes a small city," said Indio Mayor Glenn Miller of Coachella's effect.

The business communities in and around Indio, including neighboring cities Palm Springs and Palm Desert, will share in the hotel, restaurant and retail business from the concertgoers and non-ticketed partyers. "We have three hotels and they are at capacity for all three weekends," said Les Johnson, planning director in La Quinta, a city of about 37,000. "We're probably around 800 or 900 rooms, and they're completely sold out."

Coachella has made any space where you can sleep, eat or throw a party a premium commodity. "It's an industry out here that's growing faster and faster each year," said Daniel Watson of Palm Springs' McLean Co. Rentals. "The number of corporate parties this year has doubled over last year."

Sylvia Schmitt of Bermuda Dunes' Locations Unlimited said companies including Lacoste, T-Mobile and Skyy Vodka called her seeking spots to throw their parties. "You're talking a minimum of $20,000 and as much as $50,000 for three nights," she said.

But these days she largely avoids renting out to the Coachella party circuit. "They'll tell you it's only going to be five people staying there and they'll have a couple people around the pool," she said. "Then you get a call from the neighbors or the police and there will be 500 people in the pool."

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