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Coachella 2012: It's back to the beat

With its second weekend, the Coachella festival strives to keep its cool and keep its fans rocking.

April 20, 2012|By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times

Striving to connect with customers, Coachella offers champagne and Ahi tuna, particularly to those with coveted VIP bracelets. Unlike the mayhem that has marked some other festivals, Coachella's lines are mostly manageable — and even the portable potties are relatively clean.

"They don't want people to suffer," said Paddy Aubrey, 37, an L.A. restaurateur who attended his fourth straight Coachella last weekend with friends. Aubrey was taking a break from the sun in an indoor, semi-permanent bar styled like a secretive speakeasy.

This year, even the tickets themselves were designed to foster a connection between fans and the show. Most concert tickets arrive in the mail as bland computer printouts; these arrived in a colorful cigar box that included maps, guides and a calendar.

The attempt to make Coachella more than just a big concert event seems to be working. Roughly half of the crowd at the festival's first weekend camped — a proportion twice that of just five years ago. "It was truly special," said Adam Fern, 23, of San Francisco, who boogied at the silence dance party until 4 a.m. the second night of the festival. "It was a great experience."

In the end, of course, trappings aside, Coachella is about the artists.

Fans could choose, and were forced to choose, from a staggering array of acts — so much so that they routinely sprint across the grounds to catch the next act. On the main stage they could hear Radiohead, a headliner that has sold 30 million albums — or traipse to a side stage to see Childish Gambino, the rapper moniker of the actor-writer Donald Glover, whose first album came out a few months ago.

The most passionate fan response at Coachella this year has been found in the Sahara Tent — a secondary stage reserved for thrashing, machine-generated dance music, with bass tones so powerful they suffused the grounds and stepped on the toes of more delicate musicians playing at the other stages.

Here, fans wore body paint and ski goggles, tutus and bikini tops (men), and fake mustaches (women). Some of the most noted DJs on the planet, such as David Guetta and Martin Solveig, were in the pilot's seat, often raising their arms, gospel-like, with each peak of the rhythm. The result was a crowd that fans said was twice the size of last year's.

"Words can't describe what it's like in there. It's high-energy combat. Your body has to be prepared for war," said Gregory Paul, 26, of San Diego." It's triple digits. You get dehydrated and every second somebody's hitting you," Paul said. "It's exhilarating."

Not for everyone. Amy Meisner, a Detroit native who now lives in Los Angeles, was attending her first Coachella. She said she did not anticipate feeling, for the first time, old. Meisner was born in 1983.

"It's wrong for Coachella to be so heavily electronically based," she said. "I felt like Coachella was about the scene — and being seen. There were all these 17- and 18-year-olds. People will go regardless. I don't know if I will."

And then, just when it felt impossible for the festival to thread the needle of taste, along came a moment of Coachella genius — the last of 41 hours of music, and the first moment, arguably, when every person inside the gates turned, captivated, to witness the same performance by West Coast hip-hop godfathers Dr. Dreand Snoop Dogg.

Young and old, hipster and raver, rapper and rocker, a sing-along erupted as the melodic opening notes of "California Love," the iconic 1995 smash, caromed across the polo field: "California knows how to party. We keep it rocking. We keep it rocking."

"How many things do you get to look forward to every year? Even Christmas gets a little old sometimes," Aubrey said. "This just works. It just works."

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Staff writers Jessica Gelt and Gerrick D. Kennedy contributed to this report.

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