Coachella Guide lead

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has come a long way since its inception in 1999, and to many, it is now the holy grail of music festivals in this country. In 2004, the Pixies famously reunited on the Coachella stage; in 2006, French duo Daft Punk threw down a legendary set that has spawned rumors of their return every year since (they’re not headlining this year, shocker); 2007 saw yet another monumental reunion, Rage Against the Machine; in 2009, rock god Paul McCartney headlined the first night of the festival and played an hour past curfew; and yes, last year there was the much-buzzed about holographic Tupac Shakur in attendance alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

The point: magical things happen at Coachella. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that getting into this musical mecca is no easy task. Having attended Coachella every year since 2009, I know the festival can be pretty overwhelming, so I thought I’d give all aspiring attendees my own pointers on how to get in and, once in, how to get the most out of their experience.

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Tickets

Securing your admission to this festival is a challenge in and of itself. I highly advise that you create your account with Coachella’s online ticketing system, Front Gate Tickets, well before festival passes go on sale on this Tuesday at 10 AM. Your best shot at success will be to access Coachella’s webite a couple minutes prior to 10 AM and to constantly refresh until the option to purchase shows up. This may sound like overkill, but last year’s event sold out in under two hours. Given that some buyers waited upwards of 1 hour and 45 minutes in the waiting room (more on that below), your window to buy is very slim.

As of 2012, Coachella is a two-weekend affair with both weekends hosting the same lineup. All GA and VIP festival passes to weekend one are already sold out, so your only available option for weekend one will be to purchase a combo package. If last year is any indication, your odds of success are much better, though still not guaranteed, if you opt for weekend two. 

Once you’ve selected a weekend, you will be redirected to a waiting room. Be patient and don’t refresh your browser or you will lose your spot in “line.” If you have another internet-connected device (smartphone, tablet, etc.), go ahead and use that to try to get in as well. After you’re directed to the purchase screen, you’ll need to work quickly since you only have a limited time window to complete your purchase.

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Those who are unsuccessful in securing festival passes this time around may look to the secondary market, though it is something that Coachella’s website strongly discourages.  If you decide to go this route, most sellers use CraigslistStubHub, or eBay. Of the three, I would use eBay because it’s the only option that allows you to determine how reputable a seller is. Price-wise, you may find better options on Craigslist, though that poses the obvious risk of being sold a counterfeit festival pass. Coachella does give you the option of registering your pass in advance so that you can check for authenticity, but it’s not foolproof and there are ways to circumvent the system.  

Note that as of last year, tickets to Coachella have been wristbands mailed directly to buyers prior to the festival, so if a secondary market seller is offering you a ticket that you can exchange for a wristband, you are being sold a fake. As far as pricing patterns are concerned, if the last two years are any indication, you’ll find the best prices closer to the day of the festival. Last year there was an excess of wristbands being sold at face value the week leading into weekend one (compared to double face immediately after the sell out).

And of course, you can avoid a good amount of this madness next year by buying your festival passes during Goldenvoice’s advance sale. It requires some degree of faith on your part since the lineup won’t be released for another several months, but it does give you the spiffy option of paying off your tickets in monthly installments.

Coachella

Camping

In my opinion, a sizable part of the Coachella experience is camping. The most luxurious option offered is far and away the Safari Tent option, which includes a fully furnished tent complete with queen beds, air conditioning, and an on-site concierge for the lofty price of $3,250 per person.

If, like me, you don’t have what would amount to several monthly mortgage payments burning a hole in your pocket, the more economical option is car or tent camping. Of the two, I prefer car camping since it offers more space to work with and better access to the festival grounds. If you have a several friends with car camping passes, you can combine all of your allotted spaces to make an even bigger campsite; however, you must enter the campgrounds together to take advantage of this.

Note that camping passes are non-transferable and must be used in conjunction with a wristband purchased from that order. The camping pass will only be valid with the first wristband scanned from your order.

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As far as the campgrounds are concerned, there are food/drink stands, a general store, porta-potties, and showers on site, so you’ll be covered for most essentials. When setting up your campsite, make sure you have a tent (duh) and pop-up canopy to cover it. Given that daytime temperatures frequently hit upwards of 100°F, that canopy will be the difference between moderate sweating and hating your life.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, another essential is a warm sleeping bag for the cold desert nights. Things that’ll make your experience more comfortable include stocked coolers (ice is available at the general store), misters, battery-powered fans, lawn chairs, camping showers (to avoid the long shower lines at the festival), portable speakers, and portable phone batteries (the charging stations aren’t particularly reliable).

Once you have your campsite set up, be sure to explore all that the campground has to offer, including the art booths, after-hours parties, and myriad of nom nom options.

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The Festival

And now we come to the main event: the festival. Set times are usually released the week before or the week of the start of the festival. Security check at Coachella is usually pretty streamlined compared to most music festivals I’ve attended, but you should definitely budget 30 minutes or more.

Once inside, make sure you get one of the festival booklets that includes the set times for the weekend and a festival map. I recommend coming in a little earlier than your first must-see set of the day so that you have time to leisurely wander around the festival grounds. You can ride the iconic Ferris wheel, admire the art displays, get hosed down at the Do LaB stage, or discover some new music you’ve never heard before. A huge but often overlooked aspect of Coachella is exploration. Some of my past discoveries include The Black Keys in 2009 and Gary Clark Jr. in 2012.

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Don’t rely on your cell phone too much to find your friends. Although reception for most carriers is decent, you will almost certainly experience text message lag due to the sheer number of festival attendees. I recommend setting meet-up points prior to sets you want to check out in advance (the spot my friends like to use is the sign that lists the set times for its respective tent/stage since it allows you to enjoy the music in case your friends are running late). Also, don’t be afraid to break away from your friends if there’s a set you really want to catch that your friends are lukewarm about. Making new friends is half the fun!

Finally, be sure to hydrate often. Bottled water is a reasonable $2, and there are water refill stations scattered all around the festival for those who want to refill their bottles (or those who brought their own bottles). If you’re craving sweet hydration, I suggest you buy a cup of Freshers Frozen Lemonade. The last thing you want to happen is to have your weekend cut short by heat stroke.

Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section below. Happy Coachella!

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