On April 10, Coachella returns to Indio, Calif., for two weekends of music, art, comedy, food and more. While the festival has become a cultural icon on the West Coast, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, Coachella has humble, artistic roots going back more than two decades.
The original inspiration for Coachella can be traced to a Pearl Jam performance held at the Empire Polo Club in Southern California. Pearl Jam had just come off two well-received albums, 1991’s Ten and 1993’s Vs, and were in the middle of a battle with Ticketmaster, who had acquired their principle competitor, Ticketron, and created a monopoly in the concert industry. Searching for venues outside Ticketmaster’s influence, Pearl Jam’s management chose the Empire Polo Club despite it never hosting a large-scale concert. The performance took place Nov. 5, 1993, and was a huge success with almost 25,000 in attendance, cementing the venue’s suitability for big events.
The first Coachella did not take place for another six years on October 9–10, 1999. This was just three months after the violent outbursts of Woodstock ’99, so promoters banned on-site camping. Organizers aimed to recreate the feel of European festivals, with an intimate atmosphere and a lineup that showcased artistry rather than who was popular at the time, earning it the nickname “anti-Woodstock.” Much to the annoyance of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, Coachella’s first lineup was very much influenced by the strong, but dying West Coast rave scene. Performers included The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Plastikman and even a young DJ A-Trak as well as tradition acts like Beck, Tool, Morrissey and Rage Against The Machine. Ironically, Win Butler has since revealed he too is an electronic musician, DJing under the name Windows 98.
The event went smoothly with 37,000 tickets sold for the weekend, though it is said the festival did not turn a profit, leading to its sale to AEG. Coachella was relaunched in 2001, moving to the month of April in order to avoid California’s intense summer heat. They have since expanded their days and reinstated on-site camping. In its history, the festival has featured a number of memorable performances like 2012’s Tupac hologram, 2008’s showcase of The Wall by Roger Waters and 2006’s legendary performance by Daft Punk with their iconic pyramid, which many have called the best Coachella show to date. Looking back on his gig, Daft Punk member Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo said, “At Coachella, we lost our virginity again.”
This year’s lineup is bigger than ever, with headliners including AC/DC, Jack White and Drake. Learn more about the festival at coachella.com.
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