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LIVE REVIEW: 2011 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival

Coachella 2011
Coachella 2011
Photo by Hannah Martine

Coachella 2011 marked the 12th annual incarnation of the music festival in Indio, California. The scene and buzz were set from weeks of anticipation, a two-and-a-half hour drive up to the Valley, the gathering of the weekend group of friends, and a few poolside drinks before the show. We followed the extensive instructions and put on our high-tech wristbands with only a few mishaps and made the pilgrimage through the acres of dusty parking lot and security to the fields of theEmpire Polo Club. As I looked at the sun-soaked swarms of sweaty people, I realized that this was going to be an experience I wasn’t totally prepared for.

I’ve been to music festivals before, but I made the mistake of preceding my Coachella arrival with thoughts of those previous experiences. However, I quickly realized that this crowd was not the Lollapalooza crowd of Midwestern-conservative nature, nor was it the laid-back music scene of Austin City Limits. These were people ready to let loose in all types of manners, through music and through other ways, and the full experience of the weekend was more important than if their favorite band played a solid set.

Friday began with Cee Lo Green. After taking the stage late, Cee Lo had the crowd moving, however not long into his set the sound was cut and he couldn’t continue—whether it was all an act or if it was due to running over his allotedtime was unclear; fans were disappointed nonetheless. I walked over to see A-Trak at the Sahara tent. The airplane-hangar tent did an efficient job of keeping the sweltering body heat contained, making for a fantastic sweaty, messy dance fest. Later in the evening Sleigh Bells walked on to the Mojave stage to “Iron Man,” effectively setting the tone for a rocking set; one of my favorite performances of the festival. Not a single body under the packed tent was stationary. The Black Keys took the main Coachella stage just after 8:30 in the evening, followed by Kings of Leon, to the delight of the crowd. Kings of Leon opened with “Closer,” a lesser-known track of theirs, and played a number of old and new songs, including the sing-along favorites “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire.”

Saturday highlights were Bright Eyes, the Kills and Empire of the Sun. Conor Oberst commanded the attention of a large main-stage crowd of Bright Eyes fans. The Kills, on the second stage, had a powerful sound that worked well in the outdoor environment. And Empire of the Sun took the second stage later in the evening, drawing in a massive crowd for a fun show with their kooky costumes and choreographed dancers. Mumford & Sons said Coachella was their largest crowd ever—easily 60,000. That number is even more impressive when you remember that the band-members were unknown Coachella concertgoers just a couple years ago.

On Sunday, Nas and Damian Marley collaborated during their set, as I watched from afar as the thousands of fans all jumped and bobbed in unison. Hard rockers Death From Above 1979 played a reunion show, and bodies were so packed up at the front of the crowd that security intervened. Coachella wrapped up Sunday with two excellent shows on the main stage, The Strokes and Kanye West. Kanye’s performance has received nothing but praise, and everything from his minimalist stage to the story told through his set list.

After day one, Coachella had begun to grow on me, the hundreds of people I saw with Indian warpaint and headdresses, men in full-body leotards, the occasional topless woman and all the other costumes parading around. It’s intriguing that people put so much thought into what to wear to Coachella—whether it was outlandish or hippie-themed—that these free spirits all started to look alike rather than popping with originality. But beyond the entertaining people-watching, past the stages, was a beautiful landscape of palm trees against a backdrop of mountains in desert hues. On Sunday evening, amidst a crowd of tired and happy concert-goers, I looked up and watched the colors of the sunset above the mountains and finally understood the beauty and magic of the Coachella Valley.

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  • City: Indio
  • Dates: April 15-17, 2011