At 5:00 AM on Monday, I jerked myself awake and looked down at my body to find I'd fallen asleep nude in a large hotel bathtub under a steady stream of scalding hot water. My contacts were dried out and suctioned to my eyeballs, and a ring of black dirt outlined my frame. Half of my hair was knotted up into one massive dreadlock so gnarly it would've put the bass players in nü metal bands to shame. Yet despite my broken body and haggard appearance, I was overcome with pride: I'd successfully survived the first half of the two-weekend-long adult spring break known as the Coachella Music Festival. Coachella is the annual desert-music event held in Indio, California, which happens to be one of the most physically grueling places this side of the equator. This was my third time attending, so by now, I've seen it all: from Rave Dad to a technologically reincarnated Tupac Shakur. For those of you who are going for the first time next week, or are just insane and attending for a second time, here are some tips to making it out of Palm Desert in one piece.
DO BUY VIP
Music-festival passes are extremely overpriced. However, if you're baller enough to blow half a month's rent to see a bunch of bands you could watch live on a laptop from the comfort of your own home in the sweltering hot desert, it only makes sense to shell out a couple more duckets to obtain VIP status. There is little to no cell reception at Coachella, so your phone battery is guaranteed to die. But VIPs have multiple charging stations. It's hot as Satan's taint in the desert, but VIPs have shaded areas, misting fans, and an air-conditioned bar. When you're in GA, you can't drink alcohol on the Polo fields. But the VIPs have more than one bar spread out in a closed-off section where they can easily watch bands and get plastered. And let's not forget that parking is a bitch, but VIPs get to park closer to the entrance, so you don't have to walk a mile to your car in the dark and possibly get stalked by bros in tacky tie-dye T-shirts. Plus as a VIP, you have a better chance of conning your way backstage into the artist areas if you keep yourself from breaking character when lying to security guards about how you're part of the Earl Sweatshirt entourage, when really you're just trying to creep on guys with guitars and the topless girls who are having them sign their tits.
DON'T WEAR INAPPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR
Considering that everything is far away, and you're constantly walking around in circles in a bunch of dirt, your footwear choices will really make or break your entire festival experience. Unless you're there with the sole purpose of having a bunch of sleazy "blog photographers" snap photos of you for obscure fashion sites that no one has ever heard of, dressed in a bunch of weird outfits you'd never actually wear at home, don't bother sporting high heels. It's already bad enough having to trip over the blacked-out idiots laying on the ground in the middle of the crowds at the main stage, but it's even worse when you sprain your ankle and have to sit in a hot medical tent with a bunch of kids who ate too many brownies and are screaming to EMS workers that they think they're going to die. Even more retarded are the people who wear sandals or choose to walk around in bare feet, as there are no proper bathrooms; you have to pee in Porta Potties. Between that and all the cop-horse manure you have to walk through, you're setting yourself up for a pretty shitty experience.
DO BRING EXTRA CLOTHING
When it's 105 degrees out, you're going to find yourself sweating in places you never knew you could sweat before. This kind of weather quickly renders all deodorants and perfumes completely useless because the stench of "I feel like I'm dying" is basically impossible to remove from clothing without a proper washing. The best chance you have of keeping yourself from smelling like you have swamp ass is by bringing extra clothing you can change in to once you finally begin to notice people are holding their breath around you. If you don't want to carry a bunch of stuff around, you can rent a locked storage space at one of the entrances. If you're too scared you're going to trip so hard you'll forget the combo, you can just leave your things in your car and walk back to change while all the bands you hate perform. Also, most people don't seem to realize that the desert gets cold at night. So unless you want to spend $60 at the merch stand just to wear the same Wu-Tang sweatshirt every flip-flop- and cargo-short-wearing bro at the festival is pit-kicking to the Dropkick Murphys in, come prepared...
DON'T FORGET TO CARRY WATER
Whether or not you're trying to live out all of your wildest Burning Man fantasies at Coachella by wasting your day in the Sahara Electro tent, drinking gargantuan amounts of water is 100 percent necessary, and it is imperative that you always carry a bottle of it with you. If you're actually going to the festival to see more bands than attend parties, you're going to be a hot mess by the end of the day. Shows start around noon and the heat peaks around three or four, when all of the best artists start to play. If you start drinking alcohol when you arrive, you have no chance in hell of making it until the headliner goes on at midnight without proper hydration. Also, there is no water anywhere for you to wash your hands ever. You're stuck with nothing but cheap hand sanitizer that stains your clothing blue. And God forbid one of those nasty sandstorms of biblical proportions happens to blow through the festival like it did this past Sunday night during Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' performance. You will end up ingesting so much sand and dirt through your throat and lungs, it'll feel like you just shoved a full stack of Saltines into your mouth and tried to swallow them whole.
DO HAVE A REAL PLACE TO STAY
Figuring out where you're going to stay the day of the festival is about the dumbest thing anyone can do. If your friends are all renting a house, make sure you definitely have a spot to crash and that 25-plus people aren't also going to be staying there. If you decide to stay in a hotel, book one ahead of time so you don't end up having to spend $300-a-night rates for crappy "retro inspired" roadside hotels that have minifridges stocked with rotting food and questionable hooker-makeup-face-plant marks on the pillows. And under no circumstances should you ever camp on the Polo fields in a tent. You'll be right smack in the center of the stampede come late night when everyone is high off their minds trying to bolt back to their cars to beat Palm Springs party traffic. I can't even count how many couples I've tripped over and probably injured as they lay midcoitus in flimsy $39.99 Kmart tents.
DON'T RELY ON ANYONE BUT YOURSELF
Everyone loves a good road trip with friends, but don't mistake simple buddy bonding for anyone actually holding your hand through the entire festival. At an event with 80,000 people running around wasted in a massive field, you're going to get lost a lot. Your phone won't work most of the time, and you'll get angry "WHERE R U?" texts hours after your friends have already given up looking for you. Designated drivers will disappear and get tanked and won't be able to drive back to your home base. Palm Springs, where most people stay, is a good 45 minutes away from the Polo fields, so catching a ride doesn't always mean you're going to end up where you're supposed to be staying. You can't get mad about it or take it personally—your friends are not your babysitters. The only person who can look out for you is you alone. So try to have a plan, select a spot so you all know where to meet, if you get separated. Don't get so jacked up that you can't see where you're going. And if it comes down to it, always be prepared to walk home.
DO HELP OTHER PEOPLE OUT
I'm not suggesting you should pick up hitchhikers and give them a ride to the festival or let homeless strangers crash on your hotel floor. I'm a firm believer that some people are genuinely just killers by nature, and fuck dying because you went out on a limb to help someone out. But festival karma is, in fact, a very real thing. It's really easy to be a selfish bastard when it's hot as hell and you're just trying to have a good time, but extending a hand to someone you don't know will result in good things coming back to you. Give a mutual friend a ride to Palm Springs, and you might get a free VIP pass to the shows. Buy someone a beer at the bar, and you might get into a party you were never on the list for. Let a buddy shower at your hotel, and you might be gifted a bounty of chocolate mushrooms. Leave the festival early on the last night and give a bunch of Mexican teenagers your discarded festival wristband, and someone might offer you a ride home and save you from walking two miles back to your house in complete darkness in the middle of a sandstorm. Don't be a dick, and everyone wins!
All photos by Vincent Perini.
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