Music festivals don’t come any more glamorous than the annual Coachella Festival in southern California which has been going since 1999. As a huge Oasis fan, I became aware in the early months of 2002 that they would be headlining this festival on Sunday 28th April which was amazingly the day after I arrived in Los Angeles from Fiji! I bought my ticket online at an internet cafe on my last day in New Zealand mid-April for US$90 and then just had to hope that I’d be able to find my way to the festival site! Thanks to the journal that I kept at the time (available online at afoxdownunder.wordpress.com) we can now take a look back on all that happened 15 years ago on an epic 24 hour round trip……
“I didn’t sleep very well and had to get up at 7:30 am where I checked out (having put my bags in a locker) taking the hostel shuttle to the bus station in the process. I then had a long wait for the #439 metro bus which unbelievably took over an hour to reach the Greyhound downtown bus station and en-route I was able to see the Hollywood sign in the far distance. I also had to change to the number 60 bus near the end of the journey which took me to the bus station in what is a very dodgy area of Los Angeles.
I then coughed $34.50 for a return ticket to Indio in the California Desert region. Leaving L.A.at 11am, I soon fell asleep and I woke up later with a completely different environment outside. The bus drove through a mountainous-like desert area featuring hundreds, if not thousands, of tall windmills and we also went by the turn-off for Joshua Tree National Park which I’d originally hoped I’d be able to explore and make the U2 album connection but it wasn’t to be though. I was just feeling lucky to have got as far as I had.
It was damn hot when I left the bus at Indio as the bus driver announced a later lunch stop at McDonalds of all places for the remaining passengers. Only in America maybe! My mission at this stage was to get directions for the Empire Polo Field where the Coachella site was. The lady at the bus station reception said it was just round the corner but after half an hour walking there was no sight (or sound!) of anything so I asked the receptionist at a betting bar who gave me more precise and realistic directions which involved over an hours walk past three blocks until I even heard a sound coming from the site while walking down a long street lined with large groups of palm trees.
I was then mightily relieved to collect my ticket after worries of whether or not my on-line order had gone through properly. My next worry was whether my camera would get past the security (as I’d heard on the grapevine that no cameras were allowed) but I had no problems there apart from getting sunburned while queueing for ages to get in. So after many trials and tribulations and a lot of planning, I’d finally made it to what was quite possibly the most beautiful festival site in the world framed by palm trees and mountains which glowed pink in the dusk.
Within minutes I’d soon got hold of a free copy of a Charlatans CD from the K-Rock tent and instantly regretted it as I’d have to carry it for the rest of the day but couldn’t bring myself to give it away so just put it down the front of my jeans for the rest of the day. I then looked around the arty bits of the festival which included a giant junk/percussion piece on wheels that was forever being banged, and fire breathing battle robots/sculptures.
By not getting on site till gone 4:30 pm I had no time to see anyone other than the four bands I’d most wanted to see. This started at 5pm with The Strokes who I’d only read about whilst travelling and knew of as being the new ‘big thing’ in indie music and for that reason I wanted to hate them and their lead singer Julian Casablanca. To my disappointment though, I ended up liking their style of music and walked on over to the Heineken tent after their set with one of the songs stuck in my head. I paid a ridiculous $6 price for a beer and relaxed for a bit out of the blazing sunshine.
Next to appear on the main Coachella stage was a guest stint by funnyman/actor/singer Jack Black (of ‘High Fidelity‘ and ‘Shallow Hal‘ fame) and his band Tenacious D who played a couple of tracks before introducing the Foo Fighters whose fast-paced set was very enjoyable. Highlights included singer Dave Grohl taking me by surprise during a lapse in concentration and appearing at the scaffolding (used for cameras and lighting) having leaped off stage and walked through the crowd with his guitar before charging back with it above his head.
During one song a girl bared her chest causing Grohl to lose concentration. He jokingly told the crowd to behave as his mum was present and then dedicated a song to her t*ts which I sadly never saw! What I did see during the Foo’s set was a very nice sunset with the sun sinking behind the palm trees and the sky gradually became a blanket of stars.
Before The Prodigy appeared I went to use the toilets which, unlike all other festivals, didn’t actually stink. After I bought a huge pretzel for $3 (cheapest thing in the place to eat) which was covered in salt and was quite disgusting leading me to chuck the final piece among the crowd when the band appeared on stage at around 8pm. Their set was almost identical to what I saw at the Big Day Out in Sydney in January including frontmen Keith Flint and Maxim dressed again as futuristic knights of the round table. As with Sydney, the new material sounded overly familiar and the old stuff sounded dated, and Keith too didn’t seem convincing in his rock rebel role as five years previous. Overall, I thought their set was a bit better than as headliners in Sydney and the band did play a tough, defiant version of the controversial ‘Smack My B*tch Up‘.
The main reason I travelled 125 miles east of L.A. to the desert city was to see Oasis who took the stage just before 10pm to ‘F*ckin In The Bushes‘ followed by ‘Go Let It Out‘. Mixed in among usual live favourites like ‘Acquiesce‘, ‘Supersonic‘, ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol‘, ‘Columbia‘ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger‘ were four new songs; ‘Better Man‘, ‘Force Of Nature‘, ‘Hung In A Bad Place‘ and the latest single ‘The Hindu Times‘. None of them made a great impression but time will tell.
I was also ready to do some moshing during Oasis’ set but couldn’t believe how reserved the American crowd were compared to the English festival crowds and so had to settle for a more calm affair. Liam was in a dark mood and those throwing missiles onstage were invited to do so with Liam simply moving aside of those about to be direct hits. He also threatened the front row with his tambourine. A rare live outing for ‘She’s Electric‘ came from Noel but with the words changed to ‘She’s A Septic‘ which is cockney rhyming slang for yank by way of septic tank.
‘Rock & Roll Star‘ was dedicated by Noel to the Prodigy and Liam dedicated the last track ‘I Am The Walrus‘ to himself. After that I felt privileged and happy to have seen Oasis in America but faced many uncertain hours and believing my bus to be at 9:00 in the morning, and with nowhere to stay, I was in no hurry to leave the 80 acre Empire Polo Field grounds.
The event drew an estimated 55,000 fans over the two days and I was one of the last to leave once the security had cleared the site of people. I took a very slow walk across the car park where I saw a t-shirt seller about to drive off and so I stopped him to spend $5 on a Coachella festival t-shirt. Along the route from the site I found a yellow cushion/mat type thing which I though ideal and comfy to sit on once I returned to the Greyhound station and so I carried that back with me.
I did take a detour to get some food (and waste time) which I eventually got from a garage having been rejected from Jack In The Box drive-thru on the basis of not having a car! I also went to a 24 hour fast-food restaurant but they didn’t seem to be willing to come to take my order so I gave up and ended up getting a bottle of Pepsi and double cheeseburger from the garage but for a fraction of the price.
Following that I walked on to the Greyhound station where I arrived at about 2:30 am to find a few others had the same idea of sleeping in the station. I soon discovered that the next bus to L.A. was at about 5:30 am and promptly lay down next to the coke machine with my head resting on my cushion. Despite having very tired eyes, I was unable to get any sleep but by the time the bus arrived there was about a dozen people loitering under the “No Loitering” and “No Trespassing” signs.”