Two Coachellas

Twelve years.  The first Coachella was 1999.  Is there a label today that would put that much time into a band?

Not that there weren’t indicators of success, not that it was an endless money pit, but it wasn’t until this year that it was clear…

It doesn’t matter who plays the festival.

Attendees trust Paul Tollett to put on a good show.  They expect a modicum of stars with a plethora of barely heard ofs who may not ever be heard from again.  Coachella is no longer act dependent.  It’s become a cultural institution.  It’s about being there.

And now it’s clear that more people want to be there than can be accommodated.  Ergo, the second weekend.

And we can debate all day long whether it’s a good idea.  I would have had completely different bills, made it two separate events, because by utilizing the same acts, the aura of the festival is diminished.

But that’s not the point.

The point is people will lay down their hard-earned cash for events.

Yes, the music business has become event marketing.

Very few acts can do stellar business all by their lonesome.  And so many of those only for a brief period of time.  But roll a bunch of acts together and…  1+1=3.

But it’s not as simple as the bill.

The venue’s got to be special.  You can’t replicate Coachella in a ballpark.  No one’s going to pay money to go to a stadium without hearing who’s playing first.

But Coachella is like a vacation.  The weather should be good, it’ll be a good hang, I’m in.

How many Coachellas can there be?  How many festivals can North America support?

Probably as many as have unique venues.

So, what we’ve learned here is:

1. It takes time.  Believers think long term, they invest, it takes a while for word to spread.  What got people going to Coachella was the talk of those who attended and the press coverage.  People wanted to be included.

2. Location is not as important as the venue, which must be special.  Coachella is not easily accessible.  Sure, there’s an airport in Palm Springs, but flights are limited and Los Angeles is hours away.  People will trek for that which they perceive to be desirable.  People come from all over the world to go to Coachella.

3. Radio is not important.  Although Tollett has peppered the festival with flavors of the moment, they’re just icing on the cake, they’re not the draw, one can argue that they’re not even necessary.  Coachella-goers are not casual fans, music is a key element of their lives.  They not only listen, but debate it.  They hunt out new acts.  They’re open, unlike the people who radio phones in callout research.

4. Although Kanye played Coachella, the festival is the anti-Dr. Luke.  It’s not about beats, except for the electronic music played in "tents".  Could Coachella have been as successful in the last century, during the MTV era?  Probably not.  Then we were spoonfed a limited amount of product.  Today, the field is wide open.  Fans don’t care if an act is on a major or puts the music out themselves, they don’t care if it’s got the imprimatur of the mainstream or not.  Coachella is the everything’s up for grabs festival.  That’s it’s appeal.  It’s where you go to hear something new.

5. Improve.  After every festival Tollett apologizes for the snafus and promises to rectify them the following year. Complaints are heard.  There is not an us versus them mentality.  The feeling is we’re all in it together.

6. Scale.  That’s what this is about.  If there can be two Coachellas can there also be one in Europe and another on the east coast and a winter one in South America that fans will fly to see, never mind the locals?  Yes.  Coachella is a brand. Brands stand for dependability, you get what you expect, plus more.  A band is not a brand.  A band, when done right, gives you the unexpected.  It’s about faith more than trust.  But Coachella is a place where artists can strut their stuff.

7. Beyond Coachella.  That’s what the YouTube broadcast was about.  If only it had been curated!  Like the old days of MTV!  But with more credible talking heads directing viewers to great performances, both anticipated and expired.  You want to spread the discovery.  The best band I saw on the Coachella YouTube feed was Monarchy.  They far outstripped the other performances of the evening that I watched.  The key is to point people to the best performances and keep them accessible, to foster discussion, to build these acts.  But this year’s simulcast was a good start.

8. You can camp at Coachella or stay in a high end hotel.  Like an airplane or Burger King, you get to do it your way.  This is brilliant.  Furthermore, this division of status and choices is off site.  On site, to a great degree, it appears everybody is in it together.

You can make a ton of money at a festival.

Or lose your shirt, and the shirt of the person next to you and the shirt of the person next to him.

But by controlling the venue, by making the upside so large, you avoid so many of the issues of the single show.

It would be great if we could build a plethora of new arena acts.

But at least we’re building new places to see acts.

There is demand.  Tollett is trying to satiate it.  One can argue the details, the bills, whether business will be great next year, but pat him on the back for building it and continuing to take risks.

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