The Magic of Coachella

By Lee, Chris | Newsweek, April 18, 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Magic of Coachella

Lee, Chris, Newsweek

Byline: Chris Lee

This year, it's so nice you'll see it twice.

Last june, the news detonated across America's skinny-jeans-wearing populace with the shock of a 4,000-pound bomb. Hipsterdom's indie- music extravaganza, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, announced plans to expand from one three-day weekend featuring the creme de la creme of alt-rock, hip-hop, and electronica to two back-to-back events--essentially staging the same rollicking megaconcert twice--for the first time in its 13-year history.

It's a game-changer for the elite Indio, Calif., festival that has acted as a proving ground for Daft Punk, Bjork, and Rage Against the Machine, as well as a showcase for such pop immortals as Madonna, Jay-Z, Paul McCartney, and Prince.

The expansion comes as a direct result of fans' frustration after all three-day passes for the 2011 event (with its 75,000 person per day capacity) sold out in less than a week. "There were a lot of people who wanted a ticket who didn't get to go. So what do you do?" Paul Tollett, Coachella's cofounder, said at the time. "Double the capacity? That's not comfortable. Raise the ticket [price]? That's not going to go over too well. Or just say, 'Tough luck. That's how many people are going.'"

Instead, he devised this new scheme to double attendance while keeping overflow crowds and traffic nightmares to a minimum. But viewed another way, the spectacle unfolding in the low California desert on April 13 to 15 and again on April 20 to 22, represents one of the great social experiments in live-concert business history. While annual music festivals like Australia's Big Day Out or England's V Festival feature multiple stages and eclectic lineups that play different cities, until now no festival has booked talent with the mandate they repeat what amounts to a command performance.

"I don't know any other situation where an artist returns to the same stage at the same site and tries to deliver that same performance they already gave," says Kirk Sommer, an agent for William Morris Endeavor, who represents three acts on this year's Coachella bill. "When these bigger festivals roll around, each artist really wants to deliver that big-slot performance ... I'd imagine there'd be some additional stress in wanting to deliver two great festival performances."

Looking back, pop music's most iconic performances have been historic one-offs. Would Woodstock still manage to rock so hard in our collective memory if Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix had schlepped back out to Max Yasgur's farm for a second engagement?

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