This was my second year at Coachella to help my friend Rob with his consistently inspiring art project, Balloon Chain. Attendees are always super excited about the balloons! They have a million questions, one of which is always, “Are they hard to hold onto?” When we hand them the big carabiner at the end of 50 to 350 balloons and say, “Here, feel for yourself!” they freak out. “Really? I can hold the balloons?” It’s pretty surprising just how thrilled people can be about holding onto a giant string of balloons. I suppose it’s because they aren’t often given the opportunity to interact with art. But it sure is a great feeling handing them that carabiner! Such a simple piece that brings so much joy.
Both my trips west were to work, as opposed to actually attending the festival, because I can’t imagine paying for the event; I prefer to work “behind the curtain.” I’m not that big of a music fan and, if I were, I’d rather pay to see the band(s) I like and not be subjected to the sound-bleeding din. Also, I’m a little outside the average 20-something demographic (and am generally annoyed by too many of them in one place). However, I had a great time this year! I can’t put my finger on precisely why it was better than last and imagine it was a combination of many things, most importantly that our crew was more cohesive and the work was not only easier — due to the less windy weather — but more organized — due to my masterful scheduling…hah!
Anyway, I have a feeling everyone in attendance experienced a more enjoyable event this year. I found it was superior for a number of reasons:
* they opened up more space, which included an extra DJ stage
* 10,000 fewer people (last year there were, apparently, 10,000 counterfeit wristbands)
* better, more spacious camping layout (attendee-specific)
* less aggro vibe (inexplicable…perhaps the 10,000 fewer people? more space?)
* better weather, less wind
* bands that seemed genuinely glad to be playing, regardless of their level of fame
* that fuckin’ amazing FULL MOON!
BIGGEST HIPPY-DIPPY MOMENT
Asking a guy who wanted to hold the balloons about one of his beaded bracelets with a girl’s name on it, “Who is Rainbow?” (or somesuch), he replied, “She’s a raver I met at blahblahblah” and immediately launched into his PLUR rap, grabbing my hand and doing the “peace, love, unity, respect” motions (peace sign, heart shape, finger clasp and hand clasp), then sliding one of his raver bracelets onto my wrist. Doooooood…
MOST OUT-OF-THEIR-MINDS HAPPY CROWD MOMENT
When Duran Duran sang “Rio” and everyone was shouting the chorus! Their entire set was pretty exhilarating.
BEST “DISCOVERED” BAND
Bizarre that I needed to travel 3,000 miles to see a local NYC band. Imagine an eight-piece, interracial ensemble decked out in matching mariachi outfits, performing original Mexican-folk-inspired music! Mariachi el Bronx were thrilled to be playing and incredibly impressive!
MOST SERENDIPITOUS MOMENT
There were a whole bunch of hand-painted trash cans for recycling and I admired one in particular. Fifteen minutes later I was talking to the woman! She had stopped to hold onto the balloons and was wearing a name tag that matched the one on the beautiful flowered bin!
MOST EXUBERANT PERFORMANCE
The Scissor Sisters opened with a total BANG and lots of giant silver mylar snaky things shooting over the crowd. It was like fireworks you could touch!
This is always a tough call, since all the art is pretty amazing. As for basic “art” (well, Coachella/Burning Man-type art) I’d have to say Michael Christian‘s amazing hula dancing trees were my favorite. They were totally trippy; just looking at them made me feel like I was on mushrooms! I also loved the LED flowers, which I kept thinking were fireworks. (I can’t seem to find the name of the artist.)
MOST MESMERIZING INSTALLATION
Untitled, a physical manifestation of the Spiritualized song “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space,” by Jonathan Glazer and J. Spaceman, was enormous, ambitious and corporately funded (as opposed to merely Coachella funded) but it was mind-blowing. After waiting on a fairly long line, I entered the chapel-like space, which was entirely black inside. I was completely engulfed by a sound system playing a piece of music and almost blinded by super-bright shafts of light shooting down onto the floor from five “windows” in one side of the ceiling. They were like looking up at heaven. When I stood where they “hit” the floor, I heard different “slices” of the song, almost like a classic “round.” Moving from one place in the room to another offered different aural experiences. Difficult to describe but amazingly magical.
BIGGEST “WHOA” MOMENT/MOST PUNK ROCK MOMENT
So I’m standing in the back of the Gobi tent, listening to some pretty slammin’ punk rock. Looking at the screen, I see the lead singer and think, “Man, that guy is old!” Seconds later it occurs to me: “Hey! I know that guy!” It was Keith Morris, Circle Jerks lead singer and original Black Flag frontman. The band is OFF! and they’re a punk rock “supergroup,” a somewhat oxymoronic term, consisting of Burning Brides‘s Dimitri Coats on guitar, Red Kross‘s Steven McDonald on bass and Rocket from the Crypt‘s Mario Rubalcaba on drums. Keith was hilarious on the mic, clearly surprised to be there, saying, “I know we aren’t the kind of band that…uh, would play someplace like this.” He and his band added a much-needed punk rock kick in the ass to the festivities!
MOST NOTICEABLE FASHION TREND
It seemed to be all about the American Indian. There were feathers everywhere: Indian headdresses, woven into women’s hair, dangling from earrings. I predict that by the time Burning Man comes around, feather penetration will be at a full 75%.
Not that I’m a huge Cee Low fan but the guy came on over a half hour late. When he finally took the stage, he apologized, saying his helicopter had just landed. Whatever, dude. When you’re headlining at a huge festival, you might want to get into town the night before. Or at least early enough that you don’t keep the crowd waiting. In an example of karma being swift and merciless, his set was cut short. Yup, they just literally pulled the plug on him. Hah! I hear he had a meltdown but I couldn’t see it from…well by that point I wasn’t even in the vicinity!
SCARIEST/MOST HILARIOUS MOMENT
Holding onto up to 350 helium balloons on 200-pound test fishing line doesn’t seem very dangerous. Our “technical director,” Michael Cha, warns us about planes flying by and snagging the line. It may sound farfetched but at Coachella there are those little planes dragging advertising banners overhead and they fly pretty low. So it’s possible. But we laugh about it. Anyway, on closing night as we were reeling in the balloons, I snipped off a few for myself. I tied one to my left bra strap and about five to my right bra strap and made a beeline for the festival exit, ready to return to camp and par-tay! I was almost out the gates when I saw the blinkiest dude ever and had to say hello (and gush over his tech) and tell him about my friends who make electronic wearables. Erik showed me his wire mesh infrastructure that held hundreds of motion-sensored, programmable LEDs. Amazing! When he asked me if I knew Lynne Bruning I got very excited and jumped up and down a little. “Yes, yes! That’s my friend who does this stuff!” Pretty much in mid-jump I went from exuding about Lynne to being…a bunch of feet away. My balloons had been blowing almost horizontally and had gotten caught on a golf cart. My bra strap got yanked and snapped. It took me a few seconds to figure out what had happened. It was soooo sudden! I laughed nervously and thought, “Wow, if I’d been wearing my webbed harness with giant metal rings and had 50 balloons carabinered to me, I would be on my way to the hospital!” Imagine if I HAD gotten caught by a plane! Pic-a-nic basket! Anyway, I spent the rest of the evening getting drunker and telling my story til I had tears running down my face. My brush with death…by balloons!