The Coachella Experience

Music connoisseur Elizabeth Kahn recounts her journey from Syracuse to her favorite place in the world: The Coachella Music and Arts Festival in southern California.

Two weeks ago I returned from my sixth Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif.

I hadn’t been to Coachella since 2011, my senior year of high school. That year, my favorite rap artist Kanye West hovered above me as a part of his opening act when he closed the show. Sh-t like this only happens at one place in the world: in Coachella Valley surrounded by palm trees, mountains, art installations and 75,000 other people who all have one thing in common. They love music enough to venture out to all the way to the desert to experience the greatness that is Coachella.

Kahn on Sunday afternoon, the last day of this year's festival: "This year’s Coachella was exhausting, yet incredibly fun and surreal."

This was my first time experiencing Coachella with the intention to cover it for a publication, and also my first time camping and attending Coachella since it became a two-weekend festival. I had never really camped before — I don’t count sleeping in a tent for seven hours as a 10-year-old camper at Cali Camp Day Camp in Topanga Canyon as a legitimate “camping” experience. As your typical “girly girl” with a hint of OCD (I grew up with a father who has very Larry David-esque habits), I was pretty nervous about the whole camping experience. The previous years I went to Coachella, I stayed at either a hotel or friend’s grandmother’s house on a golf course a few miles from the festival grounds. I knew it wasn’t going to be luxurious, but it was what my friend Ashkan had arranged in return for a festival pass. I went with the flow.

Camping at Coachella ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. Aside from the lack of rest or sleeping past 11 a.m. because of the heat, camping is key when one is trying to really experience a festival. The community feeling born on the camp grounds is unlike any other; it renewed my faith that there might be hope that people have enough compassion and care for one another to help those just for the sake of it. My camping-neighbors hailed from Miami, Stockholm and Serbia, and together we all became friends; we cooked breakfast together, accompanied one another to the shower line and even walked to the festival to see bands together. I realized that those who don’t camp and attend Coachella don’t get their moneys worth, and have a different attitude and appearance than those who do.

As always, this year’s Coachella was exhausting, yet incredibly fun and surreal. Traveling across the country to attend this world-famous festival was something I had hoped to do ever since missing it last year and watching online live. I’m very grateful that I was able to attend this year not only to have fun and observe Coachella from a business and sustainability standpoint — I’m interested in working in the festival industry to bring awareness to environmental issues — but also to document my experience so that others might be inspired to go.

The following is an in-depth look at my experience during Weekend 2 of Coachella Music and Arts Festival 2013.

Wednesday April 17: Today is the Day

Can’t focus in class; got Coachella on my mind.

2 – 4 p.m.: Packing and gathering all things short, loose, floral-printed, neon and band-related and stuffing them in my suitcase.

4:30 p.m.: Leave for Hancock International Airport.

5:59 p.m.: Peace out East Coast, I’m back to the best coast. Off to Hot-lanta!

8:25 p.m.: Land in Atlanta. Surprisingly good food available at the Delta terminal. Eat a ham, spinach, American cheese grilled Panini. Yum.

9:45 p.m.: Depart for Los Angeles: Home. I can’t wait to see my dog Astro. Midnight: Is this real life? Arrive in L.A. 24 hours away from Bassnectar in the Sahara Tent. WTF?

Thursday April 18: Traveling Day

I’m jet-lagged, but so happy to see my dog Astro. I unpack my suitcase only to repack duffle bag for the weekend. 9:45 p.m.: We FINALLY venture out to the dez.

Friday April 19: First Day of Festivities

12:30 a.m.: We make it to Indio in about 2 hours, 30 minutes. Not much traffic, but it was weird to see windmills in the dark — I’m always used to driving southeast from LA during the day.

1:15 a.m.: The camping line begins. Everyone’s at a standstill for the first hour, so people are playing music, walking around and chatting, and throwing back a few beers.

3:48 a.m.: We get our camping spot and park the car to set up. I do nothing to contribute to camping other than play good music from the car. Our neighbors seem cool; to the left we have four best friends in their late 20s from Miami, and to the right we have Swedish and German students studying in SoCal. Both cars are Coachella first-timers.

5 a.m.: I go to bed with a sleeping mask on because, you guessed it: The sun’s already coming up.

10 a.m.: It’s nearly 87 degrees and the heat woke me up. I slept in the trunk of a van, but I’m so excited to enter the festival grounds. The view of campsite is absolutely stunning. It’s surrounded by mountains and a clear, blue sky is above us — what more could a Syracuse student ask for? 

10:30 a.m.: Eggs and bacon for breakfast. This’ll be breakfast for the next three days — not too shabby.

1:30 p.m.: C2C in the Sahara Tent

I wasn’t too familiar with this group but a friend suggested I see them. They’re a French turntable group formed in 1998 made up of four members: 20Syl and Green from Hocus Pocus, and Atom and Pfel from Beat Torrent. Listen to “Arcades.” Loved their set, very fun to dance to and slightly funk-a-delic.

2:20 – 3:25 p.m.: Astronautica in the Do LaB

The creators of Lightning in a Bottle, an electronic music and arts festival in Temecula, Calif., are responsible for the DJs and construction of the Do LaB, which changes each year and is always one of my favorite places to cool off at. It’s got misters and shade, which feels like heaven when you’re out in 97 degree weather.

3:25 – 3:30 p.m.: Aesop Rock at the Outdoor Theatre

I ended up heading to the Outdoor Theatre in hopes to catch the end of Beardyman, who I heard had a great set and ridiculously cool stage construction/lighting. I was sort of bummed to find that he ended right as I got to the stage — Tip: If you really want to see an act, never try to “catch the end because chances are, you’ll get there too late because of foot traffic etc.). Aesop Rock, however, surprised me completely and I ended up enjoying the set a lot more than anticipated. This San Francisco hip-hop artist dropped some fun-to-dance-to beats. Coachella mistakes end well 98 percent of the time.

3:40 – 4:40 p.m.: Dillon Francis in the Sahara tent. 

Finally, we meet Mr. Francis. I’ve been waiting to see Francis for a while now and he definitely fulfilled my expectations of being pretty freakin’ funky. I love his ability to mix reggae and EDM (electronic dance music). His visuals were pretty funny and very true to his style, with tacos and sad faces appearing on the LED screens in the tent, as well as kitty blow up dolls on the side of the stage.

5 – 6 p.m.: Go back to the campsite to change, eat and nap. The beauty of camping? You can leave the festival, replenish and come back.

6:10 – 7 p.m.: Lee Scratch Perry in Gobi Tent

My Swedish and German camping neighbors convinced me that Lee was someone I had to see at Coachella since he’s a reggae legend. It was a a once in a lifetime opportunity to see someone who used to work with Bob Marley. When I laid eyes on Lee’s red studded baseball cap, I knew that this was definitely “the move” (frat speak). His set was really chill, and he played as the sun set, which made for some great photos.

Lee Scratch Perry

7:30 p.m.: Interview with Nicky Romero

Romero, a young DJ from Amsterdam, was very sweet and down to earth. It was great to meet him and ask him about his inspiration — he told me he can’t wait for Daft Punk’s new album Random Access Memories, and also expressed his passion for being environmentally conscious and trying to do “his piece of the pie” wherever he goes. He told me his go to hook-up song is “Freak Me.”

Nicky Romero

7:40 – 8:30 p.m.: Dog Blood in the Sahara Tent

Dog Blood is Skrillex and Boyz Noise’s newest collaborative effort. They were so much fun, I didn’t have the chance to snap any pictures. I was too busy dancing. Sometimes you’ve just gotta have fun, even when you’re “working.”

8:35 – 9:20 p.m.: TNGHT in Gobi Tent

I was VERY excited to see TNGHT after discovering their self-titled album in January. This duo of Hudson Mohawke (Ross Birchard) and Lunice (Lunice Fermin Pierre II) was my first introduction to trap music, and I’ve been hooked ever since. They had a pretty big crowd in the Gobi Tent, which doesn’t surprise me, since they’re definitely an act to watch. TNGHT’s set was awesome and filled with loud bass, a crazy light show and nearly every song on its album. My favorite songs were “Higher Ground” and “Easy Easy.” 

9:55 – 10:30 p.m.: The Stone Roses at the Coachella Stage

I was probably one of the few who were familiar with The Stone Roses before Coachella announced they were going to headline Friday night. “I Wanna Be Adored” and “Elizabeth My Dear” are two of my favorite songs, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see this old British rock band. When Coachella brings rock ’n’ roll vets, you see the rock ’n’ roll vets over people pressing buttons with cool lights.

10:45 – 11:40 p.m.: Jurassic 5 at Outdoor Theatre

J5’s reunion at Coachella was one of the highlights of my entire weekend. As hip-hop legends, it was refreshing to hear them after being stuck listening to wannabes back in ‘Cuse for the past year — What, you don’t think Trey Songz is the real deal? So happy I got to see this group live.

11:50 p.m.: BASSNECTAR in the Sahara Tent

First, I wish I had earplugs. Second, when Bassnectar fans say “bass in your face,” that perfectly describes my experience in the photo pit for the first 15 minutes of this set. The bass literally made my entire body buzz; it was difficult not to stop grinning and dancing. I’m a big fan of Bassnectar and his music, and this was my first time seeing him live. I was blown away, to say the least. He had the best visuals out of anyone I saw in the Sahara tent and photographing him and the crowd was one of my favorite sets of the weekend.

2 a.m.: It’s freezing in the desert so I layer all my warm clothes. Good thing I’m so sleep deprived that I can sleep on just a blanket in a tent with nine other people. Happy Coachella Day One!


Things I wish I caught: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Foals, Alt-J, Modest Mouse (Sometimes you can’t get ‘em all.)


Coachella Day Two: 4/20 with Moby, Hot Chip & Phoenix >>

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