By Matt Cutugno
Indio, CA, USA
I had never heard of Coachella Valley in Southern California until I moved here from New York City last year. So it’s no surprise that neither was I aware of its renowned music festival, which has opened and has been going on for a couple weekends.
I am an ear witness to it.
The festival is being held on the expansive grounds of The Empire Polo Club, which as the crow flies, is within a mile of my home. April is a fine month in the desert, with warm and bright sunny days, and cooler, star filled evenings. The stark valley bordered by brown jagged mountains creates a perfect backdrop for music lovers.
The lineup at the festival is impressive and eclectic. The Black Keys are here, as is Radiohead. Bon Iver will perform as will Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg. That’s just a sampling, as music plays on two main stages plus in three large tents, and in other places on the grounds.
It attracts fans from all over our country, and the world. There is food and drink available, and areas for camping. In a generation gone by, this Festival would be called a “Happening.”
Camping out (even crashing in your car) is among the preferred methods of staying in Coachella Valley for the show, as even cut-rate hotels like Super 8 charge $200 a night for a room.
The security is omnipresent, both in the form of private guards manning myriad stations, and intrepid police from the various desert communities.
Now we come to my role as ear witness. I’m not attending the festival. Part of the reason is my recent relocation from New York. My thirty-five years in people-dense Manhattan and Brooklyn have left me a seeker of solitude. As much as I like music, I’m not ready to mingle with masses of audiophiles. And though I’m a fan of some of the performers, they are all generations removed from my musical roots. If I was 26 again and you told me Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead were performing in the Coachella Valley, I’d be there.
So on the nights that music is playing, my wife and I sit in our backyard and listen. Peace and quiet abounds save for the wind through the palm fronds, the croaking of frogs at the pond, and cadenced booming coming from the direction of the Polo Club. Searchlights arc across the sky, providing illumination and a light show. We watch an airplane flying over the concert grounds. Along its wings are a series of bright lights, visible to the ground below, that spell out some greeting or message.
We sit under the magnificent star-filled desert sky and enjoy our unique perspective on the festival. It’s somehow reassuring to me that many different kinds of people are peacefully assembled, united in their love of what sounds like a good time.
The next day at the community pool we hear from people who were actually there. One couple tells me they saw Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg perform, and, through use of a hologram, they sang with the late Tupac Shakir. The hip hop duo and the computer generated image combined for "Ain't Nothin' Like A Gangsta Party."
The festival sounds exciting, and for me, at least this year, I’d like to keep it like that.
Images courtesy of Matt Cutugno