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FILE - This April 13, 2012 file photo shows festivalgoers running toward the main stage to catch the beginning of Kendrick Lamar's set during the first weekend of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif. New music festivals are popping up more quickly than you can count in the U.S. Even as the summer festival season gets under way this week with the sprawling Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival down in the desert in Indio, Calif., some of the most successful promoters in the scene are looking ahead to next year and beyond when they'll launch new ventures in untapped markets. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, file)
Coachella 2013: Southern California music festival evolves into cultural event
First Published Apr 11 2013 09:46 am • Last Updated Apr 11 2013 09:46 am

"Big changes & announcements at work — all I can think is nooo this month is localchella I can’t be bothered at work"

More than a week before the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival, the Twitter-sphere was already buzzing about the annual two-weekend event, which begins Friday. Judging by the above tweet and thousands of others just like it, the desert party held on polo fields in Indio had already begun — at least in the tweeters’ minds.

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Not bad for a festival that nearly died after its first year in 1999 when only about 10,000 attended.

This year, both weekends sold out in less in than an hour. With temperatures expected in the 90s, the event will draw more than 80,000 people per day.

Last year, ticket sales alone reportedly grossed $47.3 million for the event’s promoter, Goldenvoice, and an economic report said the festival brought in $254.4 million for the desert region of Indio. A deal was announced last week that keeps the festival in Indio until 2030 and expands daily capacity to 99,000.

So how has Coachella turned into such a hot destination spot every spring?

Obviously, social networking has played a major role in the festival’s rise, but what people are saying about it on the Internet may be surprising considering how the festival bills itself. Fans excitedly counting down the days tweet about hooking up with friends, looking for tickets and selling them. An inordinate number of tweets come from corporate sponsors, businesses and individual entrepreneurs flogging their wares - totes, tops, shoes, short-shorts, hippie-looking stuff, you name it. Check out #coachella on Tumblr. It looks like a clothing catalog.

What hardly gets a mention, though, is the event’s music, despite the fact that there are a mind-boggling 180-plus acts at the so-called music festival.

As far as art goes, it’s still part of the title and there will be a few installations. More than likely, though, the word is being applied to the growing number of Electronic Dance Music artists.

In the past decade, EDM increasingly has become a chief component of Coachella — as important, if not more so, as having rock veterans The Stone Roses on top of the bill.


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What differentiates EDM from old-school DJ-ing (someone with laptops and turntables) are the giant trippy, pop-show video walls and lights that accompany the performances. Some think Daft Punk’s famed 2006 Coachella show, where the French duo hopped around in robot costumes in front of a giant flashing pyramid to pulsating music, set the standard everyone since has been trying to top.

That performance is easily available to view on YouTube because so many people today record such shows on their phones so they can share them with the world. If you watch it, the effect looks more like a gigantic rave than a music-oriented, Woodstock-type festival, although comparisons to the legendary 1969 event invariably come up when talking about Coachella.

Author and USC communications professor Josh Kun of the Annenberg School says that during the past decade the desert festival has been adept at incorporating the changing ways music is being consumed, including new platforms (ie. iTunes, Spotify) and social networking.

"I think more and more the way young people experience music has less and less to do with the music," he says, "which is to say they experience music as part of a larger cultural or social experience."

So, maybe, the bands don’t matter as much as putting Coachella all over your Instagram.

That’s not to say music isn’t important to some in the Coachella universe. It certainly is to KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley, the host of "Morning Becomes Eclectic," one of Los Angeles’s most influential radio programs. "The nice thing about Coachella is that it’s a real music-lovers’ festival. It’s not limited to one genre. Also bands know that it can be a real game-changer for your career," says Bentley, who will be one of the acts this year, "old guard" DJ-ing in one of the festival’s tents.

Kun points to Coachella’s lineup as a widely mixed and eclectic group of artists who represent "very different key demographic audiences," from dance music to hip-hop to indie rock. As the festival has grown it also has increasingly brought in mainstream headliners and bands having reunions, "guaranteeing a slightly older audience," he says. "I think there is a kind of smartness in that the festival caters to people who are open to seeing different things while getting the things that they want."

Of course, success always comes with a price, which is being passed on to ticket buyers. A three-day weekend pass went for $349 this year, if you were lucky to get it at face value. But that was only an entrance fee. More expensive packages included camping on site. In addition, there was transportation, parking, lodging, food, sunscreen and et ceteras (you know "et ceteras" to enhance the experience) to consider when calculating the cost of Coachella.

"10 days till #coachella and da BFFs are togethaaaaaa," goes another Tweet.

Kun says that Coachella is an excuse for friends to get together, "the glue that allows social interaction happen." Each year, he see his students planning well in advance and saving money to go to the festival with their buddies.

"So Coachella really has mastered that feeling of creating a kind of commune, collectivity, a let-it-all-hang-out vibe that in some ways is the nod to Woodstock, although stripped of any countercultural association. It’s become sort of a completely corporate-sponsored Bohemia."

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