Behind The Festival: Surprising Facts About Coachella

Idolator Staff | January 31, 2018 5:25 pm

The Coachella Music and Arts Festival is an annual festival held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California in the Inland Empire’s Coachella Valley. Organized by Goldenvoice, and co-founded by Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen in 1999, the three-day event includes music performances of all genres accompanied by breathtaking art installations and sculptures. Although it may have started out slow, it has grown into one of the biggest and most profitable music festivals in the world. Take a look at some of the unknown history about the festival’s inception, what makes it so popular, and some fun facts that have come out of this music festival’s almost 20-year-long legacy.

Did you know tickets used to sell for $50 a day?

The Origins Of A Legacy

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Photo Credit: Coachella

The roots of one of the world’s biggest music festivals can be traced all the way back to 1993. At the time, rock group Pearl Jam was boycotting the venues in Los Angeles that were currently being controlled by Ticketmaster. The promotion group Goldenvoice managed to book the band at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California for a concert with an audience over 25,000. The success of the concert proved the location and setup of the polo fields to be a viable place to host large events. So, in October 1999, the first Coachella Music and Arts Festival was held for $50 a day with artists such as Beck, Rage Against the Machine, Morrisey and countless more. Unfortunately, Goldenvoice ended up losing $850,000 although it was well-received by its attendants.

2000: A Year Without Coachella

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Photo Credit: Greater Palm Springs

After losing $850,000 at the inaugural Coachella Music and Arts Festival in 1999, Goldenvoice reserved tentative dates for October 2000 to put on the festival once again but ended up canceling. The cancellation was mostly due to the oversaturation of music festivals in the Southern California area with festivals like Nocturnal Wonderland which took place in September 2000.

In April 2001, they brought Coachella back to beat the heat and set the ticket prices at $65. Although it was a little sketchy, they eventually managed to get enough acts and even a headliner. It went smoothly, selling over 35,000 tickets. Although they took another loss, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first year and the festival was beginning to show promise.

Indio’s Role In Coachella

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Photo Credit: Hayes Realty – La Quinta

Aside from being the host city to Coachella, Indio, California provides countless other services such as police services, fire protection, private security, medical services, and more in order to protect festival-goers as well as city citizens. In 2012, the services for the two weekends of Coachella and one of Stagecoach cost the city $2.77 million. They also rely on departments from nearby cities to get as much help as they can get during “Coachella Season.” In addition, to avoid disturbing the local residents, a curfew for music performances has been enforced since 2010. Now, musicians must stop performing by 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 12 a.m. on Sunday. Goldenvoice is charged with a fine of $1,000 for every minute the festival exceeds curfew!

What does Indio get out of hosting Coachella?

Coachella Benefits Indio

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Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

It may seem like hosting an event like Coachella in your city would be a nightmare with no real upsides, but you’d be wrong. Although Indio and the surrounding cities experience a few stressful weekends out of the year, it’s well worth the hassle. According to a 2012 economic impact study, Coachella brought $254.4 million to the desert that year and Indio received $89.2 million in consumer spending and $1.4 million in tax revenue. Combined with Stagecoach, the two festivals had a global impact of around $704.75 million in which around $403.2 million impacted Coachella Valley. $106 million went to businesses in Indio, and the city made around $3.18 million in ticket taxes. Although it may be chaotic while it’s happening, it’s worth it to the Coachella Valley in the long run.

Coachella’s Environmental Sustainability

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Being one of the largest music festivals in the world, it’s no surprise that environmental sustainability is a big topic surrounding Coachella. It plays a massive role in upholding a positive reputation with the city of Indio and among festival goers. Coachella manages its carbon footprint by partnering with the organization Global Inheritance to promote environmentally friendly initiatives. Some of these initiatives include “TRASHed Art of Recycling” which challenged local artists to make unique recycling bins all over the grounds or Carpoolchella which rewarded cars with four people or more with the opportunity to win a raffle. They also have introduced re-fillable water bottles and over have 600 staff members picking up trash every day during the festival. Goldenvoice is also set in its goal to divert 90% of its recyclable and compost materials.

The Introduction of Camping

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Photo Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

In the very beginning years of Coachella, camping was not yet offered to attendees. This was mostly due to the amount of organization necessary, as well as fear of what happened at Woodstock ’99. However, in 2003, Coachella began to allow tent camping as an option for festival lodging. The campground is located on a polo field adjacent to the venue with its own entrance on the south side. By 2010, new features were introduced such as re-entry from the campsite into the festival, parking next to your tent, and a designated area for RVs. Now, there are showers, charging stations, a general store, internet cafe, food stands and more.

2004: The First Time Tickets Sold Out

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Photo Credit: Jason Squires/WireImage

After the introduction of camping into the festival in 2003, Coachella began to seem a lot more accessible and intriguing to potential attendees. It also made the experience a lot cheaper without having to buy hotel rooms and added a whole new attraction to the event. Then came 2004 with a reuniting of the Pixies and bands such as Kraftwerk, The Cure, Belle and Sebastian, and Flaming Lips, with Radiohead headlining. This was the first year that Coachella ever sold out to 110,000 people attending in a two-day span. This was just a small taste of what was to come in the future.

Then, two days just wasn’t enough.

Expanding To Three Days

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Photo Credit: Leonard Pierce

By 2007, it was apparent that Coachella needed to add an extra day of music. This was so due to the high volume of attendees as well as having no shortage of artists willing to perform. Also, Goldenvoice knew that it wasn’t a risky maneuver and that adding an extra day would most likely increase ticket purchases rather than turn people away. So, in 2007, they had their first year of the three-day festival with headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, and Björk, all who were headlining for the second time. This was also the same year that Goldenvoice inaugurated Stagecoach Country Music Festival into the lineup.

Single Day Tickets

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Photo Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Ever wish that you could skip all of the hassles and just buy a day ticket to Coachella to see your favorite bands? Well, prior to 2010, that was an option. Long before wristbands and the massive crowds attending the festival, music lover could buy a one, two, or three- day pass for around $50 a day. But then, in 2010, the organizers did away with the option to buy single day tickets and started only offering three-day passes, a decision that received mixed reviews. That year, Tollett was also hesitant about holding the festival due to the struggling economy yet did it anyway, the festival broke its previous attendance records with thousands of people storming the fences and breaking in.

The Flying Pig

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Photo Credit: Photo/Chris Pizzello

At Coachella in 2008, Roger Waters had a giant inflatable pig that floated over the crowd during his set. The pig was massive and ended up getting loose and flying up into the sky. Eventually, it was discovered that the pig had landed between two homes in La Quinta. Goldenvoice really wanted the prop back for multiple different reasons, so in order to settle, they gave the two homeowners $10,000 and free Coachella passes for life. Now everybody in the area hopes that a Coachella prop will somehow find a way into their yard.

Goldenvoice Purchased Land For Coachella

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Photo Credit: Daniel Leist/Getty Images for Coachella

In March 2012, just one month before the first two-weekend Coachella event, Goldenvoice announced that they had purchased 280 acres of land at the festival site in Indio, California. This included the Eldorado Polo Club, Triangle Bar Farms, Fish Creek, and Ambassador Glen Holden’s property. Purchasing this land meant that they no longer had to rent it and that it gave them the freedom to bring multiple more events to the properties each year. The purchase also protects Goldenvoice’s interests in Indio and would secure that as Coachella’s home for the foreseeable future.

Coachella Reunites Bands

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Photo Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage

Coachella is known for a lot of different things, but they are especially known for reuniting bands for headline performances that have been separated for a long time. In 2003, Iggy Pop and the Stooges came together for a show at Coachella after having disbanded back in 1974. Rage Against the Machine performed together after a seven-year hiatus and Mazzy Star after 12 years. Pulp, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Pixies, and countless more musical acts have all reunited in Indio. It is this element of surprise that keeps Coachella enthusiasts on their toes because they never know who might show up or come together for a reunion.

Ever wonder how artists get booked to play Coachella?

How Talent Booking Works

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Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

In order to book acts for the upcoming year, co-founder Paul Tollett begins to book artists as early as the previous August. Besides agents pitching them bands and artists found online, the lineup mostly culminates from acts booked by Goldenvoice for their other 1,800 shows a year. Tollett notes that the booking process takes approximately six months and booking fees start around $15,000 and can get into the high six figures depending on the artist. Non-headline acts can be offered anywhere from $500 to $100,000. When booking the festival, Goldenvouce uses a radius clause which prevents acts from performing in Los Angeles, the Inland Empire or San Diego for up to three months before the festival so people only have the opportunity to see them at Coachella.

There Are A Lot of Arrests

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Photo Credit: OC Weekly

Given the high energy of the festival with all of the live music, trippy art, and gathering of friends, there’s bound to be a lot of illegal activity. Whether it’s people sneaking in, underage drinking, drug use, public drunkenness, there are a lot of ways to get into trouble with the law at Coachella. For the most part, security does a very good job at keeping it a safe environment, but there are undercover cops everywhere looking for people being very blatant with substances, or not watching their behavior. During the second weekend of Coachella in 2017, there were 152 arrests involving drugs, alcohol, thefts, and fake IDs as opposed to the first weekend which had 125 arrests.

The S.S. Coachella

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In case you didn’t get enough Coachella in 2012, you could have tried to score some tickets on the S.S. Coachella. It was underway from November 16-19 in the Bahamas and December 19-23 in Jamaica. Goldenvoice decided to have a little trial run and to make their own mini music festival out to the ocean. The S.S. Coachella was a 1,000-foot 122,000-ton cruise ship with room for 2,8000 attendance. It traveled from the Bahamas and Jamaica and had performances such as Pulp, Hot Chip, James Murphy, Cloud Nothings, and more. It’s safe to say that the people aboard that cruise had the opportunity of a lifetime.

Acts That Blew Past The Curfew

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Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Even though there is a strict curfew at Coachella for the sake of the residents of Indio, it doesn’t mean that a few artists haven’t pushed the limit and gone over. In 2009, McCartney played for nearly three hours and blew past the midnight curfew of music for 50-plus minutes. The fine is $1,000 for every minute music is being played after curfew so it was a rather expensive 50-minutes. However, Goldenvoice never pulled the plug and just let him keep playing. However, The Cure was not so lucky, and they had the sound system shut off on them after they played 33 after curfew. Goldenvoice had already learned their lesson. Although Mccartney and The Cure are of note there have been plenty of other acts that didn’t let time stop the music.

2012: The Birth of Two Weekends

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Photo Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella

With a giant growth in size and an unmanageable demand for more tickets, on May 31, 2011, Coachella announced that at the beginning of the 2012 festival, they would be expanding to a second separately-ticketed weekend, with an identical lineup to the first weekend. Tollett described his decision by saying that ticket demands were already up in 2011 after a less than impressive weekend in 2010, and he didn’t want to satisfy the demand by overcrowding the venue. Rolling Stone called it a “very risky move” and that there was no guarantee that demand would fill up both weekends. Both weekends sold out in a matter of hours.

Coachella’s Partnerships

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Photo Credits: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

Originally, the organizers of Coachella were relatively against accepting sponsorship deals that would help Coachella make a higher profit. In 2003, it was estimated that Goldenvoice could have earned an extra $300,000 to $500,000 by adding a corporate sponsor to the festival name, but he declined because he didn’t want to tarnish the event. He believed that being bombarded with advertising “shows a lack of respect for the audience and the music.” However, over the years, they have started partnering with companies like Heineken, H&M, YouTube, and more. They have also started helping promote other festivals in the United States such as Firefly Music Festival and Hangout Music Festival.

Evolution of the Art Installations

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Photo Credit: Matt Cowan/Getty Images for Coachella

The art installations at Coachella are as much as a staple of the festival as the music is. It is known for being a showcase for visual arts including sculptures and interactive installations that are spread throughout the festival grounds. Originally, the art that was used in the early years of the festival tended to be recycled from the previous year’s Burning Man due to a limited budget. Then, between 2010 and 2015, Goldnvoice began commissioning the art pieces yearly rather than renting them. Describing the importance of the art, Coachella artist Cynthia Washburn has gone on to say: “With all the exposure here, I think Coachella is becoming as attractive for artists as it is for the musicians.”

The Coachella Empire

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Photo Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Coachella

Today, the Coachella Music and Arts Festival is one of the biggest, most well-known, and profitable festivals in the United States and the world. Promoting various genres of music with art and food as a major emphasis as well, the festival caters to a wide demographic of individuals, increasing sales drastically. Each Coachella held between 2013 to 2015 set new records for festival attendance and gross revenues, selling out of tickets within hours every year. In 2017, the festival was attended by 250,000 people and grossed a total of $114.6 million. The amazing success of the festival has even led to the development of Goldenvoice establishing an additional two more music festivals on the site called Stagecoach and Desert Trip.