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It’s Another Year Without Coachella

We’ll have memories instead of music in April

Photo by Author

If you know, you know.

First Time: That Festival in the Desert I don’t know my way the first time. I don’t realize that the wind farm will become my guidepost. The ribbon of highway will lead me past it; I’ll stare at the white metal blades slicing the pale blue sky. So many of them, as far as the eyes can see. Later I’ll look it up and learn; these giant windmills power most of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. Hundreds of them are standing guard at the edge of the desert.

I’m a stranger here, one of many thousands at a weekend of revelry — — we’re powered by money, alcohol and drugs, and the love of music.

It’s an entertainment industry crowd; we all have backstage passes, but my name is still “plus one,” no one cares about the wives. My husband is already in action, chatting with music biz types — “how ya’ doing, who you got on stage, let me talk to this guy for a minute, that band is already popping.” I stand at the edges of the crowd, watching and wondering what the babysitter is doing with the kids. The music ripples over me, but I’m not caught in its wave. Someone gives us a golf cart ride back to our car. I can’t even remember who played, but the date shakes on the way home were really good.

2017: It’s Coachella and Stagecoach I slow down to take my annual photo of the windmills, careful not to swerve. My timing has become perfect; the sunset bathes the white blades in a warm glow. Pulling into the parking lot, I swing by the production offices to hug people and grab my gear — golf carts, radio, credentials — and then I head over to check in with the crew. Maybe it's year ten for me, who knows, but the site is already three times larger. I park in my favorite spot and walk the grounds. Tents are still going up. Giant art is being installed. The soft grass is untouched by bare feet — still a deep green.

I breathe in the silence and sweet desert air. Soon there will be thousands of people, including my teenagers, who think it’s pretty cool that Mom drives them around backstage.

I’m already in action — “this gets set-up here, bring the décor to this area, have the performers ready at this time.” We stand inside the gates, watching people run with their phones to share the first shots so they can brag on their socials to friends. They’ll never see the pictures we take of the empty stages or the insides of our trailers. It’s so different for the festival family. I’m a small cog in this giant festival wheel…we all help to make it go. This is April in Indio.

Golf Cart Life: Photo by Author

2020: That Was Our Life The news cut away parts of my life and thousands more, powering it down as the energy is sucked out of the live events industry. We’re all standing still, breathing deeply. I stare at my screen. I look at my notes. I wait for the calls.

Everything stops. I email my staff, I apologize to the vendors, and I wait for news. No one is talking. This is what I know. There will be no drive to the desert, no sunset off the windmills, no walk through the site.

I imagine everyone who is already standing on the field; they’re in mid-swing setting up the festival that won’t be happening. No one speaks. Tents will flap slowly in the wind. Maybe someone plays a song on their car radio; perhaps the sound carried across the empty field. Maybe “Dispatch” announces over the radio to those who didn’t already know.

In April, we gather at home on the couch, listen to tinny sounds through the speakers, watch performances from years ago, and wonder why we took it all for granted.

The crowds, the music, and all that beautiful art — a snapshot of our culture. Driving away last year, I didn’t realize it might be the last time. Twelve million people are out of work, but no one seems worried that these cultural experiences may be over.

I wish I had looked in my rearview, had paid more attention to the desert.

Mask wearing for dust before mask wearing for disease: Photo by Author


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