Summer music festival season unofficially kicked off Friday with the start of Coachella. When tickets went on sale last January, my college campus entered standby mode, as I imagine many others did. I watched students desperately scramble to their cell phones and laptops to claim a coveted weekend pass. Many were disappointed — tickets for the first weekend sold out in just 20 minutes. But what is driving the unprecedented allure of music festivals?
Ask a college student today the historical event he or she would have liked to witness and Woodstock will be a common response. Today, “three days of peace and music” has been resurrected, though its ‘70s counterculture has been replaced by something novel. Coachella is characterized by a desperate nostalgia that is defining our generation. In effect, the festival has become a statement, a place to see and be seen. The crowd attempts to emulate the flowery past by reclaiming an experimental life style, a communal musical experience and a return to nature. As a result, everything from fans’ style to behavior is a manifestation of that nostalgia.
Coachella is a game of dress-up where fans get into character and try to play the part. Girls dress in draping lace and crochet, faux-fur and flowing maxi skirts. Braided hair is clad in tinsel, feather and flowers. Tattoos are flaunted like artistic statements. The look conjures images of hippie culture and is reminiscent of the days when Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix set fire to the stage.
The eclectic music scene set in the Palm Springs desert endows Coachella with an experimental, drug culture evocative of Woodstock’s free-spirited atmosphere. Amphetamines and hallucinogenic drugs like ecstasy, LSD and mushrooms are prevalent among fans who seek new personal experiences and relationships to music and nature. When the music stops, the experience continues as many festival goers camp out in the desert and wake up to music echoing across the sand.
Despite the augmenting popularity of Music Festivals, it would be a mistake to homogenize Coachella with the rest. Last March, I witnessed what appeared to be a mass exodus to Miami for Ultra Music Festival as 330,0000 fans flocked to watch over two hundred world-class DJs perform. But Coachella represents a different culture entirely, a culture of nostalgia. The festival has refrained from becoming mainstream and giving in to modern “rave culture.” In fact, event promoter, Goldenvoice, has succeeded in retaining a cutting-edge vibe, booking a diverse spectrum of prominent and trailblazing artists in every genre. While a handful of chart-toppers will grace Coachella’s stages this year, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phoenix and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they will not overshadow the majority of the acts, comprised of lesser-known artists.
New festivals are popping up in every state in response to soaring demand, indicating that music festival culture is quickly becoming embedded in the fabric of our generation. But Coachella represents a culture of its own in its desire to recapture the past. The music festival is, in many ways, a modern Woodstock with a twist. Coachella goers make a showy statement of their desire to imitate the hippie era through an experimental mindset and embrace of nature. What is driving this recent and prevalent nostalgia? That question is more difficult to answer, but many are certainly looking to Coachella as an outlet for the feeling.