Music Festival Travel Journal — Coachella weekend 1

The last two years, I’ve hit a bunch of festivals in the months of April, May and June as my NFL job has ended prior to festival season kicking off. This year, the plan is to hit 11 festivals in 11 weeks starting with Coachella weekend one all the way until Arroyo Seco back in southern California at the end of June. I’ve decided to do something a little different with my blog and do a bit of a journal detailing my travels to go along with the regular festival coverage I usually do. Follow my journey below!

Festivals I’m hitting: Coachella weekend 1, Coachella weekend 2, Fortress Fest, Middlelands, Shaky Knees, Hangout, Boston Calling, Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Firefly, and Arroyo Seco. Also, please follow our blog on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

COACHELLA WEEKEND ONE (INDIO, CALIF.)

Non-Instagram photos courtesy of YourBlurr

THURSDAY. APR. 13

I woke up Thursday with no ticket to the festival and also no ride there. Most people would be panicking at this point, but my festival travels the last few years have relaxed me in these situations. I’ve found places to stay days before festivals in states I’ve never been before — surely it wouldn’t be hard to figure out a way to Coachella — which is only two-plus hours away from where I live in LA.

I already had a place to stay — I was going to be camping with my friend Brooke and her friends. I missed out on the camping experience last year — staying in a house both weekends instead. Most of my friends seem to be over it when it comes to camping so I was glad to find a group to join. We did a Costco run on Wednesday and Brooke’s friends took her car down early in order to get a spot with their group.

If you’re ever looking for a ticket to Coachella, I recommend checking out the Reddit Coachella Facebook group (there’s always a pinned post with ticket sales for face value) or the thread on r/coachella where tickets are sold. They’re also great places to find out info about the festival that you might not find from the FAQ. On Thursday, I had a couple dudes say they were gonna sell me a ticket and then they flaked. Eventually I found one on Twitter of all places, searching “coachella selling.” I ended up paying $450, which is over face value, for the first time ever. Beggars can’t be choosers. The ticket was located in Indio ten minutes from the fest so I ran the risk of getting there and the person having already sold it.

Next, it was figuring out a ride. I had a friend that I met at Hangout Fest last year who had room for me in the car they were riding in, but Thursday morning they let me know that plans had changed. After sending out a bunch of different S.O.S. texts to people I knew were headed out to the fest, I resorted to Craigslist. I called a number and reached a dude named Jordan who was headed down to the fest in a van that night — he was going to be making cash driving people to and from the fest all weekend. He charged me $40 — not too bad.

He showed up at my house in a 10-seat white van and it was just me and him. He ended up being a really cool dude and we chatted the whole ride down, stopping in at Wendy’s for a quick bite. I actually related to him pretty well — we talked about falling on hard times and bouncing back, and he had done a similar festival trip earlier in his twenties the way I have the past few years. We both agreed on Bonnaroo as being our favorite fest. Overall, one of my favorite things about traveling the festival circuit is meeting all different kinds of people. He ended up swinging my by where I needed to pick up my ticket, and luckily it was still available. He dropped me off at the campgrounds around 1 AM and I rolled in, setup my one-person tent in about five minutes, and passed out.

FRIDAY, APR. 14 — DAY 1

I was shocked that it wasn’t crazy hot when I woke up around 9 AM. I got moving pretty quickly, getting my backpack sorted for the day and meeting some of the people camping nearby. My first beverage of the day was a Capri-Sun fruit punch with a splash of vodka and some raspberry Emergen-C. It was actually pretty tasty. If you’re ever camping at a festival, don’t forget Emergen-C, it’s a life saver. The group we were camping with were mostly from San Diego, and a bunch of people on the other side were from all over LA. I woke up to the sounds of Kendrick’s new album, which I had listened to all day Thursday when it leaked while figuring out my ticket and ride situation. When walking through the campgrounds, I heard Kendrick all day — probably the intention.

We had a good spot maybe 10 minute walking distance from the gates. We walked over to when they were supposed to open so we could get merch and drop it off at camp, but they were late in opening them as usual. There was this freestyle Jewish DJ named Kosha Dillz positioned near where the gates were and he cracked me up by riffing on the people walking by over the same monotonous beat. I ended up heading back to camp after waiting an hour for gates to open, instead getting ready to go into the fest for the day. As I walked back towards camp I #overheardCoachella “I came here to do seven grams of mushrooms and see Hans Zimmer.”

I went in solo for the first few hours, catching Zipper Club at 1 PM as my first act of the weekend. They’re a dope band that had played L.A. a bunch, but I had missed them. They brought out Curt Smith of Tears for Fears for “Mad World” — I heard someone around me say, “Isn’t that the Donnie Darko song?” From there it was a dope set from Klangstof, who have serious Radiohead vibes. I caught SNBRN in the Sahara next, a pretty high-energy set. Then it was Stormzy, one of the UK grime rappers making a wave. The crowd didn’t seem to connect with him as much as they would with Skepta later.

After that I grabbed some grub in the main stage beer garden — some pulled pork tacos that were just OK — and met some girls from Kent State that were pretty nice. We ended up catching Big Gigantic together and then headed over to see BROODS, one of my favorite acts on the lineup. That’s where Brooke ending up meeting up with me and we jammed out pretty hard to their set. BROODS was one of the first bands I ever interviewed when I started writing about music and they’re really nice people and it’s been awesome to see them grow since first blowing up a few years ago on the song “Bridges”. I got a couple Snapchat messages from people laughing at how they could hear me singing along.

Next we caught the last half of Francis & The Lights, who I’ve been on board with for many years. He’s collaborated with Chance the Rapper, Bon Iver, The Weeknd, Cashmere Cat, Kanye West and a slew of others over the past few years and his album last year was one of my favorite of 2016. It’s just him and a DJ on stage but he made the most of it, dropping some insane dance moves to go with his Phil Collins meets Peter Gabriel jams over some minimalist electro beats.

We stuck around and moved up close to get a good spot for BANKS. I hadn’t seen her since her new album dropped last year and was stoked to see some of those songs live for the first time. I was pretty blown away. She really has upped her dance moves and production since the last time I saw her and her two dancers were incredible. She had WAY more swagger than I remember her having before, her confidence seemed at least 200% higher. It was a dope show and a highlight of the weekend.

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After BANKS, it was Phantogram on the Outdoor Theatre stage. They had a pretty big crowd and ran through some old hits to go with jams off their 2016 record. We left towards the end to get a spot for the xx, a band I had been meaning to cross off my bucket list — who I will get a chance to see at least four or five times on my trip this summer. They were incredible, a lot more dance-y than I expected them to be. I loved when they threw it to Jamie XX to do a bit of a solo DJ set for a few minutes. It ended up being my favorite set of the day.

We checked out a little bit of Travis Scott and DJ Shadow before hitting Radiohead. I missed the early part of the set where they had crazy sound problems but caught the last half. I saw them for the first time at Outside Lands last year from about 10 feet away, so I didn’t feel the need to get crazy close this time. I’m going to hit their full weekend two set for sure, but was stoked I got to see them play “Creep,” a song they don’t dust off live very often.

After that it was back to camp where I didn’t last very long before calling it a night.

SATURDAY, APR. 15 — DAY 2

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Photo of me with my homie Mitch at Tycho

Day two, I woke up pretty early and immediately hit the showers. If you do that before 9 AM, you usually don’t have to wait more than 10 minutes. Though that feeling of freshness lasted about an hour before the heat got me sweating, it was a good move. I spent some time getting to know the people camping next to me. One dude works at the new House of Blues in Anaheim and was telling me about their church brunch that they do which sounds pretty awesome. I’m not religious in any way but the most I’ve ever connected with church is when there’s a dope music aspect. He explained to me that it’s just the music without the lectures, which sounds up my alley.

I headed in solo around the same time for day two, catching rap duo Swet Shop Boys at 1 PM. The group features Riz MC, aka the actor Riz Ahmed from Rogue One and HBO’s The Night Of. Their energy was awesome and I really dug their set. After that I caught the tail-end of UK rockers Blossoms, who reminded me slightly of this group I used to like in high school called The New Amsterdams. I then caught Shura in the Mojave Tent, and her song “2Shy” really made me think of Paula Abdul. There were some serious early Madonna vibes and it was one of my favorite surprises of the weekend, super epic synthpop.

I caught the tail-end of Arkells, who I first saw at Firefly last June. They’re a pretty good folk rock group. After that I grabbed some Bludso’s BBQ in the craft beer garden — the best BBQ in Los Angeles. I ran into my friend Sam who was working the booth and got hooked up with some free brisket, getting my day two off to a good start. After food, I caught some of Banks & Steelz (which is Paul Banks of Interpol and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan). Rising alt-pop star Bishop Briggs joined them to do Florence Welch’s part of “Wild Season”, but her mic was pretty low volume and it was hard to hear her. Indie rockers Car Seat Headrest were next, and “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” was one of the best early-day singalongs of the weekend. I also caught some of Kaleo, a dope rock band from Iceland that has a bit of a Black Keys sound.

One of the sets I was most looking forward to was Thundercat‘s — his album DRUNK is one of my early favorites of 2017. “Any of you guys got my album DRUNK?” he asked, which the crowd responded to enthusiastically. “Tight. Are any of you guys drunk right now?” he said, and the crowd reacted even louder. “Tight,” he laughed. He brought out Michael McDonald for a trio of songs and he jammed out on the keys and lended some vocals.

After that I met up with my homie Mitch, who had come across a ticket just for the day. We caught some of Tycho‘s awesome sunset set at the Outdoor Theatre before we went our separate ways. One of my main goals of the weekend was to get a front row spot for Warpaint in the Gobi tent, so I caught the end of DREAMCAR there first. DREAMCAR is No Doubt minus Gwen Stefani with AFI lead singer Davey Havoc on lead vocals. It was pretty solid. I chatted it up with some diehard Warpaint fans up front before they came on and blew me away with one of the best sets of the weekend.

I’ve seen Warpaint maybe a half-dozen times and they’ve never disappointed. Heads Up  was one of my favorite records of 2016 and I love how they take songs and develop them even more for their live show. Theresa was wearing a sports bra with the words “Eat More Pussy” laid across it — wise advice. Their set at Coachella 2014 was one of my all-time favorite festival sets, and this one came pretty close. They played an entirely different set from the last time except for two songs — they always seem to mix things up whenever I see them.

My friend Catherine was working the fest and texted me after Warpaint: “I fuck with them. It was my first time hearing them and I just YES”

After Warpaint I met up with Brooke for some of Bon Iver before seeing some DJ Snake. During DJ Snake, he started playing a melody that sounded very much like Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” to the point that I started singing the words. Some girl next to me was all “Isn’t that a Fugees song?” and then DJ Snake brought out Lauryn Hill and everyone lost their shit. She sang “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly” from that epic record, it was one of the best surprises of the weekend.

Last of the night was Lady Gaga, someone I’ve always respected but never really been a hardcore fan. Stepping in to fill Beyonce’s shoes when she couldn’t perform is a high order but she passed with flying colors. One of my favorite moments of the set was when they showed a group of young girls in the front row singing along to one of her songs — it was dope that these girls could look to the stage and see someone that looked like them headlining a festival as massive as Coachella — and with the largest crowd of the weekend to boot. I’m excited that girls that look like Beyonce will get that opportunity next April, it’s a good progression. Brooke was pretty stoked because one of her friends was one of the main dancers on stage with Gaga. Her dancers in general were really awesome all night.

Afterwards we all went and checked out the Antarctic Dome, something that HP and Intel put together. It’s basically an IMAX experience where the walls and ceiling are the whole screen and it’s one of the trippiest things I’ve ever bared witness to. It’s pretty hard to explain what was happening in there but if you go weekend two, you HAVE to check it out.

SUNDAY, APR. 16 — DAY 3

Day three was a bit more of a struggle, the camping was starting to get to me. I got into the festival in time to see Caveman, meeting up with some friends I met at Coachella a few years ago through my really good friend Sydney. They’ve done Coachella for the last several years and I saw them at Hangout Fest and Life is Beautiful a few years ago too. Caveman was awesome — it was the first and only time I stopped at the new Sonora tent this year. It has bean bags and couches and is air conditioned, I’m pretty sure it took the place of the Despacio tent from 2016. Afterwards we all grabbed beers and I talked them into trying out Bludso’s and they thought it was great.

Afterwards I hit Skepta‘s set at the Sahara Tent and the crowd was REALLY into it. Grime has yet to fully come across the pond from the UK, but the crowd certainly was fucking with Skepta’s vibe. Afterwards I caught SOFI TUKKER in the Gobi Tent. For some reason I thought it was a DJ duo, but they were rocking actual instruments. The Sophie in the group was especially energetic, during one protest song she came across a bit like Xena: Warrior Princess. It was another one of my favorite early-day sets of the weekend.

Afterwards I made my first and only stop at the DoLaB, checking out killer sets from Whethan and Elohim. We stayed on the outside of the crowd underneath the shade, and it was so fucking hot. People that made their way out of the center of the crowd always looked like they had just returned from hell. Still, the vibes were great during those sets and I hope to see more stuff there weekend 2.

Later I met up with some camping buddies for Porter Robinson & Madeon, who killed it on the main stage. I left early to help my friend Connie, who works on Galantis. We did a flash mob where we carried light-up Galantis balloons from the Yuma tent all the way into the Sahara, where they were performing. I met some pretty cool people and there were these two Italian girls that were hilarious and full of energy, yelling “FLASH MOB” as we walked through the festival. I was able to run off and catch the end of Hans Zimmer before seeing Galantis tear it up with one of the most energetic sets of the day.

I caught the last handful of songs from Lorde, including “Green Light” — before waiting by the weird pinata animals for Brooke before Justice. The French duo delivered one of the dopest sets, seriously mixing it up. We ended up making a pretty big dance circle and this one dude was especially vibing with us. He ended up being the drummer from Diamante Electrico, one of the bands who played the Sonora Stage. I’ll definitely check them out next weekend when I return.

Kendrick Lamar — what can I say. There’s a reason he’s the best rapper out there today. After dropping DAMN. on Thursday, he delivered the live debut of many of the album’s songs in his festival closing set. I was pretty surprised how many people knew all the words to some of the new songs. Brooke ended up leaving the set to go somewhere else and I made friends with some dude from Orange County who came out just for the day, mainly for Kendrick. The Kung-Fu Kenny vignettes that played on the screen in between some of the songs were so bizarre and hilarious. It was awesome how his show was a complete 180 degree turn from what he headlined with at FYF Fest last year. He really stepped his game up, making Drake’s failure at Coachella two years ago look even sillier by comparison. Kendrick put a bigger gap between him and the rest of the competition as far as who the best in the game is in my opinion.

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Before heading back to camp, I got to meet up with my friend Celeste at the ferris wheel — we had met at a Cashmere Cat show at the El Rey awhile back. Afterwards I kept the party going until about 4 AM, including my first stop at the silent disco in the campgrounds. Packing up in the morning wasn’t too hard, and we got on the road around 10 AM before getting back to LA around 2 PM or so. Weekend one was in the books and a nice sit-down shower was what the I ordered in terms of recovery.

Five favorite sets of Coachella weekend one:
1. The xx
2. Warpaint
3. Kendrick Lamar
4. Justice
5. BANKS