Coachella-alcoholics like myself missed out Friday on our annual chance to mingle and sway with 90,000 like-minded music fans, but we were able to get a small earful of our favorite festival.
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The 100-minute documentary about the Coachella Music and Art Festival, “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert,” debuted at noon Friday on YouTube and offered a colorful history lesson of the event with some performances sprinkled in.
Coachella (with headliners Rage Against the Machine, Travis Scott and Frank Ocean) and Stagecoach (with headliners Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood and Eric Church) have officially been moved to three weekends in October — Coachella is Oct. 9-11 and 16-18; Stagecoach is Oct. 23-25.
Like tens of thousands of others who couldn’t wait until October, I watched the documentary from my couch — #Couchella as they say — and these are the five things I found most fascinating about the doc.
The festival’s evolution
Obviously living through it, we know that the festival is much different in 2019 than it was in 1999 musically, but this documentary does a great job of really taking you through that evolution. It moves from punk and rock, to indie rock, to EDM, to rap and hip-hop and what you can already see as the next wave of young talent with acts like BLACKPINK and Billie Eilish and Bad Bunny.
Coachella’s greatness comes in its ability to adapt. You can clearly see that through the past 20 years, and you can tell it’s going to keep happening.
If you had predicted in 1999 — with Rage Against the Machine and Beck as headliners — that in 2018 a pop act like Beyoncé would headline and be the biggest thing that’s ever happened to the event, not many would have believed you. But that’s where co-founder Paul Tollett and company deserve the most credit. They weren’t afraid to change, and ebb and flow over the years with the popular music of the day, always staying relevant or even one step ahead.
Exploring the biggest moments
The documentary does a good job of explaining how some of the more memorable Coachella moments came together.
It takes a deep dive about the Tupac hologram, both how it happened and how much it resonated around the world. I loved the chunk about how the man-made mountain for Kanye’s Sunday Service last year came together in one week. We watched it happen, but now we know a lot more about why it was happening and how it happened. Also, another mystery solved, for me at least, was why Prince was such a late addition in 2007. To this day that is my biggest heartbreak because I gave my ticket away for that night, since nobody cool was playing then like a week later they announced Prince was coming. Now I know why that happened, but it doesn’t make feel any better about it.
A savior for EDM
The best chapter in the documentary is Chapter Three: Rise of the Robots. I felt like I knew a lot about Coachella, but this notion of how crucial it was to EDM and dance music at a time — when raves were being vilified — was something I had not heard about. It showed, of all people, then Sen. Joe Biden back in the day calling for a crack down on venues and promoters that would host a rave. While other venues were pulling back, Coachella decided to take the risk and keep going strong with EDM. The rest is history as the desert became THE place for any top electronic dance group to perform. The interview with DJ Kaskade remembering when he looked at drone footage of his crowd at Coachella was sublime.
Fun new nuggets
A lot of the history lesson stuff was relatively common knowledge to Coachella fans, like the Pearl Jam show sort of being a harbinger to the event, and the financial trouble that mired the first couple iterations. But there were some fun nuggets that were new to me.
- The story about Tyler the Creator being kicked out of the event for having too much fun with a supersoaker.
- The notion that Tollett made one tiny oversight in the 2001 event — he forgot trash cans.
- The band Bauhaus wanted to release hundreds of bats to start their show in 2005, but apparently you couldn’t do that after 5 p.m. and as one of the lead singers David J said, there was also “the twin perils of rabies and bat (excrement).”
- The interview with RZA of Wu-Tang Clan where he talked about the 2007 reunion of Rage Against the Machine being the seminal moment for him when he realized Coachella really was something special, and not just about money. That also got me excited for this October (fingers crossed) and Rage’s return.
Of course all the behind-the-scenes stuff is great, but the documentary sprinkles in some great performance moments throughout and that was where I got goosebumps a couple of times. I’ve been to the past 15 Coachellas so it was neat for me to see some live footage of acts I never saw, like Amy Winehouse, Bjork or the Beastie Boys. But it was also fun to see up-close versions of the acts I saw from 150 yards away at the polo grounds like The Pixies, Daft Punk, Madonna, Kanye, Billie Eilish, Tiesto and BLACKPINK.
The documentary was produced and directed by Chris Perkel who started the project by sifting through footage back in 2013. Raymond Roker and Paul Tollett serve as executive producers and it is a Goldenvoice and Hamsterdam production, in association with AEG Studios.
So with that in mind, naturally, it was a tad self-congratulating, but the truth is there is reason for congratulations.
Roker, at one point, summed up I think the way a lot of Coachella fans like myself are feeling right now without the event. He said that, of course, Coachella is about the music, but it’s also about that promise of this one weekend for you to hang with your friends, sort of forget about the rest of your life and just have a good time. It’s part of the year, a beacon in year, when all that is possible.
I’m missing that promise right now, and the documentary filled a little bit of that gap.