REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: COACHELLA AND
STAGECOACH FEST BRING LOVE OF LIVE MUSIC TO CALIFORNIA DESERT
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: May 09,2007

INDIO, Calif. — For two weekends, live music fans of
different stripes descended on California’s sweltering Palm
Desert for two separate music festivals with very different fan
bases. The first wave brought between 50,000 to 60,000 people per
day to the three-day Coachella music festival, celebrating hedonism
in a desert festival centered on dance and emerging indie rock and
hip-hop talent.The following weekend brought the inaugural
Stagecoach Festival, a two-day celebration of country music that
drew 30,000 visitors per day and a much more family-friendly
audience including a Half-Pint Hootenanny stage for children with
acts like Buck Howdy, Farmer Jason, the BummKinn Band and The Bon
Family with the California All-Star Cloggers.Organizers said the
relaxed atmosphere of Stagecoach, which featured headliners Kenny
Chesney, George Strait and Brooks and Dunn was a success.
Stagecoach was designed to utilize the massive infrastructure that
goes into hosting Coachella, including its two main stages, three
tented support stages, two beer gardens, two concessions areas and
seven very crowded shade refuges. “There’s a lot of
cost in bringing these elements to Indio, and after several
successful runs at Coachella, we determined it made sense to spread
out the cost over two festivals,” said event organizer Paul
Tollett of AEG Live’s Goldenvoice Entertainment. “It
wasn’t as much a matter of recovering our costs as it was
taking advantage of something we already had in place. The cost of
storing the equipment on-site for an extra week was really
nominal.”For Coachella, the host Empire Polo Fields in Indio
were transformed into a visceral playground of sights, sounds and
the occasional water cannon. With the five stages spread out along
the perimeter of the grass fields, the interior was filled with an
odd assortment of concession tents, merchandise stations and plenty
of strange carnival amusements creating a psychedelic land- and
sound-scape.From nearly anywhere in the park, visitors could see
the 90-foot Geodesic Dome, a geometrical half-sphere loosely
decorated with lights and sensors that would light up the polo
fields at night. Visitors who descended onto the space created by
Domes Europe artist P. Buckminster Fuller were treated to
electronic dance music and live DJ and hip hop performances by
artists like Cut Chemist and The Professionals. Just a few feet
away sat the Gobi Village sponsored by The Do LaB. Split between a
station for a thumpingly loud DJ blasting house music and a small
stage for a costumed band playing hypnotic instrumentals that
included a fiddle and a didgeridoo, The Do LaB entertained with
wild acrobatic dancers and misting and water cannon machines to
keep visitors cool.It would be hard to wander too far into
Coachella without running into an odd art display that challenged
the mind. From the stationary locomotive train powered on biodiesel
and providing partial energy to an otherwise human-powered swing
chair to the massive Tesla Coils that shot out lightning bolts,
Coachella seemed to dedicate as much focus to its visually stunning
art displays as it did the intensive talent buying that went into
booking the concert’s five stages.“We really put a lot
of effort into curating the festival,” Tolette explained.
“We get a lot of submissions from artists, but there are
really a limited amount who are equipped to handle the demands of a
festival like Coachella.”While the two main stages were
reserved for headlining acts like Bjork, the Red Hot Chili Peppers
and Rage Against the Machine, the three-tented stages hosted mostly
European buzz-worthy bands like crooner Amy Winehouse, Scottish
rock stars the Fratellis and Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn and John.
The most buzz-worthy performance came on Sunday with a set by
British rockers The Klaxons, followed by an equally disappointing
set by British bad-girl Lily Allen, who appeared drunk and
couldn’t get a song completed without forgetting at least one
line.With over 60,000 people clamoring into the festival each day,
creating a performance space on the main “Coachella
Stage” that could accommodate so many fans was a bit
challenging, but Tollett offset the giant gap by powering two
massive high-definition video screens on each side of the stage.
Footage of the performances was taped in stunning 35mm, giving off
a theatric and almost mystical feel.The Stagecoach Field took on a
completely different look, explained Tollett, who removed most of
the art attractions and replaced them with Western-themed pieces
like horse sculptures, stuffed wild game animals including a large
imposing bear hovering over the VIP area, bales of hay in tents,
Wild West paintings and a Honky Tonk Hall of Fame featuring
memorabilia from Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and Garth
Brooks. The CMT Network sponsored an Arts and Activities tent
featuring people who could try their luck at riding a mechanical
bull.“We were expecting a completely different atmosphere,
and from that standpoint, it was a real success,” Tollett
said. “This was much more of a family event for California
country fans who previously had nowhere else to play. What made
Stagecoach successful is that a lot of the talent we pull really
draws for the California market. There are still a lot of country
music fans out there.” — Dave BrooksInterviewed for
this article: Paul Tollett, (323) 930-5700