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Coachella Survival Guide

Last Updated on August 11, 2023

An audience at Coachella, with white tents and mountains in the background.So, you’re going to Coachella, you crazy bastard. Are you ready for the sweat-soaked crowds, bipolar temperatures, the endless lines? You betcha.

Every year I go, and every year I swear it’ll be my last. Then the next year’s lineup is announced and, somehow, I find myself with tickets in hand, ready to brave the relentless sun and mobs of pierced-lip weirdos. And for what? For a few blissful days of kickass bands that leave me wanting more way after the last note fades into the distant rose-hued hills.

Guy wearing a pizza box as sun shade
Eco-conscious couture, the Coachella way

I’m still going this year, despite the fact I’m no longer officially “press,” which means I’m now sans backstage and VIP passes, willing to mingle with the hoi polloi coated in several layers of dusty perspiration. Many — the campers — will have gone without showers for days. And still, I’ll press through the crowds, hoping not for a closeup glance of my idols du jour but rather for that ephemeral moment of one-ness that was once found only in places of worship, but which can now be occasionally enjoyed at modern-day rock concerts, conditions willing.

And with that, I offer you my novice advice, garnered from four years’ worth of Coachella’ing.

What to Bring

  • Sunscreen: It’s the friggin’ desert, people. Add an exponent to the SPF.
  • Comfortable Shoes: This is not a catwalk. Leave the heels at home. I usually opt for Tevas, though I may bring along my comfy-soled Skechers this time.
  • Ear Plugs: It’s a large field, meaning the music is going to be sonic. If you’re thinking of getting anywhere near the stage, you’ll want some squishy styrofoam protecting your tympanic membrane. Tinnitus ain’t fun.
  • Hat: Sometimes SPF isn’t enough.
  • Small Backpack: “Small” is relative, but you’ll want something that’ll get by security. You’ll have to trek four miles back to your car/campsite if it’ll hold more than a sweatshirt. And, yes, it’ll be searched.
  • Light Jacket: I didn’t use mine at all last year, but the year before I coughed up $50 for an extra layer that I ended up wearing once, just to make it through Nine Inch Nails’ wind-blown set.
  • Cash: I’ve heard rumors the Mafia owns the ATMs. It’s called usury, but the 909 is just a step above Thunderdome.
  • Chapstick: Unless you like it when your lips bleed.
  • GPS/Map of the Area: Very helpful for avoiding the main roads (the ones named after presidents) and weaseling through the neighborhoods ahead of the car caravans.
  • Small Camera: Nothing that says “pro,” i.e., it can’t have a removable lens. Video cameras are not allowed.
  • Small Pharmacy: Not the illegal kind, just the basic aspirin and such. There are “general stores” set up around the grounds, and they’re actually not terribly unreasonable, but if you’re partial to Advil over Tylenol, you’ll want your own stash.
  • Tickets: Last year, a friend forgot hers — in New York. But if you purchased yours through Ticketmaster, you can actually get replacements. It takes a fair amount of phone calls and a wait in the abysmally long ticket line, but she got in without much ado. (Maybe that’s what those “convenience” charges are for.)

White statue in a geodesic dome at Coachella

What to Do:

  • Pick a Meeting Place: Reception sucks, so it’s best to set a time/place to meet your pals. Pick someplace other than the Tesla coil, otherwise you might as well tell them to meet you to the left of the main stage.
  • Wear a Bathing Suit: Then dress in layers. This way you can frolic in the misting tents or hose yourself off whenever you feel like it.
  • Remember Where You Parked: I’m saying this from experience.
  • Refill Your Water Bottles: You won’t have to take out equity in your mobile home, plus it’s easier on the environment.
  • Plan Your Schedule: You’ll inevitably change it once you get there, but it’s good to go in with a strategy. Ask yourself: In ten years, will I be happier that I saw Willie Nelson, or that up-and-coming British band with the asinine name?
  • Don’t Block My View: This is the best tip I can give you. I’ve seen many a fight break out over some bikini-clad chick on her simian boyfriend’s shoulders, or some giddy shutterbug a thousand yards from the stage holding his camera in front of someone’s face for an indistinguishable shot of some crappy lo-fi band. If you’re one of these people, you deserve whatever you get. Especially if it’s my view you’re blocking.

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