As the masses decamp from Indio, California, we look back at the 2019 edition of the music and arts festival — from highlights such as Kanye West and Sofi Tukker to disappointments like Zedd and a prickly sound system.
WINNER: Paul Tollett and the Booking Team
When the 2019 lineup was booked in summer and fall 2018, Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett (left) and his team had no way to know that country star Kacey Musgraves would cross over and win the top Grammy (Album of the Year), that Billie Eilish’s months-away record would go to No. 1 in 70 countries, that relative unknown Lizzo would be surging with a hit or that U.S. audiences would buy in to K-Pop (Blackpink). They went “long” on a lot of bets that paid off. If they had a record label, they would be A&R savants.
WINNER: The “Space Man” Returns
The Space Man (technically, “Overview Effect”) returned after a five-year hiatus and was the roaming star of the fields. She (or he?) wore multiple wristbands, had a “hippo” from one of the other art installations stuck to it is moon boot, and rolled in to stages to check out marquee shows. Artwork like this truly makes the “and Arts Festival” part of the “Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival” ring true. It should be a fixture for every year.
There’s a recent tradition of a mass market EDM “feel good” act at sunset on the Main Stage on the final day. Calvin Harris, Kaskade and Major Lazer have filled this role in recent years. This year, Zedd got the gig and couldn’t have played it any safer. He didn’t even change out the oddball songs (e.g., “Bohemian Rhapsody”) from his Los Angeles festival show nine months ago. It’s not surprising that a “Top 40” songwriter who is headlining KIIS FM’s “Wango Tango” concert would stick to radio versions of his pop hits at his biggest mass-market show of the year, but I expected more.
The “Remember” and “Tie Me Down” producer conducted a 13-piece orchestra and cooked up a sentimental Avicii tribute with Aloe Blacc at dusk on the two Saturday nights, adding on to momentum that’s been building since his Gravity tour. “I grew up in the Bay Area and went to Coachella as a kid. It’s the festival I always dreamed of playing. It means so much to me,” he told The Party Report before taking the stage. “Craziest show of my entire life. Thank you @coachella,” he posted afterwards.
IMPROVED: WiFi and Communications
What’s App and other messaging apps worked much better than in the past. Coachella’s own app pushed out real-time notifications and supported on-campus Postmates food orders to avoid waiting in lines, a win for both sides of these transactions.
ENOUGH ALREADY: The Influencer Proliferation
With better cell service comes more Instagram clutter. The good news is that by Weekend 2, the influencer culture at the fest had depleted by about 70%. Social media stars and their camera crews had largely moved on from using the Empire Polo Club as the ultimate photo shoot location.
The body-positive singer has a legitimate “song of the summer” contender in “Juice.” (It sounds just like a Bruno Mars earworm.) She packed her shows both weeks and shrugged off sound issues with a winning attitude. At some point in the next few months, she’ll make a splash with a major TV or awards show appearance, especially if she shows off her mastery of the flute.
LOSERS: Sound Engineers
In addition to Lizzo, botched audio plagued Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, P. Diddy and Mase. If most DJ’s microphones broke — preventing them from shouting canned pump-up lines — it would be a blessing. It’s too bad it happened to the funniest guy in EDM, Dillon Francis, who shouted into a dead mic for the first few songs of his second-week set.
MOST IMPROVED: The Menu
With high-end Postmates takeout on the grounds, sit-down restaurants and famous chefs like Roy Choi and Marcel Vigneron (left), Coachella promoter Goldenvoice should start selling a reduced-rate “food pass” for those who only want eats, not beats. Good bye, Coachella bod.
WINNER: Sofi Tukker
Security had to be called in to contain the duo’s overflow crowd for their high-energy dance party in the Mojave. These two are smart, and not just because they went to Brown. They lined up their release schedule to build towards Coachella, took out billboards on the highway leading in to Indio and plotted a new show to make a splash in the desert. It worked. There are a lot of new Sofi Tukker fans coughing up dust this week.
TREND ON THE RISE: Speakeasy Clubs
What started with the “Secret Tiki Bar” a few years ago has blossomed into multiple secret enclaves throughout the grounds. The ’70s-themed “Hush Hush” disco had a New Year’s Eve party every night. Hiding in plain sight in a beer garden, the Absolut Planet Tent (above) was churning 6,600 people a day during the first weekend. These air-conditioned portals to alternative party environments brought the “Easter egg” mentality of video games to life.
SURPRISE: Electronic Veterans
With hip-hop as the dominant genre of youth culture, even the famed dance-mecca Sahara tent has ceded ground. When Diplo (pictured) and Dillon Francis — two of the most familiar faces, Vegas mainstays and best friends — landed on the lineup, they came with the lowest of expectations. Again?! Francis has been at four of the last seven Coachellas — probably more than anyone else except Diplo. Yet each won over the grizzled audience with fresh material and a new set in exactly the way that Zedd did not. Bonus points to Francis for winking at his eye-straining visuals during intense drops with graphics that said “Yikes!”
WINNER (Begrudingly): Kanye West
West dominated the 2019 Coachella news cycle from the pre-season until the final day. Initially rumored to be a headliner, stories then came out that he cut off conversations when promoter Goldenvoice wouldn’t build him his own dome on the grounds. Then, by creating his own show on a “mountain” in the campgrounds in the feral Sunday morning sleep-in timeslot and drawing transportation and logistics resources just for him, he commanded all of the attention on the festival’s final day. If the festival doesn”t repeat the “Sunday Service” in the future, 2019 will be remembered as the “Kanye Sunday Service” year. (Note: In 2020, Easter falls on the Sunday of what could be Coachella’s first weekend.)
YouTube streamed multiple channels of live sets during the first weekend that made “Couch-ella” a viable option, reportedly racking up over 80 million views. For the second weekend, they interspersed live sets with short form pre-recorded “Coachella-adjacent” content that continues to propel the festival in to a lifestyle brand. As a finishing touch, they also convinced team Kanye to let them stream his “Sunday Service” on Easter morning, turning it in to an event. Here, Global Head of Music at YouTube Lyor Cohen and CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki hung in the Youtube Music lounge backstage.
RISING STAR: White Claw
This is a public service announcement for “Oldchella”: Meet White Claw, Gen-Z’s version of Zima. This alcoholic seltzer water was not a part of the festival or any parties (as far as I know), but apparently has mass popularity among the under-25s. I spotted it being chugged on the shuttles, snatched off the shelves at the local stores, co-headlining in campers’ Instagram feeds (above) and used as the T-shirt uniform of choice for a group of festival goers. My review: It tastes like seltzer water.
Check out TheWrap’s review of Beyonce’s Coachella documentary “Homecoming” here.