What The Desert Taught Me: Coachella 2012, Weekend 2 (4/19-4/21)

There isn’t much I can tell you about Coachella 2012 that you don’t already know. The logistics of the festival were known to the world after Weekend 1, and we “Overflow-ers” knew no late, large surprises would be held for us. Not that our group didn’t hope. Outside of the promise of an unforgettable experience, my apprehension lay on the fact that we were headed for a rerun in 100°F-105°F degree weather. Would it be worth it?

I’m happy to say it was. But I’ll get there.

You see, outside of local shows and perhaps seeing larger acts at Outside Lands and other San Francisco clubs, you can say that I’ve been desensitized to the idea of live show glory. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself, because I did, but outside my first concert experience I hadn’t had a moment of jaw dropping awe in over 10 years. Close, but never there.

Coachella has, for years, been the premiere music festival for its acts and audience. High fashion, who’s who appearances and stunning line-ups didn’t seem at all important as Weekend 2′s audience melted in 104°F heat on Friday, 107°F on Saturday, and back “down” to 104°F on Sunday. Our group’s morning ambition quickly evaporated in the unforgiving sun as we stayed hydrated, forwent alcohol, drugs and our ardor to dart from set to set for rest and shade. Survival mode kicked in: Did we want to stick to favorites, go for the popular choices or explore new territory?

I instead opted for the cruise control route: a festival so large with conditions so harsh, I decided to surrender to a more open program. There was little pressure from the festival goers as well– I believe that was the beginning of the end concerning my festival anxiety; a line I have forgotten to really apply to shows, music writing & festivals: “Who cares? Have fun.”

Then, the shifts in mentally really began. Listening to praise from favorite artists for our endurance of the heat as well as the wonder most had at the aspect of performing at Coachella was humbling. Years, I have become comfortable with the one-sided love for the music these artists, but after hours under the sun, it was wonderful to hear from these same artists that they love you too. It never struck me, as obvious as it is, that these artists aren’t as inwardly focused into their art as I thought– they wanted to sing for us too.

In particular, St. Vincent‘s set really cemented this notion when she asked after our health and crowd surfed over adoring fans. I had a mild interest in her when I entered the tent, and left in love– I felt I had been serenaded.

Feist‘s set immediately afterwards was the closest I had ever been to near mania. Here is a woman whose songs I’ve wept to, laughed to, fell in love to, dreamt to– and she was right in front of me. As her voice lifted into the desert night, I was struck over how different– yet just as imprinting– seeing her live was. While I’m a bit shy to admit it, I’m not ashamed of the fact that I wept. I suppose because it was a mix of disbelief, awe and pure joy. This– this is that holy grail I hoped to find at a festival like this. I suddenly felt like anything was possible.

It’s that feeling of invincibility that really can describe the Coachella effect: the feeling that what you thought was once impossible is in fact really attainable. These people were singing with us, dancing with us, and as Thom Yorke put it during his Saturday night set, were part of this 3 day community with us. They were more real than an mp3 sound bite or a Pitchfork rating. It was an elating feeling. It was also very grounding.

Grounding, in the sense, that I knew exactly what had been missing in my waning relationship with music culture: a deeper connection beyond the superficiality of what’s hot and what’s new, who’s authentic and who’s not. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t explore new music– Housse de Racket & Gardens and Villa were incredibly memorable in their shows, both exclaiming their dreams were coming true at that moment, and we were witness to it.

Any disillusioned state I held for the music community quickly vanished as I was surrounded by people who ardently loved music as I did. There was no comparison between which set was better and why, just sheer enjoyment of being present in the moment. I recommend attendance at least once in your life should you find yourself in a rut– whether that be musically, professionally, personally or all of the above. My elation has lasted me over a week, and I’m no longer finding myself drawn to a rat race of presenting new music– I’m instead drawn to discovery.