The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary Friday by quietly self-identifying as a global powerhouse.
No bands from the 1999 festival were on hand to celebrate the era before Indio was “the city of festivals.” And the festival grounds, consisting of the Empire and Eldorado polo clubs and parking lots where palm trees once stood, bore no resemblance to the less-developed Empire Polo Club of 20 years ago.
Poetic Kinetics brought back a version of their 2014 “space man” installation, “Escape Velocity” — the new version looked a little worse for the wear, purposely — called “Overview Effect.” It was meant to show the shift in awareness some space travelers have felt about our planet, according to a statement from the artists, and it proved popular with veteran festival goers.
“As someone who has been here before,” said David Sarabia of Venice Beach, “this one is pretty special.”
The international lineup heralded a new era of inclusion, featuring artists from every continent except Antarctica, although it was represented with a presentation in the HP Antarctic Dome — an immersive, “360” short film based on a song by an Australian band that has relocated to Los Angeles.
The opening day lineup featured artists from Mexico, Canada, the UK, Chile, Australia, South Africa, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, France, Korea, Russia and Tobago in the Republic of Trinidad. Many artists claimed several nationalities, and it appeared, possibly for the first time, that more artists in this festival were from outside of the United States than from this country.
The festival opened to glorious weather with music starting in smaller tents after noon, but crowds of more than 10,000 people were there for the opening act on the main Coachella stage, Los Tucanes de Tijuana. That’s a large crowd, comparatively, for an opening act. The mostly Latino crowd sang along in Spanish with the traditional Mexican band, and the eclectic taste of the mostly young audience was reflected in their attire. People wore t-shirts reflecting an affinity for such bands as Marilyn Manson, The Killers and Guns N’ Roses. One middle-aged woman wore a t-shirt that said, “The future is female.”
The opening day vibe was typical Coachella. Big smiles. People running. People jumping. People seeing a venue across a mile of lawn and realizing they had to get there now because somebody they couldn’t afford to miss was already playing.
“Are we running?” one woman asked another on their way to see Los Tucanes.
“We’re not running,” said the other woman, “but we’re going.”
It was a carnival atmosphere that turned psychedelic after dark.
Mon Laferte, a Chilean singer-songwriter from Mexico City who won five Latin Grammys in 2017, followed Los Tucanes on the Coachella stage and maintained the crowd size with a very different type of Spanish-language music. She sang torch songs with a jazzy, horn-driven band.
Just as Beyoncé asserted herself as the queen of Coachella last year, Calypso Rose, a Calypso singer from Tobago with more than 800 compositions to her credit, declared herself the queen of her 5:25 p.m. slot in the Gobi tent. She promised the full house, “I’m going to give you 45 minutes worth two hours,” and then she sang “Calypso Queen.” Appearing with a band including sax and trombone players, two backup female vocalists and a rhythm section all in white while Rose wore a yellow and black print outfit, Rose declared, “I am the queen” and admonished the men in the crowd, “Never abuse a woman.” But the fun vibe of her show was epitomized by her song, “Israel By Bus.”
Kacey Musgraves, who won the Grammy for Album of the Year in February for her country LP, “Golden Hour,” said she saw some cowboy hats in the main stage audience and played up her country roots. She was soft and sweet on her current hit, “Slow Burn,” and “Mother,” which she sang for her mom who she said was watching the livestream in Texas. But she also rocked on a couple numbers and even threw an “F” while trying to energize the audience for “Velvet Elvis.”
Jaden Smith, the actor and rapper son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, also gave a shout-out to his mother – while performing on top of a Tesla suspended more than 100 feet above the massive audience in the Sahara tent. His sister, Willow, also sang while hanging from a harness before joining him as a singing partner. But the sight of Jaden standing on a car at sunset — at a level that made it look like he had conquered the Santa Rosa Mountains — was a visual moment to match the Flaming Lips lead singer, Wayne Coyne, crowd surfing in a giant bubble in 2004.
There was certainly a reflection of today’s popular music with powerful sets by the electronic group, Gorgon City, and the cool rapper Anderson .Paak with jazzy, rhythmic accompaniment from the Free Nationals on the Coachella stage before the electro rock group, The 1975, Janelle Monae and the 11:25 p.m. headliner, Childish Gambino.
Yellow Days, the stage name of 17-year-old UK singer-guitarist George van den Brock, demonstrated inventive modern guitar skills while displaying a wise-beyond-his-years voice of a 40-year-old.
But another moment came in the Gobi tent when Jenny Hollingworth of the UK band, Let’s Eat Grandma, paid tribute to her 21-year-old boyfriend, Billy Clayton, who died earlier this month of cancer. The band canceled its U.S. tour, but chose to play their Coachella dates, turning Friday’s set into a tribute to Clayton.
They played Clayton’s song, “Dilate,” and Hollingworth and her co-leader, Rosa Walton, laid down on the stage on their backs. Then they finished their set with their song, “It’s Not Just Me,” containing the lyric, “I don’t want to say good-bye. Guess I’ll see you when my screen is vibrating.”
The festival continues Saturday with headline sets by Tame Impala and Kid Cudi, who frequently collaborates with Kanye West.
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