Weekend 1 of Coachella wound to an end Sunday night with pop acts the big story of the festival.
Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish and Janelle Monåe drew huge crowds each of the three nights, and hit-driven, multi-media acts like Childish Gambino, Tame Impala and The 1975 blurred the lines between what is pop and what is niche genre music.
Pop star Katy Perry took pop at Coachella to another level when she made a surprise appearance with electronic artist Zedd. She has publicly declared that she has long wanted to play Coachella, after having attended as a festivalgoer for 17 years.
With a renewed women’s empowerment movement in full effect (Lizzo lit up the Mojave stage earlier) Perry’s appearance with Zedd singing their collaborative hit “365” seemed like a breakthrough.
Her appearance came as another celebration was taking place on a smaller stage. This one was a celebration of Coachella the city, not the festival. And it was happening in the venue that the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has reserved for indigenous music or artists that channel their passion with three guitar chords and something special to say with the accompaniment of a rhythm driven by bass and drums.
That place is the intimate Sonora tent, which has moved into a row of venues that used to be anchored by the massive Sahara. That avenue now includes addresses named after deserts including the Sonora, Gobi and Mojave tents.
The point of the Sonora stage isn’t huge crowds. Soccer Mommy, a bass, drums, guitars and keyboards act named for Nashville-bred singer-guitarist Sophie Allison, looked out at a thousand or so people in the enclosed, air-conditioned venue and exclaimed, “Wow, look at all of you!”
Headlining the lineup in Sonora Sunday was the city of Coachella-based trio, Ocho Ojos, featuring Cesar Flores on guitar, Danny Torres on keyboards and James Gastelum on bass. They call their music “psychedelic cumbia,” but there is nothing artificial about their sound. If it’s psychedelic, it’s a natural as opposed to manufactured high.
Flores played a style of sleek electro-rock guitar that has come to be a representative sound of the east Coachella Valley. But Ocho Ojos expanded their rhythm with the addition of drummer Rafael Rodriguez and turned their set into a celebration of the east valley sound with a guest appearance by three artists from the area, said by a source close to the band to be the group, Xibalba.
Ojo Ojos rode a coordinated promotion from city of Coachella officials to attract more than 1,000 people — slightly more than Soccer Mommy drew.
Naturally, that paled in comparison to the more than 75,000 people drawn for the headline acts on the main Coachella stage, where another local performer, electronic artist Alf Alpha of Palm Desert, opened the Sunday bill
But veteran festivalgoers noticed fewer lines and less crowding at this festival. And Weekend 2 passes are still available for purchase on Goldenvoice’s website.
“It doesn’t seem as crowded,” said Mike Moore of Fullerton, attending his eighth Coachella festival. “Every single day, leading up to this third day, it doesn’t seem as crowded. I’m not sure what that is accountable to – if they just have more areas to spread out to or what. But it’s been very nice for us.”
Coachella has gradually and subtly added more venues over the years, including the air-conditioned Yuma with hardwood floors for dancing to DJs or small electronic groups; the HP Antarctic Dome, featuring a 360-degree projection of a short film to the RÜFÜS DU SOL song, “Underwater;” and sponsored venues such as the Heineken House, which major groups including De La Soul and The Roots played to relatively intimate crowds Saturday night.
The Goldenvoice promoters also have continued to purchase land around the Empire Polo Club since acquiring the neighboring Eldorado Polo Club, and that has been used for additional parking.
Moore wondered if that, and better managed traffic flow within the polo fields, might have had something to do with the sense of less crowding.
“We haven’t had to stand in lots of long lines,” he said. “It’s been surprisingly easy to get in and out.”
But still, he and his companion had just been discussing, could Goldenvoice possibly have cut off ticket sales too early? Could some of those people who purchased passes before the lineup was announced simply decided not to come?
“Because they did reopen to sell more tickets and I couldn’t imagine them doing that if that had not (cut off attendance too early),” Moore said. “They have all this space, but, I can’t imagine them not making enough money.”
Other festivalgoers, such as Joe Miller of San Diego, attending his sixth Coachella, said, “It seems like there are fewer people.” He speculated that could be in comparison to the massive crowd that gathered last year for Beyoncé. But neither he nor other interviewees Sunday afternoon could offer a reason for that.
Of the more than one half-dozen people interviewed on the festival grounds, there did seem to be more people that usual who had not been to more than one Coachella. They came for the experience, they said, for the opportunity to discover bands they hadn’t heard of, for the weather and for the chance to see the Sunday headliner, Grande, who is riding the popularity the immense popularity of her album, “Thank U, Next.”
Jordan Mallis of Stanford, Conn., said she brought her 15-year-old daughter, Abby, on her way to check out California universities.
For music fans who don’t attend Coachella to hear hits, there is the Sonora tent. That’s the home for artists who get promoted with the small fonts on the Coachella poster. It’s the place where rock and roll is an underground art form again.
Easy Life came from Leiscester, England, brimming with attitude and combining elements of punk, hip hop and slacker rock. Iceage came from Copenhagen, Denmark, with a message as old as Johnny Rotten or even Bob Dylan.
Wearing a brown coat to match his pants and a white shirt open to his chest, Iceage lead singer Elias Bender might have been a neo-swing crooner if he had caressed a microphone in his hands. Instead, he prowled the stage with a hand mic and sang punk-style, “Everyone’s a criminal/Every single last one of you is a criminal/Cause the world is a crime.”
It hearkened back to Goldenvoice’s early days as a punk rock promoter and served to show how far that Los Angeles-based producer has come since arriving in Indio.
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