After almost a decade of my close friend raving on about her life-altering experiences at Coachella, combined with the stagnancy and monotony of my daily routine, I decided that 2023 would be the year I broadened my horizons and finally attend Coachella. It might just be me, but it feels as though 2023 has an exciting buzz about it. As the world has well and truly opened up and the presence of COVID-19 creeps further into the past, everyone seems to be planning trips around the world to make up for lost time. For me personally, I’ve always been a late bloomer. As I launch into my late twenties, I’ve had very limited travelling experiences beyond my home country, and it takes a monumental effort for me to go beyond my comfort zone. It has also been a couple of years since I altered my life to be significantly more health-conscious. Without much thought now I wake up before most people, attend the gym six times a week, plan and consume mostly nutritious meals, rarely drink alcohol, and engage in practices to enhance my mental health. This has all become my daily routine, and to deviate from this and travel the world is not something that comes without anxiety. Nevertheless, the travel bug and “wanderlust”-mode that I never experienced as a school-leaver has finally hit me, and as a frequent festival goer in Australia, I deemed it the appropriate time to finally purchase the elusive Coachella tickets.
At 28 years old, I am probably considered ancient by many youthful festival attendees. When I pictured myself at Coachella, I imagined the gaggle of university students in their early twenties gawking at me in sorrow with their patronising eyes, enquiring to their nearby acquaintances about whether I was aware of the existence of my body-clock. This feeling of being “over the hill” at 28 years old is laughable, and I know ANY age is perfectly acceptable to attend festivals so long as it makes you happy. So whilst my age was a minor factor I considered when contemplating how much I would enjoy the Coachella experience, the main trepidation stemmed from whether the experience aligned with my healthy lifestyle and mindset. Whilst I know you can attend festivals and simultaneously abstain from drinking alcohol, and there is an abundance of healthier (but outrageously expensive) food options. I’m pretty sure you can even bring your own food into Coachella (imagine bringing in a meal-prepped tuna rice. I’d immediately cut my own wrist band if I ever did that). However, I wanted to make the most of my Coachella experience, and I know I would have more fun playing drinking games at pre-drinks; being inebriated in a whimsical way and having relaxed and cheerful conversations with strangers whilst hideous dance-moves flow freely. Alcohol to me enhances the festival experience. It allows me to feel more socially-connected with my friends who are also drinking, and it increases my energy at the end of the night when I’m trying to push through my weariness to witness all the acts I want to. So whilst drinking alcohol over three days doesn’t necessary align with me health-conscious values, I chose to focus on making the most of my experience during this time because, well, YOLO. So here’s what happened for me.
My Coachella experience initially started at “Will Call” on a crisp and sunny Spring morning in Indian Wells. Will Call is the ticketing booth set up where attendees go when their tickets haven’t arrived in the mail, or their friends have left them tickets to be collected. Humorously, my boyfriend and I had to go there because our tickets were initially delivered to “Austria” and not “Australia”, a face-palming cliche that caused me significant anxiety when I first realised the mistake. Nevertheless, the process was seamless and we received our wrist bands and shuttle bus passes relatively quickly. The view of the desert and the mountains amongst the perfectly blue sky was unlike anything i’d seen, and it was nice to admire this whilst we waited at Will Call. We zipped to the local supermarket to purchase some soft-drinks and snacks for the day ahead, and then I joined the others who were getting ready in our beautiful Air’b’nb in Palm Desert. There’s something thrilling about applying make-up and styling your hair with some mates before a festival, sipping vodka Pepsi-Maxes (they’re good, trust me) and excitedly discussing the day ahead. I’m not sure if drinking games before festivals is predominately an Australian thing, but it’s a necessity for us and is often touted as the peak moment of the festival escapade.
After a couple of hours of games involving ping-pong balls, red cups and alcoholic beverages, a sensible member of the group reminded us that the overarching purpose of the occasion was to attend the festival grounds and listen to live music. Amidst the thumping of the bass from our massive speaker and the silly chit-chat that naturally occurs after several drinks, we managed to order Ubers to take us to the nearby bus stop. What is usually a mundane experience whizzed by in a swirl of raucous laughter, silly conversations and just general banter. Perhaps our group was a little untamed compared to the other festival-goers who were on the shuttle bus, because we were the only ones singing the Australian National Anthem (which is objectively atrocious), and what I thought was the universally liked banger “Proud Mary”. We didn’t let the awkward silences in between our screeches dampen our spirits, and we arrived at the festival grounds spilling out of the bus with a buzz of excitement and anticipation. Belated apologies if you were with us on that bus ride.
I don’t have the best recollection of how the specific events unfolded next, but I remember the security being quite relaxed and sparse as we waltzed in. A quick search of my bag and a scan of my wristband and I was admitted into the festival grounds. And what a beautiful sight it was! The swarms of people didn’t feel suffocating to me amongst the wide-open space, and I looked around to observe the various stages scattered around me in the distance. The iconic palm trees and ferris wheel looked just as picturesque in person, as did the slanted multi-coloured building which had a multitude of influencers perched in front taking pictures. What I noticed as I looked around was the vast range of people at the festival – of all ages and demographics. Even the most eccentric individuals wouldn’t have felt out of place, and the variety of attendees created a non-judgmental atmosphere of acceptance with the mutual goal of enjoyment. The buzzing environment was unlike anything I have ever experienced, and as we edged closer to the main stage I could feel the bass of the speakers reverberate through my body. I had finally made it to Coachella.
I’m not going to recount the festival blow-by-blow, but I will note some salient features of the weekend. First of all, I THINK there were a variety of expensive food stalls, but I basically only ate hotdogs and nachos all weekend due to convenience and random cravings. As someone who usually has big chicken salads for lunch, I expected my body was fuming at me for the lack of nutrients and excessive alcohol consumption over the weekend. If I’m honest, i was having too much fun to care. Sometimes it’s okay to put your health goals aside and focus on enjoyment and living in the moment, particularly for a special experience. At the very least, the sheer size of the festival meant I was more than doubling my daily step-count goal so at least I was adhering to my exercise values.
Another thing worth-noting is the attitudes and personalities of the other people that I came across at the festival. From memory, everyone seemed particularly friendly. There were rarely any pushy people rushing by me to get to the front of the stage; and I always felt as though I had so much space around me to dance freely. Rather than obnoxious Tiktokers and celebrities, the people I came across seemed genuine in their love for the music and possessed a zeal for enjoying the moment they were experiencing. Most people walked around in a generally relaxed fashion, chatting to their mates or posing for pictures in front of iconic places. The music quality sounded fantastic – so crisp and clear but not belting my ears to ruins. It was an adventure darting from the different stages with the vast array of music on display. One moment we would be in the Do-lab listening to a gritty electronic set and then we would be in front of Blink 182 belting out “I miss you” in unison.
Whilst I did experience some crappy hangovers, and the lengthy wait for the shuttle bus at 1am on the first night was a treacherous experience, overall there were rarely any downsides for me. Even the port-a-loo experience was one of the best I’ve had, and it felt as though they were cleaned and restocked at a rapid pace. At the end of the experience, my health-conscious self did feel an inkling of guilt about the lack of nutrients (would it kill you to have a sandwich mate), but ultimately it all felt worth it. It’s what you do most of the time that is important, and a weekend of fun and frivolity says little about your overall values and health status. For the majority of the year, I am the type of person that wakes up at 5.00am and journals for my mental health. I do exercise daily and eat a wide range of nutritious foods. So for a weekend at Coachella, I was happy to put this aside and just focus on enjoying the experience. That isn’t to say you can’t go to Coachella sober. It’s such an amazing spectacle that I am sure it would have been fun even if I did wake up early, pack healthy foods and abstain from alcohol. And, yes, as a 28 year old I did not feel out of place amongst the mostly considerate and fun-loving festival goers around me.