And after three years at Coachella, I can say it’s no different than most music festivals, except the stakes are higher: higher temperatures, better bands, more expensive beer, more innovative art. With a lineup reading like a list of this year’s critically acclaimed commercial hits and new cult favorites — it spanned multi-platinum icon Madonna to myspace phenomenon Octopus Project — Coachella sets up expectations that are pretty hard to meet.
Which is why, every year, I debate whether or not I’m going to go. On the con side? It’s hot and sweaty and crowded and exhausting. It’s almost a four-hour drive, not including the hour waiting to get into the parking lot. With big bands, you’re so far away from the stage you can’t see them. And while you’re busy checking out a band sure to be next year’s White Stripes in the Gobi tent, you’re probably missing the actual White Stripes on the Main Stage.
But on the other side, there’s Nine Inch Nails. The Pixies. Radiohead? Or, this year, Depeche Mode and Cat Power and Tool and The Walkmen. So I went.
It was just as Coachella always is. Beautiful. Picturesque. A cultural moment. But still, after three years of attending, just a festival. And as such, I was getting bored, which was too pathetic for me to accept. So I decided to entertain myself by making use of the photo pass I’d snagged when my photographer boyfriend decided not to come with me. I’d always envied concert photographers, not only for the glamour factor but for the fact that they could get close to the stage without actually touching anyone else’s sweat.
But it turns out that being a photographer was a lot more work than I’d thought. First of all, I was one of the only women in the photo pit. And while every photographer seemed to have a larger lens protruding from his dangling camera than the next, I was carrying my dinky $100 Canon. I felt a little like the only boy in the locker room who hadn’t hit puberty — or, at least, how I’d imagine it to be.
Once the music started, the pit filled up with other photographers. I was glad to see more women, until I realized that there were so many photographers that I couldn’t get a decent shot without a head or hand or camera in the way. It was even worse for Depeche Mode, where a row of photographers were on risers in front of me. I was lucky if I could see David Gahan’s foot, much less get a powerful photo of him.
By the time three songs had passed and I was forced back out the chute and into the field, I was exhausted from all the striving and concentrating and fighting off testosterone.
So I went home. Halfway through the Depeche Mode set, I decided it was more important to beat the traffic than to see Daft Punk close out the Sahara tent. Maybe I’m too old for this. Maybe I didn’t plan well enough. Or maybe Coachella is best left to the professionals: those with the newest driver’s licenses, those with VIP passes not connected to actually working the event, and those with the biggest lenses. Don’t get me wrong — I still love Coachella. I just think I like the DVD better than the real thing.