The setting: We’ve got beautiful spots in Southern Nevada, but a mid-April weekend at Coachella’s immaculate Empire Polo Club and its surrounding terrain elevates any experience—especially a music festival. Ever wondered where you might actually find “purple mountain majesties?” They’re right here. And as April 15 to 17 proved, the field’s escapist decor has only been improving: the multiple strings of lit-up balloons arching over (and moving across) the grounds; the illumination of every palm tree, creating a rainbowed border; the large, glowing art pieces and sculptures. Bonus: This music festival—unlike nearly all of ours—boasts plenty of comfy grass.
The cameos: We see our fair share of noteworthy music acts in Vegas, but they’re usually not teaming up like they do at Coachella. Last weekend, Ice Cube reunited with some of his former NWA bandmates (to say nothing of welcoming guest rappers Common and Snoop Dogg); pop star Kesha performed for the first time since her newsmaking court case when she appeared during Zedd’s “True Colors;” Rihanna came out to sing “We Found Love” at the end of Calvin Harris’ headlining main-stage; and Kanye West crashed not one, but two performances, by Diplo and Skrillex (as Jack Ü) and A$AP Rocky.
Axl and Angus: AC/DC only just announced the former as its tour’s replacement singer for Brian Johnson, but attendees got a sneak-peek when the latter showed up to play guitar alongside Slash during Guns N’ Roses’ covers of “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Riff Raff.”
Sia: She’s never been here, so you have to go to her. And those who did last weekend witnessed a pop singer-songwriter turn a greatest-hits set into something akin to avant-garde theater, thanks to star-studded videos and performance artists mimicking the onscreen actions onstage.
More acts who have shunned Vegas: Longtime indie fave Sufjan Stevens also hasn’t come our way, but last Friday’s curveball of a set will go down as one of his most distinct. Grimes, another Vegas holdout, also made quite a splash with her tireless electro-pop party. The list goes on: The Kills, Courtney Barnett, Death Grips—well, they nearly came here (as part of Nine Inch Nails’ and Soundgarden’s 2014 tour), but then they broke up, only to re-form soon after and eventually slay at Coachella 2016.
The parade of up-and-comers: You can catch them before they explode, as festivalgoers did with the likes of Vince Staples, Halsey, Gallant, Chris Stapleton, KSHMR, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals—and North Las Vegas-born Shamir, who bested his previous Vegas sets with a midnight groove-a-thon on Saturday.
Live electronic music: It’s a rare inclusion on the Vegas concert calendar, and EDC can’t be bothered. We might get the occasional Disclosure DJ set, but the British duo played live to a massive main-stage crowd (with guests galore) at Coachella. Another U.K. twosome, Underworld, thrilled with an hour of synth anthems at the Sahara Tent—this set alone justifying the trip to SoCal for a certain Las Vegan I know.
Record Store Day ... 24 hours early. This isn’t a reason to come to Coachella, per se, but the fact that the fest got to celebrate a day earlier than stores around the country was a bonus. As it turns out, vinyl-collecting festivalgoers aren’t really up for arriving at 11 a.m. to buy music, because crowds at the limited-release RSD stock inside the Coachella record store were small. This meant scoring the Patti Smith exclusive I feared would be snapped up by the time I could hit a local record store, and the pop-up even held it for me until the close of Day 1 … for a nominal fee, of course. This is Coachella. It’s spendy, especially for us out-of-towners. But it’s still worth it.