Me vs. Coachella

Four days camping in the desert for the sake of music

Aaron Thompson

I have one box of PowerBars, four gallons of water, five cereal bars, three oranges, one bottle of sunscreen SPF 35, one bag of trail mix, eight slices of bread—stale—one jar of peanut butter, one coffin-shaped tent, one sleeping bag, one red track jacket and one bottle of vodka. Not that I really need all of this food or supplies, but when you’ve never camped before in your life and decide to start your outdoorsman life alone—but in the midst of one of the country’s largest and coolest music festivals—it’s always good to be prepared.

The only thing that really worries me is the peanut butter. If that stuff gets too warm and you eat it, you’ll spend the rest of your days puking inside of one of the Godforsaken port-a-potties. And who would want to do that?

But then again, this is Coachella, and once you file past the security checkpoint and into the camp, the real world seems to go away.

The sun has set on this Thursday, the day before the music and art and all that other cool stuff begins. But tonight, well, tonight is for partying. At least that’s what I thought. But despite the rhythmic clinks of hammers nailing tent posts into the ground and the irritating techno blasting from somewhere in the camp, it’s pretty calm. I meet a bunch of people, some from California, others from … well, everywhere, and I begin making friends. The day turns to night, the hammers keep hammering, and the techno keeps pumping. I’ve already adjusted to camping life.

Day 2 at Camp Coachella starts with a flash and I’m awake and cold. I get up and head to the shower. These things look scary, and I can only imagine the hygiene inside. Surprisingly enough, they’re clean, and they even have hot water. I scramble to my tent and throw on some new clothes. The show begins, then ends, and now it’s back to the camp. However, unlike on Thursday, the hub of activity is now as quiet as a church, and I fall asleep.

Day 3 starts off insanely hot inside the campground, forcing campers to improvise canopies underneath their tarps until the festival doors open.

The festival soon ends, and hordes spill into the campsite high and merry off of a day of music, while I sit in my tent and get drunk. At first everyone is kind of milling around, chilling out or falling asleep when the sound of rhythmic banging begins to fill the air. Out of nowhere shadows of people file past the tents like something out of an apocalyptic zombie flick. They converge into a big circle of improvised drums, dancing and chanting. It’s almost 2:30 a.m., and this rolling party has seized the calm of the campground and ripped it apart. Police, clopping around on horseback or darting by in golf carts, flank and follow the party around. It’s fun but repetitive, and the moment loses steam quickly—as does my drunken exuberance. I somehow find my tent and go to sleep. I don’t really remember how.

Day 4, the last day, and the attrition of Coachella is taking its toll on me and other campers. Everything from iPods to acid and pot is missing somewhere in the site. It’s still hot, but a breeze has picked up, cooling down the field. As night settles into the camp, Saturday’s excitement seems to be almost gone. The camp empties out as campers pack their stuff and head back to the surrounding California cities. I’m tired, but the inkling of sociality tingles in my spine, and I get the urge to meet new people. Around 2 a.m. I stumble into a camp of hippies from San Francisco. “Hey guys, you want to come over here and party?” asks one of the tan and skinny hippie girls wearing a bikini as she gestures me and others over. I take a seat next to her as she and her friends introduce themselves.

Then the girl and the others stand up and begin to dance, and suddenly it’s a perfect Coachella moment. People uniting from all over to (sort of) abandon the restraints of society to come together, camp and party as one big family set on one simple purpose, to have a good time. And that’s all that really matters when you’re stuck in the desert.

  • Get More Stories from Wed, Apr 30, 2008
Top of Story