Does Coachella live up to the hype? Four Irish festival-goers tell us what it's really like
We all know what to expect when Coachella rolls around.
Every April, for two weekends, your Instagram feed is filled with pictures of sun-soaked celebrities in crop tops and fedoras partying in Palm Springs, mingling with the hoi polloi as they flock to one of the most famous festivals in the world.
Brands spend a small fortune hosting pool parties for celebrities, filled with swag – for example, this year, dating app Bumble threw a ‘Bumbleland’ bash which attracted Ashley Graham, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin; PrettyLittleThing.com’s big guest was Kylie Jenner and H&M’s tend hosted Emily Ratajkowski and Modern Family star Ariel Winter.
It’s divided over two weekends, but the first is undoubtedly the more star-studded affair, which makes for a pretty addictive Instagram habit. But is it it’s cracked up to be when you’re not a VIP?
We spoke to four Irish people who have attended over the years to give their honest feedback as to whether or not Coachella really lives up to the hype.
Patrick Kavanagh, a producer on TV3’s Xpose, attended Coachella in 2016 and said for him, it was all about the music.
“The main highlights for me were the acts I saw, and the surprise guests they bring out. The first year I was there The Weeknd brought out Kanye West who did a mini-set in the middle.”
Nadia El Ferdaoussi, aka travel blogger The Daily S’Elf, went in 2012, “I was there the year of the much talked about Tupac hologram, and Rihanna's surprise appearance with Calvin Harris.
“But Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds at sunset was a highlight. As was Florence and the Machine to round off the weekend. So basically, the line up really floated my boat - the music was my highlight, as it should be at a music festival IMO.”
And the rumours are true – alcohol is only allowed in designated areas.
Patrick Kavanagh at Coachella 2016
“It's talked about a lot but one of the most annoying thing about the festival is that you can only drink alcohol in certain areas,” Patrick told independent.ie.
“The good thing is that these areas have fairly decent views of the stage but it definitely limits you and there are times when you end up planning what you'll see depending on how close to the bar areas the stages are.”
Similarly, Nadia says: "There was one beer garden where you could get a drink - so, you couldn't bring your beer to the stage and watch your favourite band. You also couldn't walk anywhere near the bars after closing time (for fear you might break in?! I don't know.)
"And the alcohol rules were very strict. No 'hard liquor' was allowed onto the campsites and they thoroughly searched all cars on the way in."
David White, from Co Louth, who now works as a talent manager in New York City, said the alcohol restrictions were very different to Irish festivals, but he was happy to stay hydrated because of the heat.
"The energy was phenomenal, the music and atmosphere was electric and I was sober drinking water to prevent dehydration! This was a first for me at a festival," he told us.
As for the after-parties, it’s all very LA - instead of continuing on to the campsite for the next phase of the party, the overall site closes at around 1am where everyone hits the hay to take on the next day for an early morning yoga session.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw people downward dogging in the blistering 35 degree heat,” White said.
"Camping is so different than at festivals like Electric Picnic - there was a swimming pool, hot air balloon rides, DJ’s yoga classes, pop up, boutiques, a restaurant and a salon to get your hair and nails done.”
Nadia added, "A lot of the other festival goers took themselves far too seriously and everything shut down very early. There wasn't even any buzz back at the camp site."
New York-based blogger Erika Fox, aka Retro Flame, attended for the second year in a row and said the non-drinking “definitely changed things up a little”, and said there’s “definitely a much more chilled-out vibe” in comparison to other gigs.
While the strict alcohol rules might take some getting used to, the guaranteed sunshine was the star attraction of the weekend.
"The weather for one makes a major difference - it's sunny pretty much all day, although because you're in the desert there's also dust storms. Day 3 in 2016 was particularly bad, they sell bandanas at loads of stalls so you can cover your mouth," Patrick explained.
“Things were a lot cleaner than an Irish festival, there was no one rolling around in mud, and the one upside of people not being able to drink alcohol outside certain areas is that the place isn't littered with plastic cups.”
While Nadia said predictable desert weather made for a much more organised experience.
"It's easier to plan for since the weather is almost guaranteed whereas ours are a bit more hit and miss weather wise which can make or break your experience," she said.
Emily Ratajkowski at Coachella 2017
Like any in-demand event, tickets are hard to come by, but each found it relatively straightforward to purchase tickets. While Nadia and David both camped on site, Patrick and Erika chose to stay at properties nearby in Palm Springs.
When it comes to festival fashion, Coachella sets the bar for festival style around the world – we first saw flower crowns, daisy dukes and fringed dressed in the Indio desert before we saw them become summer style staples in Ireland.
“I definitely feel like there's more 'pressure' to dress well at Coachella, I did kind of end up buying a whole new wardrobe for the weekend when I think about it,” Patrick said. “I think it's a lot easier for guys though, you can kind of get away with throwing anything on. The girls I was with were talking about their outfits for weeks before and there were definitely a few hours spent getting ready each day.”
David said he spent weeks scouring his adopted home of New York City for the perfect looks. “For a guy that’s not really into fashion I really did enjoy the process. I ended up with more looks than days in the festival weekend.”
Erika, who also made the move to the Big Apple in 2014, said she didn’t feel extra pressure to look particularly stylish and embrace the ‘anything goes’ atmosphere "You really can see anything there."
In 2012, Coachella hadn’t yet "turned into a full on catwalk", according to Nadia. “I put the same amount of effort in as I would have for an Irish festival, but I think over the years it's become more about outfit planning and less about music.”
Finally, how were the celebrity sightings?
PK: "I expected to see a celebrity every two seconds but apart from the ones that were on stage I didn't get a glimpse of anyone! There's a VIP bar next to the main one that I assume a few celebs were knocking around - the celebs also seem to spend most of the weekend attending brand-hosted parties around the Palm Springs area."
DW: "Ellie Goulding walked right past me as I was lounging under a palm tree and I saw Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, Adam Lambert and I’m sure I saw Emily Ratajkowski.”
EF: "I didn't, but my friends walked right by Ellie Goulding and Tiesto which was cool.”
NEF: "Not that I remember, so certainly no one big (off stage). From the pictures in the media it looks like they're roaming around everywhere, but that's not the case in real life."