It was hot, and hazy, and almost nothing was going according to plan. It had taken almost three hours to get to Indio from L.A., and another hour plus to travel the few short miles from Coachella’s off-site ticket pickup center (where, while we’re at it, someone had used my name in a bizarre attempt to steal our tickets earlier in the day) to the musical festival’s back entrance, where a loud, sweaty crowd was swelling. “We’re out of wristbands,” shouted a security guard from the gate. “Hold onto your ticket stubs when you enter!” I glanced around. The girl in front of me was wearing a bikini. The guy behind me was wearing little more. These people don’t have anywhere to put tickets stubs, I thought. What a mess.
And yet, things were running smoothly inside. A record 75,000 fans descended on the Empire Polo Fields to catch the bands opening this year’s festival, which was sponsored by Sony Electronics, and sets by Grizzly Bear and La Rou had large crowds moving from tent to tent until LCD Soundsystem drew fans out onto the plain with a truly electric set.
By the time Jay-Z, the festival’s first hip-hop headliner, made his grand entrance in black and bling, the field was a horizon-wide sea of fans. He opened with “Run This Town,” then performed “Empire State of Mind,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A),” “Hard Knock Life,” “Can I Get A…” and “99 Problems,” almost losing his voice mid-way through. I missed Beyonce’s surprise entrance. She joined Jay on stage to sing “Forever Young” right when a man climbing his way to the top of a large speaker rig in the field caught my attention, and I couldn’t look away. I held my breath, gripped the picnic table I was standing on with my bare toes and thought, Don’t jump! as he swayed this way and that, swinging high above the crowd with an outstretched arm and leg. After a few excruciating moments, fireworks lit the sky; the guy pumped his loose fist in the bright air and made his way back down the rig.
I turned back to the stage feeling a rush of relief—both for the crazy climber who made it safely to the ground and for the festival itself, which was living up to its ideals of peace & (diverse) music—just in time to sing along with the chorus of “Encore,” Jay-Z’s closing number. That feeling alone was worth the price—and the hassle—of admission.