Highlights from my First Time at Coachella 2019

I’ve never been a big music festival person–

but here I was. In the middle of the desert. In the middle of the Coachella Valley in Indio, California.

Just a week before, my roommate and I were debating on really taking on this gig.

“How is it going to be camping? Are we even going to be prepared?” as I meticulously looked at the camping do’s and don’t on the website (my older brother had sent me links on links to “better prepare” myself).

“I don’t know if you’ll be high maintenance or not,” he reasoned to me. (For fair reason, I am pretty simple and don’t need all the makes for a glam trip.)

It was 3am in the morning. We were set to leave and be up in three more hours to head to the desert that Thursday morn at 6am.

I managed to borrow a friend’s sleeping bag, bandanas, phone and camera chargers, a cooler packed with emergency snacks and drinks for the weekend. I packed my suitcase of all the camping essentials, shower gear and last-minute thrown-together “Coachella outfits” for the weekend.

Five days in the desert. This was gonna be fun.

We came a day early to work an extra day to help set up. Turns out, we were one of the first people to arrive to the campgrounds that morning. We managed to figure out how to build our 10-person tent all on our own (which someone had left in our apartment lol; first time building it and I have to say, I was quite proud). We ended up finishing setting up and shuttling everything over to our campsite right before noon — a morning that took us about 3 hours to set up (just imagine two Asian girls lugging around coolers, suitcases, luggages and a damn heavy ass tent all on our own; took us two trips but lol what a sight that would be for someone to see).

From all the media I had seen of Coachella in years past, the festival seemed huge. I was expecting a desert wonderland of installations and faraway stages and huge setups, but the festival is actually a lot more walkable and calm than I thought. Five stages, different alleyways, lots of food booths, tents, lounges, hydration and charging stations. It wasn’t bad — and perhaps seeing a deserted Coachella wasteland before its doors opened to the public made it seem even smaller.

 

I don’t want to get too into the itty-gritty details of each and every moment of the weekend, but I will provide a few highlights from each of the days — because hell, that was fun.

Day one: The desert heat, open air and Khruangbin

Sleeping among the desert night sky and gently waking up to the sun and morning air at 7am was just blissful. “We’re here. Coachella is happening — has it hit you yet!?”

“Thank God we took showers the night before,” my roommate and I agreed upon (the showers were a lot more clean and accommodating than I had anticipated; and of course I’d assume over the years the team at Goldenvoice would have figured it all out lol).

We met up with our #CoachellaMan friend in the main campgrounds before heading into the festival when it opened at noon. “This is Coachella,” my friend told me, as she splashed glitter all over my body. The sweaty heat just made me want to strip down of everything (it got real, haha, and when you’re in that desert heat and everyone’s in that attire, there is no shame).

Our shifts were 5pm-midnight the entire weekend, so we had the entire days to enjoy the festival, walk around, barter for food and meet and mingle with other people.

A chill house electronic DJ from New Zealand named BAYNK was an absolute delight to see. We picked up some pad thai and drinks from our vendor booth, hydrated, applied tons of sunscreen, and enjoyed the air.

I got a nosebleed right before my first shift (so that was fun). Meeting and mingling with other people, working for those tips, and just having the most random conversations with festival-goers was pretty pleasant. I took my break in time to see and jam to Khruangbin and I was in awe of how much fun they were. A lead guitar, lead bassist, funky rhythm session just going on complete instrumental jams to popular songs and their own — it was a complete vibe! And I have to say, after year(s) of working shows as press, it was nice to just be in the moment, stand amongst the crowd and have a moment to myself to really get lost in the music.

We closed shift that night and was able to catch the end of Childish Gambino’s set. What an artist, entertainer, creator and performer, you are, Donald Glover. “Redbone” to close the night off was just perfect.

Being on the campgrounds is another story, as we worked a full day and didn’t have to worry about leaving or rushing out to beat the crowds. In fact, it was just nice to keep it going. We ended up calling it a night, showering, sleeping, and relaxing to prep for another long day (because my body would’ve hated me), and that was a decision I was happy to make lol.

Day two: Billie, Billie, wherearetheavocadoes, stole my heart and so did seeing all your pretty faces

 

Enjoyed some free matcha that morning from our friends from the other booth. Traded and bartered food for food for drinks to make all us working Coachella happy. I saw an old friend as her boyfriend was performing in Chon and put on one hell of a set. Was good to talk music and catch up.

I hadn’t really given Billie Eilish a solid listen before Coachella — I’d seen her name buzz around the press, that she was only 17 and won the best-selling album of the year. Looking at the lineup of the festival, she was the only artist I felt I wanted to see (and I feel seeing an artist perform live for the first time really gives you an understanding of how they really are, and how their music really is).

Billie, Billie, Billie… You damn blew me AWAY. Her trippy electronic beats matched with weird synths, her staccato voice on some tracks, hard rock meets electronic music, angsty and all. She’s created her own kind of sound and genre that blends hip-hop with rock and R&B and I absolutely love it.

The beats felt from her opening “bury a friend,” and “you should see me in a crown” were so strong. Her lullabaic vocals were absolutely beautiful in “idontwannabeyouanymore.” And her onstage charisma and energy was just so damn infectious.

“What a performance,” I thought.

I was sad to leave her set early to get back to my shift (a decision I highly regret), but damn did that one single performance and moment just make my entire weekend.

After that, I enjoyed the night breezes and had tried to meet up with my high school bestie who just made it into the festival with her siblings that day. Hooked her up with some merch staff discounts, then saw Cudi perform “Pursuit Of Happiness.”

Day three: The heat (and #hanger) is getting to us, but loved mindlessly vibing to an energetic CHVRCHES to psychedelic DJ Jon Hopkins and H.E.R.

Fourth day in the desert heat with a tent that got blown down by the wind in the middle of the night, our #CoachellaMan coming to the rescue to help us rebuild it at 3am, and no cover… My roommate and I had a hilarious moment where we got absolutely hangry and tired of each other lol. She bartered her food for lunch, as I needed a “food festival” cleanse and spent my only $8 I spent the whole weekend on a Pressed Juicery juice and traded pad thai for vegan avocado fish tacos that I fell in love with (something a little light and refreshing to freshen me up :)). Had some boba, matcha, met a group of friends local to LA who were catching a couple artists and were down to meet up again later that day for one of the artists’ sets (love how you can meet such open-minded, likeminded individuals at these events; one of the girls was actually one of the Asian pop bands’ publicist).

My body was defeating me this day, so when I went on my break, I went straight to catch CHVRCHES perform “Get Out,” and was upfront for a few of their songs. I love that alt-pop goodness, but my body wanted to wander a bit so I left the tent to visit another one, whose visuals and house music absolutely overtook me for a good 10 or so minutes. I caught some of H.E.R.’s soulful R&B and felt like I was in a lullaby. I walked around to see some of the weird live performance and art installations since it was the last night on my way back to my shift, and felt the drain of the festival begin to make me feel like I was in a trance (lol).

I heard Ariana Grande open up her headlining performance with “God Is A Woman” on my way back to my shift and was vibing to it all the way through. “thank u, next” and Justin Bieber popped up during my shift and I heard her sing from afar.

But damn, were we all zombies by the end of the weekend (and decided to catch one last after-midnight “silent disco” party because we missed it all the other nights).

Endnotes

What a beautiful thing it is to witness festivals like these. When you’re immersed into an experience and let yourself fully go to it (something I feel we all should do, and oft forget to do), the experience really comes alive for you. Outside of the desert, in the real world and the music festivals and parade of it all, is a society that often makes us a part of a system. We become cogs in a machine. We become mindless beings working for the wrong things. We forget joy, community, real human connection, surviving together and helping each other out. It’s a real community (and you’ve got to be open to it).

I’ve had my reservations of Coachella in the past, just because it seemed like an Instagram-wonderland for influencers and teens all over the world to post about. But being there, in the midst of all, no judgments expected or felt… That’s how you should experience it all.

Ty for the good times @coachella! Felt good to be there as the ultimate music junkie and festival noob immersed into the experience by #glamping for five days and seeing a festival come together start to finish.

I’ve always loved being a part of experiences that bring people together, and it was so nice to see friends (including those I missed taking photos with!), make new ones, and share this special kind of experience with you all. Ty for saying hello and visiting. To all who asked, yes, you can work and enjoy a festival 100% sober (lol bc I’ve always believed you can enjoy anything as long as you open yourself up to the experience). To being bougie by building a 10-person tent for the first time with my roommate, to having it blown down by the wind in the middle of the desert, and bartering for food and drinks with other campers in the wee hours of the night — that was fun.

With that being said, thank you for following along my Instagram stories all weekend long, and all my journeys and experiences in general.

My life from a young aspiring guitar player, to a music fan, music journalist, concert junkie to now — it’s all been such a ride. And I’ve been learning more and more about myself, the human experience, and the industry behind it all.

A festival like Coachella can get a bad rap, but I have to say, I now understand why people love it so much.

With love and honesty (and ’til next time),

Rachel

2 responses to “Highlights from my First Time at Coachella 2019

  1. Great article on Coachella. I went 3 times. Loved it every time. People who haven’t been there, love to hate on it. But it’s great. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Haven’t been to coachella but reading your post makes me want to! Definitely feel like I’m experiencing it alongside you as I read your post. I definitely appreciate festivals and the culture there – everyone’s so friendly and united through the music and it’s refreshing seeing that kind of humanity given all the hate that’s in the news

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