The second and final weekend of this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival kicked off Friday, April 21 with another headline performance from Bad Bunny, and will conclude on April 23 following a Saturday set from BLACKPINK and a Sunday night gig from Blink-182. It's an immensely popular event, with this year's iteration expected to draw upwards of 200,000 fans across both weekends. But considering the festival's long lines and expensive prices, its influencer and brand-heavy guest list, and its at-times harsh air of exclusivity, why do so many attendees flock to Coachella every year? Does the good outweigh the bad?
Instagram vs. reality
Coachella, like any other festival, can't guarantee a picture-perfect experience for everyone. And some attendees have taken to social media to share their personal points of view — some of which were nothing like the pictures eager couch voyeurs have come to expect. In a few "real-life photos" shared by Insider, festival-goers can be seen standing and waiting in long queues for drinks, food, or even access to a storage locker. Indeed, within the first 10 minutes of opening on day one, lines took no time to pile up, easily growing to "100-some people deep," The Desert Sun noted. Meanwhile, Instagram users following along at home were likely limited to the potentially-misleading perspective from only the inside of each tent. Still, for Coachella to be as popular as it is, it is nonetheless a "well-oiled machine," Insider's Callie Ahlgrim and Courteney Larocca wrote of the 2022 festival — and there will always be bumps in the road at any event. "Although people would pack together and push to the front for evening performers and headliners," Ahlgrim and Larocca said they "found this wasn't true for earlier shows," where a lot of the fans would be spread out and more "relaxed."
Some guests have also insinuated that their experience may have improved if they paid for superstar status. In a number of viral TikToks, attendees revealed the difficult realities of showering using the sub-par facilities at the campgrounds or waiting in long lines to use a portable toilet, two of the many things VIP concert-goers often need not worry about.
It's no secret that Coachella is extremely expensive, increasingly complicated to attend, and ever more costly, as the resale market spirals and artists demand more for a headline slot. According to Billboard, general admission passes started this year at around $540, while VIP passes started at around $1,600. "When comparing Coachella to festivals across the country that often book similar performers," the Los Angeles Times reported in April, "Coachella's base pricing can be nearly double that of a festival like the Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City or Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee." The cost of a general admission pass has risen by more than 25 percent since 2019.
Once attendees are inside the grounds, those prices don't get much better. The Evening Standard shared a video from a TikToker who went viral after revealing she paid $64 for just "two coffees and two burritos." Others then shared their experiences in the comments, with one person writing that they paid "70 dollars for two seltzers and a soft pretzel." (First-time attendee Greta Knosel told the Times she only had qualms with "how expensive the food is.") But while its prices may be exorbitant, so is the festival's economic impact. In 2022, Los Angeles' Fox 11 News reported that the Coachella Valley's local economy was "projected to make up to $400 million in revenue from the concertgoers." Perhaps not bad for everyone?
Stay or go
For many festival attendees, even the most aesthetic of Instagram photos aren't worth the price of admission. "Finally the realistic side of Coachella," one TikTok user commented under a video of a concert-goer updating followers on her campground-shower odyssey. "I went in 2014 and never again." Another user agreed: "I went once and will never do it again. Hotel me please." In 2019, Olivia Petter, a relationships writer for The Independent U.K. who attended the festival in 2017, said she'd "rather have lukewarm cider poured on my head by a drunk stranger" than once again make the trek to Indio. And while Petter attributed her distaste to a number of things, including Coachella's elitist ticketing system, Insider's Callie Ahlgrim found that "in terms of priorities, enjoying the music was clearly secondary for many of the people we encountered." Indeed, Ahlgrim wrote in 2022, "the stylish concept of 'being at Coachella' loomed much larger."
But for Leah Hibbert, a staff writer at The University of Tennesee's The Daily Beacon, the 2023 iteration of the festival was "one of the best weekends of my life." Despite a few disappointments, Hilbert said that "it was amazing being around so many other music lovers, seeing all the fashion, eating amazing food, and experiencing new genres." Rolando Garcia, 26, agreed with that assessment: "I've had a great time," he told the Times of this year's fest. "I've been doing festivals for years, and I feel like this is a festival on 'easy mode' because everyone is so nice." Twenty-three-year-old Charlize Agabon also found her trip to the desert worthwhile. "Everyone's here for the same thing: to have a good time," she said. "I've only been [to Coachella] twice and I've camped both times, so I think it's fun overall if you're down to be low maintenance."