Coachella Weekend 2 returns to vibrant roots

At 17 years old, Billie Eilish made history at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival as one of the festival’s youngest performers ever. (Photo courtesy of Coachella)

While there weren’t as many celebrity or influencer sightings as its first iteration of the year, Weekend 2 of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was full of unique, groundbreaking moments that made the weekend-long extravaganza just as special the second time around.

In the last few years, Coachella’s brand as a festival has undergone a complete tonal shift, and for good reason. For its first 15 years, music fans and festival junkies alike saw Coachella as the ultimate festival tastemaker — and heralded it as a rite of passage for up-and-coming artists.  

It’s hard to pinpoint what year this all changed, but the festival’s growth into the full-fledged annual spectacle it is today has not come without a tainted reputation. Now in its 20th year, the festival reportedly hauls in over $100 million in profits annually, and even its cheapest ticket has soared to over $400.

To many, this annual bidding war for admission to live music’s most exclusive event has edged out the people and spirit that made Coachella special in the first place. Those people are no longer heading to the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Cal. — rather, they’re following along on Twitter or streaming it on YouTube.

In many ways, the Moment in Music that was “Beychella” provided the perfect case study for what your favorite snarky tweeter might dub the “affluenza Olympics.” Last week, Beyoncé released “Homecoming,” a documentary film and 40-track live album that chronicles her historic headlining performances at Coachella 2018. The production value and stage design was one of the most ambitious in the history of live performance, and, through the eyes of the internet, the crowd in attendance neither appreciated nor deserved to witness a performance of this magnitude.

Multiple major publications emphasized this shift in their coverage of the first weekend. Each had a different way of relaying it, but the sentiment remained the same: Coachella has become corporatized and built for broadcast. It’s no longer about the experience; it’s about the clout that comes with attending one of the biggest cultural events of this generation.

However, Weekend 2 felt nothing like how it was described by many media outlets. Some of the observations were blatantly present: the Instagrammable artwork and over-the-top stage production, to name a few. But something felt different. It didn’t feel like an exclusive club for privileged millennials and Gen Z’ers — it felt like an intimate festival. For the most part, the crowd danced and sang along to the music, and the energy was palpable from the start.

With daytime temperatures pushing 100 degrees, the opening day of Weekend 2 came with its own set of challenges. Despite the torrid heat that persisted throughout the day, festival attendees were still able to enjoy the event, as thousands packed the Empire Polo Club to see their favorite artists.

Baltimore-based rapper-producer JPEGMAFIA took the Outdoor Theatre at the hottest time in the afternoon. With the brutal desert sun beating down on an exposed crowd, JPEGMAFIA, known for his high-energy, mosh-inducing live performances, encouraged the crowd to drink water and take it easy if they needed to. Still, his advice didn’t stop an enthusiastic crop of fans from losing their minds.

While The 1975 and Kacey Musgraves attracted loyal fans, emerging acts U.S. Girls and King Princess delivered quirky performances. In addition, BLACKPINK and Calypso Rose made history as the first K-pop group and oldest artist to ever perform at Coachella, respectively. Childish Gambino and Janelle Monaé rounded out the evening with amusing and intimate performances of the main stage.

Saturday was witness to arguably one of the best sets of the weekend. After facing technical errors that delayed her set by 40 minutes the previous week, anti-pop sensation Billie Eilish killed Weekend 2 with a career-defining performance that why she is currently the biggest name in music. Theatrical and spooky in true Billie fashion, the 17-year-old owned her edgy persona and packed the Outdoor Theatre to capacity (if that was even possible). Thousands of fans chanted along to every lyric, from “Bad Guy” to “Ocean Eyes.” No performer — not even Saturday’s headliner Tame Impala — garnered the same fan engagement that Eilish did.

On the final day of Coachella 2019, over 50,000 attendees arrived early to witness Kanye West’s Sunday Service — a Weekend 2 exclusive celebrating Easter Sunday. The two-hour show, albeit highly anticipated, left crowds weary and dehydrated. Despite being held atop a hill, many attendees were unable to see West in action and some were even more disappointed upon learning that the rapper was selling $50 socks and $225 sweatshirts.

While Sunday got off to a rough start, the festival continued to wow attendees with a variety of art, music and food. Norwegian band Boy Pablo brought life to the Gobi tent, captivating fans with live renditions of its bedroom pop hits as well as covers of “Party in the U.S.A.” and “Afternoon Delight.” Lead singer Nicolas Pablo Muñoz and keyboardist Erik Tryland even took off their shirts at the behest of eager fans. Lizzo preached to a lively crowd late Sunday afternoon, and Gesaffelstein fused performance art with electronic in his DJ set. The event concluded with a much improved performance by Ariana Grande, who brought out Justin Bieber for a surprise performance of his song “Sorry.”

At Weekend 2,  more artists brought out special guests, a spectacle that was previously considered a Weekend 1 privilege. For example, Zedd had Maren Morris and Alessia Cara and  Khalid jammed alongside John Mayer Sunday. Saturday saw Vince Staples supporting Billie Eilish and Tame Impala kept the mood trippy with A$AP Rocky. And on Friday, Jaden Smith brought his dad Will Smith to work during his performance of “Icon.”

Curiously enough, several artists informed festival-goers that the audience participation was much better than Weekend 1. Tierra Whack concluded her set by telling her enthusiastic crowd that they were far better than last week’s. Friday headliner Childish Gambino even admitted this to the crowd and asked that they keep it a secret.

Sorry, Donald Glover, but the secret is out. The spirit of Coachella still lives on in the hearts of many and, for anyone who still needs convincing, the second weekend is the time to go.