A Look at the Coachella Music Festival

Coachella, a small town in California, has played host for the last six years to one the most respected of American rock music festivals. Commentator Mikel Jolet gets a look at the festival from the perspective of first-time performers.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Coachella is a small town east of Palm Springs, California, right in the middle of the Mojave Desert. And for the past six years, it has played host to one of the most respected rock music festivals in the country. This year's festival featured 90 bands playing on five separate stages. The aristocracy of alternative music was there. Commentator Mikel Jollett was more interested in the view from the bottom of the bill.

MIKEL JOLLETT:

Roughly 50,000 people brave the desert heat each year to attend the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. There are big-name acts, like this year's headliner, Coldplay. But what about the smaller bands, all those acts on the side stage? What is it like to play for such a large audience. Tegan and Sara are two twin sisters from Vancouver, Canada, playing Coachella for the first time. We're in their dressing room. It's an hour before they perform. Tegan has a cold, and Sara is a little nervous.

SARA (Tegan and Sara): We're Tegan and Sara, and we're on tour with The Killers. And we took a break from The Killers tour to come out to the wonderful Coachella Festival, and we are really excited to be here. This is our fourth record, and we've played to lots of big audiences, for sure, and I find that there's definitely a lot of stress associated with this event for all of us. But certainly I know that if things screw up, we have each other. And the banter and the talking and the connection with the audience is, I think, what keeps us human, and it allows us not to be judged quite so harshly. If we were up there in matching leather jackets and we were posturing, I think we would be a band that would be eaten alive.

JOLLETT: We leave the trailer in a golf cart and head towards the stage. The sisters seem comfortable in this environment, pointing out along the way the accoutrements of the music festival experience.

Unidentified Woman: Is this the main stage that we're passing here?

Unidentified Man: Yes.

Unidentified Woman: Who's playing right now?

Unidentified Man: Thrice.

Unidentified Woman: I really wanted to see The Futureheads, but they're playing when we're playing.

JOLLETT: There's a half-hour of nerves and banter and discussions of the set list. Then Tegan and Sara take the stage. A very large crowd has gathered to watch. There are, of course, the typical problems with outdoor sound.

Unidentified Woman: I occasionally have nightmares. Which one do you need? A?

(Soundbite of musical note)

JOLLETT: But when the sisters settle into their performance, they loosen up, and people begin to dance and sing. And it's really a nice moment.

Unidentified Woman: We might as well be blind up here, because the sun is so bright, but you still really look good. I love your outfits.

(Soundbite of music)

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) Where do you go with your broken heart in tow? What do you do with the leftover you? How do you know when to let go? Where does the good go? Where does the good go? Look me in the eye and tell me you don't find me attractive. Look me in the heart and tell me you won't go.

JOLLETT: The sun has subsided, and the wind blows through the palm trees behind the stage. There's a sense of community, togetherness, the sense that people are here to see each other as much as the bands. I suppose this is what rock 'n' roll was always about, a collective feeling of belonging, and it probably explains why Coachella has become the Sundance of music festivals. It's not that you don't want to go home. It's just that when everybody's different and everybody's dancing, for a moment or two it feels like you are home.

(Soundbite of music)

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) Where do you go when you're in love and the world knows? How do you live so happily while I'm sad and broken down? What do you say, it's up for grabs, now that you're on your way down.

BLOCK: Mikel Jollett is managing editor for Filter Magazine.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

BLOCK: I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Co-host): And I'm Robert Siegel. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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