Every year in mid-April, a deluge of young rock fans, partiers, and celebs make their way to the bacchanal at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, CA. Known as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival, it’s one of the biggest rock festivals in the world. More than 75,000 people a day brave searing desert heat and massive crowds to hear some of the coolest rock bands on the planet.
But it’s not just Millennials who flock to the desert for what’s become a tribal rite of passage; a good number of aging rockers –40 and up – also brave the crowds for a chance to share in the ultimate communal experience.
I know, because I’m one of them. Not long ago a 50-year-old friend and I, both avid rock fans since our teenage years, took in Coachella and lived to tell the tale. And the festival itself, once the exclusive domain of college radio hipsters, has extended its demographic reach. In 2015, two prominent headliners are Steely Dan and AC/DC, bands whose glory days were 40 years ago.
As thrilling as the music can be, the festival itself is somewhat of an endurance test, given the potential for sunburn, dehydration, and massive sensory overload. If you’re an aging rocker who’d like to give it a shot, here are some useful tips for surviving.
Rest Is Key
The last thing your average 20-year-old cares about is rest. As an aging rocker, however, you’ll need as much of it as possible to get through 36 hours of music. Instead of staying at one of the many one- and two-star hotels in Indio—a fine option if you feel like re-creating college dorm life—find a condo or vacation home. We stayed with Fairway Vacation Rentals, in a quiet two-bedroom condo adjacent to a golf course, complete with kitchenette, laundry, and patio. If outrageous luxury is your bag, a fully furnished, air-conditioned “Shikar-style tent” with electrical outlets, beds and linens can be had for $6,500 through www.valleymusictravel.com. Whatever you choose, book early, as places can sell out a year in advance.
Not long ago a 50-year-old friend and I, both avid rock fans since our teenage years, took in Coachella and lived to tell the tale.
If you’ve got disposable income and want to relax in style, splurge on a VIP Pass. Though the price is steep ($799), you’ll enjoy healthier food options, shorter drink lines, private air-conditioned “chill” areas, better stage access, and private restroom areas with porcelain toilets, a huge sanitary upgrade over the port-o-potties available to the masses.
Shuttle or Taxi to and from the Grounds
Avoid driving to and from the venue at all costs. It can take hours to exit the parking lot, which will cost you valuable sleep time. There are a number of shuttles from various hotels in town that will drop you at the festival, but you must book reservations early, as they sell out faster than hotel rooms. Taxis, Uber, and limos are also available for those willing to shell out the extra dough.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
It’s amazing how many concertgoers, caught up in the festivities, forget to drink enough water. In 90°plus heat, this is an unforgivable oversight. Keep at least two bottles with you at all times, and drink even when you’re not thirsty. In the late afternoon and early evening, you’ll feel spry as you step over the prone bodies of exhausted youths lying passed out on the grass, unaware of your freshly hydrated body.
Dress Comfortably and Sensibly
You will be astonished at the number of perfectly bronzed, sculpted Millennials clad in nothing but shorts, tank tops and flip flops. Alas, this isn’t you. To beat the heat and avoid sunburn, you’ll want a wide-brimmed hat (no baseball caps!) that covers your entire head and provides sun cover for your eyes. You’ll also want UV-protective clothing in the form of a micro-weight long-sleeved shirt and convertible pants. A cool-down neck wrap with a frozen gel insert will make you feel reborn. At night, when temperatures cool and desert winds can whip up without warning, a light sweatshirt—even fleece—will keep you cozy as the more prestigious bands ramp up past midnight.
Secure Keys and Cell Phones in a Closed Pants or Shorts Pocket
On Sunday, the last day of the festival, my friend’s car keys slipped out of his cargo shorts while he was lounging on the grass. There is no more pathetic sight than the lost-and-found table on the Monday morning after the Festival, with iPhones and keys of all sorts forlornly scattered about+. Never leave keys of any kind in an open pocket. Have at least one button-down or zippered pocket available.
The Early Bird Gets a Good Sightline
The most sparsely attended acts at Coachella are usually the late morning to early afternoon shows on Saturday and Sunday. While the Millennials nurse their hangovers and straggle out of bed by 1 or 2, you can be enjoying a prime stage-viewing spot in the often-overlooked 12 to 2 time slot.
Opt for the Second Weekend
Coachella recently expanded to two weekends, with identical lineups playing the same sets. Those whose main interest is partying and celeb sightings tend to favor the first weekend, while savvy aging rockers who attend Coachella strictly for the music favor the second, when the bands have warmed up and the tragically hip have moved on.
Or Watch It All from Home
YouTube streams the entire first weekend of Coachella (not the second), so with your laptop, a couple of brews, and the comfort of your own couch, this may be your unquestioned best bet for surviving the festival.