How Coachella Became the World’s Largest Music Festival

As a native of the Coachella Valley, it’s been pretty fascinating to watch how the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has evolved. The days of jumping our fence in the backyard to listen to a few good tunes are far over as locals are lucky to even get a shot at entering what has become one of the largest music festivals in the world.

In 1993, Pearl Jam performed for almost 25,000 fans at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, which had never previously hosted a music festival. The concert sowed the seeds for what would later become the inaugural Coachella Festival, courtesy of Goldenvoice. The rest, as they say, is history. Take a look back at how Coachella has evolved through the years.

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1999, THE START OF IT ALL

The first Coachella Fest was held in 1999 with headlining acts by Beck, The Chemical Brothers, Morrissey, and Rage Against the Machine. By booking acts based on artistry rather than radio popularity, Coachella earned the title of “the anti-Woodstock.” Originally, promoters hoped to make the event three days (Friday through Sunday), but after Woodstock ‘99 gave music festivals a bad rep with its massive riots, Coachella wasn’t allowed to offer on-site camping. The inaugural festival took place in October and tickets sold for just $50 a day with an overall attendance of about 37,000. Attendees were offered free parking and a free water bottle upon entrance.

2001, TEMPERATURES DROP & TICKET PRICES RAISE

Due to financial setbacks and the unbearable heat, Coachella didn’t take place in 2000. But in 2001, the party was back on! Goldenvoice moved the festival to April in an attempt to beat the heat. Unfortunately, organizers had difficulty booking acts, so just months before the event, promoters turned to Perry Farrell and reunited Jane’s Addiction for the event, which established the tradition of band reunions. Ticket prices went up to $65.

2002 – 2003, CAMPING TENTS ALLOWED

The 2002 festival featured the reunited Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as headlining acts Björk and Oasis. The well-behaved crowd remarkably contrasted with the violence that plagued Woodstock, proving that the event could bring in money and take place without conflict. Thus, the following year Coachella was able to allow tent camping as an option for festival lodging. 2003 drew in the largest crowd yet, putting Coachella on the map.

2005, STRONGEST COACHELLA LINEUP YET

The 2005 lineup featured some of the biggest names in music: Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, Bright Eyes, Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, Weezer, M.I.A, and other well-known bands. The LA Times called it “the strongest [lineup] yet.”

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2006, DAFT PUNK SHOWCASES NEON PRISM

The festival featured Massive Attack, Tool, Daft Punk, James Blunt, Gnarls Barkley, and Madonna in her only Coachella appearance. This was also the year Daft Punk featured their three-dimensional neon glowing pyramid, which basically changed the music scene as we know it!

2007, EXTENDS TO THREE-DAY FESTIVAL

Coachella was extended to three days and featured headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, and Björk, all of whom headlined for the second time. The festival hit a new record of more than 186,600 attendees, and grossed $16.3 million.

2009, CHANGE IN DATES TO COINCIDE WITH STAGECOACH

The festival occurred one week earlier to collaborate with the third annual country music Stagecoach Festival, set to start the following week. The event featured headliners Paul McCartney, The Killers, and The Cure. That year, McCartney’s show went over by 55 minutes, which lead to the proposal for a later curfew.

2010, THREE-DAY TICKETS ONLY

In 2010, Coachella did away with single-day tickets and offered three-day tickets only, drawing mixed reviews. 2010 also introduced many new features, such as re-entry from the campsite to the festival grounds, parking next to your tent, and recreational vehicle camping spots. Headliners included Jay-Z, Muse, and Gorillaz and the festival drew in more than 75,000 spectators each day.

2012, EXTENDS TO A DOUBLE-WEEKEND FESTIVAL

The festival reissued single-day passes and revamped the facilities with recycling, a general store, showers, mobile phone charging stations, and an Internet cafe with free WiFi. But the most exciting change of the year was when Goldenvoice announced that Coachella would be expanded to a second, separately-ticketed weekend, with identical lineups. Rolling Stone called it a “very risky move,” but tickets sold out in less than three hours.

Coachella featured big named artists like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Radiohead, Frank Ocean, and St. Vincent. It was also the first time they had an overload of surprise guest appearances, including Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Warren G, Rihanna, Usher, and others. Goldenvoice then announced their purchase of 280 acres to extend property grounds.

2013, COACHELLA HITS NEW RECORD

The lineup included major artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, The Postal Service, 2 Chainz, and Wu-Tang Clan. General admission tickets increased by $34 and attendance toppled over at 180,000 people, officially making it the largest music festival in the world.

This was also the year that Coachella developed a “style.” Thus evolved the retro and revealing apparel of Coachella fashion. Worldwide people began posting photos of outfits worn at the festival and soon stores everywhere began selling Coachella attire and accessories.

2014, FASTEST TICKET SELLOUT

Headliners included the reunited Outkast, Muse, and Arcade Fire. The festival also featured an over-the-top lineup with Lorde, Kid Cudi, Nas, Motörhead, Aloe Blacc, Bastille, Foster the People, Ellie Goulding, and Lana Del Rey, among others. Beyoncé made a surprise appearance during Solange’s performance. Justin Bieber made an appearance alongside Chance The Rapper, while Jay-Z and Diddy also made appearances during Nas’ set. But Pharrell Williams takes the cake of having the most guests, which included Nelly, Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, Diplo, and Busta Rhymes. The 2014 general admission tickets sold out in less than 20 minutes.

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STAY TUNED…

There’s no saying what they’ll come up with next, but one thing’s for sure: if Coachella is on your bucket list, start planning now because tickets continue to sell out the same day they’re released. Check out how to pre-pay for tickets in advance.

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Just a book-loving coffee drinker who writes & edits digital content, in that order.

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