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Radiohead at HP Pavilion Shows Cultural Reach of Coachella

In Music
Radiohead plays HP Pavilion on Wednesday, April 11.

Radiohead plays HP Pavilion on Wednesday, April 11.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio has become the most influential music festival in the country, but it wasn’t always like that.

After a slow start in 1999, organizers didn’t even bother to try again in 2000, and only a miracle second shot in 2001 (courtesy, of all people, Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell—more on that later) turned the festival’s fortunes around.

What a difference a decade makes. Despite the fact that Coachella infamously recycled its headliners (and a lot of its other acts last year), the festival matched its attendance record set the year before. It sold out in six days. This year, organizers added a second weekend (featuring the same line-up led by Radiohead, Black Keys and Dr. Dre with Snoop Dogg, along with Bon Iver, Florence and the Machine, the Shins and more)—both sold out in three hours. Even if they’re still capping paid attendance at around 75,000 per day, that’s still almost half a million people kicking up dust in the desert. (Those looking to skip the desert scene can find many Coachella acts performing in the Bay Area in the weeks surrounding the event).

As its drawing power has grown, its cultural influence has grown even more. In fact, it’s practically become synonymous with reuniting big-name bands, partially because it owes its continued existence to the reunion of Jane’s Addiction in 2001; it was the surprise booking that made that year’s festival a hit. Other reunions that built Coachella’s rep include the Stooges in 2003, the Pixies in 2004 and Rage Against the Machine in 2007.

This year features a record number of reunited bands: Mazzy Star, Pulp, At the Drive In and Refused among them. When I spoke to Ed Crawford, vocalist and guitarist for the post-Minutemen cult favorites Firehose, he admitted their new reunion is pretty much entirely because of Coachella. Organizers had actually approached the band last year, but they were unable to do the festival because of Mike Watt’s prior commitments. But they didn’t let up, coming back with another offer this year.

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