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The evolution of the Coachella Valley’s most popular festival

Coachella Valley Party

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has music enthusiasts and avid art fans flocking here for the rare opportunity to see big-name performers in one venue. It is definitely one of the best things to do in the Coachella Valley, and La Quinta locals have easy access to it every year.

Here’s a timeline of events that made the Coachella Valley Festival an institution in its own right:

Before the Festival

Pearl Jam was among the leading bands of grunge music in the 90s, with a fan base from all over the world. When the band’s frontman, Eddie Vedder, found out in 1993 about the excessive fees Ticketmaster had been charging their fans, they cut off the middleman and held a concert at the Empire Polo Club grounds that same year. This would become the future venue for many Coachella Valley Festivals. The one-night concert was a rousing success, thus, paving the way toward the inception of the would-be annual festival a few years down the road.

After the disaster that was Woodstock 1999, many concert organizers were hesitant to raise capital for musical events of similar nature. However, they saw promise in the idea of a Coachella Valley Festival that could help lesser-known artists and indie musicians to enter the mainstream by introducing them to a wider audience.

The early years (1999, 2001-2003)

Held on October 9 to 10, 1999 in Empire Polo Field, the new festival’s lineup included Beck, Rage Against the Machine, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Chemical Brothers, and Pavement. Tickets were sold at only $50 per day. Despite the ticket affordability and the talented set of performers, only 25,000 tickets were sold out of the 75,000 target. Thus, plans for a festival in the following year were shelved.

But on April 28, 2001, the festival was revived with lessons learned from the past. Goldenvoice – the festival organizer – would slowly increase ticket prices to support production costs and ensure an event for the following year.

2002 saw the festival being held for two days instead of one in Indio, California. Profits also started trickling in. 

By 2003, the festival gained worldwide recognition for its strong lineup that included the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ben Folds, Black Eyed Peas, Iggy Pop, and White Stripes. Also, event-goers were allowed to camp on the grounds for the first time.

Higher heights (2004-2011)

In 2004, as many as 100,000 music fans came over to watch. Headliners included The Cure, Radiohead, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, Flaming Lips, The Killers, and The Pixies. 

Following Depeche Mode’s and Daft Punk’s 2006 performances, DJ sets became more prevalent in 2007. Also, from a two-day fest, the concerts extended to a whole weekend. However, the festival seemed to have lost steam the next year when tickets failed to sell out for the first time since 2003. By 2010, organizers removed single-day tickets and only sold tickets covering the whole festival weekend. The following year, tickets were sold out in just five days.

Achieving renown (2012 and beyond)

The festival expanded even more in 2012, covering two weekends in April. Then in 2014 and 2015, the festival broke new records with general admission tickets selling out in less than 20 minutes while VIP passes were gone in less than three hours. 

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