The untold truth of Coachella

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (which takes place at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California) was first launched in 1999 by Paul Tollett and, after a one-year break, it returned to the scene in 2001. It was an uphill battle to get the fest off the ground, but just a few years later, Coachella managed to solidify itself as one of the biggest live music events in the world.

In 2015, it earned over $84 million and broke records with 198,000 tickets sold. That was its fourth year as a two-weekend event and it's only continued growing since. But despite Coachella's popularity, the fest holds many secrets, as you'll soon discover.

It all started because of a fight between Pearl Jam and Ticketmaster

It was the grunged-out '90s and Pearl Jam was at the height of its fame when it went head-to-head with Ticketmaster. Why? Because the band was unhappy that the behemoth was price gouging tickets, and unwitting Pearl Jam fans were suffering the consequences. In an attempt to avoid a Ticketmaster-ruled box office, Pearl Jam sought out alternative venues, with minimal ticketing fees.

One of those was the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, where Coachella is now held, way before it was ever an "it" destination. Despite the area being far from most major cities, the band's "wild and unruly" 1993 show drew a crowd of 25,000, and according to the LA Times, the "really, really big, palm-lined lawn" would never be the same.

Organizers almost pulled the plug after a terrible first year

When it launched in 1999, Coachella lost a whopping $800,000, which forced it to take a step back, skip the following year and reconsider its future. It came back in 2001 with a smaller, one-day show and still didn't manage to rake in a profit. Even so, the festival's promoter, Goldenvoice, and its founder, Paul Tollett (who also just so happens to be the president of Goldenvoice) refused to give up, despite a less than stellar inaugural year and follow-up.

After another year of hard work and dedication, Coachella began solidifying itself as a must-attend festival for music lovers, bringing in major headliners and introducing an on-site camping element that set it apart from the pack. Fast forward to 2014 and its 579,000 attendance was the largest crowd in the festival's history to that point — and one of the biggest in overall US concert history.

Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell saved Coachella in 2001

After a less than stellar debut in 1999, Coachella took a year off and planned to return to the scene in 2001. The only problem was that festival organizers weren't able to secure a headliner. Enter Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, who actually played a solo set the inaugural year.

Farrell, who is the founder of Chicago-based music festival Lollapalooza, understood the struggles Coachella founder Gary Tollett was facing first-hand. So he stepped up, offering to help out. Agreeing to reunite Jane's Addiction to headline the one-day fest, Farrell essentially saved Coachella.

From that point on, Farrell has become the one artist who has played Coachella the most times, having appeared on the bill (as both a solo artist, and with various groups) for 10 consecutive years.

It continues to upset many American Indians

Year after year, some Coachella attendees have arrived at the festival grounds wearing traditional American Indian headdresses, and "attire they would never wear elsewhere, like it was a Batman costume or something," as described by Mic.

Rather than banning the appropriated trend (as other North American music festivals, like Osheaga in Montreal, Canada have done), Coachella has continued to allow headdresses on site. And what's more, it even offers weekend tipi rentals for $2,200.

Why is all of this so insulting? As explained by the Native Appropriations blog, headdresses have "deep spiritual significance" and are not meant to be worn as a fashion accessory. Wearing them "promotes stereotyping of Native cultures" and is "just like wearing blackface," according to many community members.

The festival has an unprecedented $2.2 million yearly art budget

Coachella's full name is the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and even if many fans may not realize it, the fest sure does live up to the latter part of its name. In addition to the millions of dollars it spends on booking today's biggest musical talent, Coachella has a dedicated $2.2 million budget for public art, which is spent on temporary works created specifically for the event and displayed throughout the festival grounds.

Coachella actually has "one of the largest budgets of large-scale art in the world, at a festival or anything else," according to Tyler Hanson who works for design firm Poetic Kinetics, which has created numerous pieces for Coachella, including 2013's "Helix Poeticus" AKA the Coachella snail. "They have always been commissioning awesome artists to build one-of-a-kind, unique installations," he added. "It's definitely art-for-art's-sake. It's for the kids."

Kanye West's 2006 performance marked an important turning point

From its inception in 1999 up until 2005, Coachella was known for exclusively saving its main stage for rock talent. Come 2006, however, festival organizers threw concertgoers a curveball when they booked Kanye West on the main stage (instead of one of the smaller ones traditionally reserved for hip-hop, EDM and other genres).

Yeezus' performance marked a huge turning point for Coachella. By bringing together one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, the set sparked a more open-minded approach as to which artists could headline the fest. Since that fateful year, everyone from Jay Z, to Kendrick Lamar and Drake have given memorable performances on the main stage.

VIP security is so tight, it sparks major artist drama

Celebrity attendance at Coachella is high every year and VIP security takes no risks in who they do — and do not — admit backstage.

In 2015, Justin Bieber was put in a chokehold and kicked out of the festival when he tried to get in through the artist's entrance during Drake's set. Biebs and his friends were told they couldn't enter because the area was at maximum capacity and that's when the arguing began. After saying he had a personal invite from Drake, a Coachella staffer came to escort Bieber inside which is when security placed the singer in a chokehold and eventually told him to leave the grounds.

Rapper Chanel West Coast (who is signed under the Lil Wayne's Young Money label) had a similar experience in 2017 when she showed up at the VIP entrance with her boyfriend and friend, she was turned away because the latter didn't have the required special wristband. As security guards refused to cave in, despite West Coast's attempt to impress them by dropping Drake's name and referencing Young Money, she had a meltdown, then stormed off.

Coachella's owner has been accused of supporting numerous anti-LGBT groups

Colorado billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz, the founder of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the company that operates Goldenvoice, has come under fire for allegedly donating substantial amounts of money to three charities with anti-LGBT agendas, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, the National Christian Foundation, and the Family Research Council, as reported by Billboard.

Anschutz has called these claims "fake news," arguing that he would never knowingly do such a thing. "It is all garbage," Anschutz said in a statement. "I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation."

"Neither I, nor the Foundation, fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives," he added, concluding, "We have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups."

The festival has sued numerous brands for infringement

Festival fashion is a hot topic as the summer kicks off and music lovers get ready to head out to their favorite shows. Retailers know this and try to take full advantage of it in their marketing, but Coachella is having none of it.

In March 2017, they sued Urban Outfitters for "improperly using a number of 'famous' and long-registered Coachella trademarks to sell a number of products" under their Free People label, namely the Coachella Valley Tunic, Coachella Boot, Coachella Mini Dress, and Coachella Pocket Tank. Coachella argued that these items would "deceive consumers" and said they took the case to court only because Urban Outfitters "ignored Plaintiff's demands to cease their unlawful conduct."

Just a few months later, Coachella issued a cease-and-desist order against cannabis brand Lowell Farms for creating a blend it was trying to market directly to festivalgoers. "AEG has demanded Lowell Farms remove any posts tagged #Coachella and to cease using the tag," they explained in a statement, referencing numerous social media posts that linked the fest to the product. Not wanting to "get into a prolonged legal battle with such an established and well funded company," Lowell found the perfect cheeky solution: they renamed their offering #NotChilla.

Coachella's celebrity following is beyond devoted

Not only has Coachella been able to entice countless celebrities to attend its festival, but it has also managed to keep them coming back for more each year. The fest's celeb following is seriously devoted and many of today's biggest A-listers refuse to miss out on the fun, year after year.

Coachella's biggest fan may just be Paris Hilton who has not missed a single year since first experiencing what all the fuss was about back in 2007. Another passionate Coachella attendee is actress Kate Bosworth who has had an ongoing love affair with the fest since 2009. Meanwhile, supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio, and True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard have made appearance every year since 2010. And, since first attending in 2011, pop superstar Katy Perry has been a Coachella staple as well.

​What does the future hold for Coachella?

In 2017, standard weekend tickets for Coachella (which has a 99,000-person capacity) sold out in just three hours, despite a hefty $399 price tag. VIP passes, which clock in at $900, were also snapped up in a flash. It's clear that music lovers are willing to not only fight for passes, but dish out serious cash for transportation, food, and hotel rooms, which are priced 140 percent higher than normal throughout both weekends.

Despite the high cost and difficulty of getting tickets, however, the appeal of Coachella only seems to grow each year and the 2018 edition had an extra ace up its sleeve. Mega superstar Beyoncé, who was scheduled to headline both weekends in 2017, but had to cancel due to her pregnancy, was the headliner for 2018. So if you're hoping to make it to Coachella someday? Hot tips: memorize the fest's purchasing instructions by heart, keep all of your fingers crossed at all times, and start saving up a small fortune.