Each year as mid-April approaches, plenty of college students make their way to the desert of Indio, California, with face glitter, neon wristbands and high spirits in tow. Their final destination? Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, bastion of “good-vibes” escapism.
Given the prestige of this annual festival, many attendees may overlook the political backlash that Coachella has faced in recent years.
In 2017, the spotlight was on Philip Anschutz, founder of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the festival’s parent company. Reports surfaced tying Anschutz to several conservative organizations and anti-LGBTQ+ groups, such as Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council.
For decades, he has operated with minimal outcry despite accounts of his far-right politics, including Greenpeace’s 2013 charge that he was a “financier of climate change denial.”
While Anschutz has dubbed claims of him being anti-LGBTQ+ as “fake news” and “garbage,” many users took to Twitter to proclaim that this revelation would stop them from attending Coachella. However, in typical fashion, tickets still promptly sold out.
This isn’t the first time that the celebrated festival has faced controversy. “Tipi” rentals, the donning of Native American headdresses, bindis, and more have resulted in media outrage about the cultural appropriation that is so prevalent at Coachella.
Yasmin Istanbouli SC ’19, who attended the festival in her first year of college, was troubled by all of the “problematic outfit choices” she witnessed.
“Cultural appropriation is a large part of Coachella. I saw a big number of people wearing the Keffiyeh, which is a Middle Eastern headdress worn by mostly Arabs and Middle Eastern people,” Istanbouli said. “This one scarf with its specific pattern holds so much culture, history, resistance, and meaning, yet a bunch of white people are walking around with it tied around their mouths or necks as a fashion statement.”
Others have also criticized the costliness of an event that is supposed to espouse freedom and inclusivity, with one journalist even calling it “an oasis for douchebags and trust fund babies.”
According to a Time article, Coachella tickets range from $429 to almost $1,000. That’s excluding the costs of lodging, transportation, food, and alcohol.
The cost is one of the reasons why Nick Lewis PO ’19 has never attended and doesn’t plan on attending Coachella.
However, Lewis doesn’t feel as though he is missing out. He said if he were to get into festivals, he would prefer smaller-scale ones.
Ryan Finley SC ’20 attended Coachella last year and is planning to go again. Coming from a single parent, lower-middle class household, Finley acknowledges that there is a lot of privilege in being able to attend Coachella.
“It’s something I have to save up for, and even when I am there, I feel off and sometimes out-of-place,” Finley said.
Istanbouli agreed with this, naming the large celebrity presence at Coachella as an example of the aspect of privilege. For instance, popular stars like Rihanna, Kylie Jenner, and Vanessa Hudgens have all graced the white-peaked tents of the Coachella VIP area, she said.
“It really shows how Coachella is the kind of festival that focuses on a specific group of people: celebrities and rich people,” Istanbouli said.
Given all the recent controversy, can 5C students still find their bliss in the picturesque Coachella Valley?
Alex Hammond SC ’19 attended the festival as a first-year. She said that, overall, she had a good experience and enjoyed the cathartic effect of seeing many of her favorite artists perform live.
However, she decided not to go back again, citing the political backlash that AEG has faced as playing a part in her choice.
“As a queer person, I was pretty uncomfortable with the actions of Anschutz,” Hammond said. “Especially after Citizens United [v. Federal Election Commission], I think people have even more of an obligation to ‘vote with their wallet.’”
Istanbouli was unaware of where her money was going when she first attended Coachella in 2016, but after she claimed to found out, she vowed to never attend again.
“Last year, a friend of mine even had an extra ticket for me, which I could’ve taken for free, but I just could not get myself to go knowing all that I know now,” Istanbouli said.
Like Hammond, Lewis believes that if the allegations against Anschutz are indeed true, then the public must unite against the organization by boycotting future events and festivals.
“This, coupled with a strong voter turnout come November, will send a clear message about where our country’s political future lies,” Lewis said. “Ignoring the political motivations of an organization or individual goes against all of the work activists put in, especially in the case of Coachella, as our age bracket is critical to their success.”