Highs, lows and in-betweens from Day 1 of the festival

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Every day at the Empire Polo Club for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has a different rhythm.

The music, the weather, the food, the surprise guests, the time you bought a churro next to Jessica Alba. You just never know what’s going to happen out there, but it’s a safe bet that each day will come with some high moments and some straight-up bummers.

Here are my three highs and three lows for Friday, the first day of the first weekend of Coachella 2024.

Coachella Day 1 highs: Bizzrap and Shakira, cool art, pedicab

On the guest list: I’m a sucker for a special guest at Coachella, and my favorite moments are when you’re watching a new artist that maybe you don’t know very well and they bring out a special guest that you do know and love. It’s happened to me before in recent years. I remember watching a guy named Gallant and he brought Seal out to perform with him to much fanfare. Well, it happened again on Friday. I was checking out the new-and-improved Sahara tent with a very cool UFO-shaped video screen, watching an Argentinian DJ named Bizzarap and toward the end of his set, he brought out none other than Shakira. It was one of those cool moments where people that were just walking by or were sitting on the ground hanging out, jumped up and fumbled for their phones to get proof of the newest entry in their Coachella memory bank.

Like day and night: The art installations are often more important to the vibe at Coachella than you realize. They are background players after all, but if you took them away, the whole experience would be hollow. So, as I entered the grounds this year, I was excited to see what the artists had in store, and the first one you saw looked like a big old gray, stucco pile of blocks. Huh? That’s … interesting, I suppose. But really I was thinking to myself, “Maybe it will do something cool at night.” I wasn’t disappointed. At night, the gray blocks are hit with varying colors of light, turning them into a bright beacon in exactly the opposite way it eclipsed the light and color in the day time. But even cooler is inside the sculpture. At night, dozens of projectors are showing images on every little curve and wall of the interior creating sort of a vertical hall-of-mirrors vibe. Definitely a cool thing to take some time to check out this year.

Day-brightening dude: Every once in a while, a kind person’s mere existence can change your day and for me on Friday, that guy was Edson the pedicab driver. You always see the men and women with a festive cart attached to their bicycles at all the parking lots at Coachella offering rides up to the front of the line (for a price) so you can skip the long dusty walk. Due to some frustrating circumstances (see “lows” section below) I needed to take a pedicab on Friday and I had the good fortune of Edson being our pedaler. Edson, No. 54 if you want to seek him out among the other drivers, was engaging, hard-working and came through in the clutch at the moment I needed him most. Until we meet again, Edson.

Coachella Day 1 lows: The Japanese House technical difficulties, Sahara tent location

Hitchy start: Anyone who’s been to Coachella knows the first day of the first weekend often comes with a clumsy start as the festival never seems to be quite prepared for that first moment when the gates are supposed to open. After parking in my preferred Blue Lot, I was walking to the festival when I came to a security checkpoint. One teency problem, there were no security people there. We were still being stopped, but no one was being let through until they could find a security team. The clock was striking 1 p.m. the moment the doors were supposed to open and the first band was set to play. With no end in sight to the stalemate, Desert Sun photographer Jay Calderon and I went back to where we parked and hopped on one of those pedicabs which we noticed were being allowed to circumvent the security checkpoint. Our plan worked, we breezed past where we had been stuck, and got to the entrance around 1:15 p.m. just in time to wait until the doors opened 25 minutes late. After a quick security screening we were inside the fest at 1:35 p.m. It’s never easy that first day.

Please stand by: My heart broke for The Japanese House an outfit created and helmed by talented UK singer Amber Bain, as their Coachella debut was undone by technical difficulties that erased 15 minutes of their 40-minute show. Bain, a true professional, was putting on a good face as she worked with the sound techs. When she did finally power through and sneak in seven songs before her time ran out her voice rang true and powerful. Last year, the entire set by The Linda Lindas was ruined by technical snafus during the first weekend. They were able to regroup and have a successful set during the second week. Here’s hoping The Japanese House and Bain have a similarly redemptive set next Friday. I have to be honest, it seems like this is happening more often in recent years. Could just be coincidentally happening to bands I want to see. Not sure.

Long-distance: The Sahara tent was moved to a more southern location than the festival grounds have ever stretched, making room for the new Quasar Stage, which is definitely cool looking, but the result is a longer distance than ever from one corner of the grounds to the other. I walked from the Outdoor Theatre to the Sahara tent as an experiment and it took me more than 13 minutes and almost 1,000 steps. It’s a catch-22. I get it. The more cool new things that are added, the farther apart everything needs to be and that leads to an expanded field. But 15 minutes between stages is an actual hindrance as you plot out the bands you want to see each day. It also adds a layer of tiredness to the legs and feet of already drained concertgoers who have walked from their distant parking spot, criss-crossed the grounds all day and then have to walk back to their car. So while the new Sahara tent and the Quasar Stage are both cool, man, that’s a lot of walking. I do have a solution, though. Get my guy Edson and his pedicab crew to work inside the grounds. Now we’re talking.

Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at [email protected].

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