Coachella music festival returns after three-year hiatus

Coachella in California will kick off Friday for the first time since 2019, with hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the desert’s premier music festival as the United States sees Covid-19 cases rise.

The gigantic event which takes place over two three-day weekends – and this year features Billie Eilish, Harry Styles and the Weeknd with EDM stars Swedish House Mafia headlining – traditionally kicks off kickoff of the summer concert circuit of the year.

The 2020 edition of Coachella was scrapped when the coronavirus pandemic took hold, and two years of chaotic cancellations, rescheduled shows and lineup shuffles ensued.

As it returns after a three-year hiatus, Coachella is seen as a bellwether for the multibillion-dollar tourism industry that is still on shaky ground after lingering pandemic setbacks.

After other large-scale festivals, including Lollapalooza last year, required proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 result, Coachella announced this winter that it would not require any mitigation measures for this. type, including masks or social distancing.

The festival takes place mostly outdoors, welcoming some 125,000 revelers from across the country and abroad every day, many camping out and filling nearby hotels.

There will be two test sites on the festival grounds. Jose Arballo — a senior public information officer for the Riverside County Public Health Department, where Coachella is taking place — said there will also be beefed up testing facilities nearby.

“Anytime you have large groups of people gathering in public places, there are problems there – but we hope more people will be vaccinated… and more people will wear masks anyway,” he told AFP.

“If people aren’t feeling well, even though it may cost them something financially, hopefully they can give up going.”

Arballo said the number of cases in the county has “peaked out over the past two weeks,” but “more people will come from all over the country and other places around the world where case rates may not be… be not so low”.

He also noted that unreported home testing may have skewed the case rate data downward, and anticipated the county would be able to assess the festival’s public health impact from here the middle of next week – just before the second set of festival dates.

Nationwide, Covid-19 cases are down sharply from January but have recently started to rise, with the US averaging around 38,000 cases a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .

The vast majority of new cases are from the highly transmissible subvariant of Omicron, known as BA.2, according to the CDC.

Some universities have reinstated mask mandates, as has the city of Philadelphia, but for the most part regulations nationwide, including in California, remain relaxed.

– ‘Everyone misses it’ –

Major artists performing sets at Coachella include Megan Thee Stallion, Phoebe Bridgers, Doja Cat and Anitta from Brazil.

The Weeknd and Swedish House Mafia were last minute additions after agent of chaos Kanye West unceremoniously withdrew from his headlining spot.

Travis Scott retired after a deadly tragedy during a concert at his Astroworld show in Houston last year, while slated 2020 headliner Frank Ocean is set to return to the desert in 2023.

Also on deck are French rockers L’Imperatrice, superstar DJ Stromae, recent Grammy winner Arooj Aftab, Palestinian DJ Sama’ Abdulhadi and South African Black Coffee, who made Grammy history last week after winning the Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album, the first African act to do so.

And last minute surprise, Arcade Fire will play a set on Friday night.

Coachella is a major draw for Indio, the city where it takes place, a desert municipality of just under 95,000 people whose slogan is “The City of Festivals”.

In addition to Coachella, Indio also hosts major concerts, including the folk and country Stagecoach event.

According to Indio spokesperson Brooke Beare, the city receives about $3 million each year in direct festival revenue, including ticket share dollars and transient camper occupancy taxes.

Beare told AFP the region “benefits greatly” across all sectors, from hospitality to restaurants and gas stations – and from the festivals themselves, which she says “bring a vibrancy and energy unprecedented”.

Mason Fouad, owner of the Mirage liquor store in Palm Springs, where many Coachella attendees stay, told AFP that business at his store had already increased by 30%.

“The liquor trade flourishes at any festival,” Fouad said. “Everyone expects this Coachella to score a record much higher than any other Coachella, because everyone misses that.”