By Richard Fox, Author, enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides
It was hyped as the biggest music festival since Woodstock, and this baby boomer who grew up on Rock and Roll and just barely missed Woodstock (my parents wouldn’t let my older brother take me at 12 years old to the venue that was 60 miles away) was reeled in hook line and sinker. My partner Steve and I live in Palm Desert, and have resisted going to Coachella and Stagecoach over the years, but I couldn’t pass up this amazing lineup, even though I had seen them all before so couldn’t call it a “bucket list” event. I purchased reserved seats for Weekend One when they went on sale in May at $1,100 (incl. fees) each. Although not general admission, they were the “cheap seats” in the grandstands, compared to the $1,700 seats closer up. General Admission tickets were around $400, but we didn’t want to have to arrive early and wait in the hot sun to get a good seat, which were all inferior to the reserved seats, the stage being just a blip in the distance for them. All summer I wondered if I had made a mistake and been a victim of hype spending so much money on one concert festival. As it turns out, it was all worth it, as we had the most enjoyable weekend in recent memory.
Logistics of getting to a massive event (70-80,000 folks expected) was a concern, but as avid casual cyclists we decided to try and ride our bikes to the event. The venue maps that came in the Desert Trip box with the tickets (along with the 3D view master) showed designated color-coded routes and bike parking areas; it looked simple. On Day 1, we visited friends that live near the northeast corner of the venue, left the car there and biked in. It was a nice and flat ride, only a couple of miles. However none of the many people directing traffic knew where to direct bikes. There was supposedly a “Yellow Path” starting near Madison and 49th, but we never found it. Instead, we rode with cars through the very dusty dirt Platinum lot, for those that had purchased the $1,700 tickets. We were told to lock our bikes to a fence near the venue entry, and we went in with the VIP ticket holders, a short distance from the main venue. Security was tight, with no liquids allowed, similar to airport security, only empty bottles with water fill up stations inside. They had metal scanners and guards with wands. I was glad for the extra security, as this event would seem to be a high profile target.
Once inside we saw a row of diverse food stands, all with long lines. We got large slices of Spicy Pizza for $7 each, which were delicious and turned out to be one of the best values in the venue. Our seats were in the north grandstands, about 2/3 back and 1/3 up in the giant structure. I was disappointed that the floor section was so wide that the grandstands were much farther from the stage than in a typical arena. Even those with $1,700 grandstand seats were not that close. However, we liked our position being able to see the stage, all the giant screens, fireworks that erupted at the end of each night’s performances, and across to the entire venue, the psychedelic lit carousel, desert sky, and the moon after dark. We needed binocs to see the performers in person, although they were shown on the giant screens, except for Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd show, where all the front screens were reserved for special effects; only the screens facing the general admission section showed the performers. The sound was great, loud but not deafening, and the seats were padded with backs and fairly comfortable.
Bob Dylan started on time, much to the chagrin of many who were caught in gridlock traffic on the first night. Even some of the shuttles were stuck for hours, with people missing part or all of the Dylan show. Neither of us are big fans of Dylan’s voice, although I respect his songwriting and poetry as one of the all time greats. I was hoping he wouldn’t do the set list of his current tour, which included Sinatra covers, and he didn’t. Instead he gave us many of the classics including Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (and yes the smell of pot wasn’t uncommon in the venue). Interesting black and white videos were displayed on the three huge building-sized screens behind the stage, showing 60’s scenes, cars, highways (to Highway 61) and lots of birds. He never spoke to the audience, and just left the stage when he was done, although those in front realized what was happening and generated enough applause to call him back for a Masters of War encore (the lucky Weekend Two people got Like a Rolling Stone instead, but not with Mick Jagger, a duet that was on my wish list and even seemed like a requirement for this event! The Stones did a great version of it on their Stripped acoustic live album). During the first break between acts, I was glad that Golden Voice had provided enough high end air conditioned bathroom trailers so that there was no waiting. Food lines were once again long, but soon enough we had spent $27 on a couple of tacos and bowl of chile verde from the Jackalope Ranch stand, putting our food total for the evening at $41.
The Rolling Stones came on next with a flurry of flashing lights and “Ladies and Gentleman the Rolling Stones!” announcement. Mick Jagger was in top form and the show proved to be phenomenal. I melted hearing the cowbell intro to Honkey Tonk Woman, and was blown away by the back to back Gimme Shelter with an amazing female vocalist pitching in, and Sympathy for the Devil, with Mick in his smoking jacket backed by a huge devilish pulsating video screen. Encores included a choir singing the intro to You Can’t Always Get What You Want, and of course Satisfaction. I went away thoroughly pleased with our first day of Desert Trip. We exited easily, hopped on our bikes, and rode through the parking lots, along the closed lanes of Monroe, and back to our car in our friends’ driveway. The ride back was much easier and less stressful since we knew where we were going and didn’t have a concert deadline. We were then caught in about 15 minutes worth of traffic backups in the car getting out of the area, not too bad.
On Day 2 we decided to ride our bikes directly from Lake Cahuilla Regional Park, where we were staying in our RV. (Featured photo, Steve with Desert Trip T-shirt getting ready to leave). We reserved a spot as soon as rumors of the festival emerged, as this camp books solid during festivals, and even has a shuttle stop. Although 5 miles away and not as convenient as staying in the RV on site, the cost of $120 for 4 nights contrasted to $1,000+ for staying at the venue with electric hookups. Lake Cahuilla is a public park, whereas most of the private campgrounds in the region gouge for Coachella festival weekends. Tent campers, however, can stay in a 10’x30′ spot at the venue for tent and car for $100, although you can’t take your car out for the 4 days and have to rely on shuttles (or bike!) to get around the area or use the venue’s general store for supplies.
It was 98F on Saturday when we rode in to the festival around 4-5 pm. We rode slowly, mostly on safe sidewalks along Madison Street with shade, and it worked out well, we weren’t drenched in sweat upon arrival. The “Green” ped/bike route to the venue starting at Madison and 52nd was easy to follow, although the route was on packed sand and grass, fine for our Townies but no picnic if you had a skinny-tired bike. We had to take our bikes through a preliminary security checkpoint (water, food and alcohol allowed since it’s the security level for the campgrounds), then continued riding. We locked our bikes to a row of bike racks located where they were labeled on the venue map, and started walking. After a while we saw a sign that said “Bikes This Way.” It turns out the bike parking area for the Green Path was just outside the main venue entrance. We could have saved about a quarter mile of walking had we known from any of the employees that watched us lock our bikes there, or if the map had been labeled properly. After the concert though, the way was so packed with pedestrians that we would’ve had to walk our bike much of the way anyway.
We wandered around the grounds. There was not a whole lot to do besides buy food or merchandise, ride the ferris wheel, or visit the giant rock and roll photography exhibit tent, which had a long line to get in. Since the food stand lines were fairly short around 5:30, we spent $26 on a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich and a way overpriced bowl of fried rice.
Neil Young’s show started 30 minutes later than the advertised 6:15 start time. Neil and his band Promise of the Real were incredible. Neil was in top voice as he played a mix of classics, especially from the Harvest album, a thrilling 22 minute superjam to Down by the River, and several newer well done socially conscious songs, ending with Keep on Rocking in the Free World. During intermission we had another slice of Spicy Pizza (food total now $40 for the evening) and got together with a childhood friend that I used to go to lots of concerts with in the 70’s, and his wife. I hadn’t seen them in 25 years but had recently re-connected via Facebook. It was apropos and fun to reminisce about old times during this monumental celebration of classic Rock and Roll, really adding to the total experience of the weekend.
Steve and I had seen McCartney in 2002, which was one of the biggest concert thrills ever, it was like being at a Beatles concert. This time though his voice had weakened significantly. It was still great to hear the master Macca do his songs from A Hard Days Night to Blackbird and Band on the Run, sing along to Hey Jude, and watch all the special graphics and the explosions to Live and Let Die, but the highlight was when Neil Young came on stage to duet on A Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance and Why Don’t We Do it in the Road. This was the only collaboration during Week One, despite rumors of guest stars like Eric Clapton and Bono. Guest stars weren’t needed though, the shows were great just as they were. Weekend two attendees were treated to Rihanna singing a duet with McCartney.
By the time we had walked all the way to our bikes and gotten out of the venue and onto Madison Street heading south, it was past 1:00 AM. I was concerned about riding in the bike lanes at that hour on a Saturday night, so I stuck to the sidewalks, which was a bit of a challenge at night, but doable with my bike light. Steve got fed up and just rode the bike lanes. We found it a “moment of zen” to have just ridden our bikes back and forth to the show with no vehicles, although we were very tired after the long day/night and not a lot of sleep the night before.
On Day 3, we spent the day with my childhood friends, having a lovely brunch at Lulu’s in Palm Springs. Temps were the warmest yet, near 100F, helping sway our decision to forget the bikes and just carpool with our friends from their AirBnB rental in Palm Desert. They had found easy access to Lot 2A (free with admission) by going south on Jefferson and turning left on 50th Street, and we got in around 4:00pm with no traffic. The walk from there along the Red Path was long, but a good way to burn off some calories. For those not up for walking, bicycle cabs provided rides along the path. Once inside, the line to the photography exhibit was very long once more, but then someone came by and said “There’s no waiting if you go in the side entrance.” So we did. It was an extensive and fascinating exhibit of all the performers from the 60’s to the present.
We explored the food booths behind the General Admission area, which were even more interesting than those behind the grandstands. Lines were about 10 minutes long, and we had a delicious chicken aoli sandwich and date bacon whole wheat flatbread ($27).
This was my favorite day of music. The Who played all greatest hits including several songs in a row each from Quadraphenia and Tommy, most of my favorite Who album, Who’s Next, and a bunch of 60’s oldies. Roger Daltrey hit almost all of his trademark notes, and Pete Townsend was in a feisty mood, playing a mean guitar as well. I enjoyed this performance much more than in 1997 when I saw their Endless Wire tour show at the Hollywood Bowl. Intermission was once again spent reminiscing with my old friends, leading up to the highlight of the weekend for both of us, Roger Waters’ Best of Pink Floyd set. The venue rumbled with surround sound of a beating heart, helicopters, trains, sirens, alarm clocks, and beautiful spacey music, while amazing graphics displayed on the giant screen, including the Animals album cover stadium sized factory with smokestacks and steam coming out of them. They played most of the albums Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and selections from The Wall (with kids singing on Another Brick in the Wall) and Animals, including an over the top condemnation of Donald Trump as a giant floating pig, which angered some in the crowd, like the man in front of us who shouted a few “What about the Lies?” (ie Hillary) before he stormed out (g’bye!). Waters’ band has a David Gilmour sound-alike singer and two Sia-looking backup singers who wailed on The Great Gig in the Sky.
They concluded with the Dark Side of the Moon finale Brain Damage/Eclipse, followed by Vera and Bring the Boys Home, a Roger Waters Poem and one of my favorites, Comfortably Numb. Meanwhile the moon had moved across the sky from one side of the venue to the other. It was a stellar end to a stellar weekend. Weekend Two folks were treated to a super full moon under which to enjoy the Dark Side of the Moon spectacle, but hey, we got see the actual dark side of the moon the previous week! We were on such a (natural) high, not wanting the evening to end, that we went to the nearest 24 hour restaurant, IHOP, for more laughter and reminiscing with our old friends. There were a lot of people with concert wristbands in there, as well as other restaurants across the valley throughout the two weekends, indicating the economic impact these festivals have on the local economy during the shoulder seasons. Concert goers had to leave their wristbands on throughout the time of the festival.
It took a day or so for this 59 year old to recover from the excitement of the event, the amazing music, camaraderie, late nights (4AM the last night) and little sleep, however, I don’t feel like an “Oldchella” person by any means. If anything this experience revitalized me, and the energy of the performers proved that they are going to rock ’til they drop.
I do recommend biking to the festivals at the Polo Grounds if possible. However the problem with taking your bike may be where to park your car if you’re not staying within reasonable biking distance. If you have friends who live in the vicinity who don’t mind you parking at their place, that’s a good option. Or, if you are staying in an accommodation in La Quinta/Indio /Indian Wells, you can find bike routes leading from there. Keep in mind you will be riding home late at night in the dark, so make sure to have the best bike light possible and ample rear light, and take them with you into the venue to prevent theft. I don’t trust drivers on the road late at night, so I will always stick to the sidewalks. Try to notice any sidewalk hazards along the way when you ride to the show in daylight so you can avoid them when it’s dark. It goes without saying, don’t drink too much! It’s unsafe, and actually illegal to bike drunk, so if you plan to drink, consider Uber /Lyft or buy a shuttle pass (in advance) instead. In the future the CV Link Bike Trail will run through the region along the Whitewater River, and I hope festival promoter Golden Voice participates in creating a safe route from the trail to the venue, about 3 miles south of its closest point. A connecting path along the Coachella Canal may do the trick, and while they are at it they can continue that path to Lake Cahuilla!