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Coachella Music & Arts Festival

How to Make The Most of Two Electric Days in the Desert

On April 30, I-5 will be packed tight with Bay Area residents making what has become an annual pilgrimage to the desert town of Indio, California. The Coachella Music and Arts Festival is, in only its fifth year of existence, one of the best and most important music festivals in the world. It's easy to see why embarking on such a trek is a no-brainer: sunshine, an affordable weekend getaway and two full days of music. For this year's edition, festival promoters Goldenvoice outdid themselves and lined up an amazing collection of artists to satisfy every palate. Even after losing one of their main draws when Wilco's Jeff Tweedy entered rehab for painkiller addiction, the first day is already completely sold out. So what are you waiting for? Be resourceful, find yourself a ticket, weasel a last-minute reservation and get ready for the weekend of a lifetime.

Once you've got the ticket and transportation situation sorted, fear not. Though Indio is 513 parched miles from our beloved City by the Bay, getting through these two perfect days will be no sweat- especially when you've got the advice of seasoned Coachella veterans, namely, the authors of this very article. So, set your browsers to print and take heed: these tender bits of guidance will make your time in the desert feel as sweet as Frank Black's falsetto.

1. Headliners, baby.
This year's headliners are the best Coachella has ever seen. If you're going to see any of these bands, do yourself a favor and stake out a good spot well before show time. Ask anyone who caught the Beastie Boys from the back last year- a flat sea of people in front of you is no way to see your favorite performer. This counts double if you're hell-bent on seeing the Pixies. You can bet that nearly every one of the 35,000 people at the Empire Polo Field on May 1 will flock to the main stage to see the Pixies make rock 'n roll history with their comeback after 10 long years.

Radiohead: The seminal rock band of our time somehow manages to mystify massive crowds every time they play big outdoor shows. They did it last year at New York's rain-soaked Field Day festival and they will do it again in Indio.

Pixies: Hype be damned, the Pixies' Coachella set is the single most anticipated live rock performance of the past 10 years. Enough said.

The Cure: Goth, punk, pop, new wave and plain old rock fans, rejoice! Robert Smith and company are back and on a mission to recapture their status as the world's most beloved emissaries of melancholy. Though the pairing certainly seems odd, we're lucky as hell to be the first stop on their big comeback tour.

2. Spread out and about.
Stray from the main stage as much as you can and check out the up-and-coming artists you've been hearing so much about. There are five different performance areas in all- two outdoor stages and three tents. Each of them will be chockful of bands and DJs jonesing to become the next big thing. Festivals like this are the perfect showcase for those attempting to climb the music ladder. To highlight a few acts most deserving of their moment in the spotlight: ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Living Legends, LCD Soundsystem, stellastar*, Dizzee Rascal, The Thrills, Muse, and Cooper Temple Clause.

3. It's the diversity.
Coachella does a terrific job mixing it up and inviting artists across various genres to perform. Step outside your realm of comfort and sample the best of unfamiliar styles. Even if you aren't an in-the-know indie rocker, don't miss the widely appealingBroken Social Scene, always fun Flaming Lips or the punk energy of Sparta. Non electro-heads are still bound to love the imminently danceable and unique house grooves of Basement Jaxx or smooth trance of Paul van Dyk. Turned off by hip hop? You haven't listened to the underground rap stylings of Danger Mouse or positive Afro-beats of the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. International flavor arrives in the form of Brazilian electronica quartet Da Lata and Colombian dance act Sidestepper. Lastly, capitalizing on music's latest trend are the gimmicky but fun mash-up masters 2manydjs.

4. Watch out for opening-day lines.
The queue to get inside the Empire Polo Field on Saturday will be absurd, particularly if Goldenvoice doesn't solve the entry problems of last year. So arrive as early as possible. And for the love of god, bring some water for the wait.

5. Don't stress.
You'll go crazy trying to cram everything in- it's perfectly fine to sit down, chill out on the grass and take in the festival sights around you. Besides, you're bound to be close enough to a stage to hear something great anyway. Which leads us to…

6. Be prepared to miss acts you really want to see.
Do the math yourself: with 80+ bands performing in 24 hours, the overlap is insane. At any given moment there could be five, count 'em, five amazing acts performing simul-freaking-taneously. The horrible truth is that, for every hard-core music fan, there will come a point at which they are faced with a life-or-death decision. Do you hightail it to the Gobi tent to see newcomers The Moving Units or do you stay put and catch Death Cab's set on the outdoor stage? Our only advice on this one is to be adventurous; try out bands that you wouldn't normally get the chance to see, or haven't seen before. This is why Coachella exists, after all- to give folks like us exposure to a whole bunch of new music.

7. Beer is essential, but be prepared to pay a price.
And we're not just talking moolah. Because this is an all-ages show, beer is only served in designated areas which you need a wristband to enter, and won't be able to leave with alcohol in hand. Chances are you'll miss an entire act if you decide to go into the beer garden, wait in line and do anything but pound your brewski. A bit of down time in the grass is great though, especially during the hot part of the day, so it's not such a big deal. And if you smuggle in a flask or a joint to supplement your listening experience, we promise not to tell.

8. Park near the entrance to the parking lot.
And thus be the first to exit on the way out. This could be the most important rule of all. Nothing can kill the afterglow of an awesome day more than sitting in a parking lot for two hours without moving.

9. It will get cold.
This is the desert, people, so be prepared to sweat your arse off by day and shiver your tatas off by night. Last year one of your fair authors got stuck at night without sleeves, leaving him no option but to pay a disgustingly high price for an unfortunate long sleeve shirt featuring the word "DANK" in fluorescent yellow graffiti letters. Don't let this happen to you.

10. Check out the desert sunset.
The sun sets in Indio at about 7:25. No matter where you are when this happens, turn toward the mountains in the west and watch the horizon. There will be this amazing few minutes where the sky will burn bright blue and the mountains will go flat black and, as the music hums from every direction, you will thank your lucky stars you made this trip.

Now then, you've got your handy dandy list of things to keep in mind while braving the madness that is Coachella 2004. What's next? Sometime before the show we recommend printing out a copy of the lineup. Keep watching for updated info and, if they post the actual schedule in advance, print that out too. Then get yourself a highlighter and start marking it up. Keep this sheet with you on both days of the show- though programs will be available on-site, they go really quickly. As a new feature this year, you can also sign up for "What's Up Coachella" a mobile text messaging service which will provide updated schedule information, traffic updates and more throughout the festival. As a final pointer, we've decided we are somehow important enough to present you, dear reader, with our Top 8 Absolutely Positively Must-See Artists List. Cross your fingers none of them play at the same time:

The Evens: The last two bands that independent music luminary Ian MacKaye founded were Minor Threat and Fugazi. Now give us one good reason why you'd possibly want to miss this first performance by his brand new project?

Pretty Girls Make Graves: If high energy, punk-inspired rock is your thing, there is no better live band on the planet these days than this Seattle fivesome. Their relentless tour schedule has sent countless San Francisco audiences spinning; watch them do the same to a huge Coachella crowd.

Prefuse 73: The samples and beats cut up by Scott Heren's alter-ego defy categorization, which is exactly why he was invited to light up a tent at Coachella. Put your bathing suit on for this one and take off your shoes; you'll be dancing with your ears glued to the stage.

Desert Sessions: Nearly every Coachella to date has been rocked to its dusty core by a Josh Homme project of some kind. In 2002 and 2003 he did it with his Queens of the Stone Age; this year he's dragging PJ Harvey to the stage with him in what promises to be one hell of a desert session.

Air: The French duo make the best electronica of this generation. Period. Some call it ambient, some call it lounge-pop. It doesn't matter. Their live performances are simply mesmerizing, attacking all of your senses and lulling you into an incredible state of dreamlike bliss.

Mogwai: This is instrumental rock at its finest. The Scottish band has been, well, instrumental, in bringing this genre to the masses. They make beautiful, intricate, loud noise with plenty of peaks, valleys and drama packed in to every performance. If you like explosive rock, Mogwai are a required experience.

The Sleepy Jackson: Basically frontman Luke Steele and a rotating cast of musicians, this Australian band makes near-perfect pop music. Just happy enough to intoxicate you, just quirky enough to intrigue the hell out of you and just theatrical enough to keep your eyes fixed on the stage.

Belle & Sebastian: The immensely popular seven-member B&S are now a decade old and, after some intra-band turbulence, making some of the best music of their careers. They tell breezy folktales with smart lyrics and beautiful melodies, and promise to be among this year's most entertaining hipster draws.

In addition, the following Coachella artists are homegrown Bay Area acts: Mark Farina, Erase Errata, Heiroglyphics, Living Legends, Donald Glaude.

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
May 1 & 2
Empire Polo Field, Indio, Calif.