How hard can it be to sneak into Coachella? We sent our roving reporter, Brian Dowell, over, under and through the gates to find out. See Part 1 for Coachella 2005 Day One band coverage and espionage adventures.
COACHELLA 2005, DAY TWO
We awoke at about 7 in the morning, to the sound of tow trucks. Officially, overnight parking in a lot in Riverside County, the site of the festival, is illegal: sleeping in your car constitutes illegal camping. They weren’t actually impounding cars however, simply moving them all into rows so bulldozers had room to clear the trash. My wife, Beth, and I headed into the town of Indio for a lovely breakfast at Denny’s, then headed back to the Coachella parking lot, cleaner than it was before.
Again, we tried the back way in first, climbing the address marker. There was a guard at our gate. We hid in the rose bushes and waited for an opportunity to slip through. We watched the people backstage without being seen. It was quite fun, really.
Our opportunity came quickly. The gate guard left his post for a minute to go grab a trashcan. I motioned the wife, and we darted out of the bushes, only to be seen by a golf cart full of female cops. We ran back into the bushes, but they followed us and instructed us to climb back over the fence, or they would kick us out of the festival for good. (We had a good laugh over that one--the worse they could threaten us with was kicking us out of a festival we shouldn’t have been in in the first place.)
I climbed back over the fence, but the wife had some trouble with the climb. I asked the cops if they could just escort my wife out of the back gate. They refused. I helped Beth over the fence and, disappointed, we made our way back to the front gates of the festival. The music was starting. I’d hoped that on the festival’s second day, security would be more lax than it was the day before. I was wrong. There were more cops at the front gate than ever and they were being much more rude; pushing people around, throwing people out, verbally harassing concertgoers. It offended all of my polite Midwestern sensibilities and embittered me towards the whole Coachella experience.
Concertgoers streamed into Coachella, subjected to Gestapo-like security patdowns and generally harsh treatment by gate employees. We hadn’t driven all this way to NOT get into the show, and I really wanted to see god damn Nine Inch Nails. I went to the Coachella ATM (complete with its outrageous $3.50 service fee), took out twenty bucks, and offered it to a female security guard. “All you have to do for twenty bucks is be quiet for twenty seconds,” I said. It sounded like a fair deal to me. She didn’t agree.
She turned down the money and then, in a totally unnecessary gesture, proceeded to blab about our offer to her nearby supervisor. The wife and I backed off.
We walked away from the gate and noticed a chubby Samoan security guard in the parking lot, watching us and laughing. He made his way towards us.
“Did you just offer her money to let you in?” he asked.
In order to not incriminate myself, I didn’t say anything.
“If you have money, why don’t you just buy a ticket? I’ve seen people selling tickets for half price in the parking lot. Forty bucks each. Cheap, man.”
I’d observed the same thing, Coachella had failed to sell out this year, so those who bought tickets with the intention of scalping for huge profits were pretty much out of luck. This security guy displayed reasonable logic, but well... I tried to explain myself to him.
“But that’s not the point! Look, I’m here working on a story. I’m not just here to have fun or party or listen to Nine Inch Nails.” It was mostly a lie. I was here to work on a story, but if it wasn’t for the prospect of partying and listening to Nine Inch Nails, I wouldn’t have been there. “The whole point of the story is that I’m sneaking in to the show…” I continued.
I couldn’t believe I was telling a security guard all this, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“You came here to sneak in?”
“Yeah,” I responded. “We’ve snuck in before. Snuck in last year, snuck in yesterday. You know, I was kinda hoping to teach my readers and fellow writers how to do the same thing.”
He stared at me. I was starting to feel hopeless. I’d said too much, given myself away. I wasn’t getting in, not for free anyway.
The wife broke the awkward silence with a suggestion, “Well, why don’t we just buy tickets? Forty bucks, we’ll have a good time, see Nine Inch Nails.”
I stared at her. She continued, “Brian, you’re not young anymore. You’ll be thirty in a couple of weeks. You can’t be Mr. Rebel Pissant forever.”
“But what about the article?” I asked. “What are readers going to think when my article about ‘How To Get Into Coachella For Free’ ends with me not getting into Coachella for free?”
She answered with, “Maybe, instead, you could write about how your Coachella experience turned you into a sellout.”
Even the security guard could see that her idea was a sane one. Maybe that would be a better article. From our spot in the parking lot, I could hear the FUTUREHEADS play their potent punk rock on the main stage. The afternoon was slipping away. As frustrations mounted, I got closer and closer to surrendering.
“Can we afford two forty-buck tickets?” I asked.
“No,” was her response, “but which would you rather do? Pay rent or see Nine Inch Nails?”
The security guard chuckled, as I paused to ponder her question. She had a good point. Nine Inch Nails, all the way. I made my way to the Coachella ATM, before I was stopped again by our Samoan security guard.
“Never mind, friend,” he said. “I’ll get you in.”
“What?” I asked. “But…”
“I just wanted to see how quickly you’d sell out. You journalists are all the same. No ideals anymore,” he stated with a grin. “Not a pair of balls among you.”
“But... I really was going to sneak in,” I protested.
“You just want into the show,” he replied. “You don’t really care about some stupid THEME in your article or whatever… if you actually had any integrity, you wouldn’t pay to get in.”
“But I’m not paying to get in, am I?” I asked.
He laughed. “You would. And you know it. You’re no different than anybody.”
That rat bastard! He just wanted to see me break down. And he was right. I did almost sell out. He could see it. Now, so can everybody. I was headed for the ATM. I broke down. I admitted all. I have no real integrity. I’m basically a fraud. And all and all, I’m OK with that.
We got into the second day of Coachella, and we didn’t pay. All it cost was a little integrity. I realized that not only had I lost my ability to secretively catch concerts for free, but also my youthful energy and idealism. Besides those items of insignificance, all I had to trade for two days of Coachella fun, (not counting food, beer and gas) was twenty five bucks. My rebel credentials were damaged but, in my delusional mind, at least they were still alive.
Here’s a quick review what we saw of the show on Day 2:
On the lawn, a crowd gathered to see GANG OF FOUR. We chose instead to make our way to the Mojave stage, a big white tent on the east side of the festival, for THE DRESDEN DOLLS. When we arrived, annoying Jamacian rap artists, ROOTS MANUVA were onstage, and the smell of pot hung heavily in the air. Mercifully their set ended pretty quickly, and we pushed forward to be close to the Dresden Dolls.
DRESDEN DOLLS- A female vocalist/keyboard player, with a vocal and songwriting style reminiscent of Fiona Apple, and a talented drummer. Both dress like 1940s Berlin cabaret performers and are quickly gaining cult status among depressed rock fans everywhere. The Dresden Dolls are an incredible live band. They completely electrified the Coachella audience, and gave, perhaps, the best performance I’ve ever seen on a festival side stage. Part of their appeal lies on the interplay and the tension between the two band members onstage. I’ve never really seen a band where the drummer (who comes across as a demented mime) actually non-verbally makes fun of and offers silent commentary on the songs the singer is playing. They also did an amazing cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, playing both the guitar and the bass parts on keyboard, causing all of us lame older male audience members to pump our fists and all the band’s core young goth female audience to stare at us perplexed. It was the weirdest and most interesting cover song I’ve ever heard. It’s perhaps fair to say that the Dresden Dolls offer more performance art than great music, but whatever it is they’re doing, it’s a hell of a show, and any fan of live entertainment would do themselves a favor to see the Dresden Dolls live.
Next, we ran to the main Coachella lawn, so as not to miss the beginning of:
NINE INCH NAILS- Before the band took the stage, huge Coachella video monitors treated concertgoers to footage taken elsewhere on the festival grounds of huge remote-controlled robots tearing apart a large ceramic sculpture of a baby filled with tomato juice. Quite a mood setter for the appearance of the one of the most intense and interesting rock bands ever.
With huge walls of lights in the background, Trent Reznor and the rest of Nine Inch Nails made their entrance. Trent, dressed conservatively in a white dress shirt and slacks, proceeded to play a couple of songs from his new album With Teeth, and then launched into “March of the Pigs” causing the crowd to go hysterical. Then he tore off the dress shirt and stomped around the stage in a torn black tank top. The show reflected the heavier guitar and lighter keyboard sound of the new stuff. Not as cohesive as the other NIN shows I’ve seen over the last decade, but still great.
Trent, at almost 40, is a little too old now to run around the stage and destroy stuff for an hour and a half, like he used to (He only did that for a couple of songs this show). Now he now has a guitar player to angrily stalk the stage, knock people down, and destroy stuff for him, while he sings. It was a really good show. A beautiful version of "Hurt" was played almost solely by Trent on keyboards, with the full band kicking in on the last chorus, and a verse from "The Only Time" was used as a bridge during "Closer," which worked really well. He also included my two personal favorite Nine Inch Nails songs, "Burn," and, "Suck". Awesome.
We then made our way, back across the lawn to another massive white tent, the Sahara stage, where mostly electronica was played during the course of the festival, to witness the return of PRODIGY. All of the members of the original lineup were there, and they played the songs that everyone wanted to hear. They were a lot of fun, very energetic, pumped the crowd up. The audience went nuts for them. It was nice to be in a rave atmosphere and actually see a SHOW, since usually the genre just consists of creepy looking white guys anonymously spinning records and pushing buttons. A great way to end quite a magical night.
And then it was over. We walked to our car, and left Coachella behind. I did accomplish what I wanted to accomplish at this year’s festival, and, as a sucker for this type of thing, I’ll probably be back to do the same thing next year. I just wonder, at which point, my desire to get into the show will actually push me to completely sell out and buy full-priced tickets. Hopefully, that’s still a couple of years away.
Want more specific details on how to pull it off yourself? Email Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit
Pictured: The mainstage of Coachella 2005 at sunset, Day One. Photo by Beth Dowell
Read about DAY ONE