To help you get ready for the reliably awesome music fest, Fuse spoke with Laura Burhenn, leader of the indie folk collective the Mynabirds. As part of Bright Eyes' Coachella band in 2011, Burhenn did more than play the fest: She survived it, weathering a bout of pneumonia in the California desert. This year, she's much healthier and headed back to Coachella as part of the Postal Service's backing band, so we called her up to get tips on maximizing the festival experience in Indio.
So from Burhenn's pneumonia-tinted recollections of a secret rose garden to advice for navigating urine-stained fields, to thoughts on the life-affirming power of live music, here's what Laura Burhenn has to say about Coachella.
What Makes Coachella Different From Other Fests
The whole design of the space sets it apart: It is the most beautifully designed festival that I’ve been to. It feels really futuristic in a way. It almost feels like it’s taking place 3013. But there's also the "back to nature" element. It's big enough so that you don’t have sound bleeding from stage to stage, but it’s also really manageable to walk around. Glastonbury is an incredible festival, but it’s enormous. You’re not going to catch only five minutes of one set and move on because you have to walk a mile to get there. Coachella isn't like that.
Essential Tip: Wear Boots to Avoid Piss
One of the absolute must haves for anybody who goes: Wear boots or wear sneakers. Don't f-ck around with any sort of open-toed sandal. And don’t notwear shoes. I remember in 2011 we saw Arcade Fire. It was just after they'd done the big LED ball drop. It was really special to be a part of this moment, we were all so childlike and in awe. Everybody was totally high, whether they were literally high or just mentally high from the experience. Then I remember watching everybody leaving the field and just seeing all these dudes pissing on the field. Not even against the fence, just everywhere. At that point everybody’s had a lot to drink, so that’s why I would always, forever, put boots on. Don’t mess around with that.
What to Pack
There are water stations where you can go fill up your water bottle, so bring water. I wore an enormous sun hat which I loved it. But probably carry less.
"My God, this is what's f-cking good about the world."- Laura Burhenn remembers looking out on the crowd while playing Coachella in 2011
Remembrances of a Secret Rose Garden
I remember there was a secret little garden in the very back. I feel like it was open to the public but nobody was there. I highly recommend it. There were roses and I think there was a food truck that had really good vegetarian Thai food. Am I making this up? It’s all a dream to me. I was diagnosed with pneumonia when I was there with Bright Eyes, so my experience was kind of crazy. It was really surreal being sick there, because it's such a beautiful festival. The valley is so beautiful and there's the Ferris wheel and all the lounge areas where you can just sit and have a drink. It’s such a unique, special world and then to be there with pneumonia on a bunch of drugs was crazy.
Life-Affirming Festival Moment
When I played the festival with Bright Eyes, it was the most people I've ever played to in my life. When I got on stage I thought, "Oh my God, this is terrifying. But the sun was setting as we were playing and you look out in this valley and everything turns purple, this beautiful purple light. And then I thought, "My God, this is what’s f-cking good about the world. There are all these terrible things, but this is what is great about the world." Music can bring us all together for one moment: Everyone is dancing to the same beat or like singing the same song and it’s a beautiful experience. I love it.
Making Hazy Memories
Any festival is going to turn into a drunken fest. People are going to smuggle their flasks in. It’s rock n' roll. It’s going to get drunk and sloppy and it should. I have really fond memories of going to Lollapalooza in 1994 when I was in high school and how exciting it was being around a big, sloppy fest as a kid.Nick Cave, the Beastie Boys, L7 and the Smashing Pumpkins played. It was so funny, it was the first time I ever smoked pot in my life. My friend and I we were standing there watching the Smashing Pumpkins and my friend was like, "They’re playing the same song over and over again. Are they even going to change the song?" The people in front of us were so annoyed, because they were not repeating the same song. I think she was just high.
Take Detours & Bring a Magic 8 Ball
Have a plan as far as who you want to see and make sure you actually get there in time to see them. But also, make sure you stop when you’re passing somebody and listen to them if you don’t know them. You can learn a lot. But it's such a tough call: Are you going to see a big name band that’s been around for a long time, maybe a band that hasn’t played in a while and is making a re-appearance, or do you see somebody new? You have this chance to see bands like Blur, where you've owned a ton of their records, or you can go see your new favorite band. What do you do? You need an 8 Ball ball. Carry an 8 Ball. A Magic 8 Ball! Not the other 8 ball.