Not Coachillin'

Broiling in the sparse shadows of lemonade stands

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SONIC REDUCER "I can't believe you slept through the police helicopter above the tent at 3 a.m. and the megaphone going, 'Disperse immediately or you'll all be arrested,'" tentmate Fluffy marveled the day after another ear-busting night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival's unofficial after-party scene in the campgrounds. It was only 8 a.m., though the sun was already beating down relentlessly like our heedless neighborhood drum circle.

I've snoozed through my share of lousy plays, bad bands, and crappy circuses, but I never thought I'd slumber through the 24-7 thrills at the Empire Polo Fields. And the chopper was just the chaser to April 28 trance headliner Tiesto, who began his loud set, pompously booming out over our not-so-fair tent city of spring breakers and Euro tourists, with "In the beginning there was the earth...."

We're gonna have to sleep through the history of the planet, was my last thought as I drifted off.

O Coachella, don't you cry for me, 'cause I've come from Alabama Street with a heat rash on my knee — and doubts about making the scene at the festival despite the fact that about 160,000 brave music fans were expected to face down the desert swelter as the event swelled to three days.

At this juncture, Coachella might be described as a music festival on steroids: it's a carnival for 18 and overs with rides, art installations, dancers, and completely insane people wearing full-body chicken costumes in the 110-degree heat, though still boasting a comprehensive bill of today's so-called hot bands. It's your one-stop smorgasbord for music lovers, who will happily chat you up about the performer they deemed the most mind-blowing the previous night or the last Rage Against the Machine show they caught.

And they got what they came for: the Björk shroom headdress; the crazed buzz rising from such festival circuiteers as Amy Winehouse and Klaxons; solid pop from Jarvis Cocker and Peter Bjorn and John; show-stopping performances by DJ Shadow, CSS, Arcade Fire, and Konono No. 1; and the rattle of reunion bones by an amped and antic Rage Against the Machine, glowering and balding Jesus and Mary Chain, and, er, Crowded House. You couldn't go amiss if you stuck to the desert to-do's rave roots and entrenched yourself beneath the mirror ball, video screens, and pink and blue lights of the Sahara tent: the performances there by Justice and LCD Soundsystem connected with the crowd with a screw-it-all exuberance.

But the untold story lay far away from the press tent and Palm Springs love nests — in the crowded, brutal heat of the campgrounds next to the performance area. Is it possible to review a camping trip? In what seemed like a dusty, straw-strewn football field with thousands of other wake 'n' bakers? I spent far too much time taking refuge from the nonstop heat at the campground's cybercafé, where hundreds of shirtless boys and bikinied girls would miserably crouch, recharging their cells at a bank of outlets, sit stunned watching the Coachella film on a loop, or lie on the ground like clammy, comatose dead fish, waiting out the morning before the acts began in early afternoon.

The southerly discomfort led most campers on a lengthy hike from the tent city, past the obscenely grassy country clubs surrounding the polo grounds, to find refrigerated refuge and 40s at Ralph's, the nearest supermarket, where people were literally chillin' on store lawn furniture. Coachella: the fest that inspired global warming — and a post–<\d>Earth Day longing for air-con.

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