There was a time in the not-so-distant past when tromping through the Empire Polo Field at Coachella was equivalent to visiting the local dump. By nightfall, your feet would crunch down on so much debris—namely plastic beverage containers—that tripping on something was inevitable.
A few years ago, much of the mess was alleviated when Coachella organizers partnered with Global Inheritance. The LA-based non-profit helped the annual festival become more environmentally friendly with a series of green-centered programs.
The 10-for-1 bottle exchange allowed festivalgoers to bring empties to designated recycling stations and receive a bottle of water in return. As the Indio temperature hovered in the upper nineties, dozens of teenagers and young adults combed the festival grounds over the weekend like they were on a scavenger hunt. Some rifled through trash containers (stealing plastic bags and cardboard lids) and picked water bottles up off the ground immediately following performances in three tents.
In one 15-minute period on Sunday, Eli Broad of San Francisco brought 70 bottles up to a station. “It’s totally worth it,” he said. “They’re making money, so we shouldn’t we get something [in return]?”
Broad, attending his second Coachella, had everything down to a science. “I’ve done it all three days. The more people that get here, the easier it is. Some people just drop bottles on the ground, even when a container is nearby . . . this is one of the most beautiful festivals around. (The 10-for-1 program) helps keeps everything clean.”
And that’s not the only measure taken to help out the environment. Automobile emissions were cut down this year, too, thanks to the Coachella Express—an Amtrak train which transported 500 people from LA to a temporary drop-off site in Indio. It was billed as the first time a US music festival had chartered a free train. Carpoolchella also encouraged attendees to travel with four or more to a car with various prizes as incentives.
Meanwhile, Global Inheritance hosted the Energy FACTory at the main Coachella entrance. Anchored by a 40-foot wind-powered clock, the area included Tour de Coachella (charge your cell phones by riding a bike!), solar-powered DJ station, an Ethanol Popcorn Cooking Tree (samples available for purchase), eco-friendly screen printing on organic cotton/bamboo t-shirts, vegetable oil to biodiesel conversion demos and simple ways to conserve energy.
Many people walking through the gates were immediately drawn to elaborately designed mannequins sporting solar iPod/cell phone chargers (on sale for $200). A Prince-themed, purple glitter model was very popular with shutterbugs.
“So many green groups just hand out literature; we give tangible examples,” said Jenna Eyrich, music festival project coordinator for Global Inheritance.
The bike chargers were utilized throughout the day. Greg from Montreal spent five minutes cycling to get one bar on his phone while volunteers fanned him. “We were just thinking, ‘I’m going to be screwed today because my phone isn’t charged and here this is. It’s a neat thing,” he said.
Between music sets at Coachella, there are always fascinating art installations to check out. The Cauac Twins (Tesla Coils), Quad Cubatron (LED light matrix), Swarm (rolling metal orbs) and Do Lab (a cross between Arabian Nights and a warped Cirque du Soleil) made return appearances.
Yet one of the most intriguing was Christopher Janney’s audio architecture piece, Sonic Forest. Already familiar to Bonnaroo attendees (as well as the Glastonbury and Download Fests in England), the installation made its West Coast debut at Coachella this year.
Visitors play the Forest by moving around 16 eight-foot tall blue columns, resulting in environmental sounds and white lights. Noises (birds, cows, wolves) increase and change via sensors and a computer as people accumulate.
“I like that you feel a part of the installation. It’s not just something pretty to look at,” said Corinne Katz of LA.
“There’s a day and night sensibility,” explained the world-renowned installation artist/musician of PhenomenArts multi-media studios. “I find the older people try to figure out how it works; the younger ones don’t. I think that’s one of the drawbacks of wisdom.”
Janney called Sonic Forest “communal musical instrument.” He said so many people were transfixed by it as the first night of Coachella wound down, police officers asked, “how do you shut this thing down?” Getting on the cops’ nerves—a true sign of success, right there.