The Problems with #ChellaVibes

Every year mid April, thousands of people fly across the country to a desert in Indio, California to take part in one of the largest music festivals in the world: Coachella. This festival spans for three days for two consecutive weekends, totaling six days overall. Those who are frequent users of social media likely received an influx of individuals posting pictures in a strange, boho-esque outfit, with the hashtag along the lines of “chella vibes” as Coachella-goers describe the purportedly best weekend of their lives. But for what many exclaim to be a life changing experience, Coachella has quite a striking history that may rub people the wrong way.

Coachella undeniably brings out some of the wealthiest youths in the country. This precedent is set simply by the price of entry tickets, with general admission being $429, and VIP priced up to $1000. That in itself is a large investment, without even thinking of the price of food, housing, and travel; this weekend festival can easily end up costing a few thousand dollars. The festival is also worthy enough to garner the attendance of the world’s biggest celebrities, including the Kardashian/Jenner family, Justin Bieber, Vanessa Hudgens, and other pop culture household names. The lineup of performers is star studded too; this year featured Beyonce as the headliner, as well as the Weeknd and Eminem being main acts. From year to year, Coachella has maintained a similar caliber in the performing artists. With that said, it can be argued that this music festival presents an initial atmosphere of privilege and bars a certain subset of Americans from partaking.

Nonetheless, the exclusivity of Coachella is more of a surface level issue. The real problems exist in the background. First and foremost, the owner of Coachella, Philip Anschutz, is a known supporter and large donor to many right-wing groups, such as anti-LGBT, pro - gun, and anti-climate change organizations. Although Anschutz was initially scrutinized after this discovery, his problematic views did not appear to impact Coachella attendance. Festival goers did not seem to care where their money went, nor did the celebrity performers, several of whom are vocally liberal, seemed to care who paid their bill. Perhaps this ignorance is due to a belief that Coachella’s significance goes beyond its problematic owner and that attendance does not imply support for Anschutz, but rather support for the festival itself. This argument, however, is quite questionable.

Aside from the inattention to Anschutz, many festival-goers wear outfits comparable to traditional Native American garb in order to reach a ‘desert-vibe’ aesthetic. Such dress brings up the large issue of cultural appropriation, as individuals come together and use another group of people’s heritage as an accessory for their outfit. We have seen institutions such as major universities make explicit statements on cultural appropriation, attesting to its growing prevalence.

Coachella owners have failed to make any statement telling festival-goers to be more conscientious of their outfits and the people they affect. The owners’ behavior could be due to ignorance of the issue, but more likely, it is caused by negligence and a fear of seeming too politically correct, ultimately diminishing the freedom that the festival is meant to perpetuate. But should Coachella’s image overwrite its moral obligations to ensure respect and belonging? That would suggest that Coachella’s primary goal is to satisfy a certain group of people, not the unheard appropriated minority.

Despite all these problematic issues, there will likely be no decrease in attendance, and most likely, no campaign can be successful enough to cripple such a massive corporation. Over 120,000 people attend Coachella each year, and in 2018, it generated $47 million in revenue, $17 million dollars up from last year. It is simply too prestigious an event for festival-goers to be deterred by moral conflictions, if any at all.

It must be truly spectacular to have garnered such a prodigious crowd, with visitors and performers alike blowing all sense of moral obligation to the wind. I personally have never been to Coachella, but one day I might attempt to go, if simply to understand the hype of sleeping in the desert for a weekend.