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Since the Los Angeles-based band Chicano Batman started in 2008, the group has taken a long and interesting path to success—and after years of independent EPs and album releases, the group recently signed with ATO Records.

On the heels of new album Freedom Is Free, which dropped March 3, the group will be making its second appearance at Coachella on Saturday, April 15 and 22.

During a recent phone interview with guitarist Carlos Arévalo, he discussed the recording of Freedom Is Free.

“The album was recorded in January 2016 over the span of two weeks,” Arévalo said. “The album was recorded at the Diamond Mine studio in Long Island City, N.Y., with the producer, Leon Michels. Leon Michels is a former member of the Dap-Kings and played with Sharon Jones when he was 16 years old. He’s appeared on numerous recordings, and he was a member of the Black Keys. … We had been writing for (the album) since the summer of 2015.”

The recording process with Michels was different for the band, Arévalo said.

“There was a bit more of a direction involved,” he said. “Before, we would just record with songs we had, and we would record them the way we’d play them live. For better or worse, that’s what you hear. This time, we had a producer, and we would bounce a lot of ideas off of him. He acted as a fifth voice. Often times (before), it’d just be the four of us going democratically. So if there’s something not happening, and there are two saying, ‘Go this way,’ and two going another way, we kind of go nowhere. But it was nice having Leon say, ‘No, it should go this way.’ We respect his résumé and his musical abilities, so that made it really easy to move forward in finishing the arrangements in some of the songs. There are also backup singers; there’s flute and a lot of instrumentation on it, and we said we’d figure that out for a live setting later. We also tightened up our songwriting. We wrote more concise songs and said what we needed to say.”

The support of ATO Records is obviously beneficial, Arévalo said, but he added that he and his fellow band members are thankful to those who helped them in the past.

“Everything we’ve done up until we started working with ATO was pure self-release and completely independent,” he said. “We had the help of managers and booking agents … and all of those people before who helped us get to where we are now with a label. The label is very supportive and gives us our creative freedom, and they are going to put our music on a platform that we couldn’t put it on ourselves financially, or without those networks being in the music industry.”

Chicano Batman has played numerous times in the Coachella Valley, most recently last year in October at The Hood Bar and Pizza. There has never been a gig too big or too small for Chicano Batman over the years as the group built its fan base.

“We’re older guys. We’re not 21-year-olds who get in the van and tour the country for three months straight,” Arévalo said. “We have wives and families, and we were really mindful of how we’ve toured. We would do touring in two-week spurts. We’d hit up markets that we knew we’d do well in and places we knew there was a fan base. We’d play San Francisco in a 500-capacity room, but we’d go to Atlanta and play to a 250-capacity room, because we hadn’t put in the work yet out there. Also, we’ve been asked to play big festivals and open for big bands. Right now, the way things are looking, we’re going toward the bigger rooms. We’ve been selling out nice-size rooms along the West Coast.”

In this age of Donald Trump, Arévalo sees Chicano Batman’s multicultural fan base as a beautiful thing and hopes that it inspires people.

“The goal has always been to reach people through art and have a positive message,” he said. “That’s always been our reality and where we’re from. I think being in the music industry and coming up in it, you see that not all stages represent people who look like us. We try to change that and be the best we can be musically, and as people promoting diversity through our music. It’s beautiful that we can bring people of all cultures together. If you ever come to a Chicano Batman show, it’s a beautiful sight. There are people from all cultures and ethnicities being represented as we grow in popularity. That’s a special thing to cherish in these divisive times and people drawing lines in the sand.”

The band last year took part in an ad campaign for which it recorded a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

“During the summer of last year, Johnnie Walker approached us about being part of their ad campaign called ‘Keep Walking America,’” Arévalo said. “The idea was to promote and celebrate diversity, which has always been the M.O. of this group, obviously. They approached us, and we thought the message was a strong one, and they were the ones who suggested we record Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ This happened when Trump was running for president. We were really starting to see the ugliness of people identifying other people by race and trying to differentiate themselves from other people. We thought it was a good message, and the song is a protest song, so it speaks to those ideals about this country, and we felt like it’s a big statement for us to be part of something like that. People who look like us aren’t really represented in commercials and movies, and we thought it would be an important campaign to take part in.”

After its 2015 Coachella debut, Chicano Batman is hoping to make a bigger impact this year.

“We’re hoping we get a better time slot this time,” Arévalo said. “Last time, we played at 1 in the afternoon, and we were hung over. Aside from that, we’re really excited to bring this new production to fruition. We’re also touring with backup singers to sing on many of the new album tracks.”

Arévalo added that the band is forever thankful to the Coachella Valley for support.

“We have a lot of love for the Coachella Valley. We always make it a point to go out there and play whenever we can,” he said. “The Coachella Valley is one of those places that gave us chances when other places weren’t giving us chances. We’re not going to forget the places that gave us chances when we’re playing the Fillmore. People always come up to us and tell us how meaningful it is that we played there, and we’re always humbled by that.”

Published in Previews

LOS ANGELES (Reuters)—Lady Gaga will step in for Beyonce at this year’s Coachella music festival after the R&B singer, who is pregnant with twins, dropped out of her headlining slot due to doctor’s orders.

Gaga, 30, made the announcement late Tuesday, Feb. 28, on her social media pages with an image of the three-day lineup at the festival and her name at the top of the second day’s schedule, accompanied by the caption, “Let’s party in the desert!”

Beyonce, 35, was due to headline the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio on April 15 and April 22. She pulled out last week, saying in a statement that she was “following the advice of her doctors to keep a less rigorous schedule in the coming months.”

Gaga’s Coachella headlining slot follows her performance at February’s Super Bowl, where she sang, danced and soared over the stage suspended on cables, delivering a flawless choreographed medley of her hits that include “Poker Face” and “Born This Way.”

The singer is also due to kick off her world tour in support of her latest album, last year’s Joanne, in August.

Coachella is the first major U.S. festival of the summer live music scene and hosts two consecutive weekends of the same lineup.

Beyonce and her rapper husband Jay Z, who have a 5year-old daughter, Blue Ivy, have not said when the twins are due. The singer said she’ll headline Coachella next year.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by David Gregorio)

The area surrounding the city of Coachella is dominated by farms, ranches, orchards and the laborers who work on them.

As I drove to meet Armando Lerma at his Date Farmers art studio, I passed fields where migrant farmworkers were doing their jobs under the brutal summer sun. This is one of the places where Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union fought for the labor rights of these migrant farmers.

Today, Coachella is becoming known for more than agriculture; it’s also getting more and more attention for its rising arts scene—and much of that attention is directly due to Armando Lerma and the Date Farmers studio.

When I arrived at the studio, which Lerma started with Carlos Ramirez (who was not present; he apparently avoids interviews), Lerma greeted me. Lerma’s two large dogs jumped around in excitement as he opened the door to show me the garden area out back as he explained what made him and Ramirez start the Date Farmers.

“It’s complicated,” Lerma said. “We try to keep the tradition alive of Mexican art—the culture and the traditions from the ancients to modern Mexican/Chicano art. That’s always been the inspiration. It’s something that relates to our community.”

Lerma said that when he began making art two decades ago, there wasn’t much inspiration to be found in Coachella.

“It’s kind of hard for us, because we weren’t taught those traditions and were kind of out here by ourselves,” he said. “We had to teach ourselves. Back in the ’90s, when I was in high school, there was no real art or anything that really talked to us. The art I remember that people would be talking about would be on El Paseo in Palm Desert in those galleries. I’d be looking and trying to understand whatever it was. I wanted to understand it, but I couldn’t—and I didn’t feel anything there.

“I met and talked with people who pointed me in the right direction and started teaching myself about the traditions. I found my way and the direction I wanted to take.”

Lerma said his initial ignorance of traditional Mexican art has made him appreciate art even more.

“No one in my family understood art. My parents had no clue and didn’t teach me about art,” Lerma said. “We had encyclopedias, and I remember going into those for art. Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh—all that stuff was cool. When I got a little older and started learning about Mexican history and people like Diego Rivera and all the Mexican muralists, I went deeper and deeper.”

He said a pilgrimage to Mexico helped inspire him and his works.

“I saw all the Aztec murals, the Mayan ruins and all that stuff,” Lerma said. “It’s a tradition that I wasn’t taught. That’s where I come from, and I had to teach myself, because the generations before me didn’t have time for that. Through my parents’ hard work, they were able to give me a good education. … I felt fortunate I was able to meet so many people pointing me in the right direction.”

Lerma said the collective’s name comes from the heritage of both his family and his hometown.

“That’s what established this community—the agriculture and farming,” he said. “My parents were migrant farmworkers and worked here in the desert. We had a date farm; my grandfather was a farmer, and my uncles are farmers.”


The Coachella Valley consists of nine different incorporated cities and various unincorporated communities, ranging from some of the richest areas of the country to the poorest. As he was growing up, this disparity confused Lerma.

“I felt stupid! I felt really dumb. For so long, I was like, ‘Why are things the way they are? I’m living in Coachella. I guess this is kind of cool,’” he remembered. “Back then, things were sort of junk (in Coachella) and not looking so nice. I went to school in Bermuda Dunes, and when you are going through Palm Desert, you can see the transition—and you don’t understand it. My parents didn’t know how to explain it to me. No one talked about it.

“When I came into my own and started understanding these things, I felt like that tradition (of understanding my community) was taken away from me. I should have known that stuff; I should have been more aware, and I should have been more self-confident and proud, but I wasn’t. I thought we must have been doing something wrong, because I didn’t know why we were in that position when I was growing up.”

Some other members of the Coachella Valley arts community believe this perspective has led Lerma to, at times, be over-protective of his community and his art. I reached out to a variety of people to discuss the Date Farmers—and almost none of them were willing to discuss the Date Farmers on the record. Off the record, some noted that Lerma can be eccentric, is often unafraid to state his opinions, and is overly suspicious and untrusting of anybody he views as an outsider.

However, almost everybody I talked to praised Lerma for being an inspiration to his community—and mentioned that he’s becoming more and more of an influence in the California art scene.

One person who was willing to talk to me is Freddy Jimenez, an artist and the drummer for the band Tribesmen. He has been working with the Date Farmers for years and has played various shows at the Date Farmers studio. He said he understands where Lerma is coming from.

“He doesn’t want anybody to just come in here, because this part of the desert has been neglected, and a lot of people have talked bad about it, especially from the west side of the Coachella Valley in Palm Springs,” Jimenez said. “Now all of a sudden, Armando is doing murals in the city of Coachella, and we’re doing shows here, and a lot of people are starting to recognize it and wanting to do shit out here. People just want to suddenly jump on the bandwagon. … You just don’t want to let everybody in. I don’t want to work with just anybody when it comes to throwing shows or doing art. We’ve been building this local scene up.”

As a result of the Date Farmers’ increasing influence, their pieces have been seen everywhere from the Ace Gallery in Los Angeles to the most recent Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—you know it simply as Coachella. Lerma said he’s happy to have his art in these places, in part because he feels people can learn from his art.

“With Mexican art in general, I think a lot of it has to do with teaching,” Lerma said. “If you take anyone’s art at the highest level, it’s teaching you something. That’s in Egyptian art, Chinese art—and you learn from it. It’s not just art for art’s sake.

“In Mexican culture, it’s also ceremonial to teach the young people to hold to the traditions. We’re kind of like orphans culturally. My generation, my parents’ generation, my grandparents’ generation—there was no art, and it kind of stopped. They had to work and do what they had to do to survive. But the spirit is strong, and it came back. That’s how I see art and where we’re coming from.”

The Date Farmers’ piece that was on display at Coachella, “Sneaking Into the Show,” was sitting in the gallery disassembled during my visit. Lerma mentioned during an April interview with LA Weekly that the work symbolizes the disparity between Coachella, the city—low-income, working-class—and Coachella, the music festival.

Lerma told me he is not a fan of Goldenvoice, the promoter that puts on Coachella and the other gigantic festivals that happen at Indio’s Empire Polo Club.

“It’s not something that’s talked about: Even the politicians here don’t step up and say, like, ‘Hey, we’re right here!’” Lerma said of the disparity between the festival and the nearby areas. “The things Goldenvoice does, like stopping people from selling T-shirts, is something I don’t understand. As an artist, I feel the most important aspect is to be honest, and I think we’re lucky, because we can talk shit. (The piece) was about bringing people from Coachella into the festival.

“I have this cousin who’s very inspirational to me as a kid. He was a gangster, and he had the cholo tattoos back in the ’80s when no one had tattoos. He looked like a pirate back then or something. I remember looking at him back then and saying, ‘You’re never going to get a job!’ He didn’t have to worry about it, because he ended up in prison. But he was a bad-ass artist, and that’s kind of the artwork he did, that reflected his experiences and his friends and family. It inspired me how he used art to tell his own story. He passed away recently, and the piece was a nod to him, because he sort of started me off.”

Lerma is also outspoken about the bad rap Coachella gets in the media. Earlier this year, The Desert Sun published a piece titled “The Warlords of Coachella,” about the city’s gang problems. Lerma said the piece was not a fair representation.

“That’s all bullshit!” Lerma said. “It makes us look so bad when it’s on the front page. … There are gangs here, but I don’t see them as much as I did when I was a kid. There used to be a lot. I probably wouldn’t have come to a party in Coachella during that time. It’s changed, and it’s not like that anymore.

“We were at a City Council meeting, and there were some kids from Coachella Valley High School, and they took it upon themselves to do this video, asking people at their school: ‘Do you feel safe?’ ‘How do you feel about the gangs?’ Everybody was saying there were some knuckleheads, but there were mostly good kids.

“This is my community. I live here every day, and I don’t see the gangs anymore.”


The city of Coachella and the East Valley in general have not been embraced as vibrant arts communities. However, the Date Farmers are helping to change that perception.

The Crisalida Community Arts Project was designed to also help change that perception. The two year project, an effort of the McCallum Theatre, fostered connections with local artists of all types in the East Valley, and culminated in a showcase this past spring at the McCallum.

Lerma—ever territorial and opinionated—said that he was not a fan of the project, in part because he was not included in it.

“That was a bummer for me. David Gonzalez, who is from New York, came to our community, and the project was funded by the James Irvine (Foundation) through the McCallum Theatre. I don’t know what started their interest in coming out here, because they never came out here before. I’m a big influence on these young people doing art out here, and for them to just not even contact me—it was bullshit.”

Lerma was also displeased that the Coachella Valley Art Scene’s Sofia Enriquez painted a mural in Coachella as part of the Crisalida project. He said it did not sit well with him, in part because the Date Farmers were already working on another mural nearby.

“It’d be one thing if there was no mural project, but there was already something going on that we were working on,” he said. “Right now, we have 10 murals up, and we’re going to get some more up, but I was really pissed off with the Crisalida Community Arts Project.”

David Gonzalez was in Europe and unavailable for comment.

Lerma explained that art is not as simple as some people make it out to be. He said that art needs to be taken seriously, and should not just be made in an effort to achieve fame and fortune.

“You have to be honest with yourself. I get turned off by people acting like they’re artists,” Lerma said. “… Honesty makes good art. It doesn’t come easy, and there aren’t too many art geniuses. (Date Farmers co-founder) Carlos (Ramirez) is an art genius. He’s been drawing since he was out of the womb, and he knows how to draw. It took me a long time to learn how to draw and how to paint. With social media, it’s just so fast now, and that dedication to the craft isn’t there.”

The Date Farmers’ interest in art goes beyond what one would find in a gallery. In an area that is currently going through a resurgence of the house-party-style concert, the arts collective has been also focusing on music. During New Year’s Eve in 2015, Brant Bjork performed at the studio, and local bands including Tribesmen have played there as well.

“We’ve had a lot of music shows. We had parties on Friday and Saturday during Coachella,” Lerma said. “We can have 300 people in here, and they’re all mostly locals, and it’s kind of the way to give back to the kids who can’t go to Coachella. We go all out and throw a good party, exposing them to good music and art.

“They’re all cool art-type kids. When I was a kid, you’d get beat up for being an art kid.”

Jimenez, of Tribesmen, said that the Date Farmers’ music space is a throwback to the backyard scene that is now making a comeback in the Coachella area.

“Armando has provided a safe haven for the local East Valley scene,” Jimenez said. “It’s the same kind of feel and the same kind of passion that the backyard-music shows had. No other venue in the desert has the same kind of love. That studio makes it feel like you’re at home and shit. It makes you feel like you’re playing to people who actually care about the music as opposed to playing in a bar and people who are just there to drink and party.”

The Date Farmers studio is currently dealing with a financial setback, due to the bankruptcy and questionable financial dealings of Ace Gallery founder Douglas Chrismas.

“I should really be jaded with everything I’ve gone through as an artist,” he said. “We just finished working with the Ace Gallery in Los Angeles. They showed Andy Warhol and all kinds of big names. The guy who owned it, Douglas Chrismas, is notorious for being crazy, and he rips you off. It was all part of the experience. The business of art is why you can’t take the business so seriously—but then you do (need to take it seriously), and it’s a weird balance. It’s not easy.”

Lerma explained that there’s no grant money supporting the Date Farmers.

“We make money through making and selling art,” he said. “Most people never get to live off their art and have to do something else. We’re so fortunate to be able to sell artwork. But it hasn’t been easy, and people aren’t just throwing money at us. I don’t know where the money is going to come from, but I know that I have to sell some art. We don’t have the Ace Gallery anymore, so we have to find a new gallery to sell art through.”

Lerma is clearly proud of his hometown. He said that after dealing with the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles art world, he’s happy to be home.

“After coming back here, I just want to start a garden and slow things down—slow it down as much as I can,” he said.

Published in Visual Arts

Great beer and excellent music go hand in hand—so it’s no wonder that craft beer is becoming a bigger deal each year at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, aka Coachella.

Not only did the Craft Beer Barn delight beer fans for the third year in a row; this year’s festival included a smaller rare beer barn, craft beer cocktails and a cabin speakeasy by the Houston Brothers.

Also present were all three of Coachella Valley’s local breweries, including La Quinta Brewing Co.—just weeks before taking home a gold medal at one of the world’s biggest beer competitions. (More on that later.)

As I enjoyed the second weekend of the festival, seeing all of the great beer together with all of the renowned musicians got me thinking about pairings: Which brew goes best with which music?


Prince

Prince was at Coachella in spirit, after passing away on April 21, the day before the second weekend of the festival began. Coachella’s palm trees were awash with Prince’s trademark purple hue. Ice Cube even wore a purple bandana and purple sneakers in tribute.

Before LCD Soundsystem performed, the three massive main-stage screens played the entirety of Prince’s version of Radiohead’s “Creep,” recorded in 2008 on that very stage.

Prince’s music crossed genres; he was a master architect of funk, rock, R&B and pop. He went against the grain and refused to bow to big record labels during his nearly 40-year history of artistry.

Because Prince is such a legend, it’s virtually impossible to pair him with just one beer. However, the brewery that comes to mind is Stone Brewing. The 20-year-old San Diego brewery has gone against the grain since unleashing Arrogant Bastard Ale upon the world in November 1997.

Fast-forward to 2014, when Stone announced plans to become the first American craft brewer to own and operate a brewery in Europe. Much like Prince refused to bow down to big business, Stone’s founders just announced a project called True Craft—an effort to invest in craft breweries which are dedicated to remaining true to the definition of craft beer, as an “alternative to being bought or pushed out by Big Beer.”


LCD Soundsystem

The icons offered tribute to Prince by leading off their set with a joyous, funky version of “Controversy,” lifting both spirits and feet off the ground. The anti-cool—yet infinitely cool—electro-rock group also played “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” and “Dance Yrself Clean,” creating a grin-inducing dance party. James Murphy’s Brooklyn demeanor, electro-rock dancing and serious singing all contributed to what was a triumphant return. Murphy proved his comedic talent as well when, over a simple drum beat, he cavalierly proclaimed that he was present at every key moment in underground music.

I found myself memorized and swaying aggressively when a young, dreadlocked hipster came up beside me. His eyes were wide, overwhelmed by the sensation of the beautiful music. “I didn’t know about these guys; they’re amazing!” he said.

I giggled. “Yes, yes they are.”

Pair with: The Bruery’s Confession. Not quite beer, not quite wine, this unique and effervescent wild ale is perfect for the wild and collaborative band. Confession is a sour blonde ale that is blended and fermented with juice pressed from Riesling grapes.

While LCD Soundsystem may be best known for the effect the band has on the dance floor, Confession is best known for the effect it has when flavors reveal themselves on the tongue.


Disclosure

This electronic music duo is definitely one of the cleanest stage acts you’ll see live. Disclosure wowed the crowd by welcoming AlunaGeorge singer Aluna Francis to the visually brilliant stage. “Moving Mountains” and “When a Fire Starts to Burn” brought awesome roars from the audience. Simply put, Disclosure was the ultimate crowd-pleaser.

Pair with: El Segundo Citra Pale Ake. Nearly every craft-beer-drinker I know loves this beer. With notes of guava, grapefruit peel, mango and peach, what’s not to love? It’s refreshing, bright and taste-bud-pleasing.


N.W.A.

The Coachella lineup simply listed Ice Cube. But after he asked, “Is there a doctor in the house?” the surviving members of N.W.A. performed together for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Before Dre arrived—wearing all black with the Prince symbol on his shirt—Ice Cube had the N.W.A. vibes in full force with “Fuck tha Police” and “Straight Outta Compton.” It was loud, aggressive and totally awesome.

Pair with: Three Weavers’ Hops Needs Friends. With a bold emphasis on hoppy bitterness, this IPA from the Inglewood brewery (not far from Compton) is loaded Idaho 7 and Azacca hops, giving it bursts of pineapple, orange and strawberry flavors—loads of “California Love.”


Guns N’ Roses

I would blast GnR in my Walkman in the mid ’90s as I got ready to swim the 100 freestyle at my high school’s swim meets. Therefore, I was beyond excited to see this large-than-life band.

Sure enough, many 35-to-55-year-olds rocked like it was 1987. Duff played his powerful licks from a white bass adorned with a purple decal featuring Prince’s symbol. He sang The Damned’s “New Rose”—which was extra-cool, since the psychedelic punk legends had just played before GnR.

But it was Slash’s astounding guitar solos and Axl’s wailing falsetto that really drew in the crowd. Despite Axl being confined to a throne due to a leg injury, the band members delivered a mind-blowing set—and, of course, Axl dedicated it to Prince.

Guns N’ Roses didn’t need a special guest, because the band made sure the night ended with a bang.

Pair with: Faction Brewing’s Something Different IPA. This IPA is hopped with Centennial, Citra and Experimental 07270 varieties. With aromas of pine resin and notes of grapefruit, spice and tropical fruit, this beer is highly rated. Another pairing option: Try pairing GnR with Modern Times Infinity Beach, a sour IPA with grapefruit zest coming in at 7.2 percent alcohol by volume. This is a special-release beer that is kettle-soured with three lacto strains before fermentation with Modern Times’ Brett blend, resulting in loads of flavors and in-your-face, citrusy awesomeness.


La Quinta’s Big Medal

La Quinta Brewing brought the Sundaze Session IPA and Poolside Blonde to Coachella—but it was another beer that would earn the Palm Desert-based brewery one of the beer world’s highest honors a couple of weeks later.

On May 6, La Quinta won the gold medal in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer Category at the World Beer Cup for the Bourbon Barrel Aged Koffi Porter. It bested a whopping 66 entries to take top honors.

The brewery takes its popular coffee porter and ages it in bourbon barrels for approximately four months. The coffee used is from local icon Koffi, roasted in Rancho Mirage.

I chatted briefly with Skip Madsen, who is now the brewmaster at La Quinta Brewing. He lived in Seattle for more than 20 years and brewed at Pike Brewing, Boundary Bay Brewing, Big Time Brewing, American Brewing Company and his own company, Water Street Brewing.

Madsen started brewing in the desert in January. Since then, he’s introduced the new Even Par IPA, which comes in at 7.2 percent ABV—pun intended, as 72 marks even par at many golf courses. The beer is brewed with Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra hops.

“I like to do all kinds of styles, but I’m known as an IPA guy,” he said.

This marks Madsen’s third World Beer Cup medal—and La Quinta’s first.

Up next for La Quinta: Some new beers and possible bottling of the now-renowned Bourbon Barrel Aged Koffi Porter, likely around the holidays.

Published in Beer

In 2013, I covered Coachella and Stagecoach for the first time for the Coachella Valley Independent—but I had concerns about doing so. In the fall of 2011, I suffered a serious back injury. As a result, I am unable to stand or sit for long periods of time.

Thankfully, while on site during Coachella in 2013, I discovered the services of Goldenvoice’s ADA department, which is in charge of accommodating guests with various disabilities. Three years later, the department is doing an ever-better job of doing so.

If you’ve attended either Coachella or Stagecoach, you may have seen Austin Whitney, of Accessible Festivals. Austin, in his wheel chair, is seemingly everywhere, and always with his service dog, Ophelia.

When I went to meet Whitney at one of the ADA platforms near the Mane Stage on Saturday evening during Stagecoach, he was handling an issue with an ADA wristband holder—with a smile on his face. As we went to find a place to chat, he talked to me about being from Berkeley, Calif., and about how seeing Rancid perform at Coachella was a highlight for him. As we made our way through the grounds, many people screamed his name—and a whole lot of people asked if they could pet Ophelia.

“I was in a car accident when I was 18,” Whitney said. “It severed my spinal cord and paralyzed me from the waist down. That really changed my life dramatically. At the time, my world was turned upside down. I had been very active in sports before that, and all my friends went off to college. My whole college plan was messed up. I was going to go to the University of Michigan, and there was no way after an injury like that.”

Despite the injury, he was determined to attend Coachella in 2008, because Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, was performing.

“It was the greatest show I ever saw in my life,” Whitney said. “At that show, it was one of the first places I found myself smiling. I was consumed by self-pity and hopelessness, and I felt that my life was over. Sitting in that crowd, enjoying that show, I didn’t think about my disability, and I didn’t think about this anxiety that consumed me about my future. I was living in the moment and being happy.

“I started going to a decent amount of music festivals after that. Having that to look forward to every two months throughout the season gave me something to look forward to when I needed something to look forward to during the first one to two years that were the roughest.”

His experiences led him to start working with festival promoters. He wanted to see them go above and beyond the legal requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act and focus on creating a truly enjoyable experience for those who had disabilities. He worked with Goldenvoice in 2011 and 2012, and he returned in 2016.

“(The year) 2011 was my first year at Coachella, and I started working for different promoters, and it kind of dawned on me: There’s a lot that could be done in terms of accommodations and people with disabilities. Other people I had been working with, they weren’t taking them into mind. I started law school at UC Berkeley at that time, and I was the only kind of person who had a legal background with that. The legal stuff doesn’t really matter: What I aim to do is really welcome people with disabilities and go beyond what’s considered ADA-compliant. It’s a very low bar with restrooms, parking and all of that stuff. I wanted to help promoters build events that people with disabilities could enjoy, and not have anxiety when they purchase a ticket.”

The department has to handle some complex and sensitive issues.

“We help everything between a 15-year-old with a broken foot to a 90-year-old with every conceivable health condition and an oxygen tank. We help folks who are hard of hearing, those who are deaf, those who are blind, those who are in wheelchairs, and (those with) various ailments and diseases. We deal with cancer and complications that come from illness, including skin conditions. Pregnancy isn’t a disability, but our services are helpful to a lot of folks, including those with late-term pregnancy; we put that under our umbrella and have a lot of patrons who are pregnant and offer our platforms to them—especially to those who go to Coachella because there are no chairs allowed.”

Whitney said Coachella and Stagecoach attendees noticed that the ADA team was a lot larger this year.

“It’s almost twice the size of the team we had last year,” he said. “These are people who love their job. One of the core elements of how we operate is to connect with people on a very human to human level—and that’s how you diffuse situations when they do arise. We also gave twice the amount of shuttle rides each weekend than were done last year. We have more carts going; I have eight or nine carts going right now. I have more people here to dedicate to what needs to get done.”

Whitney also added LED signs at each platform, making it easier for patrons to spot them. Doppler Labs was onsite offering patrons who are hard of hearing a pair of earplugs that can take in audio and be controlled with smartphones. Whitney said his team was offering guided tours to those with visual disabilities to help them make a mental map of the festival. A dietician was onsite to help those with dietary disabilities navigate among the food vendors. Finally, the department had a hotline phone number set up for the first time, which rang directly to Whitney or members of his staff—which took 160 calls a day.

At one point during Coachella, I watched as Whitney helped deal with chaos just before Ice Cube’s second-weekend performance. Both ADA platforms at the Coachella Stage were full—yet there was a huge line of attendees with ADA wristbands

“That was pretty crazy!” Whitney recalled. “We had 35 people who wanted to get on that platform before Ice Cube when Disclosure was performing. It was already pretty full—and then I had 35 people in line. If we didn’t help people get up there, they weren’t going to see the show.

“I know what it’s like if you can’t stand. If we can help, we will. If that means companions having to give up their seats and stand up, so be it. We got everyone on there, and that was a highlight for me and a personal accomplishment. I got awarded for that too, so it was great.”

Whitney said Goldenvoice has been supportive regarding those with disabilities, and he thinks things will improve even more during future festivals. He conceded there’s a lot of work left to do.

“Right now, we still have capacity issues on the platforms, and it’s crazy out there,” he said. “We have to work on viewing areas. We have the screens with the monitors with American Sign Language, but it has to be dialed in a lot more. I put a lot of attention during weekend 1 and 2 of Coachella doing disability-etiquette-training for security guards, and a huge amount of time is spent fixing mistakes out there with the security staff. They don’t need to be disability experts, but they need to understand when to reach out to us. Those are probably the big (changes) that we’re going to see. Also, (we’re working on) locking down our systems a little bit more and figuring out more innovative ways to get information out there for those with disabilities, whether that’s through social media or the packages with the wristbands that get sent out. After this event, I’ll do a full debrief with my staff to see what we can improve on.”

What advice does Whitney offer to those who are disabled and want to come to Coachella or Stagecoach?

Go to a music festival,” Whitney said with enthusiasm. “I’ve seen some folks who have more serious medical conditions than I can comprehend. I can find a solution to almost any accessibility issue if I know in advance. It’s a little more difficult if they just show up onsite. But if somebody has a specific concern, reach out to us. I’m fairly reachable by phone or e-mail, and this is what I do all the time. I can figure out a solution if there is a concern. I wouldn’t let someone’s disability stop them from experiencing something awesome like that Ice Cube show.” 

It is unbelievable how far the band The Flusters has come in such a short amount time.

Last Saturday at noon, the members of the band crossed an item off their bucket lists when they stepped onto the Outdoor Stage at Coachella. Each year, a local band or two gets the coveted, albeit difficult slot. There’s usually not much of a crowd on hand at noon, but many locals—including Ian Cush of the Coachella Valley Art Scene, Matt Styler of the Hive Minds, Giselle Woo and some devout Flusters fans turned out—turned out to watch the band play, as did a handful of Coachella early birds who did not know The Flusters.

While the Flusters were playing, Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar appeared onstage and took some photos and video of the band with his phone.

Shortly after the impressive show, frontman/guitarist Doug Van Sant, guitarist Danny White and new drummer Daniel Perry appeared in the press tent. Doug Van Sant mentioned Coachella was on their bucket list—but he had no idea it would happen this year.

“No, not at all,” Van Sant said. “It was a big fat no. We hoped for it. We tried to remain in sight and plain view of those who are connected with Coachella and selecting local acts. We did the best, and we did everything we could. When Brightener went on for last week, we said, ‘Well, that’s this year’s local band.’ If there was another local band we wanted to see do it, it was Brightener. Will (Sturgeon) has worked with us, so we thought it was good for them.”

Danny White said the experience of playing Coachella was highly rewarding.

“I think it was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had,” he said. “… The blood, sweat and tears—to have it pay off in the way that it has, and this is only the beginning—it’s only going to grow. There’s going to be a lot more hard work put in, and this is going to continue to get better.”

Van Sant mentioned when Independent readers voted for The Flusters as the Best Local Band in 2015.

“When CV Independent readers named us as the best band for 2015, the first thing I said to the guys is, ‘We won; what’s next?’ That’s the way we have to live our lives and go through our careers as artists. Same with this: Coachella is done; what’s next? How we can we use this experience to better our future and our music? That’s where my head is at right now. What is next?”

So, what is next?

“We’re focusing on recording an album, and we’re focused on getting some booking and representation,” Van Sant said. “We’re looking to poke our heads into SXSW next year. We’d like to open for some bigger acts in the greater Los Angeles area. We’d like to get our EP distributed in the widest way possible when that releases this summer—and have a kick-ass release party.”

The Flusters’ audience has grown subsantially since the group’s genesis a little more than a year ago. Many people have taken an interest in this indie-surf band from the desert, and the crowds get bigger each time it plays in local venues. During the “In-Betweener” on April 20 at The Hood Bar and Pizza, the place was packed with many familiar faces from previous Flusters shows—as well as many new people who came to check The Flusters out.

“It just shows we have the love of our fans, and they respect us as much as we respect them,” said Daniel Perry, the newest member. “It’s such an experience to see people love what you do as much as you love it yourself. It is one of the greatest feelings to know people are enjoying it.”

Perry explained how he joined the band after The Flusters parted ways with former drummer Chris O’Sullivan.

“About two or three months ago, Mario (Estrada), our bassist, had just sent me a text message asking me if I wanted to jam. I said yes one day, hung out, played some stuff and had some fun. We were just talking, and he told me The Flusters were looking for a new drummer. He asked me if I was interested in auditioning for it. For me, 2016 was the year for change. … I jammed with him and Danny once, and they gave Doug the final go. After that, we had a couple of practices, did a couple of shows, and it was great chemistry from the start. When I first started, I felt like I had been in the band the entire time.”

Van Sant said Perry has made needed adjustments in a short period of time.

“We didn’t know in the beginning,” Van Sant said. “He hadn’t found his sweet spot with us yet. We were rushing him, and he was scrambling, and I told him, ‘We need control; we need to hear what we’re doing, and we don’t need rushing tempos.’ I pulled him aside when he got it under control and I told him, ‘I want you to arrive now. I need you to arrive.’ A switch clicked on, and we got our set together for Coachella, and he’s been great.”

Van Sant said he’s touched by the love he and other local musicians have received.

“I have to say: Coming from Philadelphia, there’s a lot of hater mentality out there,” Van Sant said. “It’s not really hater mentality, but they’re out for themselves and their own projects. Coming out here and having this happen, I got personal texts from several local artists such as the guys from Monreaux, the guys from the Hive Minds, all the other guys from Brightener, and the guys from the Yip Yops. People were so happy for us and supportive. It’s also been coming from the Coachella Valley Art Scene, CV Independent, and all these wonderful people in the scene—it means a lot to us. I’m not used to that.”

On Sunday night at Coachella, Major Lazer proved there’s not a stage big enough for the group.

I was fortunate enough to see Major Lazer’s Coachella appearance in the Mojave tent in 2013, so I had some idea what to expect. That show was epic—and drew a crowd so large that there was no escape.

When I took my place at the ADA platform on the lawn about 100 yards or so away from the Coachella stage on Sunday night, I knew that this year’s Major Lazer performance was going to be big: Major Lazer’s crowd made Ice Cube’s crowd the night before look small in comparison.

Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire performed in typical Major Lazer fashion, combining their talents as producers and DJs to amp up the crowd—with some help from their female dancers. At one point, they had the crowd jump and then run to the right and then to the left. Yes, they asked the huge crowd, packed in like sardines in many places, to run.

Major Lazer utilized the Coachella Stage’s visual walls better than any other group I saw over the weekend. The visuals were awesome, and included scenes from the group’s cartoon television show, images of retro television sets, trippy designs and a “PEACE IS THE MISSION” flag. Of course, Peace Is the Mission happens to be the title of Major Lazer’s latest album.

However, the show’s most epic moment, by far, came when Major Lazer paid tribute to Prince by turning the Coachella Stage purple all the way across—and then announcing special guest Usher, who performed “I Would Die 4 U.”

It was the best tribute to Prince I witnessed through the weekend. Mavis Staples discussed her friendship with him and sang the chorus to “Purple Rain,” while Pete Yorn sang a few lines and the chorus of “Nothing Compares 2 U” at the beginning of his set. Mario Estrada of the Flusters wore a purple handkerchief in his front suit pocket, and many performers mentioned Prince’s name and their sadness over his passing. Big names like Guns N’ Roses and Ice Cube even dedicated their performances to Prince. But Major Lazer and Usher certainly did it best. 

Photos below by Kevin Fitzgerald; scroll down to see more from Sunday at Coachella.

Published in Reviews

After he was announced as part of the Coachella lineup, Ice Cube said his goal for the performance was to get N.W.A. back together.

It didn’t happen during Coachella’s first weekend. But on the Saturday night of Weekend 2, he managed to accomplish just that.

Last weekend, both DJ Yella and MC Ren joined Ice Cube—but there wasn’t a doctor in the house. But this weekend, Dr. Dre was announced—and the crowd went insane.

While it was late in Ice Cube’s set, Dre joined Yella, Ren and Cube for a shortened version of “The Next Episode,” as well as “California Love.”

Other guests included The Game and Kendrick Lamar. Cube teased the audience a bit when graphics flashed for Parliament Funkadelic. Some people in the crowd thought George Clinton himself might come out and sing “Bop Gun (One Nation),” a 1994 collaboration between Ice Cube and Clinton that sampled Clinton’s original “Bop Gun.” Alas, Clinton was nowhere to be found—but nonetheless, the song was fantastic.

When Ice Cube began the show, he appeared on a throne of fingers shaped like the West Coast hand gesture. Cube then made it known: “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It.” This made me wonder: Did gangsta rap make him appear in all of thise family films and horrible comedies?

The set included a lot of Ice Cube’s greatest material, such as “Check Yo’ Self” and “Gangsta Nation,” as well as N.W.A. hits “Dopeman” (performed with Little Easy-E., son of the late Eazy-E) and “Fuck Tha Police” (performed with Ren and Yella). He closed out the show with “It Was a Good Day.”

Given that Ice Cube had made good on his promise to get the surviving members of N.W.A. back together, it indeed was a good day. 

Scroll down to see more photos from Saturday at Coachella, by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

When the original lineup of Guns N’ Roses (or what was left of it) fell apart due to acrimony in the mid-late 1990s, it seemed that Axl Rose would never again play with the other men who made the band legendary.

Well, Axl made good with Duff McKagan (bass) and Slash (lead guitar) for a reunion at Coachella—their two weekends as the Saturday headliner have been pretty epic.

While the band sounded great during the Weekend 2 show—although Axl’s voice is not as powerful as it once was, and he was sitting on Dave Grohl’s “broken leg throne,” as Axl is nursing a leg injury—and the band performed all the hits, the show felt less exciting and more nostalgic.

As the band opened with “It’s So Easy,” it was obvious that the production budget was quite hefty. The new Coachella Stage, with visuals all the way across, flashed interesting images throughout the set, including raining liquor bottles, rotating guns, raining bullets, Guns N’ Roses’ classic logo, and so on.

Duff McKagan paid tribute to Prince with the legendary logo on his bass guitar, while Slash wore a sleeveless Bad Brains T-shirt. “Welcome to the Jungle” was played early in the nearly three-hour set, along with “You Could Be Mine” and the infamous cover of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.”

After “Live and Let Die,” Axl complained that being on that throne was a drag, and he didn’t care for it too much—although the upside was he could belt out some vicious screams.

Speaking of covers, just as Pinch, of The Damned, predicted in my interview with him, the show included a Damned cover—“New Rose,” sung by McKagan.

As for a rumored tribute to Prince … it was not to be. Axl mentioned a tribute to Prince would have been nice if they’d had the time to rehearse, before adding he owned a copy of the film Purple Rain on LaserDisc.

Charming. At least he dedicated the entire set to Prince.

Of course, numerous GNR classics were played during the set. “November Rain” was epic; Axl moved to a piano, and a lot of the distracted crowd members suddenly began running back toward the stage with camera phones in the air.

The band closed with an encore of “Don’t Cry,” “Used to Love Her,” a cover of The Who’s “The Seeker” and “Paradise City,” finishing with a massive pyrotechnics/fireworks display.

While it was a triumphant performance, one has to wonder what’s next. Will there be a new record? Will Axl make it through an entire GNR reunion tour while also committing to lead vocals with AC/DC? Will Slash go back to his solo career or even revive Slash’s Snakepit?

Angus Young from AC/DC did not make a guest appearance as he did last weekend—in fact, there were no special guests at all. The only big surprise was that the band was nearly on time and performed the entire show, something the members had a hard time doing when they were riding high (in multiple ways) on the “Use Your Illusion” tour in the early ’90s.

This reunion could have been amazing about 10 years ago, when Slash, Duff and former drummer Matt Sorum were ending Velvet Revolver with the late Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. (Slash has a reference to Velvet Revolver tattooed on his forearm; it was clearly visible through the entire performance.) Also, I would have loved to see Axl run around and be the frontman he was was—but broken leg or not, I don’t think that’s possible anymore.

Scroll down to see more Saturday Coachella images by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Reviews

Every year at Coachella, the art installations cause a variety of reactions.

“Wow.”

“Interesting.”

“WTF?”

“Tower of Twelve Stories” by Jimenez Lai of Taiwan/Canada really lights up the Coachella night sky this year. It sort of resembles a piece of modern furniture, with compartments put together to form one structure. It may be a statement as to how we’ll be living in tiny spaces in very strange buildings in the future.

One installation that is on the “WTF” part of the scale is “The Armpit.” It led to the first time I’ve ever been able to say, “Let’s get in line to see ‘The Armpit!’” It’s meant to be interactive. The minute you walk up the ramp and inside the armpit (that just sounds funny, doesn’t it) … it, thankfully, is not very armpit-like.

The first room of the work, designed by Katrina Neiburga and Andris Eglitis of Latvia, features old television screens showing random bits of film; one screen displayed a random fact about Albert Einstein. One part on the second floor has a bunch of broken televisions. The balcony offers a great view off the grounds—with a ride that offers a 360-degree view of the Coachella grounds.

The “Katrina Chairs” by Alexandre Arrechea of Cuba has become a conversation piece online. I’m not sure what to think; it looks like four giant chairs with little apartments on top.

“Portals,” by Phillip K. Smith III of Palm Desert, is inspired by modernism, and to me, it feels a little bit like Eero Saarinen architecture. The exterior and interior are vented with mirrors angled in a way that you can see through them—but the closer you get, the harder it is to see through. On the inside are chambers with resemble speaker heads on the walls, with a tree growing out of the middle of the structure.

“Sneaking Into the Show” by the Date Farmers has an eerie feel. Two figures are very tall and look like they should have some advertising on them, placed outside of some tourist trap.

I saw plenty of photos last week of “Besame Mucho,” a large sign that says just that—made entirely of flowers. The translation is “Kiss Me a Lot.” I suppose that’s fitting considering how many love stories and romantic connections there have been at Coachella, including Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp-Muhl from Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad meeting his wife, Lauren Parsekian.

One thing that’s missing this year is a large exhibit that moves through the audience throughout the grounds. There was the giant snail in 2013, the astronaut in 2014, and the caterpillar that became a butterfly in 2015. What’s up, Coachella?

See more images from Friday at Coachella below. Photos by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Visual Arts