Voiceover: This is The Takeaway from WNYC NPRX in collaboration with GBH News in Boston.
Jay Cowit: Hey, it's Jay Cowit. I'm keeping the host chair warm for Melissa Harris-Perry today. MHP is back tomorrow with you.
Now in my life, I've been to a few music festivals. I really love it. I know a lot of people don't like the heat or the crowds or getting to places, but I love seeing a lot of bands back to back to back, seeing bands I don't know for the first time. I really dig it. I've been to Bonnaroo and Camp Bisco, Gathering of the Vibes, a few fish festivals, but I've never been to Coachella which of course is the largest and most popular music festivals in the US and around the world. I wanted to hear about the highs, the lows, and the lesser-known artists of this three-day music festival based in Indio, California. With me now is Alison Hussey, staff writer at Pitchfork. Alison, you are back from weekend one at Coachella. Have you recovered?
Alison: Not quite. [chuckles] I am back at work today, but I stayed at home so that I could just be a little easy and hang out with my cat while I catch up on emails. It was really intense. I feel like it was the final boss of festivals. I've been to several, but this was definitely the biggest and most intense.
Jay Cowit: Well, we appreciate your sacrifice to give us this information here and get our audience a little taste of the biggest music festival out in Indio, the final boss as you say. Let's start right at the top, the names in the big font on the poster, let's go with the headliners here, Bad Bunny.
First Spanish-speaking act in Coachella headlining history. How was it?
Alison: That was really fun. I didn't quite get to see all of his set, but what I did get to see was really bouncy, really just-- It was so much fun. They were handing out these little LED bracelets for his set and Blackpink's and at different points during the show, the bracelets were lighting up in time with the light show that was happening. That was pretty wild. I heard that Post Malone came out later. I didn't get to catch that, but I'm sure that that would have been a really good time. I wish I would have stuck around for that.
Jay Cowit: I'm glad you brought up the light show and the handing out of bracelets because it's an immersive thing. At any festival, the crowd is really part of the show as well, right? You're getting a different dynamic than you would at a normal show. You've got people who don't necessarily know your music if you're an artist or people that are seeing you for the first time. Tell me about how that felt at Coachella, just the immersiveness of the crowd and how that works with the artists.
Alison: Honestly, as somebody who loves people watching, this was also like Olympic level people watching, and it was really incredible to just see just how devoted so many people were. You could really, really tell who in the crowd or the stands, there were people who showed up early in the morning to stay for a set that was at the end of the day. It was really wonderful to be reminded of just how much a lot of people really love music, but it was also just really overwhelming, the sheer number of people that were just around me all the time was just a lot.
Jay Cowit: You mentioned Blackpink who made history as the first Korean act to headline the festival. Paint the word picture for us. How was that experience?
Alison: That was absolutely one of the most overwhelming sensory music experiences of my life. Before the group even took the stage, there was a drone show. I know that Bjork used the drones too, but Blackpink had all of these morphing shapes, there was a paper crane, there was a butterfly, and a caterpillar. When the group took the stage, there were flames, there were lights, there were the little flashing bracelets, dancers. It was all just, it was so much.
Alison: I know that K-Pop always goes for- it's go big or go home, but this was so much bigger than anything I have ever experienced in a live music context that even though I could barely see the actual performers, that it blew me over.
Jay Cowit: Now, somebody who's no stranger to really combining the artistic aspects of music into more of an exhibition moreso than a show is the legend Bjork. I really feel we're all just lucky to live at the same time that Bjork does things. Her show this weekend was apparently no exception, right?
Alison: Oh, yes. That was really gorgeous. I had hoped/expected that she would lean in a more electronic direction because her most recent record Fossora was really electronic and really cool, and I think that that would have been interesting for a festival show, but she really took it in a different direction doing this beautiful symphonic set. She had this incredible dress that really reminded me of spiky, broken glass.
Alison: It was very moving and very beautiful, but I think different from what people were expecting, but that's also just so very in line with who Bjork is and what she does.
Jay Cowit: As these festivals grow in size and add more artists, some of these artists will inevitably have to play at the same time as some of the other artists. Did you have that experience over the weekend having to really make a tough choice between one or two acts?
Alison: Yes. I was so, so, so torn between Rosalia and Yaeji who were playing at the same time. That was a really tough call but I went to see Yaeji to write about it, and her show also just completely blew me away. That was the first time I had seen her before, but I knew she had typically used her gear board in a live setting, and at this performance, she was totally in full superstar mode. She just looked so cool. She looked like she was having so much fun. She said that her parents were there which was really sweet. Yaeji was so incredible and the whole crowd was really into it and it was really an experience of just, "Oh, yes, this is one of my favorite things about live music in any context."
Jay Cowit: All right, stick with us. Quick set break. Back with more on Coachella weekend one right after this on The Takeaway.
Jay Cowit: It's The Takeaway. I'm Jay Cowit sitting in for Melissa Harris-Perry today speaking with Alison Hussey, staff writer at Pitchfork who just returned from weekend one at Coachella. Let's talk about unexpected excitement. What I mean here is side stages. Obviously, the headline or the big draw, like I said, the big font acts in the poster, but there are hundreds of acts at Coachella. Can you tell me just a few artists that our audience may not have heard of yet that really impressed you this weekend in terms of live shows?
Alison: I really enjoyed Sudan Archives. She also ran into some technical issues, and it was really a drag because I could tell that she just really wanted to be performing. When she did get going, it was fantastic.
Alison: She's been a really wonderful performer to watch evolve and develop over the years. There were honestly a couple of sets that I really wanted to see but I missed, again, because logistics of getting into the festival grounds were just so intense and as a first-timer, I just was not quite ready for. I really wanted to see Weyes Blood because I really loved her last record. I really wanted to see Noname, missed that too. Oh, it was really frustrating missing all of that, but yes, I think that both of those artists I hope that I will get to see later this year at some other point.
Jay Cowit: Tell me a little bit about Christine and the Queens.
Alison: Yes. That set was really interesting and really dramatic. He had this angel theme, was wearing this trench coat and these big angel wings, and had these monologues about flesh and blood, and talked about living, life as a man. [music]
Alison: I think the sun wasn't even all the way down yet and it was definitely a dramatic note to go into the last evening of the festival.
Jay Cowit: Obviously, there's plenty of younger bands and newer bands out there. For instance, for a band like Blondie along with Nile Rogers, for the average age of a festival crowd, this is probably the first time most of the people at this show are seeing Blondie and experiencing Blondie. It's almost something new. How was that?
Alison: I only caught the tail of Blondie but I thought that was great. I was so excited. That tent was really packed out but there were a couple of other moments over the weekend that I felt ancient when I know I'm not old at all. I was in line somewhere in front of these young women who I heard them chatting earlier and they said I'm 15. One of them was saying, "What is this Bjork?" I was like, "Oh, is it my job to turn around and correct them or talk to them about who is Bjork?" I decided against it because that didn't seem okay. [laughs] That was something that I was really curious about. I did see a surprising age range at the festival. I guess maybe the Blondie demographic probably has more of a budget for VIP tickets that make that experience a bit more comfortable. It was great. Debbie Harry, what a legend. It was quite a thrill to see her, regardless of the context.
Jay Cowit: Got it. Well, Alison, thank you so much. Alison Hussey is a staff writer for Pitchfork. You can catch her Coachella coverage at pitchfork.com. Alison, appreciate you taking the plunge for us.
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