As organizers of the Coachella Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., tee up the event's 2014 run, Paul Tollett, president/CEO of producer Goldenvoice, has some hot news to reveal.
“We’ve built permanent toilets,” Tollett tells Billboard. “We built 96 of ‘em, for women, and we’re in the middle of the finishing touches. We’ll have half opened this weekend, and all of ‘em open next weekend. Next year we’ll have men’s, also. If all goes well, we’ll move to 100% permanent in the future.”
So anyone who thinks that Tollett is just focused on the talent side of the business is misinformed. As this year’s Coachella fest gets under way, much of the heavy lifting is done for Tollett, who indeed books the talent (headliners include Outkast, Muse, Arcade Fire, the Replacements, Beck, Queens of the Stone Age, Pharrell Williams, Skrillex and Lorde), and whose vision has steered the festival since its inception in 1999. His enthusiasm about the new facilities at the fest site on the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, Calif., is only slightly sarcasm, as Tollett admits, “we really want people to have a great time.”
In its early days, odds were against Coachella even making it to Year two, much less developing into one of the most successful and influential music festivals in the world. But now, Coachella is ingrained into the fabric of popular music and, with Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., is often (and correctly) credited with jump-starting a North American festival scene that remains robust and growing.
Tollett’s sharp musical instincts, commitment to aesthetic purity, and willingness to take risks (like expanding to two weekends in 2012) have carried Coachella from a shaky future to the point where Goldenvoice is purchasing the land it sits on and installing permanent toilets. And Tollett is actually more comfortable talking abut the new toilets than he is most other aspects of the massive event, which, at $67.2 million gross and 180,000 in aggregate attendance, was the top festival in the world in 2013, according to Billboard Boxscore. The promoter simply isn’t keen on doing interviews, preferring to operate out of the spotlight—way out of the spotlight. That said, he did answer a few questions for Billboard, minutes after Coachella ’14 opened its gates to campers.
With nothing but sellouts in its three years as a double, operating back-to-back weekends with identical lineups now seems a no-brainer, though the move was considered a huge risk by many when Tollett first announced it in 2011. “With the demand for tickets, it’s obviously a necessity to have the two weekends,” Tollett says. “We’re fortunate that we have two weekends worth of space for all the people that want to go to the show.”
That, in a nutshell, is Tollett’s philosophy in expanding to two weekends: he wanted more people to see the show. The same show.
Three years in, the Goldenvoice team has this double-weekend thing down. “Each year, our staff gets stronger and stronger. I just try not to get in their way,” Tollett says. The agents, too, are fully on board, and work with Goldenvoice in finding efficient plays in the region the week between Coachellas. “We’re very pleased with how the lineup worked out, and the schedule seems to have worked out pretty well, too.”
Meanwhile, Tollett says that the Goldenvoice-produced StageCoach festival, which takes place April 25-27, the weekend immediately following Coachella on the same site, is also shaping up well. “There’s something in the water this year,” Tollett says, in typically understated fashion. “When we ended up with Luke Bryan, Eric Church, and Jason Aldean, it’s just almost too good to be true how solid that lineup is.”
Coachella sold out in record time this year, and leading secondary market site StubHub says Coachella sales are up 59% over last year's sales. So, if going to a double was strictly a “supply and demand” issue, it begs the question: have Tollett and Goldenvoice considered adding a third weekend? Tollett just laughs. “Two is enough,” he says.
What about further expansion of the brand, as Lollapalooza has done in South America. “Nope, just making sure the festival here is up to its best,” Tollett says.
For now, Tollett and his team at Goldenvoice are about to go “all day, all night” to make that happen, new toilets and all. Asked how it was going, Tollett says, “So far, so smooth.”