Inside Coachella's First-Ever Augmented Reality Equipped Stage

AR spaceship
Julian Bajsel

A Coachella-branded AR spaceship “flies” through the air at the 2018 festival in Indio, Calif.

During his headlining set at Coachella in 2018, Eminem debuted a custom augmented-reality app that allowed fans to be virtually showered by a plate of “mom’s spaghetti.” This year the festival is taking the technology even further with a first-of-its-kind, AR-equipped stage at its Sahara Tent. The tech will be available at the dance-music tent both weekends, April 12-14 and 19-21.

AR -- computer-generated images superimposed onto real-world environments through an app or headset -- “will fundamentally change how people interact with music, concerts and each other,” says Sam Schoonover, Coachella’s first digital innovation manager. (The position was created in mid-2018.) In the near future, he predicts, concertgoers will be equipped with AR headsets “straight out of Back to the Future.”

How will it work this year? Guests who open the festival app’s “Coachella Camera” page and point their smartphones at the Sahara Tent before, during or after performances will see outer space-themed images like planets and astronauts floating above the crowd onscreen. “Since AR is not yet fully immersive, it still needs to be experienced through a smartphone,” says Schoonover. Guests can also swipe through live photo and video filters, which will change shape and color according to the sound being captured by the phone’s speakers.

Other venues have also explored immersive technology; New York’s Panorama Music Festival featured a 360-degree virtual reality theater in 2018, and on U2’s Experience + Innocence Tour the same year, an enormous digital Bono avatar floated in the air. The next step, says Schoonover, is expanding the tech beyond smartphone screens and seeing just how realistic this alternate reality can get. “Imagine visuals that expand out into the crowd, up into the sky and interact with you and your friends,” he says. “That’s the vision.”

This article originally appeared in the April 13 issue of Billboard.