Working Hard for the Music

Every year, Indio, Calif., sees a massive spike in population. Tens of thousands of concert enthusiasts flood the city for the West Coast’s biggest, baddest musical attraction: the one-and-only Coachella.

I’ve always managed to dodge Coachella due to lack of funds, but this year, a friend of mine found a loophole for all those on a holy-shit-it’s-$300 budget: the volunteer option. In exchange for 18 hours of slavery, volunteers receive free festival entry and complimentary camping. Considering most acts didn’t start their sets until 12 p.m. (and the rave didn’t start until 4 p.m.), it was a pretty sweet deal.

Due to a two-hour delay at volunteer check-in, we were fortunate: no Friday shift. If fortunate means having to show up (sober, ideally) at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday.

When 6:30 a.m. rolled around, we each took cold showers and brushed our teeth from water bottles — all except one friend. who accidentally grabbed a vodka bottle, a la Ke$ha. This was confirmed by a very un-Ke$ha “What the fuck!” At check-in, we were informed that we were on trash duty. Karma, apparently, for all those bottles I tossed and trampled during Passion Pit’s show the night before.

Fortunately, the job was mostly monotonous and straightforward. (By the way, if you went to Coachella and are missing a pair of underwear, we found it — along with 10 others.)

I was beginning to resemble Oscar the Grouch by the time our supervisors relocated us. We were whisked down a dusty road in a golf cart, kicked out and made to hold up “Venue is this way” signs. Suck on this, Vanna White.

One hour before freedom, a guy ran up to us in panic. He’d left his sunscreen bottle on the bus and wanted it back. We informed him that we couldn’t get it, but offered ours instead. Turns out “sunscreen” was code for “well-disguised alcohol” that he was trying to sneak in. For the next hour, we watched in amusement as he boarded every bus and searched beneath the seats. I can only hope the scenario ended in some whitey trying to prevent skin cancer with a handful of Patron.

On Sunday, we were told we’d be on ticketing duty. I was charged with the task of snapping wristbands onto ticket-holders after they were scanned by Aaron — the Batman to my Robin.

Just when the shift was starting to put me to sleep, there was a deafening clang and thud as one wayward rebel tried to jump the fence behind Aaron, and instead ate a face full of dust. Not to be deterred, he peeled himself up and made for the gates amid cries of “Security!” Admirably, he actually made it in for a second — before being tackled and thrown back into the dirt. (This time, on the outside.)

More cautious schemers got creative to swindle their way into the festival. One girl came up, bawling that her ticket had been stolen when she’d been drugged and drunk — only to change her story when she spoke to someone else. One pair arrived dressed as a Chinese dragon, announcing that they were the Coachella dragon and needed to be let in. After being denied entry — looking as scandalized as a plastic dragon mask can look — the costume was found abandoned next to a pile of trash.

Of course, there were perks to offset the craziness — volunteers were gifted all confiscated items, including beer. We were fed sandwiches, and the staff was pretty lenient: I even had the chance to sneak off to see MUTEMATH during one of my shifts. Not so bad, considering everyone else who got in free was escorted out by police, sporting a host of battle wounds.

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