The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival – better known simply as “Coachella” – is coming to Indio, California over two fast-moving weekends, April 15-17 and again April 22-24, 2016.
Coachellagoers from around the planet are already planning their trips to the 17th edition of an event that has once again gathered up an eclectic line-up of artists from across the musical spectrum to perform in front of audiences spread out across the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Rock, jazz, blues, soul, EDM, folk, alt country and rap artists will perform on a number of outdoor and indoor stages positioned throughout the sprawling festival grounds. Original and insightful artwork installations positioned throughout the event make for an even more exceptional experience.
This round-up will highlight my “wish list” of performances that I hope to catch at Coachella. However, there is always the chance that two or three of my favorite artists will be performing at the same time confirming the age-old advice that life is sometimes about making choices. With 180 or so acts performing, it is simply impossible to see all the artists.
Fridays, April 15 and 22
I haven’t seen Of Monsters and Men since they performed at Coachella in 2013, so I’m very excited to be able to see the six-member Icelandic ensemble there again this year. The band’s latest album Beneath the Skin is bolstered by a slew of great songs. Standouts such as “Crystals,” “Human” and “Empire” are expansive and exhilarating – think of a group whose otherworldly sound bridges U2 and Sigur Rós. The perfect sound in the picturesque setting that is so much a part of the festival.
While on the subject of catching up with artists I’ve seen only once before, I am very thrilled to see that soul singer Mavis Staples is going to perform on the heels of the release of her superb 2016 disc “Livin’ On A High Note.” Produced by M. Ward (of She & Him and Monsters of Folk fame) and featuring songwriting credits from Neko Case, Justin Vernon, Ben Harper and more, Staples’ new album is a joyous and authentic gale that will be sure to endear her with everyone at Coachella.
An act I have not yet seen but plan to courtesy of Coachella is Foals, the roots-meets-garage soul rockers out of Oxford, England. The British quintet has racked up a number of high honors since emerging a decade ago, and has impressed audiences at Glastonbury and Roskilde festivals, as well as the Coachella faithful in 2013.
Other Friday acts on my wish list include African collective Mbongwana Star and English rock supergroup the Last Shadow Puppets.
Saturdays, April 16 and 23
While the biggest music-related story of 2016 has been the long and sadly-growing list of lost legends (David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner, Dan Hicks, Merle Haggard and many more), the announcement that Guns N’ Roses will regroup to perform at Coachella with founding singer Axl Rose joined by original members Slash (guitar) and Duff McKagan (bass) has been a huge story. No matter how GNR’s two Saturday night sets play out, there is no denying that the audience will go nuts when the groundbreaking Los Angeles-spawned rockers break into “Welcome to the Jungle,” “It’s So Easy” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”
Modern day blues-meets-soul master Gary Clark Jr. was relatively unknown when he performed inside Coachella’s Gobi tent in April 2012. That is not the case today, where he is acknowledged as one of blues’ greatest stars. The fact that the Austin artist’s soulful vocals (which recall a young Al Green) are as impressive as his amazing lead guitar work is sure to make his set a “can’t miss” affair. I’ll never forget his opening 10-minute version of the Ten Years After-meets-Joe Bonamassa blues rocker “When My Train Pulls In” he performed at Coachella four years ago that featured a number of great lead guitar forays.
Courtney Barnett impressed me the first time when I caught her at Coachella in 2014, and the Melbourne singer-songwriter was even stronger when she opened for Blur at the Hollywood Bowl in October 2015. Her electric folk rooted around her rambling lyrics and freewheeling guitar playing is as original as it is intoxicating.
Jazz doesn’t typically get a lot of attention in Indio, but that may change this time around thanks to the arrival of outstanding young trio GoGo Penguin. Based in Manchester, England, the “acoustic electronica” group features drummer Rob Turner, double bassist Nick Blacka and keyboardist Chris Illingworth.
Other Saturday-bound acts I hope to catch include London-spawned rock legends the Damned, dream indie pop-rock champions Silversun Pickups and Los Angeles-based indie pop-rock garage outfit the Dead Ships.
Sundays, April 17 and 24
History proves that the third day of Coachella offers some of the most exhilarating sets. I can recall amazing final day performances from the likes of Florence + the Machine, Neon Trees, Dinosaur Jr. and Dead Can Dance that washed over me like opening day salvos.
Country and bluegrass artist Chris Stapleton has had such an enormous impact on a number of genres on the music scene that he is booked to play both weekends of Coachella 2016, as well as the Stagecoach Festival on April 30. The Kentucky native has scored at least six number-one songs, including hits for Kenny Chesney and George Strait. He has also penned songs for the far-flung likes of Adele, Luke Bryan, Braid Paisley and Tim McGraw. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s debut album, 2015’s “Traveller,” reached number one on the US Billboard 200 charts.
Chris Stapleton isn’t the only artist I haven’t yet caught that is high on my list to see in the desert. I’ve been very impressed by the power of North London’s Wolf Alice, and I hope to see them deliver songs from their debut “My Love Is Cool” (especially the infectious “Bros” and fiery “Moaning Lisa Smile”).
Cold War Kids bring a mix of indie and alternative styles to the sonic table, and always offer up energetic and fun performances. Long-time favorites in Southern California, Cold War Kids’ sound will appeal to fans of groups such as Death Cab for Cutie and Delta Spirit.
In other Sunday action, I am aiming to catch hard-hitting rock ‘n’ soul quartet The Heavy, whose blend of James Brown soul and Led Zeppelin rock personified by singles including “Since You Been Gone,” “Turn Up” and “What Happened To The Love” should really get concertgoers on their feet and moving. I also plan to see Pete Yorn, who is appearing at Coachella just as he is gaining widespread acclaim for his wonderful return, 2016’s “ArrangingTime.” The new album is Yorn’s first in more than five years.
One thing Coachella-goers can count on, whether they catch those artists or any of the countless others on the bill, the festival is a musical adventure not to be missed.