Clash of the Festivals: Reading vs. Coachella
As I write this post, my neon orange wristband is irritatingly tapping away on my laptop, like it’s been doing for the past six weeks; a constant reminder of the epicness that was Coachella Festival, 2014. This was a festival that had been on my bucket list ever since I first saw the pictures in the glossy pages of Heat magazine. Festivals were not new to me. From 2004-2007 I spent four glorious August bank holiday weekends at Reading Festival (and one at the more family friendly V Festival), fighting off the wind, rain and sunburn (often in the same day) and enjoying my first taste of teenage freedom.
When I flicked through the double page spread on Coachella, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A music festival, in California, in the desert, where it’s guaranteed to be sunny. What’s not to like? This year the dream came true, and I flew down to Indio for three days of sunshine with fellow celebrity lover, and all-round Bestie, Leah. I lost count of the number of times I bored Leah by starting sentences with ‘At Reading…’ so decided to stop saying everything I was thinking about the differences between the festivals, and write it all down in a blog post. Six busy weeks later, voila.
When I wrote my first draft of this post I didn’t include a section about music. When I read it back, I realized that I should probably include music, and it should probably be at the top. The truth is, music was not the main reason I went to Coachella. Shocking. Music was, however, the reason I went to Reading. Those of you who know me are witness to the fact that my music taste hasn’t really changed since the summer of 2007. Jimmy Eat World, Taking Back Sunday, Green Day, Muse Lost Prophets (can I say them? Probably not) and The Killers were at the top of my festival list back then, and they still would be now. Luckily for me, Muse were the Saturday night headliners at Coachella, and I loved them just as much now as I did in August 2006. Other than that, I was mostly relying on Leah to move me from stage to stage and show me what the kids are listening to nowadays. She did a great job, and some of my favorites were Cage the Elephant, Ellie Goulding and Foster The People. Despite this, my personal obsession with the mid-2000’s means that I’ll always remember Reading Festival as the venue for some of the best summers of my life. Coachella was great for so many reasons, but ironically the music wasn’t my highlight. Now that confession is out of the way, let’s move on…
Camping at Reading Festival involves a mile walk from the train station carrying a weekend’s worth of food and alcohol, mud that threatens to spill over the top of your wellies, and trips to the pub down the road every morning to avoid the torrential rain (and the chemical toilets). Camping at Coachella involves lining up with the other cars (yes, cars) for over two hours, having your vehicle searched by security officers and sniffer dogs, and setting up camp in a parking space long enough to fit a tent in behind the car. With great cars come great opportunities for error, such as locking one’s keys in one’s trunk. Luckily, there also comes an efficient campsite locksmith who charges surprisingly low rates. The two camping experiences could not have been more different, with the exception of the ever-present silent disco.
Americans in crowds are nicer than British people in crowds (of course, Canadians are nicer than both). Drunk British people can be aggressive, rude, bad tempered and generally hostile. Americans are more likely to kill you with overly enthusiastic small talk than they are to yell at you for stepping on their toe. The vibe at Coachella was definitely more relaxed than Reading, though it may have had something to do with all the sunshine, and the lack of alcohol (see above). And the fact that I’m not a 15-year-old mosh pit dweller anymore. My favorite thing about Reading was the crazy energy, and my favorite thing about Coachella was how chilled it was. Go figure.
You know the stereotype of the Brit who plasters themselves in mayonnaise and heads outside to fry the second the sun comes out? It’s not just a stereotype, and especially not at Reading Festival. Temperatures can hit 25 degrees (if you’re lucky), and you can’t walk 50 meters without seeing a bright red shoulder or an awkward tan line. It was actually terrifying to see, and I spent more than one afternoon running around squirting sunscreen onto people’s backs when they weren’t looking. Switch scenes to the Indio desert, where we sweltered in the high 30s every single day, and there wasn’t a peeling nose in sight. People don’t sweat at Coachella; they glisten. And they definitely don’t get sunburn. It’s like spending three days in Hollyoaks, multiplied by a million. All the girls carried the tiniest little purses, which definitely did not fit a bottle of factor 35. Except for me, who reapplied every two hours and still managed to burn my shoulder on day one (damn you line for merchandise tent). At first I thought it was just because Californians are used to the heat, but there were way more British accents than I cared to hear. Why didn’t they all look like lobsters, like my shoulder? I’ll never know.
I’d forgotten how conservative America can be about alcohol until I saw the beer gardens at Coachella. There were four beer gardens in the arena that served alcohol, mostly in the form of Heineken beer, Strongbow (yum) and the odd highball. Reading Festival doesn’t have beer gardens, it is a beer garden. Drinking is part of the UK festival experience (mostly to block out the rain and the cold), and when I was under 18 the bars weren’t known for being strict with ID. At Coachella, we had to line up to get a 21+ wristband only to choose between alcohol and music. In such intense heat, the music won, as it seemed to for most people. I’m not a big drinker so it didn’t bother me, but it was interesting seeing such a big difference in attitudes.
Reading Festival tends to attract the British model (Kate), TV presenter (Alexa) and Radio 1 personality (insert name of current DJ here). Coachella attracts the American musicians (Beyonce), actors (Leo) and reality TV stars (All of the Kardashians). Not that it matters; I’ve never seen a celebrity at either. I couldn’t believe all of the pictures I saw of celebrities at Coachella, and estimated that there were around 20 that I would actually have recognized as soon as I saw them. That’s 1 per 4,500 people, ALL of which look like celebrities because it’s CALIFORNIA. Psssssssssh.
P.S. Reading Festival buddies – you know who you are and I miss you all!