Three campers lounge outside their tent, on folding chairs, in a circle, listening to iPods. Just down the grass path at another campsite, a young woman carefully wipes the dust off her feet with a Wet One. This is Generation Y's answer to Woodstock. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival attracted some 16,000 campers to California's Indio desert two weekends ago, most of whom paid $250 to see 120 bands—including Bjork, Rage Against the Machine and Arcade Fire—and $50 more to stay four nights in the adjacent camping area. But unlike their parents—or grandparents—who roughed it in the muddy fields of Woodstock in 1969 (no food, water or toilets), these music fans pitched new tents on tidy grounds, partied after the show in the Clubhouse karaoke bar and relied on camp counselors to guide them if they got lost among the rows and rows of tents. As for spontaneity? It was crazy: campers had to switch from e-mail to text messaging when the Cyber Café's Wi-Fi signal crashed. "There are 16,000 campers here—it's just something we couldn't have anticipated," said festival publicist Marcee Rondan. "We know better now."
Sure, there were a few glitches, but organizers from Goldenvoice—the concert company behind Coachella—avoided other major catastrophes by looking at all the mistakes made at Woodstock II in 1994. Conditions there were so poor that dirty and dehydrated fans rioted by the end of the festival. "If you treat people like animals, they'll act like animals," says Kevin Lyman, who ran this year's campground. Coachella has offered camping on its grounds for the past three years of the five-year-old festival. "I don't even think they provided showers for them." Today's concert campers—a generation raised on antibacterial soap and safe-sex PSAs—are afforded 160 toilets, 90 showers and a general store that sells everything from condoms to blow-up mattresses to, oh yes, hand sanitizer.
Campers from all over the country and Europe cavorted outside neat rows of tents (each was pitched within "personal space markers" set by the local fire marshal) or watched movies on a giant blow-up screen provided by promoters. There was the occasional smell of pot smoke in the air, but very little alcohol in sight. "That's one of the rules, no alcohol," said 19-year-old Cameron Bird, who came from Toronto. "There's also a 2 a.m. curfew. Some people were playing tribal drums pretty late, but most everybody else was listening to music or watching shows on their iPods, so it was pretty easy to sleep."
That's not to say there was no rebellion. Web sites dedicated to getting around campground rules popped up weeks before the festival, and some campers figured out ways to smuggle forbidden open bottles—of water—into the festival itself. There was a police station set up on the perimeter of the campground, but it dealt mainly with the theft of laptops from the campers' cars. "There were some Rage Against the Machine revolutionaries in the campgrounds who wanted to oppose the system," says Lyman. "I'd tell them to get their tent behind the markers, and they'd say, 'You Nazi! You can't make me stay in the lanes, man!' I said, 'Go be a martyr somewhere else, because no one here is going to fight your battle.' And no one did."