Coachella 2017 Is Already a Disaster

Between headliner Beyoncé maybe opting out and news that its parent company’s CEO is a climate change denier who’s funded anti-LGBTQ orgs, things are not looking good for the fest.

Kevin Winter/Getty

We were all shocked—*shook—by Beyoncé’s well-timed prenatal news. But perhaps no one was more shocked by the pop star’s big announcement than the top executives behind Coachella. According to TMZ, Goldenvoice—the AEG Live subsidiary that produces the annual music festival—had no idea that their April headliner was knocked up. Goldenvoice bigwigs allegedly heard about the insemination the same way we did—via the most-liked Instagram of all time. Given the fact that Beyoncé is a 35-year-old woman who’s pregnant with twins, fans are already starting to question if she’ll honor her commitment to perform at the upcoming event. According to one TMZ source, Goldenvoice tried to reach out to Bey’s representatives on Thursday, but didn’t hear back. That being said, a separate source claimed that Beyoncé “still plans to perform, assuming her pregnancy goes well.”

One man’s advent of the double messiah is another man’s Coachella catastrophe. While the festival likely would have sold out sans Bey, members of the Beyhive weren’t pleased to hear that their $399 three-day passes may not buy them a night with the fertile phenomenon. You try telling a Beyoncé stan to stand around in the desert and listen to Radiohead.

Beyoncé’s possible pull out isn’t the first controversy to rock Coachella 2017.

Back in January, a bevy of news organizations effectively outed Philip Anschutz, the owner of AEG, for financially supporting a whole bunch of bad causes. The Washington Post revealed that Anschutz helped fund the Alliance Defending Freedom campaign, which The Human Rights Campaign has deemed “the nation’s largest anti-LGBTQ legal group.” They’ve sponsored over 200 anti-LGBTQ bills in 34 states, including 17 bills that specifically target transgender Americans. According to the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans, Anschutz is an “enemy of equality” who’s donated thousands of dollars to the Family Research Council and the National Christian Foundation. To dig a little deeper into Anschutz’s affiliations, let’s take a look at the Family Research Council’s website. The “pro-life, pro-marriage” organization insists that marriage is “a union of one man and one woman,” and boasts a blog post asserting that “the transgender movement” is a denial of “physical reality.” These politics aren’t exactly “on brand” for a festival that’s headlined by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, and consistently caters to the stoner sons and hippie daughters of so-called coastal elites.

As a 77-year-old super-rich white dude, Philip Anschutz hasn’t exactly kept his political leanings under wraps. In 2009, Politico reported that Anschutz’s ownership of two conservatives publications, the Weekly Standard and the Washington Examiner, “has given him a megaphone for his right-wing views on taxes, national security and President Barack Obama.” A former employee at the Examiner told Politico that the boss had a firm vision for the editorial page—he “wanted nothing but conservative columns and conservative op-ed writers.” Additionally, Greenpeace called out “oil and gas billionaire” Anschutz as a “financier of climate science denial groups” dating as far back as 2013— which is bad news for all the earth-loving flower children taking the shuttle bus to Indio.

In a recent statement to Rolling Stone, Anschutz addressed the growing crowd of critics, insisting that, “Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news—it is all garbage…I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation.” He continued, “Neither I nor the [Anschutz] Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and when it has come to my attention or the attention of the Anschutz Foundation that certain organizations either the Foundation or I have funded have been supporting such causes, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.”

Despite Anschutz’s protestations, L.A. girls who go to NYU quickly found themselves facing a moral conundrum of epic proportions. Forced to choose between going to Coachella and being woke, festival devotees created a third option: a petition asking headliners to donate their Coachella profits to pro-LGBTQ groups. Out of its 12,000 goal, the petition currently has 11,591 supporters.

Last year, Coachella drew nearly 200,000 attendees, and earned over $84 million. However, some would argue that the hugely popular festival is overpriced, underwhelming, and overhyped. In 2014, The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern described the annual event as an “oasis for douchebags and trust fund babies,” featuring B-list celebrities, ridiculous amenities, and a toxic culture of extreme-dieting and Daisy Dukes. Even prior to Anschutz’s mainstream outing, Coachella was dubious at best. This is the weekend extravaganza that gave us Hologram Tupac, a ghastly technological misstep and an insult to both the dead legend and his corporeal co-headliners.

Additionally, Coachella in an infamous hub of cultural appropriation, and one of the easiest places to spot a white girl in a Native American-style headdress. The festival became even more of a self-parody when they starting schilling literal tipi’s, renting out the appropriative crash pads for the low weekend price of $2,200. From the festival that brought us spitting on Tupac’s grave and trust fund babies in feathers, we also got the 2006 Daft Punk performance that “inadvertently launched the rise of EDM as a must-see live spectacle.” Yep, we can blame the unstoppable rise of electronic music—at least in part—on freakin’ Coachella.

But Coachella’s controversies extend beyond questionable taste.

Back in 2011, the citizens of nearby La Quinta, California, asked Coachella’s home of Indio to commission a thorough “environmental review” of the event, calling festival attendees “the people who destroy our environment.” Two years later, Indio decided to extend their relationship with Goldenvoice, allowing the Coachella concert promoter to expand from three to five weekends a year through 2030. But according to the Los Angeles Times, the decision was a fraught one, with residents debating the long-term price of offering up their city to the festival. “Who would want to live in an area where debauchery is allowed five weekends per year?” asked one concerned citizen. Additionally, there were accusations of trespassing, pool-crashing, and a distinct lack of environmental sustainability. Fans of the expansion cited how Coachella invigorates the local economy in a city where 21% of residents live below the poverty line.

As part of the agreement, Goldenvoice agreed to give the city $2.33 for every three-day festival pass, which went for $349 in 2013. In 2014, they bumped that up to $5.01 per pass. Originally, Indio’s City Council asked for $18 a ticket, but acquiesced when Goldenvoice threatened to move Coachella to another town.

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In other words, Coachella backlash and criticism is hardly a new phenomenon. But given the chaotic, passionate 2017 climate, potential attendees may be far more attuned to political consequences and environmental impact. In the past, Coachella tickets were something to brag about. Now—for better or worse—the intangible label of “woke” has become the new must-have accessory. If it becomes cooler to boycott Coachella than to attend it, Anschutz and AEG will have a massive problem on their hands. After all Beyoncé, the coolest celebrity alive, may be opting out of Coachella 2017 herself.

According to another TMZ report, there’s a good chance that the pop star could get paid over a million bucks from Coachella even if she’s on bedrest. The report alleges that, “If Beyoncé’s pregnancy makes performing in April too risky, she could still collect her fee under a very common insurance policy written for entertainers.” Failing to work for your uber-conservative employer while still making bank is just about the coolest, sneakiest form of protest. I would never say that Beyoncé planned the timing of her pregnancy to avoid showing up for a problematic performance... but if anyone could pull it off, it would be Beyoncé. Now we’ll just have to see if the Beyhive follows suit.