How the Hell Do People Afford Coachella?

It costs big bucks to look this bohemian.
It costs big bucks to look this bohemian.
Photo by Christopher Victorio

Sierra Blackford really wanted to go to Coachella. But it wasn't easy.

The 23-year-old Hawaiian singer-songwriter juggled three jobs as a waitress, playing gigs at local bars and working in a slipper store to save enough for her concert tickets, heavily discounted airfare (she knows somebody in the industry), camping fees and food.

Blackford has no complaints though. Talking just moments after Hozier's uplifting set, she said she couldn't put a price tag on the transcendence she experiences at Coachella. This two-time festival veteran said she found inspiration being surrounded by "great art and great music," as well as the 15 friends she came to the desert with.

"I have no care in the world here," said Blackford as she walked through Coachella's trippy art installations, featuring a giant moving caterpillar. "This is an amazing escape, and one of the best experiences you'll ever have."

And a pricey one.

Blackford estimated that she would spend $1,200 at the festival, including $200 on a funky outfit that included a headband and fringed backpack.

There's no way getting around it. Coachella ain't cheap.

A three-day pass alone will set you back $375. Add in the costs of getting to and from Indio, after-concert Uber pickups, hotel rooms, vittles and other incidentals and we're already near $1,000. VIPs, trustafarians and other one-percenters can easily spend three, four or five times that. Even the grungiest, tattooed bro camping in a tattered tent and subsisting on booze, dope, cigarettes and dust can expect to spend around $500.

Compare that to Woodstock. In August 1969, advanced tickets to "3 Days of Peace & Music" cost $18, the equivalent of $120 in 2014 dollars. Not a bad deal to see The Who, Sly & The Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix all in their primes, especially since most concertgoers got in for free.

And the Woodstock Generation came to Max Yasgur's farm clad in the counter-culture uniform of jeans, beads and T-shirts — or nothing at all. Turns out it cost a lot less to be an actual hippie than a wannabee playing dress-up at Coachella.

Concert ticket prices have surged since the days of peace and love, with the average increasing by nearly 400 percent from 1981 to 2012. That's nearly triple the rise in overall consumer price inflation, former Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Alan Krueger said in 2013.

So how in the hell can almost 200,000 mostly 20- and 30-something hipsters afford to attend the nation's premier music festival over the course of two weekends?

For Gia DiMatteo, there's extreme budgeting.

The 27-year-old account manager from San Diego came to her fifth consecutive Coachella with 14 friends, many from her alma mater of Washington State University. They camped and bought and shared food. She also went low-budget on her festival outfit, buying $50 low-cut boots and a shirt from Goodwill.

"We're the economic Coachella," DiMatteo said with a laugh.

Crystal Gallegos went the route of an installment plan to take herself and younger sister to the festival.

The 27-year-old Central Valley payroll clerk saved her pennies and paid off a little each month until her $750 debt disappeared.

Then spent more money. Gallegos and four friends booked a hotel room in Cathedral City for $220 a night, a relative bargain by Coachella standards. To put together her festival outfit, Gallegos shelled out $200 on a hat, shorts, belt, dress and jewelry at American Eagle and Forever 21.

How much will Coachella set her back?

"I haven't done the math, but it's a pretty penny," she said. "And totally worth it."

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