Coachella Will Make A Lovely Business Trip, In Bigger Than The Sound

California fest seems to be straying from core audience with inclusion of Roger Waters, Jack Johnson on lineup.

On The Record: Take Your Business Associates To Indio

I am on an airplane, flying from New York City to Chicago, watching 20-something business-school grads pull important-looking legal documents out of mahogany-colored folios, leaf through them, highlight the salient bits, shuffle and fold, then place them back into the same mahogany-colored folios. They have been doing this dance — pulling, highlighting, shuffling, refiling — for about an hour now, each trying to look grown-up, professional, on-the-ball, each in their cornflower-blue button-ups, silky, color-coordinated ties, pleated black pants and smart, polished, patent-leather shoes. One of them just ordered a cranberry juice, “straight — no ice.” Their bosses are seated across the aisle from them. Their hair is gray. One of them smells slightly like gin. They read newspapers and loosen their ties. They have made this flight at least 700 times in their lives with a different group of 20-somethings each time. And as such, they view them with a mixture of annoyance and humor, because they are not threats, they are not the competition; they are sort of ridiculous. They are entertainment, fodder, someone to highlight salient bits on important legal documents. They don’t even know their names, which is OK, because why would they? They probably don’t care about them at all.

Rewind four hours. I am sitting in the terminal at LaGuardia, waiting for my flight. There is an e-mail from Goldenvoice, the California concert-promotions company, announcing the lineup for the 2008 Coachella Festival . Somewhere among the coffee and muffin, the tiny music snob inside me stirs. After all, it is a banner day for indie-rock fans and bloggers (if there is even any difference between the two) everywhere. The grand unveiling of the Coachella lineup … the end of a long winter spent filling message boards with fantasy lineups (“Sources close to the fest tell me they’ve already got the Smiths, My Bloody Valentine and Pavement confirmed!”) and the day to unfreeze assets and begin booking JetBlue flights to the Ontario, California, airport. It’s the day when the secretive geniuses at Goldenvoice lift the curtain and reveal just what form of musical madness they made happen for us this year. Surely, it is something epic, something can’t-miss. Probably Bowie and the Moz and Kevin Shields jamming together as the sun sets over the Empire Polo Fields, while Daft Punk plugs in the Pyramid across the lawn and Kylie and Madge begin limbering up in the dance tent. And Thom Yorke and Kanye will be there, doing a live version of The Eraser and handing out 7-inches and sunglasses and Ecstasy. It’s going to be amazing. You have to be there. You have to.

This is all running through my head as I read the e-mail. “Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival announces line-up [yes! yes! yes!] … tickets on sale Friday, January 25 at 10:00 am [OK, OK ... gotta remember to set my alarm] … line-up includes [OK, here we go!] … Roger Waters [huh? OK, flying pig, metaphorical brick wall constructed onstage ... I can live with that] … Portishead [Oh, sweet!] … and Jack Johnson [end of inner monologue, as soul is crushed and head has exploded].”

Now, far be it from me to nitpick and complain (despite the fact that it’s what myself and most Coachella-heads are really good at), but … wow. There’s not a word to describe how I felt after glancing through the remainder of the lineup, but something like “underwhelmatrayedappointed” — equal parts “underwhelmed” “betrayed” and “disappointed” — probably does the trick. No Radiohead. No MBV. No Smiths (it was a long shot, but still). No must-see set. No steak. No sizzle. Instead, we get a formerly indie-centric fest headlined by a guy who just penned an opera inspired by the French Revolution, a guy who penned the soundtrack to the “Curious George” movie … and Portishead. To say that Goldenvoice let us down would be incorrect. Rather, they hurt us this year. Really.

Because this year’s Coachella fest wasn’t booked for me or the die-hard, make-it-to-Indio-at-all-costs-so-I-can-do-drugs-and-have-a-blast indie kid/ hipster contingent I represent, the one that has buttered Goldenvoice’s bread for nine years now but rather for the people I spent the first 270 words of this column talking about: aging, graying businessmen — the kind who used to totally burn one to Dark Side and now look back on those halcyon days as the greatest of their life (bonus points since most of them even sort of look like Roger Waters) and their slicked-back, eager-to-please cronies, who are all totally into Jack Johnson and frequently urge me to “really check him out.” (Speaking in generalities is so the best.)

And though it’s disappointing, maybe you can’t really blame the folks at Goldenvoice for the Coachella ’08 lineup. Perhaps they got tired of hearing the whining from their too-picky fans (the backlash over the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining a night in 2007 was rather legendary) or grew weary of continually trying to top the previous year’s festival. So they just said, “You know what? Screw this. Let’s just book a couple of headliners that’ll bring out regular folks. The kind with plenty of disposable income. The kind who think Black Kids are a public nuisance, not an over-puffed blog band.”

Or maybe the folks at Goldenvoice were being smart about things. After all, they’ve just announced plans for an East Coast version of Coachella — the All Points West Festival (which, of course, organizers would prefer you didn’t refer to as an “East Coast version of Coachella”) — and the last thing they’d want is to launch the new fest with a less-than-stellar lineup. So maybe GV was willing to sacrifice a bit of its flagship festival’s luster to give the shine to the new venture.

Who knows if it will all work out? Clearly, Coachella ’08 marks the festival at a crossroads: still begrudgingly recognizing the past (as evidenced by Saturday’s Portishead, Kraftwerk, Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley, Hot Chip, Stephen Malkmus, “Blogger’s Choice” bill), while looking to seize the present — and firm up the future. It’s a pretty solid business plan — diversification, expansion, franchising — one that a whole bunch of eager businessmen-to-be would gladly highlight, shuffle, then file away in their folios.

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Questions? Concerns? Angry e-mails from Goldenvoice employees? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.