Every April, a sense of hope and possibility hums throughout Southern California’s desert region as Coachella takes over the Empire Polo Club in Indio. But the fun doesn’t stop when the festival ends for the night. If anything, that feeling of limitless potential is exponentially higher outside the field because the freedom to explore is endless.
This year, the maddest things we experienced in the desert happened miles away from the festival site. Check out the best of what the Coachella Valley has to offer that has nothing to do with the actual festival, along with some of the most outrageous things we overheard at those events.
SATURDAY: NEON CARNIVAL
There are thousands of reasons to attend Neon Carnival, but sometimes having a focused approach is best. “Girls,” says one guest who got a dazed look in his eyes and fatigue on his face at around three in the morning. He’s swaying back and forth as the seemingly endless amount of attendees quickly move around him like water avoiding a large rock in a stream. In a snapback hat and with a beer in hand, he’s got (almost) everything he needs, but the question is how did he get in? “My aunt owns the airport,” he says with a significant air of superiority. But this sentence structure “My ______ owns/knows _________.” isn’t unique to anyone at the weekend’s most talked about off-the-grounds event. To even get close to the Neon Carnival grounds — the previously name-checked airport — you must know someone.
Unlike the intimate, laidback house parties of the afternoons, Neon Carnival is basically its own festival — you need a specialized wristband to get in and, if you come at the wrong time (which is really anytime the party is about to get good), you’ll be sitting in a fair amount of traffic just to park. Yes, it is a lot of effort, but your reward is being allowed inside the walls of Babylon with free drinks, food, carnival games, rides and cream-of-the-crop celebrity sightings. The faces of more than 50 percent of last night’s guests have been burned into your brains from magazine covers, films and stages for years.
Some of them, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Rihanna, kept a low profile and stuck to the overcrowded VIP areas, but others including G-Eazy, Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson, Jr., supermodel Karlie Kloss and a little-known, but promising singer by the name of Taylor Swift were right in the thick of the dance floor action.
“This weekend is global,” says a Neon Carnival vet. “I still go to the fest every year, but I never want to stop partying!” She’s not jaded by seeing people like Michael B. Jordan walk by, it’s the intense beats and ultra-late last call (around 6 a.m. in case you were wondering) that keep her coming back year after year. That, and, of course, the fact that she knows someone who produces the behemoth event who got her in. Neon Carnival is nepotism at its best and its wildest so name-drop it like it’s hot.
“If you don’t know what time it is, it’s time for you to get a motherfucking watch!” (O’Shea Jackson, Jr. keeping it real)
“Doesn’t he look like Star Lord?” (Girl at the bar who’s actually thirsty for the bartender)
“I just saw her walking it off on the dance floor so I guess she’s fine?” (Woman discussing the moments after her friend puked)
“Do I look like I’m smuggling?” (Man definitely smuggling)
“The thing with people who study a lot is that they’ll just learn stuff.” (A Scholar)
FRIDAY: NYLON’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN
Out in the middle of nowhere, Nylon’s “Midnight Garden” soirée has been a safe haven for major celebrities. It’s the kind of place where you find yourself asking Owen Wilson to pass the ketchup at the Umami Burger slider station. (He did.) Floral patterns and large swaths of cool grass transform this desert estate’s massive backyard into a secret garden fit for Shakespeare, but built for socialites.
“We’ve been coming to this party for years,” says a boho chic guest sitting with her friends, who chime in immediately at their combined veteran status, at the kitschy picnic tables with their snacks. “This year definitely has less of a ‘vibe,’ but I always know that the Nylon party is going to be a good time.” The rising noise and chatter of the amoeba-like crowd trying to get to the bar amuses these regulars who have got their yearly Coachella weekend system down pat.
A young woman sporting a choker, metallic sunglasses (at 1 a.m.) and platinum blonde hair is just willing to tell it like it is. “We used to go to the festival, but then we realized that you can never actually relax when you’re there!” On the other side of the garden’s grounds Fool’s Gold owner and celebrity DJ A-Trak is blending deep house/EDM sounds with classic crowd favorites like Toto’s “Africa” and Men Without Hat’s “Safety Dance” to a squished-like-sardines dance floor. Pop-up beauty bars are refreshing the hair and makeup looks for women that are fairly certain that this is just the first stop of many on this Friday evening. There’s a debate about those lines are longer than the ones for elaborate Cool Haus ice cream sandwiches, but neither can be really declared the definitive winner.
The girl who wears sunglasses at night continues to share her Coachella weekend mantra: “I just think, if you try to chase the rabbit, you’re always going to get lost. You just have to put yourself out there and go with the flow. That’s how I always have a good time.”
“You don’t get it! This crown is my identity!” (A princess yelling at her boyfriend for dropping her floral headpiece)
“Oh I don’t have to pay for these drinks? I’ll have seven beers then.” (A very determined man)
“Oh we shouldn’t bother him right now, he’s got game.” (Thoughtful friends looking on at their companion whose about to get lucky)
“He was just saying that the color of the bus looks like cheese. Is that so wrong?” (A peacemaker)
“Oh wait, is this paper?” (Girl eating paper)
“That guy wasn’t in The Royal Tenenbaums!” (Girl talking about fellow Nylon partygoer Owen Wilson, who was definitely in The Royal Tenenbaums)
FRIDAY: 1OAK PRIVATE BBQ
1OAK has been quickly taking over the country with new editions of the ultra-exclusive club popping up in the best cultural hubs that the States have to offer. Now that includes a pop-up location in Bermuda Dunes. To bring that all-access, up-until-6-a.m. atmosphere to the desert, 1OAK reinvented the house party. Moon bounces, Teepees and White linen draped cabanas are all across the vast backyard of the barbeque, but instead of dads flipping burgers in “Kiss the Cook” aprons there are fashion models lounging with their sun-kissed celebrity friends, waiting for the catered tacos to be ready.
The high winds lift the curtains of the cozy cabanas like in the beginning of The Great Gatsby, but the symbolism goes right over the heads of these “new money” artists and socialites. The bass exploding out of the DJ booth’s speakers is so heavy it rattles your drink around, Jurassic Park–style.
Around 3 p.m. the music mixing duties at the end of the free gear fairway are turned over to one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Kendall Jenner might be best known for some of the most liked Instagram photos ever, but this afternoon she’s part of Pizza Boys’ entourage and DJ crew. The minute she touches the stage, every phone on the lawn is up and out. Along with the duo, she’s busting out hits like “Jumpman” and “Work” and a couple of Kanye West’s, her half-brother-in-law, newer tracks from The Life of Pablo. An hour later, Kendall’s friend, Victoria Secret model Devon Windsor took over with a large crew (including Post Malone) to help keep the vibes going.
The allure of the exclusive Coachella day party isn’t hard to understand, but actively not going to the festival in hopes of finding a greater experience is risky. The general consensus at the 1OAK blowout is that Coachella as a festival itself is “dead.” “The exclusivity is cool and my boyfriend knows people,” says a young woman wearing a crocheted bra and sporting golden glitter eyebrows on the fringe of the property. Her friend is trying to tie her gladiator sandals, but after a few drinks, the loop-de-loop method is eluding her.
“But it’s really because this is where you can say you partied with cool people.”
With a guest list including NBA stars, Olympians and artists actually playing the fest, the term “cool people” is putting it lightly. “We’re going to Coachella later, but I couldn’t miss this.”
But maybe it’s something simpler than that in-the-know mentality. As Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Woo (That Thing)” plays, a lanky gentleman taking the day’s excitement in silently while he tries to get a drink at the bar. “I don’t really think about why I should come to this party,” he says with a laugh. “I just come because all of my friends are here. That’s Coachella to me.”
“You should take it now before this party really kicks in.” (Desert cowboy)
“Are you sure it’s her? She looks trashy.” (Girl dressed like Madonna’s glitter cowboy phase on Kendall Jenner)
“I was looking at her Instagram, she’s crazy. Like into kinky stuff crazy.” (Silicon Valley exec)
“What you’re inhailing is all American made.” (Seasoned pro)
“You should know me. I work for CAA.” (Woman to an NBA player)
THURSDAY: A CLUB CALLED RHONDA’S COACHELLA KICK OFF PARTY
While it might sound far-fetched to spend your Thursday night at a major bash at a multi-million dollar home in the middle of the desert, you must remember that none of those types of societal conventions exist during Coachella. Billed as an “intimate evening escapade,” Los Angeles’s monthly bacchanal, A Club Called Rhonda, transformed a private Rancho Mirage residence into a neon-filled paradise for music industry insiders needing to let loose before the big weekend. There were plenty of dark corners for private moments and close conversations.
The hypnotizing glow of neon lights beckon you inside the very strict, invite-only event — “PASSION,” “PLEASURE,” “POSSIBILITY.” Old-school dance/funk music wafts through the halls of the massive house as party buses unload a handful of alarmingly stylish passengers at a time. They all seem to know each other, but they have no problem making a ton of new friends throughout the night. The party is a safe space for undiscovered fashion icons and tech industry moguls — including Uber’s creator Garrett Camp — and the relaxed atmosphere (mixed with anticipation for the marathon days to come) spurs the party on.
While the shindig officially started at 10 p.m., the crowd doesn’t really get moving until just around 2 a.m. when Chaka Khan jumps up by the DJ booth and onto the mic. After her surprise appearance, the packed dance floor keeps jumping until the wee hours of the morning. And then it’s time to head home and get fresh for the next day of debauchery.
“I don’t think you can do that to ice cream.”
“We haven’t loved like that again.”
“Sometimes you turn around and you’re like 10 years older.”
“Well I thought ‘Great, I’m going to move to downtown LA where all the movies are shot!’”