Coachella may have launched in 1999 as a celebration of independent music and the creative community, but as the popularity of the festival has increased over the last two decades, so has the demand for high-end experiences at the festival. The springtime pilgrimage to the desert has become just as famous for bold fashion and celebrity attendees as it is for the three days of performances, and if you’re like me and can’t call up a rock star friend to get your hands on a coveted artist wristband, the VIP wristbands (which sold for $999 this year) are the closest fans could get to experiencing the festival like the rich and famous.
At this year’s fest, the exclusivity for VIPs began the moment you approached the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Unless you went for car camping or lodging in luxury tents and yurts on the festival grounds, traffic was unavoidable. The upside was that the drive was the perfect time to let the top down and crank up tunes from this year’s performers like Lizzo and Ariana Grande like I did using the Bose Audio System in the 2019 Blazer Chevy loaned me for my VIP weekend.
For those that opted to drive instead of using rideshare, VIP parking was plentiful and lead to a security checkpoint that was nearly twice as fast as the general checkpoint. Once inside, the VIP entrance flowed into the main VIP section (one of two designated VIP areas at Coachella) located to the left of the main stage. The view of the stage from VIP was easily one of the best ways to sip mezcal cocktails from Madre while dancing along to Childish Gambino and Janelle Monae, but the real draw of the VIP section was the elevated food offerings, which, for 2019, included everything from lobster and shrimp rolls courtesy of Top Chef-winner Brooke Williamson’s Playa Provisions and festival-friendly açaí bowls from Backyard Bowls to a pop-up of Curtis and Luke Stone’s high-end Hollywood restaurant Gwen.
Shorter lines and elegant menu items provided the fix VIP foodies craved between seeing acts like Jaden Smith and Weezer, but for business owners, serving in Coachella’s luxe VIP areas provide a benefit that lasts long after the festival ends. “You get a lot of influencer eyes in VIP,” said Max Fortgang, the co-owner of NYC-based Matchabar, who has served his vibrant green matcha drinks at Coachella for three years and operated a booth in the Main VIP area this year. A thriving startup that counts Drake and Billie Eilish among its investors, Matchabar’s green, white, and pink rose lattes are Instagram magnets, and the brand even used a past Coachella crowd to test the demand for a lemonade matcha product before bottling the drink and selling it at Whole Foods.
Tucked away at the opposite end of the grounds, the VIP Rose Garden, filled with blooming, picturesque flowers, boasted more of the hottest food and drink vendors in the country. Fans lined up for crispy Korean fried chicken from Hawaii’s Chingu while Broken Shaker LA kept the gin, tequila, and vodka cocktails flowing.
Smaller than the main VIP and much less hectic, the Rose Garden also hosted the most prestigious dining experience of the festival, a nightly, four-course dinner produced by roving culinary company Outstanding in the Field. At $225 per person, Coachella’s Outstanding the Field dinner featured a different menu every night from esteemed L.A. chefs like Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill and Nyesha Arrington of Native, and while the optics of the glassware-topped dinner table was just one of the many Insta-worthy elements for VIPs, the emphasis on quality was essential for the vendors serving the top-dollar attendees. “Make really good tasting things and if you can get good presentation value, even better,” said Fortgang. “For this crowd, at the end of the day, everything has to taste really good.”