As Coachella Opening Weekend Approaches, Has It ‘Peaked?’

Published on April 12, 2019

In years past, if you didn’t cop your Coachella passes well in advance you would be out of luck, save for the secondhand market.

This year, though — just days away from the first weekend — tickets for the second weekend are still available.

It begs the question: has Coachella peaked?

The more-than-just-music festival inarguably attracts some of the biggest acts to fill its lineups. Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, and Janelle Monae are a few of the big-letter names gracing stages this year.

Yet festival giants are beginning to feel the cold chill of decline, like Lollapalooza experiencing falling ticket sales last year and Bonnaroo matching some of their lowest attendance numbers in both 2016 and 2017.  

Meanwhile, Coachella’s revenues have increased every year it has been in existence. In 2017, the latest year of revenue data, the festival grossed $114.6 million.

Yet their ability to profit does not speak to attendance numbers, which have hovered around an average of 100,000 per day for the past five to six years.

Coachella has undoubtedly had a major impact in the creation of festival season, largely pioneering the mega-festival business model over a period of two decades. It has paved the way for many mid- and small-sized festivals to thrive for those looking for a more intimate experience, or a cheaper one.

In spite of that, there are signs that things might be plateauing in the desert outside of la-la land.


Just two weeks before Coachella, Ultra Music Festival kicked off festival season in Miami. It attracts about 165,000 attendees and is also dealing with growing pains, as officials and residents of Key Biscayne are not keen on welcoming it back.

More than just outgrowing their welcome, music festivals are outgrowing the time constraints of festival season. This overcrowding has been coming to pass for awhile, with Paste Magazine famously declaring that there are too many music festivals back in 2016.

The big-name festivals used to have distinct identities,” Eric R. Danton writes. “Coachella booked established hipster groups, Pitchfork booked emerging hipster groups, Bonnaroo trafficked in jam-bands, Lollapalooza revived the alt-rock aesthetic it developed as a traveling festival in the ’90s, Austin City Limits had a rootsier bent and Summerfest was a big mix of everything.”

“[…] Now they share many of the same acts, with each other and with newer festivals, which makes all of them less distinctive.”

Not only are festivals less distinctive in their acts, they are also happening every weekend of the summer. It’s like scrolling through Netflix deciding what to watch — there’s so much entertainment that you struggle to get excited about any of it.

Selling Out

The concept of music festivals was born from a movement of peace and love, so it doesn’t help that the owner of AEG (Coachella’s parent company), Philip Anschutz, has been called out for his massive donations to organizations and politicians whose worldview doesn’t exactly align with that.

Most notably abrasive are his contributions towards anti-LGBTQ causes and organizations. Many would-be attendees are choosing to boycott the festival altogether.

Anschutz has ignited a larger awareness to the fact that most of today’s brand name festivals are profited on and organized by major corporations, like AEG.

Most of the biggest festivals are now owned by the same promoters,” writes Clive Young in his piece about combating the fatigue of too many festivals.

Here in the U.S., however, after nearly two decades of growth, we’re only starting to see festivals on a downward trend for the first time.”

High ticket prices could be a factor, leaving many wondering how 20-somethings even afford these experiences in the first place. Ticket financing has helped with an answer, where companies like Affirm will allow attendees to split ticket costs into smaller monthly purchases.

There are other ways that festivals squeeze money from attendees. Most take full advantage of brand partnerships and advertising to the point where festival grounds are as much a branded experience as an artistic and musical one.

Coachella is arguably the most branded of them all.

For the ‘Gram’

Coachella has become the premiere “do it for the gram” experience, so much so that Instagram will officially participate with its own branded house this year. Many attendees are just as excited about curating and flaunting their online image as they are about the actual experience.

As far as festivals go, Coachella reigns supreme on social media, which has been one of its biggest assets.

Could it also be one of its biggest liabilities?

Reports show that our youngest generations are becoming more disillusioned with the practice. People who care about festivals for the music and experience gripe that Coachella has become one big vanity show — a representation of all that is wrong with the modern festival scene.

Final Set

There is little question that Coachella’s profitability this year and for the next couple of years is safe, barring a major artist boycott of the event.

However, the festival may find a need to adapt to changing times and adjust its image to remain fresh and avoid stalling.

If you still need tickets for the second weekend, they’re available here, for better or for worse.

Noah Staum is the West Coast Managing Editor at Grit Daily. He grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and has lived in four different countries. Across that span he’s learned Mandarin, adopted an adorable Shiba Inu, and worked for several major dating apps. Noah is based in Los Angeles, California, focusing his coverage on entertainment and entrepreneurship.

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