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There was a surreal moment on Saturday night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that typified just how much the festival has changed over the past twelve years. As the orchestral swells and backing vocals dissipated from Leslie Feist’s huge backing band as “Feel It All” faded away into the dusk on the Outdoor Stage, Feist waved to the cheering crowd and thanked them for the support, adding nonchalantly, “see you next weekend!” It was an odd, wrenching tearing of the reality-altering cocoon that Coachella has built up around itself. For months leading up to this weekend, the hype and excitement for what has become the quintessential American music festival is nearly all-consuming, eventually leading to a weekend that, regardless of the seeming impossibility of meeting expectations, manages to live up to it all. Whether you spend your weekend camped in the baking heat, surrounded by a swell of campers who flash eternal smiles despite conditions that would appall the writers of the Geneva Convention, or carpool in from the surrounding small vacation towns of Indio and Palm Desert that turn into veritable cities of drug-addled youth and defiantly stereotypical hippies, Coachella remains a singular experience.

Yet there Feist was, breaking the illusion that this was a unique happening. The splitting of Coachella into two weekends was arguably necessary, given that 2011’s festival sold out in less than six days and this year’s edition was a two-week sellout…

Over 80 artists and DJs. Five stages running the gamut from house to dubstep to trance and more. 185,000+ people attending and dancing until 2 a.m. over two days. More Ecstasy pills than the population of Los Angeles. Calling the annual L.A. Electric Daisy Carnival a mere “rave” is an insult to something that has to be considered one of the largest music events in the world, not to mention an intense kaleidoscope of sounds and visuals that require far more work and setup than your average festival show. Oh, and don’t forget the varied array of carnival rides, from your standard Ferris wheel and fun house to spinning tops and massive swings (best ridden sober). With such a breadth of artists and experiences to be sampled it’s practically impossible to catalogue every highlight of the weekend, and the fact that the Coliseum grounds where the event was held was nearly impossible to traverse effectively past sundown made it difficult to see everyone I wanted, but those I did rarely disappointed.

…and this was EARLY

Opening at 2 in the afternoon every day, the festival was already jam packed by the time I arrived (usually around 4-ish), and like Coachella before it, EDC’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past couple of years. The main stage (the Coliseum stadium including the floor) was half empty during the Friday headliner in 2009; this year they closed off floor access before sunset,…

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