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Huge Coachella turnout results in packed tents, wicked energy

April 17, 2010 | 10:25 am

During Jay-Z's stake-claiming set on the main stage of Coachella on Friday night, if you weren't on the pitch, chances are you were standing on tippy-toes in the VIP area trying to get a feel for the show from a distance. In the section, which, rest assured, was so packed that it was hard to feel "very important" at all, the best vantage point for the action was on the weather-worn picnic tables, which acted as makeshift balconies as people stood atop them and bounced along.

Did we say bounce? Yes, and so did Jigga, who commanded the masses to do it many times during his show. Those on the picnic tables took him literally; the wooden benches, lined with people, acted like mini-tramps; it was hard not to move. Those standing on the tiers above them --  the tables themselves -- had a sturdy disco platform on which to boogie. As Jay tore into "Empire State of Mind" -- one of the great songs of the 21st century, we decided on the spot -- the 10 or so on our table danced so hard that we started to wonder on the craftsmanship of the furniture.

The dude to my right was really bouncing. These tables were designed to hold tea, crumpets, and whatever else people at Polo matches stuff into their caviar holes, not Jay-Z fans. I started to get a little nervous, and politely motioned to the guy that our table might capsize if we weren't careful. (As in, "Chill out, dude.")

He smiled, looked around at the others on the table, and said, "Don't worry. If we fall, at least we'll all fall together!" It was small comfort to those of us who think about things like broken legs and concussions.

Agoraphobics and claustrophobics are having a tough time out in the desert, to be sure. Last night at the peak hour, the Empire Polo Field was packed so full-up with people that it didn't seem possible to get anywhere near even the sound board, let alone the stage itself. And that was in the open air.

In the tents, it was a "Survivor"-like challenge to get anywhere near the optimum listening spots. At La Roux, the mass bordered on dangerous; you couldn't get within 30 feet of the entry, let alone contemplate seeing the British synth-popper in the flesh. A strategic attempt to enter from the side revealed even more chaos, as people trying to push into the tent -- and we do mean push -- were greeted by just as many people somewhat desperate to get out. As they exited, they had relief on their faces.

One guy looked right at me as I was trying to get inside and said with a look of utmost seriousness, "Don't do it. It's not worth it." Looking at all the overjoyed people within the tent, though, it was hard to completely believe him. It sure looked worth it.

And this was on Friday night. Saturday night is bound to be even bigger.

-- Randall Roberts

Photos: Jay-Z finishes out the festival's first night.

Credits: Top photo by Chris Pizzello / AP, second photo by Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times