When music fans step into the polo fields of Coachella Music and Arts Festival, this weekend they’ll be confronted by larger-than-life figures: two 30-foot tall sculptures made out of wood that honor members of the region’s Mexican farmworker community who can’t afford the event.
The Coachella-based artists who were commissioned by the festival to create the sculpture titled the piece Sneaking Into the Show, because that’s one of the only ways locals can actually attend the three-day festival. Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez, who collaborate as The Date Farmers, grew up in the Coachella Valley with parents who worked in the date agriculture business.
The Coachella Valley is responsible for a large portion of the table grapes, dates, and peppers that the U.S. consumes throughout the year, but agriculture workers and their families in the area can’t afford the festival’s $400 price tag.
“The Coachella music festival is a luxury a lot of our families can’t afford,” said Jessica Gonzales, a senior at Desert Mirage High School who grew up in the Eastern Coachella Valley. “The festival appropriates the [Coachella] name and doesn’t relate to our community,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Northshore, one of the towns that make up the Eastern Coachella Valley.
At the end of the month, following the last weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, local high school students in the region will present their own youth-organized music festival they say better reflects the real Coachella Valley.
The students have taken some cues from the neighboring behemoth festival; they’ll be presenting 22 bands on two stages over the course of 10 hours. The free event, attended by over 2,000 attendees last year, will feature bands and artists who are from the local community. The high school students have dubbed the event The Hue Festival.
The student organizers behind the Hue Festival say they want to use arts to showcase the culture that is being produced in the Coachella Valley. They say it’s also an opportunity for youth to speak about the issues facing their communities. For example, a portion of the valley does not have water that is safe to drink due to high levels of arsenic.
The community in Mecca, where the festival will be held, is almost 99% Latino, the majority of whom are of Mexican descent. Students named the festival The Hue because they wanted to show the different hues in the community. The region may be made up of a majority of people of Mexican descent, but it’s still diverse, including a sizable community of Purépecha people, an indigenous tribe that comes from the state of Michoacán in Mexico. A few years ago a Purépecha teen opened the Hue Festival by singing the Star-Spangled Banner in his native tongue.
“The Hue Festival celebrates the culture that we have here and the power that we hold as a rural immigrant community in Southern California,” said Jessica Gonzales, the Senior at Desert Mirage High School who has helped organize the festival since she was in 9th grade.
The Hue Festival costs thousands of dollars to organize each year, with much of the money being donated by local businesses.
“I’ve learned a lot talking to business owners and community members to see if they can help us out in some ways. It’s helped me grow as a person, individual, and as a student,” Gonzales said.
The students ask local businesses to make a financial contribution in exchange for advertising on the festival program and promotional shout-outs on Facebook.
The Coachella music festival is the highest-grossing music festival in the world, bringing in an estimated $90 million into the economy. But the festival is held in the neighboring city of Indio, which means the cities in the Eastern Coachella Valley benefit very little from the festival.
There’s no thriving resort or tourism industry in the Eastern Coachella Valley. The region has more trailer park homes than actual single family homes. Many of the trailer parks have water systems the county has found have high levels of arsenic.
"The Hue is a celebration of what we already have because “Sadly, many young community members are eager to leave the Coachella Valley because they think there’s nothing to do here,” said Victor Gonzales, 23, who grew up in Mecca and is helping the high school teens organize the Hue Festival. Gonzales (no relation to Jessica Gonzales) works with Building Healthy Communities, an initiative to improve health conditions in underserved community that was started by the foundation The California Endowment. (The high school students approached the organization for organizational support.)
The Hue Festival flyer looks a bit like the Coachella posters, which lists the bands in paragraph format. It will include music of all genres, include indie rock, metal, and DJ’s spinning electro-cumbias. The event will also reflect the community that is 99% Latino. This year the top of the Hue Festival flyer includes an illustration of a human heart made up of grapes with veins weaving through the grapes, in a nod to the region’s agriculture who keep the town alive.
Jessica Gonzales will be attending the Coachella Music Festival for the first time this year. This year seniors at her high school were able to earn a coveted festival bracelet that allows them to attend the full weekend of Coachella by volunteering and completing the application for federal financial aid.
The Hue Festival will start April 30th, 2016 at 12:30pm at the Mecca Community Park in the East Coachella Valley.