LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 18:  Designer Whitney Port, detail Coachella wristband, rings and tattoo, de...
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I Had A Coachella Artist Wristband & All I Got Was A Golf-Cart Ride

Has the promise of the festival’s most exclusive pass been greatly exaggerated?

About a dozen people ahead of me, the world’s third richest man is chilling in the queue to enter the artist viewing area about 20 minutes before Lana Del Rey will go on stage. Originally, I wasn’t sure if I was in the right line, but then I spotted Jeff Bezos’ bald head glinting under the lights (and clocked the unmistakable whispers of “What the f*ck? Is that Jeff Bezos?”). Seconds later, Amber Rose, in a red-and-white splotched bodysuit, saunters by with security to cut in even further ahead. I’d expected a more glamorous situation considering I had one of the most exclusive wristbands this year, but at Coachella, I guess, even exclusivity has a ceiling.

When I attended Coachella for the first time in 2023 with a VIP pass, I was quickly made aware by seasoned goers that VIP was actually the wristband “for the plebes” (for a cool $2000). If I wanted the real premium experience, I needed the artist wristband, which goes for upwards of $4,000 per weekend and promises exclusive lounge and backstage access, rubbing shoulders with celebs, even fronter-row viewing, among other perks. When Heineken invited me to attend weekend one with an artist pass, I made it my mission to see just how much it’d live up to the hype.

In the Lana Del Rey line, things were moving quickly, and soon, I’d filed into the viewing area which had us jammed as tightly as GA. I slid up next to Lili Reinhart and her beau Jack Martin, but things rapidly descended into chaos. Mid-set, I was jostled to the side as a security guard ran through carrying an unconscious woman (“Is she dead?” cried a girl behind me). In the middle of Del Rey’s “National Anthem,” two screaming men a few rows up nearly got into a fistfight, which security stopped by shining flashlights into the crowd. To my right, a girl had climbed on the shoulders of a friend and was having a full-blown photo shoot. Amidst the mayhem, I noticed Reinhart and Martin had disappeared, and I decided to take my leave, too. So much for a luxe viewing experience.

Still, I was still determined to squeeze the most I could out of this wristband, so the next day, with the goal of scoping out the artist lounge, I carved time out of my schedule to do some exploring. Past backstage experiences at Governors Ball and Primavera Sound had me anticipating a wealth of freebies. But when I got there, there was nary a morsel of food, or even water, in sight. Outside an empty YouTube activation lounge and a shack filled with past Coachella posters, there was just one lonely set of couches in front of the bathrooms (which are, admittedly, nice).

I’d heard from a friend of a friend who had artist access in 2023 that she was able to snag three full meals from the lounge, but it quickly became clear festival organizers had clamped down on that benefit this year; any access to catering was only available in the further exclusive “artist compound,” which required an actual performing artist to accompany you to enter, the security guards told me. Still, things finally looked up when I’d finessed a prime viewing spot for No Doubt’s 9 p.m. set, watching on in awe as Gwen Stefani bounced and kicked a mere 20 feet away from me.

An artist wristband grants access to the golf cart queue, where you may spot artists like Atarashii Gakko!Steffanee Wang
The writer enjoying the Coachella backstage view on her own golf cart.Steffanee Wang
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On Sunday, I made my last attempt to cash in on the biggest perk of the wristband: golf-cart access, aka the festival’s glorified insider taxi service; it’s how artists are whisked from their trailers to the stages on time. I showed up bright and early at 1:45 p.m. to increase my chance of getting a ride. And to my delight, the queue was virtually empty, save for a party of three ahead of me. Finally feeling the luxury as I stood next to a fragrant wall of star jasmine, I waited five minutes, then 10, then 15. A photographer who needed to rush to the DoLab stage was prioritized in a cart before me, but “the next one was mine,” the dispatcher assured me.

After 25 minutes, I finally got to climb into my waiting chariot, hurriedly taking the obligatory selfie video knowing my time would be fleeting. High off the wind and golf-cart fumes, I exited the vehicle, ready to eat an açaí bowl and catch FLO’s 3 p.m. performance — when I was suddenly stopped by security at the backlot entrance because my credentials wasn’t high-enough clearance for entrance. In the end, I had to turn around and find another way in. Alas, it would’ve been faster if I’d just walked.