Musical money: How the Coachella Festival transformed Coachella Valley’s economy
When tickets to the Indio, California Coachella Music Festival go on sale, they’re usually sold out within a few hours. In 2019, the first week sold out in 40 minutes. Lucky purchasers look forward to enjoying headliners like 2018’s Beyoncé, who brought her own marching band and chorus line. Part of the appeal is two weekends’ worth of bucket-list festival camping and impressive art installations. But for businesses and residents of the surrounding Coachella Valley and Greater Palm Springs area, the festival’s economic benefits are the draw. Along with two weekends in April when Coachella draws music fans from all over to Indio, the site hosts a few other events with some 1.4 million visitors total. Together, the events make the economic wheels turn in this California city of around 87,000 people and have earned it the nickname “City of Festivals.”
But it wasn’t always that way. Coachella was once little more than a modest festival piggybacking on a Pearl Jam concert in the area in ’93. That modest start turned into a mega-festival and international hipster bucket-list item. The 2007 addition of Stagecoach country music weekend at the Polo Field increased the reach, adding another 70,000 visitors per day during the 2016 festival season. And while Coachella was becoming a huge hit, it also sponsored an economic boom for the Coachella Valley. Today, its host city, Indio, is the largest and fastest-growing city in the Coachella Valley. Here’s how that came about:
How music makes an economic impact
A promotion of AEG’s Goldenvoice, the 2017 Coachella Music Festival was the highest-grossing festival in the world. That money didn’t stay just inside the festival grounds, however. The entire festival season, including two Coachella weekends and a Stagecoach festival, brought $400 million to Coachella Valley and $700 million to its metro area, according to Coachella Valley Economic Partnership calculations.
In 2016, Indio realized $3.18 million in tax revenue from ticket sales and $403 million in spending in the Coachella area during Coachella and two other festivals. Pass along economic benefits including the estimated 10,000 people who stayed in Airbnbs during festivals and the income made by the high percentage of event vendors who come from the Coachella Valley and the Greater Palm Springs area. A big leap in financial benefits began in 2012 when the Polo Field started its contract with Goldenvoice. That year, tax revenue from ticket sales was less than a third of the 2016 total, $1.4 million, and “just” $254 million was spent in the Coachella Valley area.
Some of the increase in both taxes and local revenue can be attributed to increases in both housing costs and ticket costs from 2012 to 2016, however. The average per-night cost for Coachella was $68 in 2012 and soared to $116 in 2016, for example. Part of the stat is a little skewed, however, since pricey and exotic housing accommodations are a fairly recent development. Some luxury Coachella accommodations now run in the thousands per night.
The founding of a financial boon to Coachella Valley
Coachella turns 20 in 2019, and an expected 250,000 attendees will be there to participate in the anniversary festivities. Now the largest music festival in the U.S., Coachella was first inspired by that Pearl Jam concert on the Polo Grounds site, with no seats or bleachers but an unforgettable taste of the desert vibe. In 1999, six years later, the official Coachella inaugural festival drew some 25,000 people for a mix of indie, hip-hop and electronic music. In 2001, the festival returned as a one-day event. In 2002, the AEG Live partnership began and by 2003 (the year the Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined), Coachella never looked back.
In the early years of the festival, host Indio was an ag town, albeit an ag town known for year-round sunshine and increasing its population by about 30,000 each winter. A quick visit to the Coachella Valley History Museum reveals a rich heritage for this California area, from the Cahuilla tribe to early pioneer families from Eastern and Midwestern states and a strong influence from African American, Japanese and Armenian communities.
More economic development on the way in Coachella Valley
Some areas might be content to rest after the kind of gains made in the Coachella Valley in recent years. But Indio and its metro area are still in full swing with economic development. It’s the 30th fastest-growing city in America and was tapped as No. 2 among “Emerging Travel Destinations in the U.S. and Beyond” by Trivagomagazine. Part of its allure is its proximity to Joshua Tree National Park and Mount San Jacinto, according to destination popularity prognosticators.
And Indio has plans to parlay any additional tourism into a diverse economic base. Predicting that some 30,000 new residents will move to Indio between 2013 and 2025, Indio already has more than 3,500 housing units on the drawing board or under construction. The area also has enviable stats on commercial construction and business starts and the city government is striving to recruit still more retailers and diversify Indio’s revenue base. Just a few of the things that might make up a future vision of Indio and other Coachella Valley locales include an Imax theater, more specialty food markets, maybe some outlet malls.
And while the festival fans may never drag themselves away from headliner concerts to make use of these amenities, their tickets have contributed to the city growth nonetheless. Childish Gambino and Ariana Grande concert or city taxes? If you get to select which one pays for a city’s economic revitalization, there’s really no choice.