April 17th, 2010
05:21 PM ET
A ferris wheel! A VIP Rose Garden! 15,000 more concertgoers per day!
The 11th Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival may be bigger than ever, but the jury's still out on whether it's better. On Friday –
Day 1 of the three day event - ticketholders had to wait on line for an average of one to three hours just to enter the premises. Once inside, they joined 75,000 other music lovers in fighting their way across the crowded grounds of the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California - only to stumble upon actor Danny DeVito shaking his groove thing to deadmau5 in the dance tent.
At the opposite end of the property, Jay-Z was holding court on the main stage - the first time a rapper has ever headlined Coachella, which prides itself on being a mecca for fans of indie rock and dance music. An audience of mostly young, white hipsters enthusiastically sang along to a battery of Hova's greatest hits - from "Big Pimpin'," to "99 Problems" to "Empire State of Mind." "I feel like I'm at home right now," he told the audience in a hoarse rasp. "I appreciate the love." A couple of times during the evening, he alluded to losing his voice - but it didn't damage the way he attacked his rhymes or affect his trademark flow.
At one point, a clearly amused Jay-Z tried to teach the crowd how to swing a towel over their heads, hip-hop style. "If you don't have a towel, use your jacket," he advised. And sadly, a rumored duet with Dr. Dre never materialized - but there was one special guest at the very end of his set. To no one's surprise, Beyonce glided out from the side of the stage in a black hat and cut-offs, to join her husband in sweet rendition of "Forever Young" that ended in fireworks.
It certainly wasn't indie rock, but it was the best another genre has to offer - much like Prince's appearance at Coachella in 2008 and Paul McCartney's headlining slot in 2009.
Other big crowd pleasers during Friday's festivities: Vampire Weekend had the crowd dancing in the grass with its infectious Afro-Pop, Passion Pit raised heart rates on the smaller outdoor stage, and The Specials delivered a set of their best-known ska-punk hits from the UK in the early 80s. Actress-turned-singer Zooey Deschanel charmed audiences with partner M. Ward and their retro-inspired project, She & Him, and Josh Homme received a hometown hero's welcome as he hit the stage with Them Crooked Vultures - his supergroup with Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones.
Missing in action: The Cribs and their newest member, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Ash from the volcano eruption in Iceland grounded the group in England (Bad Lieutenant and Frightened Rabbit also cancelled out of their Saturday slots for the same reason).
Despite all the frustrations due to the massive crowd, perhaps John Lydon said it best as he left the stage with his post-Sex Pistols act, Public Image Limited. "For all of you who missed it, you missed a good f-ing evening. For those of you who didn't - not bad, huh?"
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