When Rihanna joined Paul McCartney on stage at Desert Trip on Saturday night, half the audience cheered in immediate recognition, others had to be told by their kids or grandkids seated next to them who the mystery lady was.
Earlier, when Neil Young played, younger crowd members held up cellphones to take pictures. “I’m sending this to my aunt,” said Sarah Delaney, 26. “I only know some of his songs, and she really loves him, but I think he’s really good too.”
Desert Trip is perhaps the first rock festival to successfully appeal to four generations of music fans: Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials. and whatever we’re going to call the next generation who’s just entering middle school.
The festival, which for the first time features the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, McCartney and Young, and Roger Waters and The Who all on one stage, takes place on the same grounds in Indio as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Like Coachella, it takes place over two weekends; unlike Coachella, it features only one stage and two bands per night.
Unofficially dubbed Oldchella when it was first announced in May, the lineup clearly catered to boomers who came of age in the 1960s rather than the twentysomething EDM fans of Coachella.
The Desert Trip website even played into that notion: Promotional videos for the event looked more like a commercial for Cialis. A silver-haired man riding shotgun in a convertible, playfully banging out a drumbeat on the dashboard with his hands. A mature woman puts on a sassy sun hat and spins in front of a mirror. A jovial couple raise their wine glasses in a toast to something that must be great given their gleaming smiles.
But the reality on the ground at the festival this weekend was far more interesting than predicted.
On the Empire Polo Club field where the festival takes place, elderly couples in visors and with fanny packs shared the same bleacher benches with Millennials in groovy retro wear that included fringe, tie dye and flower garlands.
An audience member in his early teens played a video game on his phone as he and his father, a middle-aged man in a Stones T-shirt, waited for McCartney to come on.
Gen Xers who first discovered the Empire Polo Club grounds when Coachella was coming of age in the early 2000s sang along to McCartney’s Wings-era songs. The younger crowd, many of whom came with their parents, bopped to “Hard Days Night.”
The diversity of the crowd – at least in age, not in race – spoke to the wide appeal of the artists on Desert Trip’s roster, all of whom have superseded the era they’ve come from to mean different things to different generations.
Even though Desert Trip is said to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by its promoter, Goldenvoice, its success (it’s estimated to have made around $160 million, the most ever by a music festival) and the extensive set up of bleachers and seating says otherwise.
The question is, can they procure another lineup as far-reaching as this one, and if so, will Drake pop in to flummox those original Woodstock fans, and woo their grandkids?