Coachella is a desert wonderland of a festival that runs April 16 through 18. It provides a compelling reason for music fans to caravan to Indio, Calif., with its extensive showcase of top rock, electronic, and hip-hop acts. This year, the lineup includes special and exclusive performances from local legend Sly Stone, New Wavers Devo, the cartoonish Gorillaz, '80s U.K. skankers the Specials, and techno hero Richie Hawtin's Plastikman project. But although Coachella is a road-trip-reasonable 500 miles away, a musication down south involves expenses beyond the price of the weekend festival pass.
So we decided to have some fun with numbers. Below, we compare the cost of seeing Coachella-booked bands play in San Francisco with the price of taking the festival plunge down to the polo fields.
If you stay
A San Francisco music fan could see an average of six shows for less than the cost of a Coachella weekend pass. Clear advantages of going this route include full sets instead of abbreviated ones and more intimate concert settings.
Our picks for Coachella heavies performing here include shows by quirky Australian singer Sia (April 14 at Regency Ballroom, $29) and the Dead Weather, the alt-supergroup helmed by Alison Mosshart of the Kills and Jack White of the White Stripes (April 15-16 at the Fillmore, $35). The Dead Weather arrives in time to preview its new album, Sea of Cowards.
Full sets become more important in the case of bands that have re-formed and rarely play here, including a trio of well-known British acts. Electro brothers Orbital (April 16 at the Warfield, $32.50) are performing just three shows in America. Postpunk rebels Public Image Ltd. (April 17 at Regency Ballroom, $48.50), helmed by ex–Sex Pistol John Lydon, are apparently mulling the possibility of recording a new album. Echo and the Bunnymen (April 19 at the Fillmore, $27.50) will likely play material from their new album, The Fountain.
At the other end of the genre spectrum, you can catch rising Atlanta rapper B.o.B. when he supports non-Coachella artist Lupe Fiasco (May 4 at the Warfield, $40) and say you heard him before he blew up.
San Francisco concert total: $212.50
If you go
With a weekend festival pass costing $269, not including service charges, Coachella may still sound like the value choice, but let's add up the incidentals. A round-trip drive from San Francisco to Indio is about 1,000 miles, and with Bay Area gas averaging $3.03 a gallon, it would cost around $178 to get there by car. Flights to the Ontario or Palm Springs airports from San Francisco are about $500 this season.
Alternatively, you could fly into a less central airport, such as Long Beach, for just over $100 via JetBlue. Costs of car rental also vary by airport, but average $30 to $50 per day in Long Beach. Hotels and motels, when they were available, averaged $80 per night. A Coachella camping pass (sold out) started at $55 and jumped to $350 for "VIP" camping. Of course, at this point, with Coachella looming, reservations for everything are scarce, trading for exorbitant figures on Craigslist and various ticket broker sites.
Coachella total: If we added our gas price ($178), camping ticket ($55), and weekend festival pass ($269 plus service charge), the bare minimum Coachella estimate is $502. Keep in mind that's if you don't eat or drink for three days in the desert — in which case you'll probably, you know, die.
Coachella is the more exotic option for those made of diamond dust and gold cards. But according to our calculations, it's more sensible to take a staymusication, catch a variety of full-length shows, drink a beer or 10, and avoid that excruciating sunburn.