April 15 2014 12:00 AM

Checking out some of the desert fest's side parties

Rhonda party-goers
Photo by Jeff Corrigan

If you haven't been to Coachella, sure, mourn the missed opportunity of rushing to pre-purchase (and then get on the payment plan-yes, there was a payment plan) your ticket, only to discover later the lineup's less than perfect. ---

But the best party in the Coachella Valley might not be the one at the polo fields. Consider the attractive things about the festival: great artists, warm desert air and sunshine, crowds of smiling and like-minded individuals. Bring all that to an intimate space, probably next to a pool, plus quick lines for cold beers (and let's not discount the high from using a real bathroom, as opposed to a festival port-o-potty). As the the music fest attracts larger numbers of folks to the Coachella Valley each year, side parties are becoming more of a focal point. These parties tend to have top-tier talent (including "secret surprise guests" that may be even playing the festival as well). The parties are often free, or have ticket prices that are a fraction of what Coachella costs. 

"Rhonda Queen of the Desert" at the Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs. All photos by Jeff Corrigan

Photographer Jeff Corrigan and I decided to skip Coachella and hit up the side parties instead, to try to get the "full festival weekend minus the festival" experience. We sought out some of the coveted RSVP lists online, shot them our names and prepared for a long couple of days.

Our first stop was the Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs, for a party called "Rhonda." This smattering of hip-to-death and wildly dressed 20-somethings usually happens in L.A., but goes on the road for large weekends like this. 

This particular side-party edition is dubbed "Rhonda Queen of the Desert," and is flush with bright floral decor and bold fashion you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere but Rhonda. A quick scan of the crowd and you'll see men in kimonos and stilettos, women in floral crowns, fabulous crotch bulges of all shapes and sizes and maybe if you're lucky, boobs. The music-of the disco-house variety-is all performed by DJs; after about 4 p.m., a makeshift dance floor opens up next to the pool and everyone's on it. 

 "This is the only pool party I go to where I don't get in the pool," a dancing party-goer told me. 

Our next stop (as I tried to shake off the few vodka lemonades I had for breakfast) was the Hard Rock Hotel for the LED / Goldenvoice pool party. The lineup might as well be a festival in itself, but lucky for us, we'd only be partying with a few hundred others, as opposed to tens of thousands at the festival. 

The DJs for LED go much harder than Rhonda, the beats are faster and the music leans more progressive house than disco house. The crowd is of a much different variety, as well-tattooed babes in tiny bikinis are literally bouncing around in every corner and people are popping good champagne bottles by the pool. We caught as much of the lineup as we could before the music was shut down around sunset. 

We'd caught wind of a late-night side party with a lineup that would make any house-head salivate: Tensnake and Francois K. One old-school artist, one new-school artist = a can't-miss show. We grabbed some pre-sale tickets just in case, took a short disco-nap and headed out at midnight. The timeline for this one was 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at a "secret location." The address was released via email two hours before the start of the party, in order to cut down on the chances of it getting shut down for noise issues. 

DJs Tensnake (left) and Francois K. Photos by Jeff Corrigan

The directions took us to a warehouse. Excellent. We could hear the party before we even found our way in. Luckily we arrived early-in the world of warehouse parties, midnight is early-and breezed right in. It was pitch-black inside, save for a bright green laser shooting across the ceiling and a small spattering of tiny lights at the front of the room, signifying the DJ booth. We arrived just in time for Tensnake-good thing because a Tensnake sighting is rare and never disappointing. The sound system was booming and high quality, and by 4 a.m., the place was bursting at the seams. We left shortly after that, unable to imagine still dancing when confronted by the desert sun. 

We finished our day with a long-awaited trip to the 24-hour Del Taco and hit our home base just at dawn, having spent only a few twenties for admission and drinks. To those sweating in the polo fields this past weekend, we salute you. But we prefer it poolside.


See all events on Friday, Oct 21