Are you gonna share your drugs with me?
In 2006 Madonna made her first ever festival appearance. Despite performing live for a living for over 25 years she had never once appeared at a proper live music festival before the closest she had ever come was playing at one-off one-day multiple artist events such as Live Aid and Live 8. Hardly insignficant agreed, but they don’t count. Playing not even top of the bill or on the main stage, Madonna found herself taking the stage at the (considering the eventual heat) aply named Sahara Dance Tent at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field out in the desert at Indio, California.
Arriving half an hour late, at approximately 8.30pm many of the festival goers put this down to Her Madgesty’s vanity and self-indulgence, something absolutely anathema to the festival spirit. However, those of us at the front know this was actually due to the incredible decision to re-arrange the barrier arrangement just prior to Madonna’s performance so that the mini-catwalk she employed was properly surrounded by fans
Ticket and Madonna wristband
The day’s Madonna events had started far earlier than 8.30pm though. Madonna arrived at the site at approximately 10.15am and had comandeered the Sahara Tent to rehearse. Aware that her set would likely draw the most attention of the festival together with a planned live webcast, she was, in customary Madonna fashion, determined for it to be perfect.
Fresh from rehearsing the planned set at the LA Forum for the previous couple of days, where she was mid-way through rehearsals for the Confessions Tour, she, her band and her dancers began to rehearse the full set whilst the assembled ticket-holders waited for the 11am opening of the festival site for the day. Running through the entire set once, the fans clamouring to get onsite, were treated to a spoiler of what was to come. Seemingly unhappy with one particular track upcoming single ‘Get Together‘ the band rehearsed the song over and over and over, so that when, at 11am the turnstiles opened, allowing the fans (some of who had been patiently waiting in line since 2am) to stream onsite and towards the tent, she was still onstage in the tent where the music was emanating from.
Ticket Unprepared security after temporarily stopping the throng! Madonna’s tent in the far distance.
Amid comedic scenes of utter chaos with every single fan making a direct, yet amusingly confused bee-line for the Sahara Dance Tent at the far side of the site, through the maze of backstage tents, campervans, stalls and surprised off-duty staff, the security guards and stewards seemed utterly unprepared for how determined the assembled Madonna fans were to witness their idol’s first festival slot. Many of the first through the turnstiles got within grasping distance of the tent before the security managed to halt the frenzied rush and managed to pen the excited fans in behind the smaller Mojave Tent towards the main stage field area. Madonna treated the expectant fans to a full run through of her 8pm show to much cheers and applause, although she made no reference to the very obvious noise from the throng, merely whingeing that she had better things to be doing on her ‘day off’ giving away the fact that she might actually have preferred to continue her tour preparations uninterrupted. Ever the diva!
Upon the completion of her endless soundcheck, in which ‘Get Together‘ was performed no-less than ten times, the security let the stampede resume and the assembled fans surged towards the front flap of the tent, only to be met by the big surprise of the day security guards with wristbands allowing the dedicated first 400 fans access to the very front section of the tent for Madonna’s performance, allowing them to head off into the searing heat (over 100′ before noon!) to enjoy the other bands before returning at 7pm to be allowed in as priority for Madonna’s show.
Naturally, the hardcore of fans, some of which had travelled from as far away as Australia and the UK had absolutely no intention of risking not being able to get into the tent to see the main performer they had bought their ticket to see, so an unofficial line up was started leading out of the side of the tent to ensure priority entry later on.
The day passed relatively without incident and everyone was getting on famously for the most part, swapping stories of previous experiences, enjoying the music coming from inside the Sahara Tent and the more-guitar based Mojave Tent across the way. The heat became incredible, reaching temperatures towards 120’F and every fan, without exception, suffered sunburn!
Due to general confusion with security at the tent, the green light for the fans to enter the tent in preparation of Madonna‘s set was given far far too early, around 4.30pm meaning wristbanded fans who had left the line-up to get drinks or check out other acts missed their rightful chance to be at the front, and of course, caused the later drama with moving the barrier and staging. However, those who made it in settled into their spots, thrilled at the turn of events and whilst doggedly clinging to their bit of barrier, boogied on down to the sounds of Madonna collaborators Louie Vega and Paul Oakenfold. A couple of them slept through the pounding dance music, due to the exhaustion of the day thus far!
When Madonna came to take the stage, festival organisers estimated that 75% of the entire festival crowd were trying to catch her set. Only 10,000 fans were able to get inside the huge tent, so the excited crowd spilled far out either side of the tent with curious regular festival fans craning their necks for the slightest glimpse of this most unusual event. It has to be remembered that Madonna was only added to the Coachella line-up long after most of the initial ticket sales had happened, so it’s probable most of the people there had never expected to see Madonna live, and given the chance to see what all the fuss was about for themselves, who can blame them. Many of them had complained at the addition of such a commercial artist being added to ‘their’ festival, but the reviews and feedback after the event were overwhelmingly positive, with the normal end conclusion that she had, as usual, stolen the show.
Madonna‘s set broadly followed the familiar setlist which she had previously performed at the Koko album launch show in Camden and the PA at G-A-Y Nightclub in London the previous November (there was also that show in Japan shortly after the London shows, but lets face it – did anyone actually go to that? LOL), but since only two fans who attended Coachella had actually been at both of those London shows (your FOTD correspondent included), it was hardly retreading old ground for most of the people who saw her that day. However, the show was utterly unique for so many reasons that those of us who had attended any of the previous shows didn’t feel short changed.
The setlist ran: ‘Hung Up’, ‘Get Together’, ‘I Love New York’, ‘Ray Of Light’, ‘Let It Will Be’, ‘Everybody’.
The performance ofOf Light‘, accompanied by the tour dancers dressed in futuristic white boiler suits and face masks, was an exclusive glimpse at what was to come on the Confessions Tour, and the inclusion of the ‘Where’s The Party‘ sample in ‘Everybody‘ gave an indication of what was to be used at the start of ‘Music Inferno‘ on the tour.
Madonna was on great form, and with the wind from the mountains rippling the silver tickertape backdrop of the stage, the sense of being at something unique was really evident, despite the show ending up being what certain clever fans later dubbed “Kokochella” Asking if the audience were going to share their drugs with her and teasing the crowd with whether she should take her pants off and if her ass looked good she drew massive cheers not only from the excited die-hards at the front, but also drifting into the tent from far outside.
Acting every inch the wannabe rock star Madonna wowed many there when she strapped on an electric guitar to belt out I Love New York’ drawing gasps when she let rip with the now legendary line “just go to Texas and you can suck George Bush’s dick!”. She was also quick to point out “but not you guys” when singing about the sleepy Angelenos. Showing she wasn’t afraid to go near the (potentially) smelly, unwashed festival goers though she leant right down into the faces of those around the catwalk, even telling off a cheeky fan who dared throw water onto her stage, despite having just received direct instructions not to do exactly that!
Asking if the crowd were ready for an old song, she belted out her classic debut US single Everybody‘ on home soil for the first time in 13 years, to the delight of many of the intrigued festival goers clamouring to hear an older hit. The song which had until recently been a planned inclusion in the tour setlist, went down a storm and if that turns out to be the last ever performance of it, the roar of praise it received did it justice 24 years after first heard in California.
With that, a brief bow, and a cheeky grin, she was gone, leaving the fans to disperse off into the night (desperate to find water!) to catch the pumping beats of Mylo following Mads in the Sahara Tent, or out into the evening desert air to the delights of Massive Attack pumping out their hits from the main stage.
ICON, the official Madonna fanclub, shortly after the festival held a contest to win front row tickets to the opening show of the Confessions Tour. Entries had to be a collage or video of your experience at Coachella. This was mine.