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July 28, 2014

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Burning questions about a potentially chilly Coachella

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Spencer Weiner

Coachella has experienced a balloon storm (see: Arcade Fire 2011), but never actual rain.

The Details

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
April 13-15 & April 20-22, passes ($285 + fees) sold out
Empire Polo Club; Indio, California; coachella.com

Hot and dry. For a dozen installments, those two words have reliably defined Coachella. It has never, ever rained at the SoCal desert music fest, and temperatures sometimes spike into triple digits. Which makes Friday’s forecast—a high of 70, gusty winds and scattered showers—strange and potentially interesting. Other points to consider as Coachella No. 13 kicks off:

Will the second weekend water down the special? Daft Punk’s pyramid reveal. Kanye West’s levitation act. Prince’s Radiohead cover. In large part, they were memorable because they were unexpected. When they happen twice … not so much. It’ll be interesting to see how bands approach the new format. Repeat the setlist or mix it up? Bring the same guests onstage or find new faces? And in the end, will either weekend go down as markedly better?

Organizer Paul Tollett of promoter Goldenvoice says he’s not sweating it: “It’s like when somebody plays two nights at the Hollywood Bowl. Is the second night any less special?” Still, some music fans aren’t risking it. Tollett reports that around 6 percent of pass purchasers are going both weekends.

Which throwback acts will bring the thunder? Coachella is, at its core, young and hip, but old-school has a long history at Empire Polo Club, too. The Pixies, Portishead, Rage Against the Machine and My Bloody Valentine sparkled in their Coachella comebacks, while Roger Waters, Kraftwerk and Leonard Cohen earned fans whose parents weren’t born when they began.

Reunited heavy bands At the Drive-In (which played its first show in 11 years on Monday) and Refused (which played its first show in 14 in February) seem like good picks to click this year. Same goes for Brit-pop throwbacks Pulp, who began performing again in 2011 after a nine-year hiatus. And who would bet against alt-rock mainstays Radiohead, long-reclusive Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum or recently returned post-rock maestros Godspeed You! Black Emperor? Want a wild card? When was the last time anyone saw Dr. Dre (with or without Sunday’s scheduled partner, Snoop Dogg, and rumored guest Eminem) on a stage?

Which rising names will shine brightest? From its inception in 1999, Coachella has been a launching pad—where new artists break out and buzz bands gain traction. Arcade Fire in 2005. Flying Lotus in 2010. The Black Keys in 2004, ’07, ’09 and ’11 (they’re headlining this year’s fest on Friday).

This year’s contenders? Too many to list, but if we were betting, we’d put a few chips down on Harlem MC Azealia Banks, Mexican garage-punks Le Butcherettes and teenage dubstep DJ Porter Robinson. As for name acts ready to take the leap from Pitchfork darlings to household names, Bon Iver, M83 and Frank Ocean seem like solid guesses.

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