How the Do LaB Weathered a Coachella Windstorm to Come Back Stronger

The stage was essentially shredded apart in between the festival's two weekends in 2018. You wouldn't know that ever happened.

(Brittany NO FOMO)

Last year, in between Coachella Weekend One and Weekend Two, a windstorm from out of the desert all but shredded The Do LaB tent, the festival’s quasi-official and circus-like sixth stage. Evaluating the tattered fragments of their work, a blue-and-white structure shaped like an elaborate cootie-catcher and with plenty of misters to keep everyone cool and hydrated, brothers DeDe, Jesse, and Josh Flemming managed not to freak out completely.

“It was shredded, Josh Flemming tells SF Weekly. “It looked like it went through a paper-shredder. We were just blown away. We have photos of it, and it was just torn up, hanging off a cable, the fabric was gone but we pulled what was left down and laid it down on the ground. We didn’t think it was fixable.”

We had to come up with new solutions to cover stuff, because we didn’t think we’d fix it in time, Jesse adds. “But we rallied as many people as we could and got them all our here. Goldenvoice let us set up a big shop inside the Yuma tent because it’s air-conditioned and it has the nice floor, so we set up for three days in that tent between weekends. We had people sewing all night and got it all back together.”

The mood wasn’t so much panic as a sense of “We got this” — although they had to work until about “nine or ten in the morning” to get it all done. It took well over 1,000 person-hours in all to restore it, and the resulting structure is now the largest-thing they’ve ever built in the United States, and second-largest in the world. With more LED lights and 60 miles of custom-made ropes, it’s more architecturally tech-heavy. (The overall Burner vibe gives you the feeling that everything The Do LaB does might be a dry run for the Playa.)

(WATCHARA)

A year later, Coachella has officially begun again, and The Do LaB booked some serious talent, including Escapade (Walker + Royce, plus Ardelan), Justin Jay, and DJ Seinfeld. And, as they have for virtually every Do LaB event — be it Coachella or Lightning in a Bottle — their longtime collaborator Patricio, a DJ with about 30 years of experience, will be there as well. Although unrelated the misfortune that almost derailed Weekend Two last year, it’s probably no surprise that most acts want to play Weekend One. It’s where all the excitement is, Jesse freely volunteers.

“We don’t have to try and get them excited about it,” he says. “There’s always a lot of artists that want to play out our stage. We have a big pool to choose from — but when we start booking, I always try to get people to play Weekend Two first because I know they’re going to come back and say, ‘We want to play Weekend One,’ so I start sweeping them over and eventually all we have left is Weekend Two. It’s still a great show, the place is still crowded, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Now that the notion that Beyonce changed Coachella forever has been elevated to the status of canon law — and that is true — there’s always the pressure to deliver more, more, more. But The Do LaB chose to stay true to its identity. It’s their other festival, Lightning in a Bottle, that’s undergoing more significant changes. Held for the past several years at Lake San Antonio over Memorial Day weekend, it’s now moving up by a few weeks (to May 8-13) and east by a few miles (to Buena Vista Lake, in Kern County).

“L.I.B., since its inception, has always been a nomadic festival,” Jesse says. “It changed locations probably five or six times in the last 15 years, so we’re excited to switch it up again. It’s really challenging to redesign a festival from scratch and figure out the logistics and where everything’s going to go, but we’ve been cranking away at it with our team for four months now.”

Abutting a reservoir means a lake to swim in — last year, the weather was surprisingly cold one or two nights — and flatter terrain means more usable land, shrinking the footprint even while maintaining the same number of stages and tents. And it’s all fairly close to Interstate 5.

“It’s funny, we’ve passed this venue probably hundreds of times over the years, and we didn’t know it was there and when we found it, we were shocked because it’s just this gorgeous lake,” DeDe says. “You can boat in it, you can swim in it, it has thousands of trees. It’s just this really amazing festival venue that was under our noses this whole time.”

The site has a smaller capacity, which means fewer overall numbers but a tighter adherence to the freewheeling spirit of things. And the lineup is as impressive as usual — Santigold, Channel Tres, Shiba San, Toro Y Moi, Elohim, a Disclosure DJ set — but a lot of students and college-age people were disappointed that the date moved from full-on summer to what amounts to finals week. The Flemmings hope to restore L.I.B. to that date in 2020 and beyond.

“We loved having Memorial Day Weekend and we hope to get it back,” Jesse says. “The site was already booked so there was unfortunately nothing we could do there this year. … Those guys will graduate college and they’ll be back next year. It is what it is.”

In short, the hoary old wisdom holds: You can’t make everybody happy.

“It’s impossible,” he says. “We try, but it gets harder.”

 

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