A profile of Coachella booking head Paul Tollett in this week’s The New Yorker made the passing claim that Tollett advocated against booking Kate Bush for the festival sometime during the past few years, claiming that “no one is going to understand it.” Today, a representative for Bush said that she was never in talks to play Coachella, throwing water on the discussion. Tollett then told the Los Angeles Times that he’d totally love to book Bush at Coachella, offering this bad quote: “We’ve had a long history of delicacies at Coachella, and that is one of the ultimate delicacies. Of course we would want that.”
Initially, the surrounding conversation castigated Coachella for being allegedly dumb enough to turn down a performance by Bush. What had corporate festival culture wrought, when it couldn’t deliver the inarguably good of one of our greatest living artists taking the stage for the first time ever in America, because of what the teens might think? Perhaps the festival was scarred by memories of pathetic turnout for the Stone Roses, who may as well be the male Kate Bush if you don’t pay close attention to music, and instead slot every artist into the broadest possible category. (In this case, Stone Roses and Kate Bush are both British.)
Kate Bush is phenomenal; nobody denies this. That aside, the mocking commentary misses an important question: Why would anyone want to see her at Coachella? While Kate Bush’s live productions are seemingly ornate enough to take up the space of the Coachella stage, her first ever American show would no doubt be best served by a more hermetically sealed viewing experience: just you and Kate inside a medium-sized concert hall or (dare I suggest) an arena, the live music and stage scenery recreating all the visions conjured by listening to “Wuthering Heights” on a loop. (Maybe some alcohol, too.)
During Bush’s recent run of 2014 London shows, The Guardian claimed she was “borne through the audience by dancers clad in costumes based on fish skeletons.” (That doesn’t happen in a festival crowd.) The same show also went on for three hours, much longer than the typical festival set.
What instead would you find at Coachella? Coachella isn’t measurably worse than any other big box festival experience—think Lollapalooza, Governors Ball, or Panorama—but it’s no longer truly notable for the music. Instead, it’s easily mocked for the ubiquitous presence of flower crowns, for “the $800 accessory you need to attend Coachella” service packages aimed at rich teens, for the sighting of celebrities who’d just love it if you knew they love music, for the uncomfortably horny youths running around, huffing paint and hoping to grope each other to the Chainsmokers. (Oh, and the sand.) You don’t go to Coachella to take in all the bands as they were meant to be seen; you go to Coachella to hang out.
That’s fine, in its way; hanging out is fun, whether or not you’re wearing a flower crown. But you don’t have to be cynical about festivals to acknowledge none of this would be the ideal context to see her obviously thought-out production, minimized and retrofit for the festival stage. Surely, no American fan of Kate Bush could reasonably say, “Ah yes, Coachella. That is where I will like to fulfill my lifelong dream of hearing ‘Running Up That Hill’: standing next to a guy shouting for the Heineken vendor.”
Also, more bluntly, the booker of Coachella called her one of “the ultimate delicacies.” Don’t reward that.