Coachella returns in all its glittering, neon glory - masks optional

Festival goers dance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, on April 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

INDIO, UNITED STATES (AFP) - Revellers in thong bodysuits, wearing glitter eyeshadow and sheathed in neon partied late into the night on Friday (April 15) as the first Coachella music festival since the pandemic's onset got underway in the California desert.

Brazilian singer Anitta brought electricity with twerkified dance routines on lock, thrilling crowds after inviting rappers Snoop Dogg and Saweetie onstage, as singer Phoebe Bridgers conjured a lighter-waving mood with dreamy strings accompanying her morose lyricism - and a guttural scream for good measure.

And English singer Harry Styles debuted at Coachella as a headliner, kicking off the night's premiere set enveloped in a fur coat before stripping to reveal a disco ball of an outfit he donned to dance down the stage runway, thousands of screaming fans clamouring at his feet.

The mammoth event that takes place over two three-day weekends is one of the world's most watched festivals, and traditionally kicks off the year's summer concert circuit.

Coachella's 2020 edition was scrapped as the coronavirus pandemic came into full force, and two years of chaotic cancellations, rescheduled shows and lineup shakeups ensued.

As it returns after a three-year hiatus, Coachella is a bellwether for the multibillion-dollar touring industry that is still on shaky ground after persistent pandemic setbacks.

After other large-scale festivals, including the Lollapalooza music festival last year, required proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 result, Coachella this winter announced it would not require any such mitigation measures, including masks or social distancing.

But it comes amid an uptick in coronavirus cases in the United States, mostly due to the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.2.

Friday saw temperatures climb and as festival-goers descended on the grounds for three days of partying, contracting coronavirus seemed back of mind.

"Look at this!" Ms Sarah Jones, a 26-year-old from Oregon, told AFP.

"We just want to have fun; I don't want to think about (coronavirus) tonight."

'Everybody misses this'

People walk past Spectra, a seven-story spiral walkway up to a viewing deck, at Coachella on April 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

The festival is held mostly outside, welcoming some 125,000 revellers daily from all over the US and abroad, many of whom camp and fill up hotels nearby.

There are two virus testing sites on festival grounds.

Mr Jose Arballo - a senior public information representative for the public health department of Riverside County, where Coachella takes place - said there also would be bolstered testing facilities nearby.

"I'm super excited to be here," said one concert-goer identified as Saturn Risin9, who said they were ageless and had travelled from Los Angeles.

"I'm not scared, and I'm excited to be outside with people."

The Coachella festival is held mostly outside. PHOTO: AFP

As the sun set and the fresh grass gave way to stomped-down dust, the desert's night owls came out.

"It's amazing!" said Ms Alexa Davis, a 24-year-old Connecticut native, as she joined the throng to dance along to Anitta. "She's killing it, she's really hot."

Anitta, 29, made history earlier this year as she became the first Brazilian to reach the world's number one spot on Spotify.

She commanded Coachella's main stage, whose set featured imagery replicating a Rio de Janeiro favela, opening with the intro of Mais Que Nada as California legend Snoop Dogg joined her.

Brazilian singer Anitta performs during Coachella in California on April 15, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

During a set that saw her jump seamlessly between Portuguese, English and Spanish, Anitta later launched into her booty-grinding reggaeton hit Envolver, the masses joining in the rhythm.

"Our culture is getting noticed... Latinas are also reaching the top of the global scene," Anitta told AFP in an interview last month.

"I plan to keep making songs for every part of the world. Including in Portuguese, of course."

Other major acts playing sets at Coachella this weekend include rappers Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat.

After Styles on Friday, US singer Billie Eilish is set to headline on Saturday and Canadian singer The Weeknd will collaborate with supergroup Swedish House Mafia to helm on Sunday.

The duet act was an 11th-hour addition after chaos agent Kanye West unceremoniously pulled out of his headliner spot mere weeks ago.

US rapper Travis Scott also dropped out after a deadly concert stampede at his Astroworld show in Houston last year, while 2020's anticipated headliner Frank Ocean is set to return to the desert in 2023.

Belgian singer Stromae is set to play on Saturday, as is Palestinian DJ Sama' Abdulhadi.

In a last-minute surprise, rock band Arcade Fire played a set on Friday evening - while rap duo City Girls set off a heated audience twerk-off during a rendition of their 2021 hit Twerkulator.

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