- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO — Imagine what would have happened if Elvis made a pit stop at Woodstock.

Maybe that’s the best way to put into perspective the hotly anticipated performance by Madonna — perhaps one of the most famous faces on the planet — at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., a two-day musical extravaganza best known for its lineup of indie-rock bands and dance-oriented DJs.

Outside of Madonna, the biggest acts on the bill this weekend are Depeche Mode and Tool. Both groups are successful, though hardly on the superstar pop level of Madonna. Others featured on the bill include punk rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Orthodox Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu and the electronica dance duo Daft Punk.

Certainly Madonna’s appeal is universal and organizers of the festival, running tomorrow and Sunday, are pleased as punch. She brings with her, however, a magnetic megastar effect. Some will want to see her simply out of curiosity.

“Coachella this year is going to be known as the Madonna festival,” jokes Tom Smith, lead singer of Editors, an up-and-coming rock foursome hailing from Birmingham, England. “‘Good on her’ I say.”

Others are mystified she’s there at all.

“Madonna’s a pretty mainstream artist … I’d expect a bigger alternative kind of artist,” says Chris Ross of the emerging rock group Wolfmother. “It’s kind of interesting.”

Coachella’s Web site message board (www.coachella.com) heated up, in fact, when the Material Mom announced she would play the festival, prompting some unseemly posts like “I hope Madonna chokes on a crumpet.”

Some fear a logjam of humanity at the smaller stage where she’s scheduled to appear — the Sahara dance tent — which caters to an audience and feels more in line with her recent works rooted in the same electronica genre.

How exactly did the Madonna factor come into play? Paul Tollette, co-founder of Goldenvoice, the company that puts on Coachella, says he was still looking for a big name for the popular dance tent when, suddenly, they started considering one of the biggest names of them all.

“We didn’t have anyone for the second night. We got to talking and we said, ‘What do you think about Madonna?’” Mr. Tollette recalled. A few phone calls and mutual friends later and Madonna was a go for Coachella (Madonna declined to be interviewed for this article).

Mr. Tollette acknowledged that adding Madonna to the bill has presented some logistical challenges — more people craning their neck to see her. To address that, he’s put in place some spatial changes at the Sahara tent to accommodate more people — more than the thousands that usually fit inside.

To maintain the integrity of that plan, Mr. Tollette chose not to elaborate on those changes, but he’s well aware the magnitude of Madonna commands full attention.

“There will be some people here specifically for her,” he said, adding the caveat “They’ll be overwhelmed by Coachella people.”

There are no main stage acts going on at the same time as Madonna, but there are some acts on smaller stages during her set. Mr. Tollette predicts there will be plenty of people taking in those other acts while Madonna does her thing.

Is Madonna the biggest act to ever hit the stage at Coachella?

“That depends on your definition of big,” Mr. Tollette says. “She’s probably sold more records than anyone we’ve had at Coachella.”

Mr. Tollette admits many people can’t understand why Madonna — whose summer tour this year is perhaps the most anticipated — would play there. But, he adds, “she knows a lot of the DJs that have played the Sahara tent, so this isn’t anything new for her.”

World renowned DJ Paul Oakenfold plays on the same night as Madonna in the dance tent. They’re friends, have toured together, and Mr. Oakenfold has done several well-received remixes of Madonna’s songs.

He says Madonna likely could have requested to play on a big stage at Coachella, but wisely choose to stick with the electronica-themed Sahara tent.

“That’s an incredible boost for the electronic scene,” Mr. Oakenfold says. “To choose the less is more. It’s a smaller situation, but it’s going to be unbelievable.

“I think this is extremely cutting edge for an artist of that pedigree,” he added. “It’s going to draw a lot of attention to that tent.”

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