CHRISTIAN MENDEZ and AMBER AMAYA / Coachella Unincorporated
COACHELLA — For fifteen years, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has brought hundreds of musicians and artists to Indio, growing from a one-day event to a multi-weekend production.
But even before Coachella fest set up its tents, just a few miles east, there were already quality shows going on year round, where the bands didn’t need massive stages or expensive lighting and sound equipment to entertain their loyal fans.
In the east valley, bands tour the house show circuit. And crowds of young people pack into small living rooms, hot garages and open backyards to hear their favorite local bands play.
This is a music scene where the cover charge is never more than five dollars, and the fans show just as much support for the openers and they do for the closers.
Los Mumblers, a three-piece band, is largely considered one of the veteran acts in the east valley music scene. In 2003, Jorge Gomez, 25, and a group of friends in Coachella, started the group after realizing there was only a handful of bands playing shows in their hometown.
For more than ten years, Los Mumblers have been championing the do-it-yourself attitude that characterizes so many east valley bands today.
The DIY attitude extends to east valley bands’ live shows as well. It’s common for these groups, who sometimes swap bandmates, to watch each other’s shows in order to improve their own performance.
“We don’t really have someone teaching us how to do all this. We’re all self taught so we kind of just learn from seeing other live acts,” Gomez said. “We pick it up from there, so us being one of the older bands, that’s how we learned.”
Los Mumblers is only one of many east valley bands that regularly perform at house shows or even sometimes in west valley venues, like The Hood in Palm Desert or the Purple Room in Palm Springs. But there are new young bands popping up every year that are also eager to perfect their live shows.
Alex Callego, 26, has been booking east valley bands for more than ten years. Callego said, as a promoter, he sees the talent and potential east valley bands have, and their incredible work ethic.
“I like to work east valley bands. I particularly find east valley bands to be more progressive,” Callego said. “I tend to see a more true punk rock spirit, a lot more in the east valley than anywhere else.”
The punk rock spirit Callego described is definitely a characteristic of east valley bands. Gomez said the sound in the east valley is always changing, but right now, these bands are largely influenced by surf punk, punk rock and hard core.
“A lot of the bands we have right now are original sounds. They’re influenced by punk, rock n’ roll but it’s a mix of its own thing,” Gomez said. “I really don’t think you can find this assortment of bands that are here in Coachella anywhere else.”
Gomez said local bands used to be greatly influenced by their neighbor, Coachella fest, because the bands would be inspired by the festival’s live shows. But, as the festival has grown into more of a spectacle than a music festival, Gomez said the do-it-yourself work ethic of the east valley music scene no longer aligns with the party atmosphere of Coachella fest.
“I have mixed feelings now. I loved the festival growing up. I went from 2003 to 2009 every year, and I always had fun as a music fan, as someone who plays music and as someone who has a local band. But it’s a little different now, than say even four years ago. It’s a good festival, but now it seems like more of brand.”
Gomez said ticket prices and the kind of crowd Coachella fest attracts, makes the festival inaccessible and unattractive for young people from the east valley. Whereas, the east valley music scene prioritizes accessibility.
East valley groups advertise upcoming house shows on their Facebook pages, and even if they do play shows in the west valley, many times, the bands will offer rides to young people who would otherwise be unable to see the show.
Gomez said east valley bands care about encouraging younger acts coming out of their hometown. And many east valley bands prefer all-ages shows because the crowd is usually hyped-up high schoolers excited to listen to great music.
“If there’s an all ages show, we rather jump on that than an 18 and over, because the kids are more fun,” Gomez said. “We love being that band that a lot of kids coming into their freshman year in high school see. We are the first band they see at their first high school party, so we’re always going to be engraved in their head, and we get their support.”
Alex Duarte, 20, has been going to house shows in the eastern Coachella Valley since he was 16. Duarte said these house shows provide a safe place for youth to gather and listen to up and coming bands from their hometown.
“House shows are an escape, a time when music is the only thing. I look forward to these shows weeks ahead.” Duarte said.
Los Mumblers and 27 other local bands will be performing at The Hue Music and Arts Festival, an all ages event this Saturday, April 25 at Dateland Park in Coachella. This one day festival started four years ago as an alternative to Coachella fest for locals. The event focuses on promoting local bands and gives east valley high school students a chance to set up their own music festival.
But whether it’s at The Hue festival or a house show, and if there is a large stage or no stage, eastern Coachella Valley bands know how to put on an entertaining show. And long after the hype of Coachella fest is over, these local artists continue to bring young people together around good music and a supportive community.