The 75,000 rock fans heading to California’s inaugural Desert Trip music festival starting this weekend—many of them over the age of 50—appear to be as passionate as ever about the music.
But when it comes to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, medics fear they may be a little out of practice.
While festivals geared toward younger fans generally brace for overdoses of drugs from methamphetamines to ecstasy, Desert Trip’s organizers are gearing up to treat heart attacks, strokes, broken bones and maladies related to alcohol and marijuana. The latter has become much more potent in the decades since many fans first fell in love with the festival’s headliners: the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Bob Dylan, the Who and Neil Young.
Drugs and drug paraphernalia are banned from the festival grounds and entrants will be searched. The Desert Trip website also says “Sorry, Daddy-O, medical marijuana cards are not valid.” Still, hospitals in the area expect fans to partake. Local officials are on high alert for attendees who “might not have been to a concert in 40 years,” said police Sgt. Daniel Marshall, in charge of the festival’s law enforcement for the host town of Indio, Calif.—also the site of the Coachella festival in April.
Fortunately there’s plenty of recovery time between the nightly shows: Unlike other events at the site, Desert Trip’s music starts after 6 p.m., allowing attendees to avoid the worst of the baking desert heat. Local businesses are hopeful fans will spend this downtime pumping more money into the local economy than they do during other festivals. BMW’s performance center near one of the local private airports, for example, is offering drag racing and race-car driving instruction sessions for $199 a person, while fans who camp in $1,600-per-weekend teepees or $10,000-a-weekend safari tents on site can take yoga and Pilates classes, shop at an organic farmers market or peruse vintage clothes and crafts.
Before the bands come on, Desert Trippers willing to spend $179 a day–or $499 for the first three days of the two weekends—can relax at a “culinary experience” with food from high-end restaurants and cocktails served in an air-conditioned lounge. Another option is sit-down meals for $225 a person, featuring big-name chefs such as Marcus Samuelsson and Jonathan Waxman.
Ivo Boscarol, a 60-year-old aircraft-manufacturing CEO in Slovenia, said he spent more than $14,000 on a group-tour package called “California Rock & Road” that combines Desert Trip with pit stops at West Coast rock ‘n’ roll landmarks such as the Amoeba Records store in San Francisco and the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. At night at Desert Trip, he and his girlfriend plan to snooze on the festival’s camping grounds in a Woodstockian Volkswagen bus.
“It’s all organized in a way so that we will feel the atmosphere of 40, 50 years ago,” Mr. Boscarol says. “I would like to go back to this atmosphere that I missed because I was too young,” he says.
Ted Withrow, a 52-year-old resident of Malibu, Calif., bought 12 tickets to the festival for his crew, a group of top-ranking healthcare-industry executives. He said that while he expects a “pretty mellow crowd,” he’s slightly alarmed about other fans he knows who are planning to get marijuana from their children for the weekend.
“These people better beware—they’re going to be sitting on a chair drooling on themselves,” said Mr. Withrow, the largest shareholder of Parallax Health Sciences Inc., who is flying out to the festival both weekends to avoid the traffic. He plans to relax on couches at the all-you-can-eat “culinary experience” on the festival grounds.
As rusty as they might be at letting loose, graying classic-rock fans are helping to make Desert Trip Anschutz Entertainment Group’s highest-grossing festival ever, with its first batch of $399 general-admission tickets and $1,600 reserved seating packages selling out swiftly in May. Promoters are banking that their target demographic has more money than 23-year-olds, and that the pull of nostalgic emotions will justify the price for the premium packages. (At younger-skewing Coachella, general admission is also $399, but for much more music.)
Nevertheless, this fall, after reconfiguring the stage to accommodate the way some of the acts wanted to center their sound, the company found itself with more space and released additional tickets, some of which were still available as of Thursday on the festival website. Discounted tickets abound on resale sites at prices as low as $198 for a three-day pass to the first weekend.
Despite the surplus, AEG is likely to reap as much as $50 million in profit for the two weekends after paying the Rolling Stones, Mr. McCartney and Mr. Waters each a fee of $20 million, according to people familiar with the matter; Mr. Dylan, The Who and Mr. Young are getting slightly less. AEG, which has long promoted tours for all of the acts except for Mr. Dylan and Mr. Young, gave the artists carte blanche when it came to the type of shows they wanted to put on, though the production costs come out of their own paychecks, these people said. Mr. Waters, for example, appears to be spending a portion of his fee on his production elements such as factory-style smokestacks, which he also used in a recent firework-studded performance in Mexico City.
The event has inspired fans to make pilgrimages from far and wide: 20% of fans are coming from overseas, while 50% are coming from outside of California. AEG stages two other music festivals in April—17-year-old Coachella and country music’s nine-year-old Stagecoach—on the now 500-acre site that it owns. Desert Trip is catering to a more demanding crowd, with storage lockers for fans to park their belongings, mobile-phone charging stations, more than 1,000 flush toilets, 500 supervisors and ushers on site and double the number of shuttle buses available at the April festivals, whose fans are mostly experienced festival denizens. (About 80% of Coachella-goers have attended before.)
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Fans watch The Who perform on a large screen in the Craft Beer area at Desert Trip Festival in Indio, CA, Sunday, October 9, 2016.
Jennifer Whitney for the Wall Street Journal
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For fans with fading vision, Desert Trip’s main stage will feature a 240-foot-wide video screen—three times the size of the screens at Coachella, plus custom-built towers to evenly distribute the sound over the entire audience—technology that AEG hasn’t used to the same extent at previous shows.
Dr. Andrew Kassinove, medical director of the emergency department at Indio’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, said that his team prepares for every local festival as they would for a “disaster,” increasing staff and setting up a command center on the grounds. He said he was expecting the 55-plus crowd to suffer more heart attacks, strokes and injuries related to what he expected would be a “different mix of drugs” than at Coachella, where he said the average age was 23, and at Stagecoach, where the average age is 27. Dr. Kassinove said he anticipated that some of “the crowd could go back to the LSD days” or could run into trouble with cocaine, given that he saw more of it at Coachella this April than he’d seen in the past decade.
Marty Adelstein, a 57-year-old TV producer in Los Angeles, said that at first he wasn’t going to go because “every one of the acts is five to 10 years past their prime,” and he found Bob Dylan “literally unintelligible” at the last concert he saw. He said he’s seen each act play about 20 times.
After he decided to go anyway, he’s looking forward to watching “what the reaction is going to be” among fans to such music each night, while getting to watch baseball’s playoff games beforehand in the large house he rented for his group in the afternoons. He and many of his friends and acquaintances are also planning to boycott the Sunday night performance of Pink Floyd’s Mr. Waters, who over the years has encouraged other musicians not to play in Israel for political reasons.
“We’ll go have a nice dinner,” Mr. Adelstein said.
Local hotels just wish AEG had given them more notice about Desert Trip before announcing it in May, by which point some had already booked private events at rates far below what they could have charged to festivalgoers, said Scott White, president and chief executive of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. At least one local hotel offered unsuccessfully to pay for a couple’s entire wedding in hopes of getting them to stay elsewhere, he said.
Another couple, Halle Reum and her fiancé Oliver Hammond, who hails from the family of the late billionaire Walter Annenberg, reserved Marriott International Inc.’s entire Le Parker Méridian hotel in Palm Springs for their wedding this weekend at room rates that started at $395, before the news of Desert Trip broke.
Ms. Reum, a 32-year-old celebrity stylist, said that while the rates they secured for their guests now look like a bargain, it’s been a “nightmare” to find town cars for guests. They are running at about $1,700 per vehicle, more than four times the normal price. On the plus side, Paul McCartney and his wife—friends of the couple’s parents—have RSVP’d to her rehearsal dinner Friday night. Some members of the Rolling Stones are planning to come to a Desert Trip-themed luncheon that is part of the wedding weekend, hosted by the Annenberg Foundation at Sunnylands, the famed 200-acre estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
While the “old people” at her wedding are eager to hit the festival Sunday, Ms. Reum said that she and her friends prefer electronic dance music and are lukewarm on Desert Trip.
“I personally have no interest in that,” she said.
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