Emo Nite performs during Coachella's first weekend. Photo courtesy of Goldenvoice/by Beth Saravo

Is it a band? Is it a DJ set?

These were just some of the questions people had when Emo Nite was included on Coachella’s 2022 lineup. Emo Nite is a festival in Los Angeles, as well as a new touring event during which founders T.J. Petracca and Morgan Freed play songs from the 2000s-2010s that every emo kid knows and loves.

Some of these questions were answered last weekend when Emo Nite packed the Sahara tent, featuring guest appearances like Tom Higgenson from Plain White T’s singing “Hey There Delilah.”

“Last weekend was absolutely incredible,” Petracca said during a press-tent interview on the day before their second-weekend set. “It was a dream come true. I went to my first Coachella exactly 10 years ago, and I (general admission) camped. I didn’t really know what I was in for at all, but I loved it.

“I’ve been involved with the festival in different ways for years, I used to actually run the social media for Coachella back in 2015. Being able to come back this year as an artist and play at the Sahara tent at 5 o’clock is crazy. I never thought that it would happen; I don’t think it was ever a goal when we started Emo Nite. We were never like, ‘Let’s get huge enough to play Coachella.’ It all seems super-surreal.

“The set was amazing. The energy of the crowd was just incredible. I think we’re at a really good spot: At 5 o’clock, when people start coming in through the gates to the Sahara tent, we’re the first thing you hear as soon as you get in, super excited, and you’re familiar with the songs that we’re playing.”

While Petracca had been at Coachella before, Freed had not.

“I had no idea what to expect, and right before we went onstage, it was super intimidating,” Freed said. “Me and TJ just took a walk and were like, ‘Let’s just do what we’ve been doing for the last eight years. Like, let’s just do that.’ We had a bigger audience, and (it was) by far the biggest stage we’ve ever played on. I don’t think we could have asked for a better crowd for the first time that we’ve ever played here.”

Word of Emo Nite’s performance last weekend led to a huge crowd Saturday in the tent before Emo Nite came on, even though social media revealed a variety of opinions on their weekend one set. So … what is Emo Nite? A band? A DJ set?

“We’re doing something different, and it is going to be polarizing,” Petracca said during our interview. “People aren’t going to understand that we’re not a DJ; we’re not a band; and this hasn’t been done at a festival.”

Added Morgan: “You can’t ask everybody to just completely go into it and be like, ‘I get this. Somebody said something to us last week like, ‘When you’re pioneers of something, you take the first arrow.’ I think that we’re sort of pioneering this—not the genre itself, but what this can look like, this stage show, and what we can do for music in general.”

The duo came out and started the show off with a bang, spinning Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.” The crowd cheered and sang along, as clips of Emo Nite LA played in the background. From Panic! At the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” to a remix of Blink-182’s “All The Small Things” and Justin Bieber’s “Stay,” the duo was super hyped up, as was the crowd.

“We’re way more comfortable this weekend,” Petracca said during our interview. “We did it once, and you kind of visualize it now in your head. You know exactly how it’s going to go, and you know what to look for, what you could have done better. We were also on the livestream, and we like to rewatch our set, so we made a bunch of notes on the visuals and small little things nobody would notice except for us.

“We’re trying to get perfection. We’re bringing out a lot more guests this weekend. I think it’ll feel really dynamic, and those surprises will spread out through the whole set.”

The surprises started right after the duo started a “Fuck Chuck!” chant as a diss to a bully who harassed Freed when he was in school: They welcomed 3OH!3 for a performance of “DONTTRUSTME.” Other special guests included Forrest Kline from Hellogoodbye, Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, and the return of Higgenson from Plain White T’s. The crowd became crazier and louder for each guest.

Attendees, despite their varied life experiences and musical tastes, were able to reminisce and sing along during Emo Nite’s set. Hits like My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and “Mr. Brightside” brought the entire crowd back a decade.

After some other festival-goers rushed over upon hearing “Hey There Delilah,” the duo ended their set by spinning My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade,” leading to an intense singalong that solidified the Emo Nite experience as more than just two guys who don’t know what they’re doing.

Last weekend, the duo wore jumpsuits that said, “We aren’t supposed to be here.” This weekend, those jumpsuits said: “Somehow, we’re back.”

‘It’s a different thing that hasn’t ever really been done,” said Petracca. “We’re not artists. We started doing this when we literally plugged in an iPad at a bar and started picking music. We’ve kind of just curated a culture and a community. When we got asked to play, this show didn’t exist, so a big shout out to Paul Tollett; he obviously sees something that we don’t. We had to sort of step up to the plate and understand how we can take the next step as a brand, as a community, and as a culture. We worked with some incredible music producers; we worked with some amazing lighting designers, some visual artists; and we’ve planned out a set second by second. … I’m really proud of the show that we’ve made for this festival, and I’m looking forward to bringing it to other festivals.”

Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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