It’s Friday, 4 p.m., 95 degrees outside, and there are close to 100,000 people at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. While many festival-goers are enjoying the music and art, a whole lot of other attendees are skipping both—and instead spending hours in the Coachella merch-tent line.
Every year, the merchandise lines seemingly get longer and longer. No matter what time you pass by the tent, it’s always packed. While the majority of the line is under a shaded structure, it can spill out into the sun during the hottest parts of the day.
When the gates open, there’s a mad dash to the merch tent, with many attendees hoping to get their hands on exclusive merch, or just their favorite designs, before they sell out.
“I waited about 4 1/2 hours,” V told me. It’s her first time at Coachella; she doesn’t know if she’ll be back. It was a rough wait, she said, but she championed through it.
“I kind of wanted to get out of line, but I’d already put my time in,” V said. “It’s a little bit frustrating, but I wanted to get it, and I didn’t want to do it any other day, so I’d rather just get it out of the way right now.”
The most frustrating part, V said, was that the wait didn’t need to be so long. When a register becomes is open, a yellow flag is waved—yet the people at the front of the line often aren’t paying attention. Some customers also spend a long time gawking at the merchandise.
“Pay attention, and know what you want already!” V said. “People walk so slow. Like, pick up your pace; put a pep in your step! You’ve been waiting in line for four hours. You should know what you want already.”
The long waits cause some attendees to miss musical acts they wanted to see. This frustrated a festival-goer named Christian.
“The first thing I wanted to watch was at 3:40, and I thought we were going to get through it and get there in time—and now I’m heading over to watch someone at 4:30, and I’m running late,” Christian said. He had been waiting since 12:28.
The sheer amount of merch is another issue: There can be close to 30 shirts/hoodies for bands each day, with another 50 items of Coachella specific-merchandise, meaning that when you get to the register and ask for certain designs, employees have to go on scavenger hunts.
“I saw registers empty, but the workers are all in the back getting the shirts for you,” Christian said. “I know it takes a while to look for your shirts, but maybe putting them in categories so people don’t have to dig through them would help.”
Attendee Alyssa had similar thoughts. She and her friend Hayley waited four hours.
“When I got up to the front of the line, the guy said, ‘You’ve been in line for four hours?’ and he was kind of shocked,” Alyssa said. “He said that they don’t know where all the shirts are, so it’s taking a long time for people to figure out where they are and get them back.”
Alyssa said she was unsure whether she’d be coming back to Coachella. “It’s our first time, so it was like now or never, almost. We didn’t want our sizes to get sold out, so we had to kind of do the due diligence to get the first round on the first day. It’s what you have to do.”
Hayley suggested ways in which the merch-buying experience could improve.
“A raffle number or a time slot where you can come and buy would be great,” Hayley said.
Linda Gutierrez and Kevin Avila waited in line for three hours. Gutierrez said the wait was so long, in part, because people were cutting in front of them.
“We heard last weekend the Bad Bunny stuff sold out the first day, so we had to get it,” Gutierrez said.
Friday evening around 10 p.m., I waited in line for about 30 minutes to grab two T-shirts. Some of the designs had already sold out.
I returned to the merch tent on Saturday at 4 p.m., and the lines weren’t quite as long as they were the day before.
“I remember I came in yesterday and saw the line stretching out all the way outside, said Brelio Lozano. He and Banya Lozano waited 45 minutes. “I was looking at people’s reactions over Weekend One to see guides and tips on what to do, and most of the people, especially when it came to merch, said to come when gates open. … I figured I probably wouldn’t be able to do that because of laziness.”
Brelio and Banya both said more transparency would improve the merch-buying experience.
“It’s hard to kind of gauge what is available and what isn’t available,” Brelio said. “I know there’s the app, but the app only shows you the main Coachella merchandise and a bit of the headliners. All the other bands on the lineup are not shown on the app.
Said Banya: “We met a woman from Puerto Rico, and she told us how she’s only waiting in line to wear a bucket hat. We were checking the size for a shirt we wanted for Bad Bunny, and we heard a worker say that they didn’t even have the hat—so she essentially waited for no reason.”
A few of the people I spoke to on Saturday avoided the merch tent on Friday because of the obscene wait times.
“I don’t think it’d be worth missing out seeing the performers for merch,” said Ramon Perez. He waited an hour. “I think waiting anything over two hours is pretty excessive.”
I returned on Sunday at 5 p.m. and saw a line similar to Saturday’s line. Many festival attendees put off buying merchandise until the last day—even if it means the selection isn’t as good.
“It’s my first time at Coachella, and I wanted something to remember it by,” said Steven Isley. He waited an hour and a half. “It’s really hot out, so I thought I’d be OK being in the shade for a while.”
Isley said he planned ahead and found a time on Sunday when he wouldn’t be missing any artists on his must-see list. But should festival-goers really be expected to make such give-and-take decisions?
“This is our first Coachella, and our first event like this together, so we had to commemorate it with something physical,” said festival-goer Tito. He and and Carly were in line for an hour and a half, a wait Tito said was “too long.”
Much could be done to improve—because as long as merch culture is flourishing, and as long as there are 100,000 people at Coachella each day, merch lines will always be filled with eager buyers.