How to Stay Cool and Make Money at Coachella

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Comedian and grizzled music festival veteran Nick Youssef will help you get ready for Coachella with a couple of essays for Paste today and tomorrow.

Spring is here—which, if you’re a music fan, means the start of festival season: Coachella, Bonnaroo and everything in between. I am a seasoned festival-goer; 6 Coachellas, 4 Street Scenes, 2 Outside Lands, a Treasure Island and numerous other smaller yet equally cool fests full of heat, booze, camping, drugs and great music. I used to feel pure excitement, but nowadays I’m facing a dilemma. How many more of these all day/all weekend long excursions can my aging body handle?

Being a die-hard music fan is not enough to survive three-day desert festivals. You need practice and youth on your side. I started at 24, and I spent years perfecting a method. Leave early on Thursday. On the drive to the desert pound Red Bulls to erase the hangover from last night’s warm up concert. Arrive. Drink. Set up the tent. Have some “we successfully set up the tent” celebration drinks. Eat the Jello shots we brought for dinner. Drink. Wake up early on Friday. Drink all day and night. Sleep for 3 hours. Repeat process every day until the last chords are played or I have a heat stroke and die.

By 27, my friends and I were pros. Our method was so refined that, one year, we used some of our extra energy on a side project. We were attending Coachella one of the first years they decided to go green. Signs were posted promoting the recycling of empty water bottles. “TURN IN TEN BOTTLES GET ONE FREE.” Since the $300 concert admission left us broke, and in the middle of the day there’s plenty of time to kill before the really good bands, we rolled up our sleeves and started collecting. Getting ten bottles was surprisingly easy. They’re either strewn all over the ground or people are happily handing them over. Sure, my dirty, greedy fingers had guys clutching their girlfriends in disgusted horror. Their homeless slurs would’ve bothered us had we not been holding four free bottles of water. Those four quickly turned into 8, which turned into 12, which turned into an inventory—which then turned into a small business.

The operation was simple: collect and trade empty bottles for fresh product. Walk into a clearing and open up shop. At first we thought we’d have trouble selling any because most reasonable people wouldn’t consume anything from a sweaty drunk guy in a bamboo hat yelling, “Get your water! Half off! Only $1!” But in a desert full of thirsty, drug-addled 21 year olds, reasonable people, like cold water, are in short supply. “Half off ‘cause it’s warm” sold a case in under five minutes.

Productivity increased once we learned the food vendors would give us their empty bottles because recycling was getting in the way of running official businesses. That afforded us time to splurge on $7 Heinekens, concert t-shirts and stroll over to our friends with fistfuls of crumpled ones.

“Hey man, you want that churro? Here’s $2, go get one. Hell, get six. Just remember, I did this for you. And for the rest of the weekend call me The Water Baron.”

Another great year had come to an end. We got on the highway and sighed as we watched the bright festival lights fade into the desert night.
“I already want to see Arcade Fire again.”

“I missed it. I was in the dance tent all night. Where were you all day Saturday, by the way?”

“I was overseeing my black market water business.”

The car was rich with fulfillment and body odor. Everyone had their own unique Coachella, but we all agreed on one thing: they better expand next year’s festival to a full week.

Click here for Part Two: How to grow old gracefully at Coachella.

Nick Youssef is a Los Angeles-based comedian, writer and actor who’s been seen in numerous national TV commercials, guest roles on sitcoms such as NBC’s Animal Practice, the popular videogame LA Noire and a standup appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly. In August of 2014, Nick’s first stand-up album, Stop Not Owning This, debuted in the top 5 of the iTunes comedy charts and was featured in the January 2015 edition of Esquire Magazine. When not on tour, Nick hosts the Occasionally Awesome podcast on the All Things Comedy network and can be seen regularly performing stand up at The Comedy Store, Laugh Factory and Improv comedy clubs in Hollywood. Shower him with praise on Twitter @nickyoussef.