Coachella, Woodstock, and the Festival Suffix

Nancy Friedman
6 min readApr 11, 2023
“COACHELLA” in distinctive black typeface above a stylized desert landscape with mountain and palm trees

For the roughly 250,000 people who will attend the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival over the next two April weekends, “Coachella” is synonymous with nonstop performances, revelry in the California desert, and picturesque Instagram opportunities.

But for Goldenvoice, the festival’s promoter, the word “Coachella” has grimmer associations. Coachella means intellectual property: a name and a set of registered trademarks that must be rigorously, vigorously defended. In court, if it comes to that.

Meanwhile, for some of us on the sidelines “Coachella” is a fascinating case study in how language evolves and takes root — lawyers be damned.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — let’s call it CVMAF and hope we don’t get sued — was first held in Indio, California, in October 1999, three months after Woodstock ’99 attempted to revive the 30-year-old spirit of the legendary gathering in upstate New York. The California festival took a break in 2000 and returned annually beginning in 2001, gradually growing from a single weekend to two consecutive weekends. The coronavirus pandemic preempted the festival in 2020 and 2021, but it returned in 2022.

Since 2005, the festival’s organizers have received trademark protection for “Coachella” in a bunch of categories, including posters, apparel, wine, spirits, drinking water, NFTs, and, of course, “organizing and producing musical events.” All pretty much par for the course, legally speaking.

Then, in 2015, something curious happened: The festival began staking a claim for the back end of the place name as well, filing trademark applications for “Chella.” The music festival’s most recent filing, not yet approved by the trademark office, is for “Goalchella,” to be used with various soccer-related products.

Now, “Chella” doesn’t have any independent meaning in any dictionary I’ve consulted. But thanks to the Coachella music phenomenon, it has become shorthand for “festival” —let’s call it the Festival Suffix — in many places far from Indio, California. And that has not pleased the CVMAF lawyers one bit.

In October 2022, for example, Coachella/Goldenvoice sued Afrochella, a music festival in Ghana, for trademark infringement. In January 2023, Afrochella…

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Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.