Music Festival Nightmare: Here's What It's Like to Lose Your Phone at Coachella

I was just about to take a really sweet pic of a row of cops in reflective yellow vests watching Ice Cube bring out DJ Yella and MC Ren when I realized I had a problem. I reached into my pocket, already writing the Instagram caption in my head ("Even the po-po are stoked for this N.W.A reunion"), and discovered that my iPhone was gone.

Like most Coachella-goers, I check my phone about once every five seconds, especially flying solo as I was when this happened. Unfortunately, for the past ten minutes, I had been scarfing down a delicious dirty mac ’n' cheese that was the first real food I had eaten since breakfast. It weighed about as much as a car battery and was a definite two-hander, so I hadn't touched my phone once in that time. So where the hell could it have gone?

After running through various scenarios in my head that included pickpockets, holes in my shorts and the improbable but not totally far-fetched notion that I might have accidentally inhaled it along with my dirty mac ’n' cheese, my sleep-deprived brain finally remembered where I had last used it. And I immediately realized that I was probably fucked.

Read: More Coachella 2016 coverage

Earlier, I briefly sat down to eat and watch Cube from a distance. Between mouthfuls, I took my phone out to text my wife about how I was #winning Coachella by eating shell pasta slathered in pulled pork and bechamel sauce while listening to "Check Yo Self." Then I realized the two women sitting between me and the Coachella Stage were actually looking in the opposite direction, at the Outdoor Stage, waiting for Zedd to go on. Which meant they were staring right at me as I was indelicately shoveling forkfuls of pork into my face.

Embarrassed, I got up and walked closer to the Coachella Stage in search of a spot where the dirty mac ’n' cheese and I could have our intimate moment in relative privacy. But when I got up, did I have my phone with me? I did not. In a total dipshit, amateur move, I left it lying there on the grass. 

I ditched the rest of the mac ’n' cheese (for the record: in a trash can, not on the ground — I may be a dipshit, but I'm not an asshole) and scurried back to what I thought was the spot where I had sent that now richly ironic "#winning Coachella" text. The two women waiting for Zedd were gone, but what felt like about 500,000 hyped Zedd fans had taken their place. Have you ever seen the episode of Planet Earth where they show the great wildebeest migrations of East Africa? That's what Zedd fans look like rushing a stage that Zedd's about to play on. Chunks of my phone were probably embedded in the air-cushioned soles of a dozen different pairs of colorful kicks.

Hoping against hope, I made my way to the nearest information kiosk to see if some Good Samaritan had found my phone and rescued it before the Zedd hordes descended. I had actually found a phone on the ground myself at Coachella in 2015, and that's what I did — took it to the nearest information kiosk. And hey, karma, right?

Unfortunately, the kiosk didn't have my phone — and they still didn't have it when I checked back an hour later. "But go to Lost & Found later on; if anyone found it and turned it in, that's where it'll end up," the nice kiosk lady told me, adding vaguely, "Just be sure to go later — it can take a while for lost items to make their way back there."

By this time, "later" meant closing, and I could think of no place sadder at Coachella than the Lost & Found tent at 1 a.m. Besides, I had bands to see, and once I got over the initial shock of losing my most prized festival "survival tool" (sorry, vitamin-enhanced throat spray), going phoneless for the rest of the night was actually kind of liberating. Instead of constantly feeling the need to tweet photos and check my texts, I could live in the moment — which, even though no one does it anymore, is probably the best way to experience the sensory overload that is Coachella.

The following afternoon, refreshed and full of optimism and Starbucks, I made my way to Coachella Lost & Found. You would think a place that caters to people who, by definition, have trouble finding things would be centrally located, but Coachella L&F is hidden away in one of the most remote corners of the festival, past the main entrance and the Ferris wheel. In fact, technically it's not even on the festival grounds at all, but off one of the color-coded paths that leads back to parking, car camping and the parent pickup and dropoff point. Somehow, knowing that I was going to retrieve my phone in the same general area where moms and dads pick up their Sahara Tent dust–encrusted children at the end of the night made the whole experience that much more humbling.

When I finally got to L&F, I joined a lengthy line of my fellow Coachellans, maybe 150 or so in total, nearly all of whom, as far as I could tell, were also there looking for lost cell phones. I thought everyone would be sheepishly looking at their shoes, but there was an odd sense of camaraderie in the queue, as everyone swapped stories and offered words of encouragement. ("You lost yours at Grimes? Grimes fans are nice, right? I bet someone turned it in.")

I struck up a conversation with a woman just ahead of me named Crystal, who's from Redondo Beach and who had also lost her phone at Zedd, though for reasons far less dipshitty than mine. "There was a crazy-ass line to get into the beer garden, and I got pushed," she remembered. "The whole crowd kind of swerved over." She was knocked off her feet and assumes this is when her phone fell out of her purse, but like me, she didn't notice it missing until several minutes later. After searching for it for the better part of an hour, "Finally, I was like, you know what? I'm gonna enjoy Coachella."

Alone and phoneless ("My friends don't like EDM, so they were all at Guns N' Roses"), she eventually made her way to Lost & Found and bumped into her crew along the way. "It was so fortuitous."
  This wasn't Crystal's first rodeo; last year, she also lost her phone at Austin City Limits. So she pays for cell-phone insurance, which allowed her to walk into an AT&T store that morning and get a free "burner" phone on the spot. "I'm getting a new phone delivered to my door tomorrow morning. Before I even get back from Indio. So get the AT&T insurance. It will do you well."

As we inched closer to the front of the line, our hopes rose. One lucky bastard got his phone back and celebrated like he had just launched a game-winning buzzer beater from half-court. "Yes! Fucking yes!" he cried, literally leaping for joy as he bounded back into the festival, cell phone in hand. "That's gonna be me in five minutes," one optimistic soul declared.

Unfortunately, there would be no celebratory "Fuck yes!" dances for me. No one had turned in a phone matching mine's description — which, given that I could see boxes and boxes of phones back there, seemed improbable, but then again, Coachellans are an affluent bunch, and it was entirely possible that I was the only person at the entire festival who still owned an iPhone 4S. (Crystal was shit out of luck, too, but with her burner phone and her insurance, she'd be fine.)

So what did I learn from this whole experience besides, "Never send braggy texts and then leave your phone lying on the ground instead of putting it back in your goddamned pocket?" Well, I think there are a few takeaways:

1. Put some ID on your phone. The Lost & Found guy told me that because most phones they receive are already drained of battery power, the ones that get returned to their owners quickest have some kind of old-school, physical identification on them — a business card or handwritten note tucked inside the case, preferably with an e-mail address and/or alternate phone number where the owner can be reached. My phone had neither, which really hurt my chances of ever seeing it again, even assuming it didn't get stomped by a raver stampede.

2. iCloud. Use it. Because my phone was old and shitty, I kept having issues with my iCloud backup, so I finally disabled it entirely. Not a good move. Without iCloud, Apple's Find My Phone app stops working, so you can't remotely lock the phone or put a contact message on the welcome screen. Another strike against anyone at Lost & Found being able to identify and/or contact me, even if someone did turn my phone in.

3. The nearest Apple Store to Coachella is in Palm Desert. I actually went there first thing Sunday morning and they hooked me up with a shiny new iPhone 6. The saleswoman sold it to me with barely concealed contempt, but I can't really blame her. I was probably her 300th bleary-eyed, cell-phone-losing Coachella-goer in three days.

Even though I hadn't been using iCloud, I did at least regularly sync my phone to iTunes, so I only lost a few days' worth of data, texts and photos. Unfortunately, those days included Friday and Saturday at Coachella, but that's okay. There were a few good pics on there I'll never see again, but none of them was better than that shot I missed of the police watching the N.W.A reunion.

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Andy Hermann has written for L.A. Weekly since 2012 and joined the staff as music editor in 2014. Previously he was the national music editor for Metromix and managing editor for ArtistDirect. His work has also appeared in XLR8R, the Daily Dot,, and the Boston Phoenix among others. He lives in Highland Park and still holds out hope for a Talking Heads reunion.
Contact: Andy Hermann