By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As the summer festival season kicks off on Friday with Southern California's annual music event Coachella, the event has side-stepped the chart hitmakers to this year return to its rock music and taste-maker roots.
While the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival in Indio, California, secured top-selling artists such as Paul McCartney, Prince, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Jay-Z and Kanye West in the past, this year's headliners include two recently reunited Brit-rock bands and a rising French band.
Veteran British bands The Stone Roses, who reunited in 2011 after 15 years apart, and Blur, who reunited in 2008 after a six-year hiatus, will headline Friday, marking both bands' first performance in North America after their respective reunions.
French rockers Phoenix will play primetime on Saturday and California's funk-rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers will close out the festival on Sunday.
The headliners show the festival moving away from the electronic dance music acts that they featured prominently in recent years, with EDM artists such as Calvin Harris, Kaskade and Swedish House Mafia's Alesso at 2012's festival.
Coachella, which began as a two-day festival touting rock music in 1999, has expanded into a three-day festival with more than 150 bands performing on six separate stages, with the same line-up featured across two consecutive weekends in April.
This year's line-up sees significantly less dance acts among top acts, with Bassnectar, Paul Oakenfold, Eric Prydz and Robert DeLong lower down on the roster.
"The lineup seems a little more rock-ish than last year, but it's still really hip, and would attract the same sort of crowd who usually attend," Ray Waddell, executive director at Billboard covering touring and live entertainment, told Reuters.
"The Stone Roses and Blur are likely to attract more hardcore fans of rock," he added.
The real winner for the three-day festival may be French indie rock band Phoenix, who scored a coveted solo headline slot on Saturday evening, three years after making their Coachella debut in 2010.
"It's a big endorsement for Phoenix to be headlining along with bands such as the Chili Peppers, it brings the perception that they're good enough to be headlining," Waddell said.
"Coachella can get whoever they want on their line-up and they wanted to showcase this band," he said.
NEWCOMERS AND SURPRISES
Coachella was the first music festival to implement the two-weekend model last year, with two consecutive weekends featuring identical line-ups to deal with the growing demand for tickets.
The two-weekend model also lets the festival combat second-hand market sellers, who thrive on scarcity, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert-tracking website Pollstar.com.
While Coachella organizers Goldenvoice never released official attendance figures, Billboard magazine said more than 80,000 tickets were sold to 2012's first weekend, and the second weekend surpassed 77,000 tickets sold.
The demand for the festival has not waned this year despite the lack of chart-topping acts. Tickets sold out in less than 24 hours after they went on sale in late January, with the first weekend selling out in 20 minutes.
Lower down on the roster are numerous international bands who have been gaining buzz, including Grammy-nominated folk rockers The Lumineers, up-and-coming indie band The Neighborhood, British electronica artist James Blake and Leeds-based indie rock band Alt-J.
"People are going more for the event than specific acts," Bongiovanni said. "There are tons of acts over three days that people may not be as familiar with, but two years from now, those acts will be big."
Coachella has also become known for pulling off surprises, with big artists such as Madonna, Beyonce and Rihanna showing up unannounced in previous years.
Last year, headliners Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre stepped up the game by resurrecting late rapper Tupac on stage as a hologram, and this year, rumors of a surprise appearance by veteran rockers The Rolling Stones are gaining buzz.
"Part of what makes Coachella so successful is the surprise element," Bongiovanni said.
"On paper, this year's line-up doesn't have the epic kind of moment that Coachella is known for, but something will emerge that everyone will be talking about the following Monday," Waddell added.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy, Editing by Eric Kelsey and Andrew Hay)