Coachella may be one of the marquee music festivals in the States today, but after the initial event in 1999, organizers were so desperate they asked Rage Against the Machine to return part of their payment.

“Coachella was so unsuccessful they asked for half the money back,” Tom Morello explained during an appearance on the Tuna on Toast podcast.

Rage, alongside Tool and Beck, were headliners for the inaugural festival, held Oct. 9 and 10, 1999. Though the initial Coachella was well received by fans and critics, ticket sales fell dramatically short of expectations. As such, promoters Goldenvoice lost an estimated $850,000 on the event. In an effort to recoup their losses, they asked Rage Against the Machine for a refund. According to Morello, the band complied.

“Because they were friends,” the guitarist explained. “It was Goldenvoice! They had booked [Morello’s pre-Rage band] Lock Up shows. They had booked every back-alley show from day one. They were the punk-rock promoters. They were just like bros.”

Goldenvoice soon figured out the right formula for turning Coachella into both an enjoyable and profitable event. Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Prince, Jack White and Roger Waters are among the vaunted artists who have since played the festival, which now brings in more than $100 million in profit every year. After postponing the event due to the pandemic in 2020, Coachella is set to return in 2021, with the reunited Rage Against the Machine once again headlining.

For his part, Morello has no regrets for having given back some money to help keep Coachella alive. However, there’s one thing the guitarist admitted he’d do differently.

“We should have asked for a piece of the festival,” he joked. “That’s what we should have done. I’m not much of a businessman.”

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