Coachella Sues D.C.-Area ‘Moechella’ Music Event Over Similar Name

The organizers of Coachella are suing the creator of a Washington D.C.-based music event called “Moechella,” accusing the smaller group of violating the trademark rights to the giant yearly festival.

Filed after months of public dispute with Justin Johnson over the name of his go-go music events, Coachella’s lawsuit says he’s continued to use the allegedly infringing name unabated — even announcing last month that he’s planning 10 new events in the coming year.

“Despite plaintiffs’ repeated efforts to avoid litigation, defendants have made clear that they have no intent of ceasing their infringing activities, forcing Plaintiffs to file this action,” wrote lawyers for Goldenvoice LLC, the AEG subsidiary that operates the California festival, in a complaint filed Tuesday (Jan. 31) in D.C. federal court.

In an interview with Billboard on Friday, Johnson said he’d been surprised to learn of Coachella’s lawsuit because he said he’d already agreed with the company’s lawyers that he would “pivot away” from the “Moechella” name and had been continuing to do so.

“These events are protests that have spawned out of the gentrification of D.C. and the erasure of the culture in this city, not festivals for monetary gain,” Johnson said. “It’s surprising that a multi-billion dollar company is approaching a non-profit organization like this.”

The new case is just the latest trademark clash for Coachella. In 2021, the festival sued Live Nation for selling tickets to an event called “Coachella Day One 22.” Last year, Coachella sued a West African company over an event called “Afrochella,” then later sued a California business park that has been using the name “Coachillin.”

An attorney for Coachella did not immediately return a request for comment on the new case.

According to Washington City Paper, Moechella started in 2019 as musical protests organized by Johnson and others after residents of a luxury apartment building complained about go-go music that was being played outside. The name, according to that article, is a portmanteau of “moe” — D.C.-area slang for a friend — and Coachella.

The dispute with Coachella first became public last summer, when the festival filed legal documents seeking to block Johnson from registering the name as a federal trademark. In response, Johnson quickly dropped his trademark application, but publicly vowed that he was “not going to stop using the name” even after Coachella’s complaints.

In the new lawsuit, Coachella’s attorneys said the company had no problem with the Moechella event itself — only with the use of a title that seems to clearly play on the better-known festival’s name.

“Plaintiffs have no objection to Defendants’ lawful activities, including the hosting of live music and entertainment events,” the company wrote. “Plaintiffs’ only objection is to the Defendants’ infringing and confusing use of the term ‘Moechella.'”

The new case also named Kelsye Adams, a woman who appears to be the executive director of the group that organizes Moechella. She could not immediately be located for comment on Friday.

In an effort to underscore the argument that Coachella doesn’t want to be confused with the smaller event, the festival’s lawyers took the notable step of citing a recent tragedy.

In June, a 15-year-old boy was killed and three others shot when gunfire erupted at Moechella. In a statement to the media at the time, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser criticized the fact that the event “did not have any proper planning for the number of people who were here and with guns involved.”

In Tuesday’s lawsuit, Coachella said the shooting was an example of the kind of “reputational harm” that can be caused if consumers think the bigger festival has somehow approved of Moechella.

“Plaintiffs contend that incidents such as the shooting death and melee cause harm to Plaintiffs, particularly given Defendants’ infringing use of similar looking and sounding ‘Moechella’ marks,” Coachella’s lawyers wrote.

In speaking with Billboard on Friday, Johnson said he viewed the linking of the shooting directly to Moechella as “unfair,” arguing it had actually occurred after the event ended. But he reiterated that he would adopt a new name, which he says he’ll use in the future to continue drawing attention to gentrification, gun violence and other issues facing D.C.

“This name was something that was chosen by the people, so we’re going to do a call to action to change the name, just like a sports team would do,” Johnson said, alluding to the recent high-profile name change for Washington D.C.’s professional football team.

“They named it once, so they can name it again,” Johnson said.

Bill Donahue