Frank Ocean’s Coachella: Skaters Describe Ice Rink Cancellation Chaos

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Two former hockey players who bailed on Frank Ocean’s Coachella performance after it seemingly became enveloped in chaos Sunday have spoken up about the experience in a podcast. Brothers Dan and Chris Powers say that they and more than a hundred other skaters had a positive experience through a good month of rehearsal in L.A., and even a successful dress rehearsal on the Coachella main stage — only to have Ocean render most of the skaters’ services unnecessary as he scrapped the entire epic ice-capades setup as the festival grounds were filling up.

In the first segment of their “Empty Netters” podcast, released Tuesday, the Powers brothers said that there were about 120 skaters who’d been hired for the show and had been rehearsing on a makeshift ice rink at Paramount for weeks — including, they said, several Olympians well-known in the figure skating community, as well as hockey veterans like themselves. In the end, they said, the vast majority of these skating extras were left waiting on buses or in hot tents for hours on the perimeter of the festival grounds as Ocean made the last-minute call to dissemble the ice rink and ditch the planned skate choreography.

About a quarter of the skaters that had been hired did take part in Ocean’s performance — wearing their customized Prada outfits and face paint, as planned — although just to pace around the stage on foot, sans skates or ice. And none of the Olympian-level skaters who’d been brought in to execute more complicated moves got any closer to the Coachella grounds than their hotel, by the Powers’ account.

“Those figure skaters got cut not because there was an ice issue, not because there was something wrong,” said Dan Powers. “There was no malfunction. He (Ocean) just straight-up was like, ‘Fuck this. I’m not doing this anymore.’ And (to) these 120 people (he) had bused out here, he was just like, ‘You guys aren’t doing shit now.’ So it was just like a wild flip.”

Ocean’s reps did not have any immediate comment on the Powers brothers’ podcast. But sources in the star’s camp have maintained that any drastic changes in the production were due to doctors’ advice after Ocean injured his ankle in rehearsals during the week leading up to the show, and not to whims on his part.

For their part, the Powers brothers say sending hordes of skaters home would have been more excusable a few days earlier, and not after they’d sat around in makeup and uniform in tents for much of Sunday afternoon. “We both know how show business works in a lot of ways. Production is a mess in everything, all the time,” said Chris Powers. And, he added, it would have been “a worthy experience if it had gone off correctly, right? But I would say that there was a lot of sunk time for the participants throughout this, because we’ve been rehearsing for months… And you guys gotta keep in mind that the skating portion was huge. It was gonna be like 120 skaters, and the people that walked (around on stage in the final show) was only 30 or whatever.

“And that means that these people bused to Coachella without a pass can’t go into the festival. They are literally sitting in a tent in the baking sun. This is a group of people who (were) about to perform on stage with the headliner and were not given passes. Which blew my mind.”

The Powers brothers said they were offered the opportunity to be among the 30 or so who would pace around the stage, but said “Fuck, no,” since — unlike the other waiting skaters — they’d already purchased weekend passes and preferred to go in and enjoy the festival, allowing other waiting skaters to take their place.

Yet the brothers had nothing but praise for how Ocean handled himself during the weeks of rehearsal, impressed at his leadership and calm demeanor under pressure at the time. They allow that they heard the star had suffered an ankle injury. But they’re still unsure why that meant the ice routine he was not directly participating in had to be scrapped, or why it didn’t happen till the festival grounds had been open for hours, the rink was set up and most of the would-be participants were in wardrobe and makeup.

In the chronology the Powers brothers tell, their part in the aborted gig came about a couple of months ago when they had as a guest on their podcast Chris Nelson, aka “Nelly,” a one-time New Jersey Devils prospect who helps Hollywood productions meet skating needs. After Nelson urged them to audition for at a rehearsal rink that had been set up at Paramount Studios, the subsequent month involved “doing rehearsals, hanging with Frank, hanging with these incredible figure skaters,” up to the point that they went to Indio last week to do a rehearsal of the epic production on the main stage.

Come Friday and Saturday, the brothers attended Coachella using their own passes and had, as Dan Powers put it, “the most fun I’ve had in in many years… buzzing around, having a blast,” assuming all would go as planned Sunday. But when they were due to be picked up by a runner to be brought to wardrobe and makeup, “that moment is when the wheels started to fall off,” with departure time delayed in increments from noon until 3 p.m. When they finally arrived at the hotel where all the other skaters who’d been bused in were already sitting in wardrobe, they said, “it’s a nightmare. We run into these Olympic figure skaters, and they have a disgruntled look on their face, and they casually mention to us that they just got a phone call and they’ve been cut from the show. So we’re sitting there, like: What the fuck is happening right now? These Olympians just got cut from this Coachella performance with Frank Ocean, and they think that we’re gonna go on? You’re saying goodbye to these (champion) skaters, but a bunch of dipshit former hockey players are gonna go up on that stage and buzz around? So we’re already getting bad vibes here.”

In wardrobe, where “they’re putting all this ridiculous chrome diamond makeup on everybody,” they were “hearing rumblings that, allegedly, Frank has been in an accident that has given him an ankle injury. People are starting to talk, like ‘Frank’s not in a good head space. We don’t know what’s going on.’ … It is becoming very clear that things are not going well with this show. We get a call from Nelly and he goes, ‘Have you guys been in makeup?’ I say, no. He goes, ‘Do not put on makeup.’ And we were like, what the fuck are you talking about? He was like, ‘You’re not skating. They’re deconstructing the ice right now.’” They recall this news coming at around 4 p.m., as “there are already people camped out (at the front of the stage) for a 10:30 p.m. Frank Ocean show. And they’re trying to undercover rip out this ice rink stage because they don’t want anyone to know it was there.”

Continued Dan, “So now we’re being told, OK, we’re still gonna put on these sequined Prada suits, but we’re just gonna walk back and forth on stage for about five minutes. We’re not gonna skate. And Nelly’s like, ‘Do you guys want to do that?’ And Chris and I straight-up… just go, ‘Fuck, no.’ … I was like, ‘If we don’t walk, we can just go into the festival, which we’ve already paid for, and two other people get to walk instead of just sitting on the bus. So it was an easy call to try and just do a nice thing for two strangers… Let these people who slogged through the bus ride from Burbank go walk on stage. We’ll go out and enjoy the festival.”

Eventually they got texts to hang out and watch from the side of the stage, where soon “we’re just kind of hanging around, and dude, the wheels have just fallen off. Frank goes on 50 minutes late… He starts playing these songs and he’s doing the throat-slash thing to his musicians in the middle of songs. They’re stopping. No one has a clue what’s going on. He’s playing all of his songs differently, which was kind of cool, but confusing so many people. And then the cherry on top is after the weirdest show ever, he eventually finishes a song, walks off stage, comes back, leans into a mic, and goes, ‘Uh, I’ve just been told that we have hit curfew. So that is the end of the show.’”

They only slightly regretted not participating in the on-stage strolling after learning that Ocean purportedly specifically asked for them by name shortly before the skate-free performance. “They’re walking across the stage and at one point, Nelly tells me, Frank walks up to him as they’re trying to figure all this out. He’s dealing with his ankle and he’s pissed. He doesn’t wanna perform. And he looks at Nelly and looks at all the people walking and he goes, ‘Where are Chris and Dan?’… I was like, God fucking damn it! I don’t need you to know that I was like, ‘Fuck no, I’m out of here. I’m not doing this shit.’”

The brothers’ recollections of Ocean during rehearsals were nothing but admiring — even if they found it amusing that the star purportedly had no idea what hockey is. And, in fairness to how things turned out, they noted that some of their friends who were watching the show and had no idea of the chaos behind the scenes liked it just fine.

“A lot of people that I was with that are huge Frank fans fucked with it,” said Chris Powers (his slang meaning: they appreciated it). “They were like, ‘That was cool, (even though) it was whack that he started so late and whack that he didn’t just keep singing’” rather than stop the show due to curfew. “The one thing that made me genuinely sad (after) spending some time with him over the last several weeks: He really cares about the production. He had a very clear vision, and even though that vision changed a lot, he was always on us, helping us, making sure everyone hit what he was picturing in his mind. And also, I didn’t even know this till this week that his brother died (in 2020, which Ocean spoke about movingly in the performance, connecting his desire to perform there to the time he’d spent with his brother at the fest)… It just broke my heart that he clearly put a ton of weight on this performance. First of all, he’s coming out of hiding, seven years not performing, doing this for the memory of his brother, and he just wanted it to be this big thing — and then everything was gone and it was cut short.”

Dan Powers related how the idea had been for the dismissed ensemble not just to skate and sing backup but even indulge in fight choreography. “This is something we can tell now,” he said. “There’s a point in the performance where we’re skating around in a circle and then we all stop at a break in the song, and everyone pretends to be like fighting with each other. And when he was like, ‘OK, you guys act like you’re screaming at each other — we need an example,’ Nelly was like, ‘Chris and Dan Powers, step up,’ and we had to just like skate in front of everyone. Obviously we do this shit (horseplay) all the time, so we just started laying into each other. And Frank was just standing there, jaw-dropped, staring at us,… and he goes, ‘Well, that was insane. That’s the baseline. If you (other) guys can match that, great. I don’t expect any of you to be able to do it that well, but that was fucking perfect.’ And from then he just started joking around with us.

“He talked about (how) he has no idea what hockey is. He was actually asking, ‘What is this sport?’ And we were like, ‘What are you talking about, dude? It’s like a major sport in this country!’ But he was just so cool to everyone. He was teaching everyone how to sing the songs, giving them the cadence. It felt like this thing that he like really cared about, that he was super psyched about, and to see it all fall apart was definitely sad. But also nuts. It’s nuts because, listen dude, it’s not like this fell apart and he was like, ‘Oh no, this is (impossible).’ He was actively like, ‘I don’t want to fucking do it.’”

The sources in Ocean’s camp caution that the Powers brothers were not around in the days leading up to Sunday and not in a position to characterize what his reasons were or attitude was in changing the production.

Chris Powers fondly recalled Ocean’s choir-directing with the skaters during the weeks of rehearsals. “We were singing and we kept missing this one note. We were (singing), ‘Ahhhh,’ but we were too low. And he’s like [in a higher voice] ‘Ahhhh — go get it.’ And then he’s conducting us and we get to that part and we hit it! We go get it. Then he forgets to give the next cue, so we’re all just still holding. And then he goes, ‘Oh shit, my bad. I just got so fired up that you guys hit that note, I forgot to keep conducting!’ And that was awesome.”

Powers added another recollection that made him think affectionately of Ocean. At the on-stage Coachella dress rehearsal last week, Ocean “got really mad, because other people were fucking up and we were getting in trouble for (running) late … because we had a cutoff and it was too loud, or whatever. And he had a hot mic on that he forgot, so we’re all sitting there listening to him going off on some people — but it was so incredibly level-headed and respectful. Like, everything he’d be saying was just the facts: Why I’m frustrated; this is how I think it could be right. It wasn’t screaming. You know, you hear these stories of throwing shit at people, and he was so cool, calm and collected — while expressing ‘I am furious about this, but please understand why, and let’s help bridge this gap.” And I was like: Fuck, yeah, Frank. I liked that a lot.”

The brothers indicated that they had not heard any updates from their compatriots about being asked or not being asked to return for this coming Sunday’s scheduled reprise of the show, but said they’d be shocked if Ocean does try to mount something with the skaters again — whether that would entail a resurrection of the original ice-rink concept or just a repeat stroll around the stage. “If they’re like, ‘I’m not going back. I’m not busing there again, if this happens again,’ what happens if only half the skaters show up?” All eyes will be on Ocean’s stage Sunday night — on-site, at least, if the livestream is a non-starter again — to see just how thoroughly the show might be reconfigured for its second and final go-round.

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