Coachella music festival sues D.C. Moechella organizers in trademark fight


Coachella, the multimillion-dollar annual California music festival, is suing two D.C. go-go enthusiasts for starting a similarly named “Moechella” concert series in the District.

The suit filed in Washington federal court this week alleges that the D.C. pair “are intentionally trading on the goodwill” of the Coachella name and creating “confusion” by suggesting a nonexistent affiliation. It also says that Coachella’s reputation was harmed by a shooting at last year’s Juneteenth Moechella concert; a 15-year-old boy was killed and three people were injured.

Musician Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson is being sued along with Kelsye Adams, who along with her involvement in Moechella is an advocate for D.C. voting rights.

Coachella complains that along with the name, Mochella uses a “strikingly similar” font in its logo and includes that logo on merchandise such as sweatshirts. They are asking for an injunction against use of the name and logo as well as any profits made using the term Moechella, plus punitive damages, attorney’s fees and compensation for “corrective advertising.”

Adams declined to comment at this time. Johnson said he had already agreed to stop using “Moechella” on merchandise and thought the issue was resolved until the suit was filed. Now, Moechella’s social media accounts and posts are being taken down.

“It’s just crazy to me that they are attacking a protest movement that hosts free activations for the community,” he said.

Coachella brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year with headliners like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Bad Bunny; tickets for this year’s festival started at $500. Moechella started as a protest in defense of a Metro PCS store that has blasted go-go music, a D.C. spin on funk music, onto a busy Shaw area intersection for two decades.

The music was briefly turned off in the spring of 2019, after a complaint from a resident in a nearby luxury apartment building that exposed raw feelings of displacement and disrespect among some of D.C.’s Black residents. Out of the demonstrations that followed came an annual Moechella concert, along with a Million Moe March — both riffs on D.C. slang that means something close to “bro.”

The organization Adams and Johnson started to handle these events is actually named Long Live Go Go. Along with Moechella, which Johnson said will return this Juneteenth, they helped launch an annual go-go, funk and jazz concert in September called NextFest.

Go-go itself is known for reworking existing intellectual property — pop songs — with the genre’s distinctively syncopated conga and timbale rhythms.

In the suit, Coachella notes that a 2022 Washington City Paper article described the name “Moechella” as “slang for friend, combined with a play on the California festival.” In the article, Johnson said he had tried to trademark the name “Moechella” but had given up after pushback from Coachella.

Johnson said Moechella was just “a fun parody” that sprung up organically during the 2019 protests. “It found itself,” he said. “Moechella was named by the people.”

He said the merchandise helped pay for the free concerts and other community engagement efforts. “I don’t understand how we’re in any kind of financial dispute,” Johnson said. “If anything they should be trying to donate to Moechella, not figure out how much money was made off hoodies.”

Coachella filed a similar lawsuit last year in California against a Ghanaian festival called Afrochella. The suit was dropped when organizers agreed to change the name of their event to AfroFuture.

Johnson said that while he is looking to fight the suit, he is also asking go-go fans to make like the Washington Commanders and the Wizards and come up with a new movement name.

“I want the people to be a part of it,” he said. “They named it once so they can name it twice.”

Chris Richards contributed to this report.

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