A crowd of people surround a flatbed truck carrying a go-go band in D.C.
Moechella's Juneteenth event at 14th and U streets NW. Credit: Jalen Best

In the spring of 2019, Howard University student Julien Broomfield’s #DontMuteDC tweet went viral after residents of a new luxury apartment building temporarily succeeded in shutting off the speakers playing go-go outside Shaw’s MetroPCS store. Nightly musical protests became regular fixtures of the neighborhood, and Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson organized three “Long Live GoGo” protests at the intersection of 14th and U streets NW.

By his estimate, the first event had about 1,000 people; the second drew approximately 3,000, and the third, dubbed “Moechella” and headlined by Backyard Band, attracted more than 5,000 people, shutting down multiple blocks in all directions. By this point, the Metro PCS controversy had attracted national attention, and eventually, would lead to a resurgence of go-go culture. 

In Yaddiya’s telling, the term “Moechella” developed organically, combining the local slang “moe,” and “chella,” a play on Coachella, the long-running music festival that takes place annually at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. 

“I was calling them peaceful demonstrations to establish the narrative of peace and community,” Yaddiya says. “Then a childhood friend of mine was saying that people in the streets were calling them Moechella because of the size of the crowds that were coming out. Because Moechella was a demonstration made for the people, I felt that it would only be right to utilize a name that was from the people.

“It is a parody,” he adds. “Unlike the overpriced major music festivals, Moechella is offering something free and accessible to the community.”

But now that may change due to a music-industry David and Goliath drama playing out before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. In 2021, Yaddiya filed to trademark the name Moechella. Last May, Coachella’s founders started challenging his application, and now Yaddiya’s grassroots organization is bumping up against the strictures of the corporate world.  

In an amended notice of opposition filed on June 21, 2022, lawyers for Coachella Music Festival LLC argue that Coachella has exclusive rights to both “Coachella” and “Chella,” and that Johnson’s use of “Moechella” would “create the false association” between the two events. Their opposition also claims that “The use of MOECHELLA would be recognized by consumers as referring uniquely and unmistakably to” Coachella.

Coachella organizers did not respond to City Paper’s request for comment. Tucker Ellis LLP, the law firm representing the company, declined City Paper’s request for comment. 

Yaddiya, however, has plenty to say. “For three years, we have cultivated a space to celebrate the native culture in D.C. by bringing together local artists and highlighting the city’s creative forces,” he says. “We are willing to work with Coachella to ensure Moechella stays alive and what that possibility could look like, but to destroy the name entirely is a clear attack on Black D.C. culture. It’s disappointing that an established organization such as Coachella would attack and hinder the growth we’ve made as a community festival.” 

Many of the musical rallies known as Moechella roll through downtown D.C. streets with go-go bands performing on flatbed trucks. While speakers often address issues such as social inequities and systemic racism in policing, live go-go on the city streets also represents a joyous celebration of go-go culture that serves as a pushback against the city’s relentless gentrification. Moechella also promotes statehood for D.C., and has sponsored art exhibits. In 2021, its organizers published a book documenting its first year.

Within the go-go community, Moechella’s events are widely perceived as positive. “You gotta pay to hear go-go in the clubs, but these events give people a chance to get into the culture free of charge,” says ABM Band vocalist RoZae. “People of all walks of life come downtown, and they get caught up in the wave of energy. Go-go is a feeling; it’s a great feeling. These events help to bring respect for it, because people bring their families, there’s children out here and vendors. People are able to enjoy fellowship out there and just have a great time.”

In May of this year, as Moechella celebrated its third anniversary, Yaddiya received cease and desist letters from Coachella representatives. Recent events seem to have contributed to the urgency of Coachella’s desire to squash the Moechella brand. 

Last month, a shooting that injured a Metropolitan Police Department officer and resulted in the death of 15-year-old Chase Poole took place shortly after Moechella’s Juneteenth celebration. The incident gained national attention. Coachella took note, too. The motion filed by Coachella’s attorneys days after that incident says, “Applicant recently held a poorly planned and wildly unsafe event in Washington, DC titled ‘Moechella.’”

The motion goes on to argue that “tragic headlines of shootings, at least one of them fatal, followed the event, resulting in a flurry of negative press concerning the event.” Coachella’s attorneys even quote Mayor Muriel Bowser’s comments during a press conference held after the event. Bowser’s focus on whether Moechella was a permitted event troubled many in the go-go community due to the city’s long history of criminalizing the genre.

Since the trademark dispute started, Instagram has begun taking down some of Yaddiya’s Moechella posts. But he remains optimistic. He hopes that once Coachella learns more about Moechella, the music festival behemoth will partner with him rather than force a rebranding.

“Moechella is a platform for not just sustaining the culture, but for helping it evolve,” he says. “We’re also empowering the community economically by expanding our consumer base while politically enfranchising our community.”

Yaddiya says he and his attorney spoke with Coachella’s lawyers on June 30. “They just wanted us to refrain from using ‘chella’ on everything,” he says. “We hope that they will want to create a partnership and harmony as opposed to just cutting us off because they don’t realize what Moechella means to the people in D.C. Moechella is a community initiative that could be a good opportunity for Coachella’s new division Goldenvoice BLACK, which I assume was created to show support for Black communities.” (According to Coachella’s website, its Goldenvoice BLACK initiative is supporting its effort to “evolve as a festival that not only speaks on equity, justice, and actively anti-racist change, but acts on it.”) 

At this point, that kind of resolution appears unlikely. “They contacted us the day after [the Juneteenth event] and said that they became aware of what happened and that’s what made them press the matter even more,” Yaddiya says. “It didn’t seem like they had much interest in working together. It just seemed like they wanted to tell us to stop using it and were not really open to understanding what our mission is and how they could help.”

According to New York City-based trademark lawyer David Kalow, Coachella’s perspective may not consider Moechella’s motives.

“The fact that you’re very nice, good people, the fact that you have a very nice, good cause, and even the fact that you’re for racial justice doesn’t mean you have a right to go around stealing other people’s trademarks for your very nice, good cause,” says Kalow, who has no role in the case.

In fact, Kalow suggests, Coachella has a deep interest in going after every “chella” that pops up in the music-related field, or they risk losing customers’ exclusive association with their brand. “They sort of have to do it,” he says.

Yaddiya, who is currently working on a documentary film and a larger musical festival showcasing multiple go-go bands, says he would welcome support from Coachella and any other entities looking to uplift go-go culture. 

For much of the past two decades, Coachella has cultivated a trendy, boho, celebrity-studded vibe. Originating in 1999 as a sunny alternative to England’s sprawling Glastonbury Festival, Coachella has gained international name recognition. According to Billboard, the 2017 edition of the festival earned a whopping $114 million, and ticket prices are so high that attendees can opt into a payment plan. For 2023, three-day passes begin at $549, and VIP pricing is $1399. 

In an “Amplifying Voices” section of Coachella’s website, Goldenvoice commits to “Share our platform with Black creatives to support their brands and Black nonprofit organizations of their choosing…” It also promises to educate concertgoers about voter suppression and other key issues. “We share a lot of the same goals,” says Yaddiya. “I think a collaboration could benefit both of us.”

While the majority of Moechella events are free to the public, a May anniversary concert at the Howard Theatre charged $20 to $40 for admission. “We covered expenses to ensure that everyone can get paid while at the same time creating an event that was affordable for people,” says Yaddiya. Long Live GoGo has received funding for its free events from several city agencies, including 202 Creates and Events DC. 

For now, Yaddiya is changing how he advertises Long Live GoGo’s events. His upcoming show this Friday at the Fillmore is billed as the “Moe Unity Tour,” and is planned as the precursor to a multicity tour. This MWO (Moe World Order) concert features TCB, Reaction, TOB, Active Balla, Big Flock, Big Nintendo, Crazy Legz, and others, along with Yaddiya himself (along with being a community activist, he also performs as a rapper); admission is $40 plus fees.

Another attorney with no involvement in the case, John Simson, has previously represented or managed many area go-go acts including Chuck Brown, members of Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited, Ayre Rayde, and producer Reo Edwards. Simson echoes Yaddiya’s sentiments.

“Moechella is an organization trying to do good stuff, trying to raise their voice in the city with these musical, political demonstrations,” Simson says. “In fact, you wonder why the Coachella organizers aren’t embracing it and actually giving them some funding. You have this very White-privileged, high-rent organization going after somebody doing grassroots mobilization to protect music, especially go-go, which is always under threat. That could be a really bad look.”