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Paul McCartney at Coachella That's Huge!

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The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival got famous by presenting the sounds of today and tomorrow. But this year California's most celebrated live-music event is gambling on Paul McCartney and the music of “Yesterday."

Booking the former Beatle, who is listed in the record books as the most successful musician in pop history, would be the safest choice imaginable for most music festivals.

But the internationally respected Coachella festival, which is set for April 17-19, has been pulling in crowds of more than 140,000 fans by taking an edgier path with alt-rock heroes you would hear on a college town's pirate radio station.

Presented with a chance to tap into music history and veteran star power, the promoters have signed the 66-year-old icon, who personifies the mature pop mainstream. The move could help the festival compete amid a grim economy and a host of imitators that have sprung up across the country; the news of McCartney's presence -- for better or worse - - instantly will make Coachella a hot topic with music fans nationwide who have been anxiously awaiting the list of this year's headliners.

What remains to be seen is whether the choice will cost the festival credibility with its core clientele: young fans who are more likely to listen to the White Stripes than the White Album and who are far more familiar with Rage Against the Machine than Band on the Run.

From Paris, McCartney sent word Thursday that he was thrilled with the idea of playing to a new crowd. “I have heard that Coachella is one of the greatest festivals in the world," he said in a statement sent to The Times. “I'm really excited to get out there and rock!"

Still, despite those compelling bookings, Paul Tollett, the festival's chief architect, knows that his decision to bring in a living legend from the 1960s will dominate discussion between now and Sir Paul's main-stage set on the festival's first night.

One-fourth of the Fab Four is big news no matter the year.

“This is a Beatle. That's huge," said Tollett, who has shown a flair for surprises in recent years. He and his partners at concert promotion company AEG booked Madonna in 2006, but the setting -- a dance-tent instead of the main stage -- made it an isolated, intriguing experiment.

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