California proves time and again that the coastal state has prime conditions to host outrageous music festivals. But what makes San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music Festival reign supreme is not only the climate, but the festival’s grounds. Situated in Golden Gate Park, Outside Lands takes place in the midst of trees and walking paths, providing necessary shade and plenty of hiding places to seclude yourself from the crowds.
Even though the festival is in August, San Francisco’s climate does not prescribe to the usual unbearable heat and humidity of the rest of the country. In fact, this weekend was quite breezy with low clouds, sealing the festival in an ominous fog. Instead of concert-goers dressed like scantily-clad ravers, music fans were decked in boots, scarves, and down jackets to shield themselves from the elements. Of course, there were still those unprepared girls — who were no doubt expecting sweltering heat akin to that of Coachella — wearing garments to showcase their belly button rings and butt cheeks, and their goosebumps and uncontrollable shivering made them an obvious target of ridicule for those in windbreakers, hats, and gloves.
Out of all the music festivals I’ve been to this year, Outside Lands housed the most cigarette smokers and a good percentage of gray-haired spectators sporting Baby Bjorns and strollers. The lineup of legendary headliners including Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Metallica, and Stevie Wonder obviously had a pull for an older crowd that has known the bands’ music for decades, but this mix of ages kept the drug-crazed teens from being too strung out and rowdy.
The grounds were littered with food stands and shops selling handmade jewelry, cowboy hats, dancing puppets, and tie-dye (of course). Apart from the food booths by the stages, there were designated “lands” where themed food trucks added to a fantastical dream land of good eats. “Outside Lambs” served up lamb dishes like poutine, mulligatawny, and gyros, and you could also snag a pamphlet of lamb recipes to perfect the meals in your own kitchen. If you were in the mood for sweet as opposed to savory, adjacent to “Outside Lambs” was “Choco Lands.” All things chocolate were represented in the form of cupcakes, beverages, and s’mores.
But beyond the buffet of various cuisines were an assortment of libations at “Wine Lands” and “Beer Lands.” At either booze tent you could choose from a myriad of local vintages and nationally recognized brews. If you wanted something with more of a kick, specialty margaritas, gin fizzes, and mojitos were available to keep you warm from the inside out.
The main attraction of Outside Lands was obviously the performances. Four stages, a smaller stage for baby bands, and a comedy tent kept you more than visually and audibly entertained throughout the three day fest. The Barbary comedy tent was a great spot to seek warmth and shelter from the sneaky burn of the sun through the unsuspecting fog, where comedians like Neil Patrick Harris and Adult Swim’s Eric Andre kept the crowd in stitches.
The big-name acts performed on the two main stages, Lands End and Twin Peaks, which were situated at opposite ends of the park where grass was plentiful and never-ending lines for port-o-potties snaked. These were the stages where Foo Fighters kept the entire crowd warm and dancing with high energy and seamless transitions between songs. The Kills also drew a large following, and Alison Mosshart dominated the main stage with an abundance of rock and roll presence, which included spitting and serious body jolting.
Metallica put on one hell of a show as fireworks and flames shot through the fog. It was quite the pyrotechnic performance and juxtaposed the other main stage where Sigur Ros was simultaneously lulling listeners into an angelic state of heavenly bliss. The walk between the stages was the transition from limbo to either the divine realms or the underworld, depending on which direction you were walking.
Stevie Wonder was a mix of the magical and unexpected. Stevie definitely proved he still has the chops, but what was a complete surprise was his display of sexuality. He mentioned sex multiple times and rubbed up against all of his backup dancers. Dirty dancing aside, Stevie’s performance lived up to his legendary status, and his cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” was a wonderful tribute to another great artist.
The smaller stages, Sutro and Panhandle, were strategically placed so that patrons had to pass by them to get to the bigger stages. Father John Misty was one of those Panhandle acts to draw a sizable crowd with his very original dance moves of snapping, pelvic thrusting, and jazz handing. His banter between songs centered mostly around acid and grandpas, but was entertaining nonetheless. Dr. Dog also graced the smaller stage but gave a highly danceable performance that spurred crowd surfers in the double digits. They played most of their new album with the addition of older tracks “Shadow People,” “The Rabbit, The Bat, and The Reindeer,” and “Heart It Races” (Architecture in Helsinki cover). The crowd was so enthralled with their performance that an encore was literally demanded by the fanatics.
My favorite acts of the weekend were the Berkeley-raised bands Geographer and Electric Guest. Geographer played the majority of Myth with the addition of some spur-of-the-moment jams inserted into a few of the songs. Michael Deni explained that the basis of the album was about how life is a solo experience, but at Outside Lands, he did not feel alone amongst the crowd. The listeners were just as excited to be in the band’s presence as the band was to be playing on that stage. Deni ended the set by diving into the crowd and surfing between the adoring hands of fans.
Electric Guest was another noteworthy act of the weekend. This was only their third performance in their hometown of San Francisco, but their gratitude for being home and in front of such a receptive crowd was sincerely humbling. Lead singer Asa Taccone was nothing but smiles and knee-knocking dance moves. The duo played one song that wasn’t featured on Mondo called “Jenny.” It could very well have been a B-side from the album since it fit nicely with the rest of the songs they played.
As the summer season of music festivals comes to a close, I can say that through my experience, it seems as though music festivals are not the best place to discover a new band. However, the months prior to the festival do provide ample time to scan through the lineup and stumble across a new favorite to add to your list of must-sees, and it is inevitable that at some point you will find yourself watching a band that you’ve heard of in order to fill a free time slot in your festival itinerary.
As a proponent of the live music experience, I can declare with all honesty that San Francisco’s Outside Lands wins my vote for my most enjoyed festival of this year. It was an all-around wonderful collision of music, food, drinks, and art in the heart of a wooded park.
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