Strolling into Golden Gate Park, you could feel the cool ocean breeze and smell the delectable tidbits of California's bountiful harvest. Outside Lands is a very special festival, featuring wine, local food, arts and, of course, music. Attending the festival a few years ago when it was just developing was great, but it has truly become something special. This year's festival featured a bike valet, solar-powered eco-village/stage and circus tents, as well as many other unique touches.
Fog and haze blanketed the park on Friday, making for a slightly chilly, yet atmospheric setting for the fourth-annual event. Afternoon highlights were musicians Collie Buddz and Lotus, who set the mood with their ethereal performances. The crowds were expansive but no matter where you stood, the sound was flowing throughout the polo fields. Delayed speaker stacks were placed about 50 yards back at all of the stages, so even if you were laying under a beautiful cypress tree in the back of the field, you could still clearly hear the music.
The legendary Funky Meters played a slew of old-school favorites during their set. With such classics as "Cissy Strut," Art Neville and George Porter Jr. reminded everyone that they are here to stay and funk will always have a strong presence.
Part of the Outside Lands experience is definitely the food and wine. The “Wine Lands” tent featured varietals from vineyards from all over California. I tried a tasty Reisling and a few choice reds. It was a nice way to relax mid-day. Wine Lands was set up to feel like a wine cellar, dark and cool, with private seating areas to relax and sample your selections. It was conveniently located next to the Twin Peaks stage. It was the perfect place to hang out and listen to the indie rock sounds of South Carolina's Toro Y Moi Friday afternoon.
Later that day, I went to the main stage to check out MGMT. They have drawn huge crowds during the past few years, and Outside Lands was no exception. Their set was powerful and driving. They played most of their hits to the throngs of young fans who camped out all day to see their set.
The closing set on Friday came from the eclectic New England quartet Phish. They had just finished a week-long run, spanning the entire West Coast. The band kept it pretty simple in the beginning with bluesy songs like "Kill Devil Falls" and "Funky Bitch" to entertain the masses, but after a funky “Moma Dance” and an intricate detailing of Zappa's "Peaches En Regalia," they were off and running.
I was standing about 30 feet back of keyboardist Page McConnell and could hear the difference a few years has made for their front-of-house engineer Garry Brown. He has really honed their sound and made it crisper than ever. Next on the set list was the classic Phish jam “Tweezer,” then into "Mound," an off-beat blues number. Ending the long set was one of their most cohesive three-song segues nick-named "Mike's Groove" featuring the booming bass of Mike "Cactus" Gordon.
After thanking the audience, Trey Anastasio reminded them to stick around because they were invited to play another set. Versions of Velvet Underground’s "Rock & Roll," Ween's "Roses Are Free," Bowie's "Life on Mars" and the epic "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss were highlights of an already great show. The new song "Steam" has become a fan favorite, with its dark slow groove that hints at their '98 release The Story of the Ghost. Lighting designer Chris Kuroda's hazy fog and stunning lights also added to the song's atmospherics.
Phish encored with a rocking "Cavern," and when Gordon's bass dropped in on "Tweezer Reprise," it felt like a shock wave hit the park.
The sun was out and the park was gleaming, a nice change from the previous day's overcast climate. Everyone was settled into the festival, enjoying many of the delicious food choices. There were multitudes of vendors, selling everything from gourmet dark chocolate and coffee, to deep-fried mac-and-cheese wedges to delicious barbecue.
Musically, the day was off to a great start, with the Greyboy Allstars throwing down a great set of boogaloo funk. The Old 97's had a great grungy blues rock sound that was aptly followed by the Warren Haynes Band. He also played for such legendary bands as The Allman Brothers and many Grateful Dead projects.
The Roots took a small break from being the house-band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to return to the festival circuit. They are one of few hip-hop groups with a full live band of amazing musicians. They played favorites from older albums like Illadelph Halflife, then more upbeat songs like "The Seed 2.0." The Roots still have it and drew a large crowd for their sunset set.
Saturday headliners Muse have intrigued me for some time now. The UK–based band has a way of embracing music like no other, including greats like Radiohead, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Queen. Muse follows that path and pushes it to new heights. Their set was very bombastic and frenetic. They played driving rock anthems "Uprising" and "United States of Eurasia." Honeycomb LED video screens warped and twisted the gyrating lead singer, Matthew Bellamy, and their light show was psychedelic and visually stunning. Devoted fans were pounding fists and shouting lyrics en masse. It really was one of the most impressive showings of musicianship that I had seen in a long time.
The sometimes uncertain Bay Area weather held up on Sunday, becoming one of the warmest days of the weekend. I spent much of Sunday at the Sutro stage, watching diverse acts such as Latyrx, Little Dragon and accordion rockers Beirut.
John Fogerty, a local Bay Area legend played a set of Creedence Clearwater Revival classics and some of his own material at the Lands End stage.
Major Lazer put on one of the most high-energy afternoon sets of music that I have seen at the Twin Peaks stage. Led by producer/DJ Diplo, he has really figured out how to take club music and remix it for the masses. I have never seen so many hyped-up kids jumping up and down that early in the day—quite impressive.
Next on the schedule was The Decemberists, whose peaceful and sometimes melancholy vibe was perfectly placed in the early evening. Their sound has really matured and and they definitely deserved to be playing the main stage. They drew a large attendance. Look for more on their sound in the October issue of Mix.
I made my way over to live-electronica favorite STS9, who had one of their biggest festival crowds ever. As I approached through the path in the trees, Saxton Waller’s (LD for STS9) lights shined through the Cypress trees, which made the whole park glow. The Santa Cruz natives were really excited to play their signature driving sound in front of a California audience.
Watching the stage crew set up for Deadmau5 was pretty amazing. The only other LED rig like his was Daft Punk's pyramid, which has yet to be duplicated. The progressive-house genius had a slew of fans all sporting copies of his now famous mouse-head costume. He had control of the audience from start to finish, bumping clean electro-house into the night.
My last stop was a band that has been eluding me for quite some time, Arcade Fire. My friend described them as “eight musicians bleeding rock 'n' roll.” A right-on description. The band has found a way to balance all that noise onstage into sound like nothing else. Their sincerity and love for the music is strong and apparent. They have passionate fans that scream out lyrics and beg for more. Husband and wife duo Win Butler and Regine Chassagne really showed why they deserved the headlining spot as they closed their set dedicating the last song to Win's father, a great musician himself.
Outside Lands really made a statement this year with one of the most eclectic lineups of the whole summer. The combination of wine, food, music and arts made for an unforgettable time. This will be a repeat festival for many as it has truly become its own special place for people to get together, dance, drink and enjoy the finer things in life.