Aug. 10, Friday. San Francisco is teeming with excitement. Literally, the whole city has a buzz. Business owners situated close to 18th Avenue and Lincoln Way are praying to the rock gods that their enterprises may burst with customers. These customers are not ordinary San Franciscan shoppers, but rather psyched individuals who are looking forward to the weekend that lies ahead of them. This is Outside Lands territory.
As my first ever music festival experience, I don’t have much to compare Outside Lands to. So naturally, to me it was the most beautiful weekend of my young undergraduate life. I loved every bit of it; the fact that Golden Gate Park was transformed from a hobo dwelling estate to a festival of 65,000 music-loving wanderers, the lamb poutine and kefta sandwiches they sold, and Stevie Wonder ending the whole shebang with “My Girl.”
I arrived late to the festival on Day One, barely catching the end of Of Monsters and Men before I wandered over to MSTRKRFT. The Canadian duo did the rave scene right, hyping the crowd up and down, up and down. But to be honest, I wasn’t paying very much attention to the tuneage so much as I was gaping at the people around me. For a first-time festie, I was awestruck at the sheer number of people that surrounded me in the grassy pasture, bobbing their feathered heads to electronica like it was nobody’s business.
Foo Fighters was next. They finished their set in a jiffy, covering ground with only 12 songs. Frontman Dave Grohl kept murmuring into the microphone, “The faster we get done, the faster I get to see Neil Young,” so his own admiration was to blame for the set’s shortness.
Neil Young hit the Lands End Stage at 8:00 p.m., starting out with a 20-minute jam of “Love and Only Love.” Much of his set was made up of equally prolonged chords, but it was well-received nonetheless. The guy is 66 and he was still shaking his hair and laughing with the vigor of the 1960’s version of himself — the hair’s just thinner.
After I heard “Born in Ontario” and “Cinnamon Girl” (my dad told me to wait for the latter song), I meandered over to the Twins Peaks Stage to get buck wild to some Justice. They started off with the song “Genesis,” my personal favorite. Fog stormed in over the crowd, transforming Twin Peaks Stage into some kind of eerie fortress.
The one thought that kept bursting through my mind was “We are in China! We are in China!” Golden Gate Park’s eucalyptus, cypress and pine trees clouded by nature’s fog machine looked identical to a Discovery Channel special on the eastern land. “D.A.N.C.E.” shook me out of this mentality and brought me back to Justice, but I was still mystified by the foggy sunset.
Day Two also began late for me, since I needed to buy leggings to save myself from the prickliness of the San Francisco cold. I don’t know how I didn’t realize SF in August is not the warmest place in the world, but I arrived in all the wrong clothes: cutoff shorts, lacy tank tops and an absence of jackets. Thankfully, my older brother has super nice friends who let me borrow sweaters. This was a prevalent theme of my Outside Lands experience: sharing. Everywhere you looked, people were sharing blankets, coffees, scarves, beer wristbands. Sharing is a defining characteristic of festival togetherness.
By the time we parked, bought gum at ampm, had warm clothes on deck and walked the mile-long entrance, it was 5:05 p.m. Grandaddy was already playing. I’ve grown up on everything alternative, so I sprinted towards the Sutro Stage, only to hear Jason Lytle say “Thank you very much for having us.” Shoot. I was dying to hear “A.M. 180.”
My disappointment was short-lived though, because I got to jump around to MiMOSA and dance the numbness out of my fingers. I also got to people-watch. I liked the older folk casually drinking cabernet while MiMOSA emceed shout outs to his mom. I also admired this superbly skinny girl with an electric pink wig and a gigantic clown tattoo on her back who danced like a maniac. She had a good time.
Explosions in the Sky was next. Planted in the Lands End Stage, Explosions brought a highly emotional set, allowing Outside Landers to fall into a dreamy abyss. With everyone lying on blankets, it was the epitome of a romantic lullaby. We almost forgot we were in the center of a festival, aside from the five-dollar sunglasses practically everyone was wearing, courtesy of the Sunglass Hut positioned next to Outside Lands’ famous windmills.
After Explosions in the Sky, my brother and I adventured towards the Hellbrew Revue in the woods. While listening to the Tumbleweed Wanderers we met a wonderful Irish lady named Deerdro. Deerdro is a 52-year-old Sex Pistols fan from Northern Ireland who was very excited to be getting back into the festival scene. She told us that seeing Neil Young the night before fulfilled one of her deepest desires, as she had retired from festivals for twenty years to have kids. Another festival lover told me that, “Because Outside Lands is an urban, inside-of-the-city festival, it is different from a destination festival like Coachella. People come here to enjoy a vibe and relax, not party in the desert.” I suspect the weather also puts a damper on people’s partying habits at this festival.
While I enjoyed making friends, I was also aware of Passion Pit booming in from the other side of Golden Gate Park, so it was time to leave the woodsy hideaway. My brother and I managed to wrestle into a crowd of 15,000 and find our friends. Another idea that kept on being brought up throughout the weekend was the idea of entropy, or that people at festivals are meant to find each other. For instance, you haven’t seen someone in four years, and you find them at Outside Lands and are instantly bonded by the force of the music. It was meant to happen. It was fate. People come to festivals to get connected. I felt this especially during Passion Pit and Sigur R ó s.
Day Three started off with the band Fun. Lead singer Nate Ruess had this peculiar habit of licking his lips like Nightcrawler from the X-Men, but his energy amped up the crowd tremendously. EVERYONE was singing along. Ruess also did a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which was brilliant.
During Trampled by Turtles, the sun finally came out (YES) and sweaters came off. Hula-hoopers weaved through the grassy Sutro Stage. Everyone camped on the hill received some bluegrass comfort. I went to the bathroom and saw a guy coming out of the porta-potty double-fisting beers while holding an extra one in his mouth. A god among men.
The rest of Day Three went by in a blur of Franz Ferdinand, Regina Spektor, Electric Guest, Dispatch, Santigold and glasses of hand-shaken strawberry lemonade. All of these artists were dynamic and emotional, but when 7:20 rolled around I gave ALL of my attention to Mister Stevie Wonder.
Anyone who left Stevie to watch Skrillex was an idiot (Sorry Skrill’). His set was the single best performance of the entire weekend, and worth the entire $255 ticket. Stevie preached, made jokes and let everyone know that “children are the most important gift” a person can have. He scolded the crowd when they were talking over him and he repeatedly proclaimed that he loved us.
It was a soothing experience to hear life lessons and knowledge from one of Motown’s greatest heroes. His voice seemed to melt away any stress, any tiredness, any inch of foot pain from walking. Personal favorite songs were “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Happy Birthday.” During an encore he came back out and sang “My Girl,” which made everyone sing off-key and get on their dancing feet.
After Stevie’s departure, Outside Lands quieted down. People helped pick up trash, snapped last-minute shots in front of the windmills and headed out of Golden Gate Park in unison, soaking in the last of the beautiful, entropic weekend.