David L. Garcia
Yesterday, I spent 9 hours crammed into a window seat on a Greyhound bus, before riding a packed rush-hour N train to the Inner Sunset, where I banged on the door of an apartment I had not yet moved my stuff into. This morning, I woke up at 7AM to get a croissant with an editor, before trudging ten blocks up to 19th Ave and entering Golden Gate Park, looking for the Outside Lands Box Office. I’m already exhausted.
The sound quality at Outside Lands is fantastic, and Lake Street Dive–a quartet of conservancy trained, garage-pop-jazz slingers–is a band that deserves it. The guitar, the vocals, the upright bass; it all flows together in a warm, silky cascade, the musical equivalent of one of those chocolate fountains you shove marshmallows under at hotel buffets. I wish they had a later time slot; the crowd is minimal. I feel bad when I have to dash off, but Leon Bridges is about to come out, and I have a feeling he deserves some attention. Lead singer Rachael Price’s fiery croon calls at my back as I walk across the Polo Field.
There is a ridiculous number of people crowding the Sutro Stage to see Leon Bridges. The Texas neo-soul man, who seems–to people under 25 anyway–to be Sam Cooke’s heir apparent, blew up at SXSW and has been gaining a steady fan base, but it’s a shock to see just how many people are into this guy. Bridges appears onstage decked out in a butter-yellow plaid suit, and the crowd screams with an enthusiasm that I would later hear offered to Billy Idol.
I head back to the Polo Field, watching the steady stream of people flow in from the Main Entrance. Techies, bros in board shorts, chicks in crop-tops, trustafarians, groupies, stressed out fathers with Baby Bjorns, and idiots with El Camino t-shirts that were, for whatever reason, going to see the Black Keys tomorrow night. Slowly, they pool into the field like gas into a tank.
The sun comes out. This hoodie was a bad idea. The heat and the crowd are smothering me. George Ezra is on stage not singing “Budapest.” I give him three songs to see if he’ll sing it. He doesn’t. I leave, ducking and weaving through row after row of sun-kissed girls. “Are you gonna have a dance with us?” Ezra calls out. No, I am not.
Ditching George Ezra for St. Vincent was a spectacular choice. Annie Clark is flooring everyone with guitar solos that screech and snarl and foam at the mouth. I watch her polish off “Rattlesnake” and wonder why I never managed to enjoy her albums this much. Wilco’s coming up next, but so is Tig Notaro. There’s a 100-ft line trailing out of The Barbary, the Outside Lands comedy tent. I’m afraid I won’t get in, but somehow I grab a seat in the back.
Tig Notaro, cancer survivor and stand-up legend in the making, ends up making me laugh so hard I can barely breath, with a joke that climaxes in her pulling out her phone and playing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” into the microphone. I watch people get up and leave after hearing Mumford and Sons belting out “I Will Wait” though the walls. I feel bad for these people. I giggle to myself as I walk back to the Land’s End stage.
My high school self would be astonished to see how bored I am during Mumford and Sons’ set (my high school girlfriend would probably weep). It’s not that they’re bad, or untalented, or gimmicky. I’m just too tired to care. I didn’t even bother braving the crowds. I’m forcing down a coconut water in the Media Tent, wondering when I can go home.
I eventually make it to the N train, which is overflowing. The conductor has to make announcements at every stop, warning people about the closing doors. I’m so tired. I get home, brush my teeth, and collapse onto a bed with a comforter but no sheets.
I feel great, and since I don’t really have to see anyone in particular until 2:30, I decide to go to the comedy tent again. Comedian Rory Scovel tells everyone to lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling of the tent after the show. “It looks like you’re falling into a huge purple vagina,” he says. Two people risk getting trampled by the exiting crowd to see if he’s right.
I meet up with my friend, and Foghorn photographer, Kris George at the Land’s End Stage. Mac DeMarco is spooling out licks that seem endless, his bandmates either high as a kite or so wrapped up in the song that they can barely open their eyes. They launch into a jammy cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years,” and execute it flawlessly. I am duly impressed.
I drag Kris to the other side of the grounds, to catch Fantastic Negrito, an Oakland-based musician who recently won an NPR contest to record a Tiny Desk Concert, beating out thousands of applicants (his backstory, which every Bay Area music writer has committed to memory, is something you should Google later). When we approach the Panhandle Stage, though, we see three of the comedians I saw earlier at The Barbary onstage, improvising a hilarious rap about genitals. I imagine there are a ton of disappointed music writers heading back to the Media Tent to drown their sorrows in free Heinekens.
I insist on going to see Chris Cosentino, offal enthusiast and Chef at SOMA’s Cockscomb, who’s about to present at the Gastromagic Stage. He’s dashing around the stage, smiling at the crowd, looking for the shallots, calling out to people he recognizes. He’s making lamb hearts, and he makes it seem effortless. Kris snaps some photos, but decides he’d rather hear “Dancing With Myself” than tips about gin cocktails. He tells me to meet him at Land’s End Stage after.
When I meet Kris, Billy Idol is shirtless and seems more excited to be here than most of the people watching him, which is saying a lot, because most people in the crowd are clearly having a great time, shouting the chorus to “Rebel Yell.” SHE SAID MORE, MORE, MORE! Idol obliges, playing well past his time limit. No one cares, instead offering incredible applause to each of the band members as they are introduced. This is the performance I end up talking the most about later.
Kris and I decide to get close for Tame Impala. I squeeze through gaps in the crowd like a rat in a maze. By the time Tame Impala takes the stage, Kris and I are maybe 20 feet from the front. I only know two Tame Impala songs, “Elephant’ and “Mind Mischief”, but the band plays both and the rest of the set is intriguing enough to keep me from noticing how tired my feet are. Kris and I had agreed that we were gonna need to get to the Twin Peaks Stage very early to get a good spot for Kendrick Lamar, but it’s much harder to leave the front than it is to get up there and it takes forever to escape the crowd.
Kris and I sit down on a hill to the right of the stage, and within ten minutes neither one of us can turn in any direction. From our raised position, we can see droves of people packing into Hellman Hollow.
Kendrick Lamar comes out fifteen minutes late, but he must know that he came out late, because his set is off at a furious pace, as if determined to hit as many good songs as he can in the time he’s got. “The Art Of Peer Pressure,” “Swimming Pools,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” A 2Pac cover. He throws his hands up and the crowd follows suit, like an insane version of Simon Says.
“Hands in the air, hands in the air!” DO YOU HEAR ME DO YOU FEEL ME? WE GON’ BE ALRIGHT! Kendrick points to a kid in a wheelchair being lifted by the crowd. “He representin’ right now! He lettin’ the world know that—“ WE GON’ BE ALRIGHT!
The show ends and the crowd is crushing, trying to get out. I get trapped in a porta-potty during the rush to leave.
I show up to the park and decide to take it easy today. I’m content to just see what happens. I get to the main stage as St Paul and The Broken Bones launch into their set. Paul Janeway’s voice is devilishly good, his voice propelled out of his body like water through a fire hose, coating the crowd in music that Otis Redding probably would’ve dug. The crowd grows as the band picks up speed, and after 20 minutes St Paul is covered in sweat and everyone is roaring.
Over at the Sutro Stage, James Bay is up, looking like the illegitimate son of Jack White and Beck, and sounding like Ed Sheeran’s bratty little brother. He’s certainly enjoying himself up there, and the crowd seems to respond to his energy. I couldn’t really care less, but the weather is cool, there’s room in the front, and I just bought a bacon bouquet from the Bacon Bacon stand. I’m content.
He’s followed by Benjamin Booker. His voice, a guttural growl, is probably hell for the sound guys, but they get it in check by the second song. Booker’s guitar playing is buzzy yet brilliant, and his drummer is the best I’ve seen all weekend.
I decide to stay at the Sutro Stage for Sky Ferreira. She’s fairly impressive, her set tight and her voice fine. I decide to Spotify her later. My phone tells me that Fantastic Negrito was being held by the SFPD yesterday after one of his employees was accused of scalping tickets. The music writers from earlier flood Twitter with the news.
I feel compelled to go see Sam Smith. I’m not really a fan, but I like “Not The Only One” as much as anybody. The man can definitely sing, and I join in on “Stay With Me.”
Elton John’s set is long, and rightfully so. So many hits, just one after the other: “The Bitch is Back,” “Bennie and The Jets,” “Tiny Dancer.” Admittedly, Elton John’s voice isn’t what it used to be. It’s deeper, with a smaller range and more crackles. That said, it’s hard to critique Elton John. You’ll be sitting there, feeling sad that he can’t quite get the pitch of “Rocket Man” right, but then the opening notes of “Your Song” ring out and you’re happy again.
The ushers herd everyone out as soon as Elton John leaves. I turn around. The Polo Field is empty, a huge swath of trampled grass and crushed plastic cups. I walk out through a tunnel on the south side of the park, where the crowd is singing Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend.” I squeeze myself onto the N train and head home, knowing that I have to get on a Greyhound bus in the morning.
Photo Courtesy of Kristian George