The progression of a day at Outside Lands, San Francisco’s annual music, food, wine, beer and art festival, is quite a sight to behold.
When the opening acts take the stage at noon, the Golden Gate Park terrain is predominantly littered with die hard fans of lesser known bands. However, by around four o’clock, the areas near each of the four main stages are overtaken by a seemingly endless crowd. The next few hours are full of frantic walking, claustrophobia-induced frustration, and bumping into passersby, but then something changes. The sun dips lower and begins to set, but the music doesn’t fade. The headlining bands emerge and each person in the sea of people is singing the same song, and suddenly all the craziness and congestion becomes tolerable. This is why, when the Killers wrapped up their set at 9:35 on Sunday night, I was surprisingly disappointed that these three days of hysteria had come to a close.
Before continuing, I should point out that this was my first time attending a music festival, let alone a three-day festival with 200,000 people and 118 bands and artists performing. As an avid fan of rap music, I was hoping to hear some quality hip-hop at Outside Lands, and was not disappointed. Kanye West was his usual charismatic, controversial self on Friday night, and his 100-minute set featured his older material (“All Falls Down”), his experiments with autotune (“Heartless”), and songs from his most recent album, “Yeezus”. West’s performance included one of his signature rants, where he expressed his disdain towards the media and rallied the crowd by declaring them part of his “clique” before launching into his song of the same name. His only misstep may have been stopping and restarting his hit single “Blood on the Leaves” three different times, which sapped momentum instead of building energy.
Along with West, there were a number of other hip-hop artists that showed up for Outside Lands. Atmosphere’s rugged lyricism and old-school beats combined to create a fitting soundtrack for a cloudy Saturday evening. Macklemore, backed by his right-hand man Ryan Lewis, gave his usual spirited effort that became even more special when a lesbian woman proposed to her partner on stage before the duo’s gay rights anthem “Same Love” was performed. On Sunday afternoon, San Francisco native Watsky was absolutely on fire throughout his set, wowing the crowd with his lightning-quick delivery, which mixed with rock-influenced beats to create an unapologetically in-your-face sound. The only hip-hop act that failed to impress was Run the Jewels, a duo comprised of MC’s El-P and Killer Mike. Though talented hip-hop veterans, the pair lacked chemistry and enthusiasm on stage and suffered from redundant drum patterns.
Over the weekend, I ended up gaining a new appreciation for alternative, indie, and electronic bands. On Friday, Los Angeles-based Grouplove provided a smooth, soft-rock sound that oozed with a laid back, festival-friendly feel. Later that evening, before Kanye and his ego overtook the Lands End Stage, Britain’s electro duo Disclosure added to the summer vibes, cranking up the party before ending with their smash single “Latch.”
Once Saturday arrived, I had embraced the variety of genres present at Outside Lands, and came ready to diversify my musical taste. I achieved this courtesy of the Kooks, another British band, who converted me to a fan with their inspired performance of the recently released “Bad Habit.” Anticipation was high for music producer Tycho’s set, and the Bay Area artist proved that this was warranted as his spacey, vocal-less songs appealed to what was the biggest crowd at the festival’s Twin Peaks Stage thus far. Also at Twin Peaks, Capital Cities was enjoyable for anyone looking to engage in an hour of carefree dancing to infectious indie pop melodies. Finally, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers wrapped up the night with a two-hour set, as Petty’s effortless greatness carried him through hits such as “Free Fallin.'”
By Outside Lands’ final day, I was admittedly drained and less than ecstatic to see that the Killers were the only name I recognized on the day’s lineup. However, Scottish singer Paolo Nutini’s unique, raspy voice was music to my ears, and Lykke Li’s electro-pop jams had me clapping and moving as much as I had all weekend. The festival ended on a dramatic high note with the Killers, who allowed every college-aged listener to revisit their childhood with “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me,” while also playing songs from their newer albums and even covering Otis Redding’s classic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”
Outside Lands also acted as a haven for non-musical aspects of San Francisco culture. Countless tents were lined up across the park and filled with paintings and apparel from local clothing stores, and a whopping 70 food vendors were also present. Due to a dietary restriction, I was unable to experience the full array of nutrients, but I did enjoy some delicious (though unfilling) veggie tacos and pulled pork arepas. Those in search of less traditional dishes indulged in foods such as chocolate bacon, donut hamburgers, and Korean enchiladas.