In theory, the Outside Lands Festival here in my little city by the Bay seemed like a lot of fun — especially since I didn't have to pay the exorbitant ticket prices ($250 for a three-day pass!). As such a gigantic concert in Golden Gate Park, it seemed like an experiment I should witness firsthand, like I might be a part of history or something.
The lineup for the weekend was impressive: Radiohead, Beck, Wilco, Regina Spektor, Tom Petty, Jack Johnson, Cake, The Walkmen, The Black Keys, and a bunch more. Then again, you'd have to have those cartoon speedy legs that turn into blurry wheels as they propel you forward at warp speed in order to actually see all the bands you'd like to see. The stages were pretty far apart, and there was a noticeable lack of helpful signs. On Friday I walked in the wrong direction for a while before doubling back toward the box office, and by the time I got my pass the only act I could catch was Radiohead. They were excellent — no complaints about the actual performances, really — but it was a lot of running around (literally), not to mention a royal pain in the neck dealing with the public transportation system, which was clearly overwhelmed by the multitudes of concertgoers.
Anyway, for the most part, I liked the concerts once I got to them. To check out some of my impressions, read more.
- I hadn't seen Radiohead perform in years, so it was a real treat to check them out. For all the vast space in the main-stage area, the sound was good (well, perhaps a little too good for many of the residents living near the park).
- Tom Petty was one of my very first concerts as a teen, so getting to see him again was sweetly nostalgic. His set was also the one where I found a pretty wide variety of ages in the audience; it was really cool to see how many generations know and love Petty's music. As he and the Heartbreakers began their final song I decided that those first sounds of "American Girl" (tun-tunga-tun, tatata, tun-tunga-tun) might be some of the most recognizable in all of American music.
- There is definitely something uniquely awesome about a Summer music festival with all the raucous dancing in the sun and carefree belting out of lyrics. It's fun to see how unifying music can be, even with crowds of thousands.
- The bands seemed to agree. Almost every act I caught appeared to be having an almost blissful time and giving spirited performances in return. Broken Social Scene's multitextured sound was boosted by its collective mirth.
- Even Jeff Tweedy, the often-surly lead singer of Wilco, was downright giddy as his band closed out the Twin Peaks stage on Sunday night. Unfortunately, the sound at the Wilco show could have been turned up a notch or two; it was too hard to hear, even from the VIP section on the sidelines.
- The Drive By Truckers, on the other hand, were as wonderfully over-the-top as always, rocking through a tight set and passing their standard bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth in the waning afternoon sun. In fact, I probably most enjoyed the experiences on the smaller side stages, where the crowds were rollicking but not impenetrable like on the larger venues.
- Another favorite part about fests: Though I always have an itinerary of shows to hit, I love stumbling onto the ends of other performances I didn't plan to catch — in this case, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I never understood all the fuss about Jones until I caught the last 15 minutes of her set; damn, that woman is intense, and intensely sassy. Hearing her live is clearly the way to go.