Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA
August 10, 2013
Outside Lands: VIP-ing
Yes, it is that time of the year where it’s difficult to see a top music act without attending a mega-multi-day music-fest. The mega-multi-day music-fest was designed for 20 years old with more money and more time and more drugs than they know what to do with. It’s now become a fact of summertime for most major cities to have some kind of music-fest, normally with a goofed up, alliterative/onomatopoeia-sounding name that locks up talent for months in advance. These fests pretty much suck all the oxygen out of the music scene for weeks and then blow into town like a hurricane. Chicago has Lollapalooza, LA has Coachella, New York has The Governor’s Ball, Tennessee has Bonnaroo and San Francisco has Outside Lands. I last visited the great Outside Lands fest in 2010 but decided to VIP it once again this year. VIPing is the adult way to see a music fest, kind of like riding Business class, once you go VIP, you don’t go back! Vanilla smelling RVs for port-a-johns, free massages, special food concessions and separate viewing sections allow you to get much closer to the action without squeezing between some drunken louts from Fresno or squealing sorority girls from LA.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s schedule included many conflicts of acts performing at the same time that I’d like to have seen so this review includes what time, energy and other vagaries allowed me to attend.
Gary Clark Jr.
After a short limo ride from downtown SF, the day started with Gary Clark Jr. A blues master extraordinaire who’s got some major buzz going right now. Think Stevie Ray Vaughn. But young, black and hip. If you don’t like Gary Clarke, you don’t like the blues and why are you even bothering to live? Buckets of talent and quite a lot of fun. A good way to ease into the day but a high standard for later acts to follow. GC Jr played at Land’s End stage, the Big One that the other three stages could fit inside comfortably. For a taste of Gary, check out Ain’t Messing Round. Even better, go see the real deal when he returns to the Bay Area to play the Fox Theater in Oakland on October 2. I'll be there.
It’s amazing that a music fest in San Francisco would not feature more hippie jammy jam-bands. The graying hippie crowd largely had to make do with Mother Hips. Thankfully, they were quite rocking, quite jamming, quite fun and hit just the right spot in this old hippie heart. Mother Hips played the smaller Panhandle stage which was nicely intimate and allowed more breathing room and getting down room. Mother Hips are a talented ensemble that has been around and back and know how to entertain a crowd. I should probably mention at this point that the sound quality at all Outside Lands stages was fantastic! The sounds guys were absolutely top drawer.
The Head and the Heart
On to the folk-rock portion of the show. It was nice to have a little mellow break late in the afternoon before moving on to the Headliners. My day was developing its own rhythm that was quite nice. The Head and the Heart are playing in the same uber-popular territory as many folk acoustic indie bands, a la Mumford and Sons, Lumineers, Blind Pilot etc. I don’t know how this genre suddenly became popular, it’s a bit of a mystery. The Head and the Heart played at the Sutro Stage, a slightly larger venue than the Panhandle and were enthusiastically received. Check out Lost in my Mind.
Last Band. In the distant fog behind us, I could see the lights of Nine Inch Nails on the Land’s End stage but, in front us, Phoenix played a tight set of enjoyable pop songs. There is really no better pop band on the market today than Phoenix. The songs are catchy, hook-laden, intelligent, fun. And that’s what they did at Outside Lands. However, sad to admit, the set was a little bland. I had to keep reminding myself not to be too disappointed because they’re just a pop band after all. I guess my expectations were too high. They rearranged some songs but, by the time I left, I felt I could have had the same musical experience by putting on a Phoenix Spotify songlist and turning the volume up high. Fun but I was expecting more.
Still, overall, a great day. Bottom-line: will I return to Outside Lands? Yes, but only under VIP conditions.