A Day at Outside Lands Festival

Outside Lands. Photo: JessicaSarahS on Flickr
Outside Lands. Photo: JessicaSarahS on Flickr

‘Outside Lands’ is San Francisco’s largest annual music festival and takes place in the beautiful Golden Gate Park over the second weekend in August. As a result of the grandiose scale of the festival (which offers countless food stands for virtually all culinary tastes, whole sections of the park dedicated to pretentious ales and numerous bands on three stages), tickets were relatively expensive and my girlfriend and I could only really afford a one day ticket. The question was whether we could milk the festival for all it was worth in the ten hours that its gates were open, but don’t worry, we did.

Unlike certain British festivals, at Outside Lands there was an absence of marauding lads in V-necks urinating into plastic cups and throwing them arbitrarily into the crowd. In fact, most people were considerate and reasonable which seems to be a rarity at music festivals these days. It was almost certainly that unique laid back Californian mentality that prevented any hostile atmosphere from developing.  There was no notion of a great anxiety to push to the front of the crowd and even towards the front of the audience for bands such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, festival goers (most of them presumably locals), had laid their picnic mats down to sit on in the assurance that they won’t get mercilessly trampled on. We all know what would happen if you tried that at Reading festival.

Arriving on the Twin Peaks Stage as one of the earlier headliners, Grizzly Bear were greeted with a vast crowd and an unmistakable and omnipresent smell of weed in the air which had an inexplicable hint of lemon to it. In spite of the sleep deprived expressions on their faces, Grizzly Bear hurtled through their set, effortlessly demonstrating their consummate musicianship.  The band put on the most impressive performance of the day, playing  a crowd-pleasing mix of songs from their critically acclaimed most recent album, Shields, syncopating their set with classic tracks, such as ‘Two Weeks’ and ‘Knife’.

Grizzly Bear’s angular and idiosyncratic brand of indie was well received by the Outside Lands audience, ending their 2013 tour on a perfect cadence. The audience in its diversity and unapologetic craziness formed a fitting microcosm of San Francisco’s cultural life. Around me, I could see a plastic owl on a stick being raised aloft above people’s heads at sporadic intervals, a guy in a bear costume giving out high fives and hugs and a person behind me intermittently shouting, ‘Grizzly Bear… Awesome!’, throughout the set in a thick, Californian accent. The sunshine failed to last beyond Grizzly Bear’s performance and the famous San Francisco fog settled and encompassed Golden Gate Park whilst Phoenix and Nine Inch Nails were preparing for their headline slots.

Aside from all the music going down, there was an abundance of crazy looking stalls to confusedly gawp at. For example, there was one that sold punk clothing for babies, but due to its specialist market it didn’t seem to be raking in the cash. In addition, there was an area in which the use of electronic devices was prohibited to encourage a reconnection with nature and other human beings. It was a cool concept, but admittedly all we did was sit on one of the tables and draw on each other’s faces with the marker pens that we were given. We may have misinterpreted the idea of ‘reconnection’.

Naturally, food and alcohol played significant roles in the festival experience. It would not be hyperbolic to assert that a proportion of the Americans at Outside Lands were attracted primarily by the food incentive. There were huge lines of food trucks catering for a multiplicity of culinary tastes conveniently located right next to the stages. Therefore, there was no excuse for us not to sample at least most of them.

Around nine o’clock, the festival goers divided themselves neatly between the two headline stages. We had the intention of seeing half of Phoenix’s set and then the end of Nine Inch Nails’ performance, but after attempting to negotiate ourselves through an interminable crowd, we inevitably failed and only caught NIN’s encore. Nonetheless, Phoenix put on a good show, getting the favourites, ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘1901’ out of the way before playing through their new album, Bankrupt! The crowd’s enthusiasm towards the latter half of the set diminished slightly however, as like me, a large proportion of people hadn’t done their homework and listened to their most recent record in its entirety.

Despite my unfamiliarity with their latest material, I found that Phoenix’s style was pleasantly reminiscent of the mid-noughties indie scene- namely when The Strokes, Arcade Fire and The Killers had all released their first albums. In essence, it brought me back to when I was a fourteen year old, harbouring a conceit that I was all cool and ‘alternative’ for liking these bands. I really wasn’t.

The day passed quickly, too quickly, but we had sampled almost everything the festival had to offer, (apart from the sushi which looked a bit dubious). Outside Lands hosts a smorgasbord of delights with a healthy dose of some Glastonbury-esque madness and I am definitely considering another visit depending on whether I can miraculously raise the funds.

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