Now in its seventh edition, San Francisco's Outside Lands festival has become a reliable, regular staple on the summer festival calendar. Though it's not quite in the same stratosphere of Coachella, Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, OSL has its own distinct quirks that reflect its Northern California home. This year's lineup was curated to reflect the eclectic nature of the city, with headliners ranging from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis one night, to Kanye West and Arctic Monkeys another, to lastly, The Killers and Tiesto the final evening. Besides the music, per usual, there was plenty of food samples, beer to guzzle and wine to sip. The culinary aspect has helped define the festival as a true arts festival. While we were up by the Bay, we took in the sights and sounds, and decided on what we loved and hated over the weekend.
Beerlands: On a balmy (by San Francisco standards) afternoon/evening, the second edition of Beerlands was a vast improvement from last year. Featuring a wider array of selections than last year, the area was steadily flowing with people. With some of California's finest breweries offering tastings, it appeared as if Beerlands was a hit with beer nerds. Slowly Outside Lands is evolving beyond a music fest into a cultural event where even the casual beer snob can head to the park, listen to some tunes and drink some high end brews.
Winelands: There isn't much to improve in Winelands, an Outside Lands staple, as opposed to year's past. Yet the wonderful tasting menu that Winelands offers is unlike any music festival on the U.S. today. The tented area brings together California and Nevada's finest purveyor's of wine and even sake, which was a hit with many. Though it's location in closer to the second main stage is a detriment, connoisseurs undoubtably flock to the area.
Tom Petty: What else can be said about the man who has seemingly done it all? Fresh off, incredibly, the first No. 1 album of his storied career, the rock icon played songs spanning his whole career. Granted, this was the usual festival set that featured many of his hits, which was vastly different than his shows at the Fonda that were for diehards. Either way, the Malibu-dwelling Petty brought his laid-back swagger to the nearly 50,000 people, young and old, at the main stage. Highlights included a cover of the Traveling Wilburies' “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” and on the anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death, a version of the Grateful Dead's “Friend of the Devil.”
The scheduling: Outside Lands has distinguished itself for the way it is able to intricately intertwine and select bands on the bill who will be the perfect contrast to one another. In this sense, people who are likely to be fans of folk and rock are situated on the opposite end of the park of the EDM and electro-pop listeners. Overall, this makes for a harmonious intersection of people who are each able to enjoy music on their own terms. As a result, we heard very few superficial comments like “they're too old” or “why are they here?” Kudos OSL, you did a mighty fine job with this.
And now for the worst of Outside Lands
Kanye's stage show: We could have put his rant against the media on here, but that's old news already. Trying to watch his show was difficult, even if the music off Yeezus sounded outstanding. Unfortunately though, Kanye wasn't in as Grade A form as he's been at other festivals. His lack of a long, memorable rant was a big disappointment, and the only rant he did go on was directed at the media – a tired subject at this point – who were assembled in a tent stage left. At this point, a Kanye rant should be epic, this seemed half-hearted. Seeing a live set is about the spectacle as much as it is seeing the person you came to hear. West accomplished one of those goals – with his old hits as strong as ever – it became difficult to connect with him, even if that was the intention.
The layout: There's little, if anything that can be done about this one, but festival goers literally have to sprint through thousands of people if they want to scurry between both ends of the event. What makes matters worse is that people try to cram through a teeny passage way instead of being encouraged to roam through the forest, aptly titled the yellow brick road. If things were a bit more condensed, there wouldn't be as much dust kicked into the air, and thus, a writer who wouldn't have the black lung after a weekend in the park.
The crowd: For a big time festival that prides itself on being of the people in San Francisco, for the first time, it had a strong transient feel. Like any festival, locals didn't seem too well represented, at least according to the locals who were vocal about this throughout the day. Add to that the number of stupid t-shirts that were seen–Keep Calm and Head Up North to Michigan being the prime example– the crowd had a distinctly non-San Francisco vibe for the first time in its seven year history, and thus, took away from its charm.
The weather: Wow, what a shock. The first day at Outside Lands saw the best weather the fest has had in years. It was sunny, clear and no fog. How often can you say that about Golden Gate Park? But one day of bliss apparently leads to one day of misery. The notoriously fickle fog filled the air and all of the goodwill built up by festivalgoers on the first day evaporated quickly. Granted, the third day was idyllic (by San Francisco standards), but still, Saturday summed every stereotype Southern Californians have about the city.
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.