As we strolled through the fog we heard it. The sound was faint at first, but the more we walked towards our destination, the louder it became. We passed by forests of trees, running brooks, and peaceful ponds and finally found ourselves in the midst of a music festival in the forest.
This past weekend was one of the most fun I’ve had in the city this summer. From August 8-10, my friends and I attended Outside Lands at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The three-day music festival saw huge crowds, some awesome food and drinks, and most importantly tons of memorable music.
As soon as James and I entered Outside Lands on Friday, we sensed the electric atmosphere as the crowds shook off their stressful week at work and got ready to have an amazing time. It was sunny and bright out when we caught our first couple of sets of the day, electro-funk duo Chromeo (oh! oh!) and house duo Disclosure. I’d seen both groups at Coachella and they had some of the best sets there, so I had high expectations for their Outside Lands performances. Chromeo and Disclosure didn’t disappoint, playing all their hits, from older tunes to newer singles.
We met up with my buddy Chris after the sets to grab some dinner at the food stands. The festival food here was definitely something else, sourced from local restaurants such as 4505 Meats and Homeroom. Essentially, Outside Lands had some of the best food from the Bay Area instead of the usual festival fare. I had a 4505 cheeseburger and enjoyed it so much I ended up getting it again over the weekend, two more times to be exact! Before the last set of the evening, we stopped by Beer Lands to try out some craft beer from local (West Coast) breweries.
And then there was Kanye. I’d heard so much about his past performance antics that I felt prepared. How wrong I was. Kanye’s performance was unlike anything I’d seen. With a red waterfall motif background, the two-hour long set contained random rants about who-knows-what in between songs, ten-minute extended versions of tracks with repeated lyrics in autotune, and a fully-masked Kanye performing all his hits from “Jesus Walks” to “New Slaves.” He would stop in the middle of a song (“Blood on the Leaves”) because he decided to save it for later, and it was funny being commanded to form circle pits. The best description of Kanye’s set was that it was a true performance, and it was as confusing as it was entertaining.
Day 2 was cold, probably one of the coldest music festival days I’ve experienced. But it was also the most music-packed day, with five great sets and fun times with James, Chris, Gloria, and Christina. Haim, the three-sister pop rock band from LA, absolutely killed it. I loved their energy and obvious rock pedigree – like I said before they can absolutely shred! From Este’s infamous bass face to the epic drum solo, taiko style, at the very end, their performance kept the crowd dancing and singing along to their songs.
Death Cab for Cutie was a special treat and brought back some great high school memories. Ben Gibbard and company put on a good show, and I enjoyed watching Ben sing into two microphones and especially enjoyed the moving rendition of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” I think the crowd shared a similar sentiment because everyone sang along to the beautiful acoustic song. Up till this point we’d only been at the main stage, Land’s End. To catch Atmosphere’s set we headed over to a smaller stage, Sutro, and quickly realized that the rap duo was much better off with a larger area, because huge crowds turned up and it was packed.
We left the fun and high-energy set a bit early and walked over to the bottom portion of the festival at Hellman Hollow to catch another fun set by German electronic music producer Boys Noize. He’s been in the electronic music scene for a while now and I loved his signature “angry robotic” sound. The set was nicely paced and everyone was dancing to the beat with the sun setting at the festival grounds.
As a Seattle resident, James insisted on seeing Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as the closing set and we gladly obliged, heading over to Twin Peaks Stage and grabbing a spot near a grove of trees that provided a great view of the stage. Macklemore pulled out all stops for his show, playing his biggest singles and hits from his current album with the crowd singing and dancing along. It was an epic set that included fireworks and a touching marriage proposal on stage (before “One Love”). “Thrift Shop” was too much fun to sing along to!
Our final day at Outside Lands started off strong, with electronic music producer Flume playing one of my favorite sets of the festival. With a strong hip-hop influence, Flume’s songs kept the crowds moving – there was even a guy who managed to climb up a wooden barrier to dance while holding onto tree branches. The crowd definitely got a kick out of that one and cheered Tree Man on.
Aileen, James, Chris, and I grabbed some more beer at the craft beer stands (I’d highly recommend Triple Voodoo) and spent the next hour chilling and picnicking on the grass while catching part of Spoon’s set. After a quick dinner we returned to the main stage to see The Flaming Lips, whose performance rivaled Kanye’s as one of the strangest of the festival. But again, it was to be expected from a legendary psychedelic rock band known for putting on strangely entertaining shows. There were dancing cartoon mushrooms, rainbows, and suns, plus a human-sized hamster ball (with the lead singer Wayne inside running above the crowd). During several of the songs he carried a baby doll (Baby 1.0) and a robot (Baby 2.0). Did I mention there were dancing mushrooms?
The Killers closed the entire festival, and they undoubtedly knew how to put on a festival show! Starting off strong with “Mr. Brightside,” Brandon Flowers and crew churned through career-spanning hits, kept the crowd going with awesome CCR and Otis Redding covers, and played off each other’s energy. More high school memories flashed through my mind as the crowd sang its heart out to songs such as “Somebody Told Me” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.” The Killers ended the festival on a high note, and as we headed out of Golden Gate Park on a beautiful evening I took once last glance at the rainbow-lit trees. Outside Lands, see you next year!
Shout out to James, Chris, Gloria, Christina, and Aileen for the fun times and great memories!