Outside Lands — The Review

20 08 2011

I am very blessed. I know this. There are days that I feel bad complaining that I feel tired, or FML-this, FML-that because I have a terrific gig — working at the Daily Journal and writing isn’t a job. It’s way too much fun to be a job.

That said, the day I leave, one of my biggest regrets will be not having the opportunity to cover Outside Lands anymore. I’m truly going to miss it.

Nothing can really top that first year at Outside Lands, back in 2009 … but 2011 came very very close. And as such, I wanted to write a review worthy of how I felt in my 2.5 days there. Here is my review of the festival, which ran in Monday’s edition of the Daily Journal. Thank you to everyone at Big Hassle (mainly Chris Vinyard and Ken Weinstein) who allowed my publication to cover the event for a third year. Thank you to Matt Maniego and Heather Murtagh, who help me cover the festival, and thank you to the people of San Francisco for making it so memorable. We’ll see you in 2012, Outside Lands. I can’t wait.

Outside Lands has the winning formula
By Julio Lara, Daily Journal Staff 

For all its awesomeness, there aren’t many things “San Francisco” that can honestly say they embody the complete spirit of this place. 

Sure, certain events, festivals, days of the year, get bits and pieces right here and there. But those “complete” events, festivals or days are rare entities. 

And that isn’t a knock on these things because the San Francisco Bay Area as a whole is so rich, thick and diverse that the recipe is a hard one to master. 

But that is where Outside Lands version 2011 is a winner.

Now officially four years old, the music, food, art and wine extravaganza has figured it out – “it” being that a music festival isn’t necessarily made awesome by the artists it books, but by whether or not you can book the home-spirit of the place you are borrowing for a couple of days. Accomplishing such a feat was Outside Lands’ biggest success. 

Not that the music wasn’t great or important, because it most definitely was and is – but you had to expect that much going in. The headliners all lived up to their billing: Phish’s double-set on Friday was epic, Muse was better than advertised on Saturday and Arcade Fire’s stock couldn’t be any hotter right now. 

Then you had your “can’t miss” acts, like The Black Keys, MGMT and John Fogerty who added a sense of absolute credibility to the three-day festival. Of the acts in this category, none were more impressive than Erykah Badu on Friday at the Sutro Stage. Badu had the task of not only putting on a dynamic, soulful and profound set, but she also was the one tagged (albeit involuntarily and unintentionally) with rescuing the festival from the gigantic fail that was Big Boi, who failed to perform because of equipment failure, much to the chagrin of the crowd. 

Mission accomplished.

The set of the festival belonged to The Roots, the hip-hop band from Philadelphia. Honestly, is there anyone hipper, fresher and for lack of a better word, sicker than The Roots? All the rumors about how fantastic they are live are true. And if you still don’t believe, ask the thousands of people that took in the 60-minutes of cool at the Twin Peaks stage – the crowd stretched for about a quarter-mile, almost reaching the Panhandle Stage. There is a reason why The Roots are called “legendary,” and they showed San Francisco why on Saturday. 

Then there were those pleasant surprises, or acts that you heard were great but had no idea just how much until you saw them live. Ana Tijoux, Ellie Goulding and Ximena Sarinana fall into that group. Goulding is a rising star, Sarinana an impressive pop talent and the world needs more artists like Tijoux. Tijoux, the Chilean hip-hop artist, puts all current (and most past) female MCs to shame — her skill on the microphone reminds you of artists like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah in their hip-hop hey-day.  

But the all the music aside, what Outside Lands accomplished, what made it awesome, was getting a little bit of everything that makes the Bay Area beautiful into Golden Gate Park for three days of fantastic. 

The menu and selection of food and wine was curtailed for the exact purpose of satisfying every possible taste bud. The same goes for the activities.

Year four of the festival was crucial for Outside Lands — while year three was successful, there were certainly those who were left that festival feeling like it lacked something. 

It felt like 2011 was different. There was a different energy.

Walking across the Polo Field toward the Speedway Meadow people-watching is a great barometer of that. And it was obvious every type of person and every type of flavor, made it out to the festival. There were fathers carrying their young children on their shoulders walking next to a group of hipsters from the Mission. Latinos, Caucasians, Asians; the young and the not-so-young, DeadMau5 fans and those there to see OK GO!

And there were enough flower-children to make the 1960s very proud – For a part of the country known for its diversity, there is no better way of symbolizing this than a festival like Outside Lands, which gets all these people in one place, together. 

Oh, and no San Francisco party would be complete without a cameo from the city’s most important celebrity, the 2010 World Series, trophy, which made an appearance at the Sports Lounge tent on Sunday. 

Even the most important San Franciscan, Mayor Ed Lee, could feel the energy. Lee walked out on the Lands End stage Saturday afternoon and proclaimed to the 60,000 people that Outside Lands was “here to stay forever.”

The prediction of a festival that will be exist as long as San Francisco does isn’t far-fetched though, given that the organizers of Outside Lands seem to have the correct equation figured out. 

Yes, forever would be a terrific thing.




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