Huge photo gallery below highlights!
Dialed in – that’s the most succinct way one can describe the 2012 installment of Outside Lands. The fifth installment of the three-day music, food and arts gathering in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park had nearly every element down this year, having learned and refined the flow of humanity and entertainment from previous years so that even when crowds were sizeable things moved along fairly smoothly. Already one of the West Coast’s best weekends, this year Outside Lands secured its place amongst the finest festivals happening in the U.S. today.
By not overselling tickets – though all three days in 2012 sold out – and putting as much care into the atmosphere and sustenance as they do the lineup choices, Outside Lands cemented its unique personality – hip, young, tuned-in, foodies, urban, tech savvy – this round, where the mingling of savory things on forks, good wine, and forward thinking music all worked together for a really fine time. And yes, there are still children with flowers in their hair in the Park, but most were also rocking earbuds for their MP3 player or smart phone, too.
7 Highlights From Outside Lands 2012
1. Golden Gate Park
The justifiably famous park is a verdant, rolling landscape that contributes a great deal to the fest’s character. Every stage is ringed by trees and the shifting, blue-grey sky, and once one passes through the gates there is an unmistakable sense of visiting “somewhere” different than the norm. The near total absence of concrete and open, grassy expanses in front of each stage create the illusion one has left the city, yet just a few blocks away all of SF’s riches await. Yes, getting 70,000 or so people in and out of this space can be a traffic/logistical nightmare, but the organizers and the city get a bit better each year – helped a great deal by the now-seasoned regulars who know well enough to leave their cars at home for the most part.
2. Food Truck Culture
Some of the most innovative cooking today is happening on wheels. SF was an early adopter of this culture, and for the past two years Outside Lands has welcomed these purveyors of lamb poutine and sea salt & mocha cream cupcakes. Instead of situating all the trucks in the same meadow as in 2011, this year found pockets of food trucks in several spots. It’s a hell of an improvement over most music fests to be able to score quality Korean tacos, artisan pizzas, buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches with jalapeno slaw and more, and most of it not outrageously priced for the setting (no one being realistic should expect bargain prices). Feeding the body as well as the spirit and mind is clearly a priority for the organizers.
3. Best Headliners In Festival History
With no disrespect meant to past main stage headliners like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Pearl Jam and Radiohead, this year’s trio of Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Friday), Metallica (Saturday) and Stevie Wonder (Sunday) delivered the goods in a really palpable, super fun way that transcended performances to be truly special experiences. One thing Outside Lands excels at is honoring Bay Area favorites, and that’s never been accomplished more successfully than with Crazy Horse and Metallica, who both enjoy rabid, extensive lifelong fan bases in the SF region. These are local heroes, and as such they dug a bit deeper than a regular show with heartfelt performances that reached inside their catalogues for fan favorites, new material and beloved gems. Steve Wonder, well, he’s just a party every time out, and it’s always a kick to be in a massive audience that knows the words to every song and belts them out without reservation. Oh, Metallica wins the trophy for most absorbing, pyrotechnics filled stage production of the weekend. Thanks for the lasers, dudes!
4. Tame Impala
While a fair amount of attendees may have been unfamiliar with Australian import Tame Impala, the sheer force and unctuous charm of their Saturday afternoon main stage performance surely ensnared a LOT of new fans. With only one official album (2010’s Innerspeaker) and a sophomore slab not due until this October, Tame Impala made their case purely on the strength of their music and live presence. With a bassist wearing a KISS tee and playing a vintage Rickenbacker bass, it was obvious this young band draws inspiration from a number of sources to create their heady mélange – a bit classic rock, a bit Stone Roses rave-up, a touch Nuggets psychedelic, and a whole lot of sharp, memorable (even XTC-ish in spots) songwriting. What they offered was a sound too massive, too soulfully crunchy and undulating, to be contained inside walls and ceilings. Hearing them in GG Park was a sublime reminder of how music affects the body, and in this instance, in a wholly positive way.
5. Sutro Stage Friday Lineup
If White Denim, Sharon Van Etten, Reggie Watts, The Walkmen, Of Monsters and Men, and Andrew Bird aren’t already on your radar they should be. Soon. From the top of the day head-charge of White Denim to the strange pop of Andrew Bird at sunset, the Sutro Stage in Lindley Meadow was a ringing confirmation of the booking skills at Outside Lands. These six acts neatly encapsulate where popular music is headed in the years ahead, artists young enough to be tuned into today’s pulse but smart enough to mine the past for every little good thing they can unearth. Whether one was already a fan or hearing any of these performers for the first time, the music spoke for itself in every instance – immediate, intelligent, engaged and free from the snarky cynicism and posing that infect so much modern rock. And while they all resonated on a shared, forward-moving frequency, each differed, often wildly, in tone and style. If one wanted diversity and fresh grist for their listening mill they couldn’t have done better than the Sutro Stage on Friday.
Rumor has it that it was a healthy financial offer from Outside Lands that got this pioneering 90s/early 2000s band back together. While that’s often a recipe for a flat, doing-it-for-the-money performance, Grandaddy sounded utterly fantastic, a shimmering reminder of how much ground they broke that LOTS of Pitchfork adored bands are getting undeserved credit for these days. These guys are the tillers and cultivators that began the organic synthesis of synths and electric guitars so prevalent now, but there’s a tightness and blippy rightness to Grandaddy their copyists will never know. And if one doubts this, well, their Outside Lands set [and by all reports, the late night gig at The Independent the next day, too] gave empirical proof that this is a band worth serious reassessment. The songs universally hold up, sounding as fresh as anything coming out this week AND doing them one better by weaving in lovely melodies and incisive lyrical insights. The take away, at least for this writer, from Outside Lands was Grandaddy is one of THE premiere modern rock bands of the past 25 years. Bandleader/mastermind Jason Lytle remarked onstage, “I lost a lot of sleep wondering how this was gonna work out. It seems to be working out fine.” The fist in the air from guitarist Jim Fairchild that accompanied this comment lends hope to the idea that this reunion may stick and we can look forward to more from them down the line. Fingers are crossed.
7. The Attendees
Face it, too many festivals draw a rowdy, drink spilling element that’s there more to get trashed (and trash things) than to enjoy the music. Outside Lands, for lack of a better word, is a touch more sophisticated. Sure, the rave-ready teens seemed hell-bent on craziness during Die Antwoord’s set and pouring in and out of the DJ dance dome, but they largely followed one of DI’s cardinal festival rules – i.e. don’t let your good time ruin someone else’s good time.
There’s much less random, stupid hooting and screaming in the crowd, and for the most part, people apologized if they bumped into you. A little civility goes a long way in this increasingly tribal, us-vs.-them world, and it only added to one’s ability to really soak in the quality music and grub at Outside Lands. While this fest draws a fairly young audience, they don’t have the same snotty, hipper-than-thou vibe one picks up on at Lollapalooza, Coachella and other tastemaker festivals. Folks just seem to be happy being in Golden Gate Park, being themselves and enjoying the many shiny things and tasty morsels that grab their attentions. Lot of smiles at this one, and it makes the Impound grin to think back on this weekend – an annual event we’re now marking in ink on our calendars.
Dirty Impound is proud to present this mood-capturing gallery from lensman extraordinaire John Margaretten