The Pleasant (and not so pleasant) Surprises of Outside Lands 2010

08/18/2010

Due to my complete and utter naivety, I’m often surprised by things that others would, without thought, assume common. The Outside Lands Festival was no exception (though there were the predictable, truly memorable performances from Phoenix, The Soft Pack and Gogol Bordello that are deserving of 2000 words each). These are the surprises I incurred over the weekend at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, whether they be surprises to you when you read them or not. Organized chronologically, as the world unfolded.

Surprises of YAY! (These are the good kind)

Chase Bank

If it’s possible to expect a surprise, I expected the first one to come from a relatively small act. Someone with a 1 o’clock slot that I’d never heard of. I didn’t make it that far before numero uno. Before I could catch one band, I was drawn to the mystical allure of the Chase Lounge Tent (disclaimer: they are not paying me…..yet), with its central location, shiny white couches and inviting formaldehyde scent. In the tent (which was mostly for members of the media and bigwigs): free Napa wine, free Heineken, free food from some of the festival’s highly touted local vendors and absolutely no crowds/lines. Sure, the media’s invite was probably just a ploy to get me to do the exact thing I’m doing right now; I could care less, I shill away. Free whatever you want all weekend- that’s worth a month’s work some places. Yea, they’re being accused of assisting mountain top removal in West Virginia, and sure they’re new under tighter scrutiny under the nation’s new financial legislation, but, my business sense tells me that this going to get them places. I’m going to talk continuously about Chase to anyone who doesn’t want to hear about ‘em until next year.

Pretty Lights /Bassnectar

After my unexpected detour, I easily found my first “How had I not heard of these guys?” moments.  First, it was Pretty Lights. The electronic duo slyly produced a killer mix of hip-hop, synth notes, funk and soul, blending each sound with the other to render them anew. “Listen for the sample of Player’s Club,” my friend told me. I could not find it, but I was happy to know it was there. As with all DJs that I end up appreciating (not many)-  watching the crowd watch the man behind the 10 foot DJ booth was what got me awkwardly swaying my whiter-than-white head. That would have been enough DJ in the day for me had it not been for the fact that at least 6 people, in succession, told me to check out Bassnectar. I’ve had enough I said, let me listen to instruments and amps. I was wrong. Why the eff had no one told me about this guy before?! I had no idea a thumping bass could get me all wiled up; I knew it got other people all mimbly-jimbly, but I thought I was immune. I wish I had a proper way to describe the sonic orgy that is Bassnectar, but this will do: The most telling moment of the show was when the power was cut in the middle of third song. Before the music cut, the crowd of 10 behind me literally looked as if they were about to pass out solely from over-sensation. When the power was dropped I saw no relief to be away from the extreme sensation the beats were causing and they complained that they “paid the [75$ dollar one day fee] just to see Bassnectar.” They didn’t leave, neither did anyone else. They’d come too far to not experience orgasm by Bassnectar. And they were rewarded properly 15 minutes later when the San Francisco-based beatmaker called out, “They’re going to give us more time,” and slipped right back into the seducing of the arm-waving, heavily induced throng. And it was beautiful.

My Morning Jacket

Every time. And I never learn. I was surprised not by their set but by the fact that I always forgot that they’re going to leave me standing, dancing and wanting more. I miss you already MMJ.

Local Eats

Apparently, last year I only had the food that looked like it was local but was, in fact, only refrigerated. This year I went after food only after confirming that the people that made it cared what it tasted like…and I was happily, and repeatedly, rewarded. Thank you Earthly Delights.

Mayer Hawthorne and The County

You guys’ll be stars. I would say wait and see but I’m sure you already sense that. Any doubters should have seen the hands rain down during “I Wish It Would Rain”.

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and Nas

As with MMJ, I will always underestimate Jr. Gong and Nas. Hits, hits, hits and hits. Whether they are separate or together, I am always left in awe by their stage presence, their take on recorded songs and the alternating, give-and-take nature of their set. I’m not sure if it’s due to lowered expectations or because they keep raising the bar, but I can’t think of an act I’d rather see at an outdoor festival. Plus, that dude who waves the flag from the start of the set until the end is pretty badass.

The Budos Band

I might get flogged for saying so, but nonetheless: The Budos Band put on the best set of the 2010 Outside Lands Festival. The ten-member Staten Island-based “Afro-Soul” band absolutely killed it as the closer on the Solar stage on Sunday. All weekend I’d been hyping them to anyone I was with, which then led me to worry that I’d set the bar too high. Wrong again. The bar could have been on the top of the rafters on the Lands End stage and it wouldn’t have been high enough; the 40 minute set should have gone 2 hours longer….the only mistake they made.

Whoever was in charge of scheduling the bands

You nailed it. I had my doubts coming in; I’ll easily admit that the lineup alone wasn’t enough to draw me. On paper, the lineup came out as random and awkward, a mish-mash of jam bands, indie acts and hip-hop. In person, it made absolute sense. Cycling continuously throughout the musical spectrum, the line-up had a flow that forced you into musical areas that you didn’t know you liked but that the Outside Lands producers knew you would appreciate. Ask any of my friends (what friends?) and they’ll tell you I show a complete unconscious aversion to anything electronic based. But, because of the way the show was set up, I couldn’t escape the beats of Bassnectar and Pretty lights as I was passing by to see some of my favorite indie acts and now I’ve got two new bands to listen to because of it. So, from me to you, Thank you.

Surprises of BOOOOOOO (The band kind, not the scary kind)

Hippies

Once again, I underestimated the hippy. I don’t mind your shoeless frolicking but must you run into me repeatedly without apologizing. You can frolic over there in that wide open field, over there. Why do you have to do it in a crowd of 50 where everyone is trying to watch a band they paid money to see? Oh, that’s right- you need the attention. I keep forgetting that hippiedom centers not on selflessness but on self-promotion.  Why is this a one-way street hippies? You hassle and harangue as we leave the concert grounds for “free tickets” to see your precious Grateful remnants, but what’s in it for us. I get absolutely no satisfaction from giving something to someone who isn’t going to appreciate it; you assume you deserve free tickets and for that you will never get one from me. Just once, ask politely.

Whoever was in charge of engineering the entrances and exits

Overall, the organization of this year’s festival was far better than the last two. I only heard small complaints of having to wait in line for beer and food, the sponsors were existent but not pushy (again: Chase Bank!) and most of those I talked to lauded the line-up as a “great mix” of music. But, the situation with the entrances and exits- which were located only on the north and south sides of the venue space- could use a little touch. Both nights, I was at the far east end of the complex having just finished an act at the Twin Peaks stage, only to realize that instead of just being able to walk out of the event space, I had to walk another half mile (felt like 2 after a day of trudging) just to loop back around. It probably wasn’t that bad and I’m probably just whining because it was two long days, but it seems an easy problem to rectify (though, I’m not an event planner nor do I have to worry about logistics of any sort).  Anyway, at the very least we could have used a better entrance system on the south side of the park- where signs pointed vaguely pointed you in the direction of “Box Office- 25 minutes” and “Ticket Holders- 15 minutes.” First, should the walk really be a minimum of 15 minutes when you can clearly see 2 of the stages? Second, is it really necessary to remind us how far we still have to go?

Not to end on a negative note though!….

Admittedly, this year I was on the fence about even going to the show, probably leaning towards a no. The lineup was “meh” I thought. After soaking in the show for two days, after immeasurable hospitality and after realizing the genius of the schedulers, I’m much more inclined to buy tickets for next year….no matter if Arcade Fire headlines or not.

-Patrick Kelly