Outside Lands 2011: Recap

Outside Lands Music Festival

Photograph by Darryl Kirchner

In its fourth year, San Francisco’s Outside Lands seems to have made everyone happy, and for the festival’s sake—it’s perfect timing. This year marked the end of festival’s contract with the city. With some 180,000 fans reportedly (by the SF Chronicle) attending the festival over the three days, a new contract is likely in the works. Another Planet Entertainment founder, Greg Perloff, who oversees the festival, told Chronicle’s Aidid Vaziri, “The first couple of years, all you heard about was noise and tow trucks…Now you hear about 4,500 jobs and $50 million in revenue coming into the city. I think people finally understand what a festival means for San Francisco. It’s not just a rock concert.”

No it’s not just a rock concert. Amongst headliners Arcade Fire, The Shins, Phish and others, were several crowd pleasing delights like Memphis Minnie’s bbq pork sandwich, Little Chihuahua’s fried plantain burritos, Philz’s coffee, and more. One could even pair their food while schmoozing in the Wine Lands tent, which featured local wineries like Ridge Valley, Navarro, and Tres Sabores.

Photograph by Victoria Smith of Dave Chapelle

Food and wine aside, which is hard to do, there was plenty of great music to enjoy. A rather large crowd arrived early on Friday, to wash in Phantogram’s wave of synths, bright samples, and lively bass thumps. The addition of a drummer with their live set created a more dynamic performance since we last saw them at Treasure Island Festival in 2010.

The festival went smoothly, until Big Boi, who cancelled due to a computer issue. Fans waited for over an hour, graced shortly by Dave Chapelle’s surprise presence, before Big Boi’s tour manager stated “Big Boi doesn’t want to give a half-ass performance, so he’s not going to perform at all.” What might have been a bitter and cold end to Friday was quickly turned around by Erykah Badu’s performance that followed. With the help of a supporting twelve piece band, she wowed fans with showmanship, skills, and style that made for a real performance. Lights emphasized hand flips, as Badu danced around the stage and filled bridges between songs with rehearsed skits. Digging deep into her repertoire, Badu performed several tracks from her 1997 debut, Baduizm, and Mama’s Gun. Many of the songs segued into a creative sonic tangents like, “Appletree,” where halfway through she began beat boxing while playing a sample on an MPC machine.

Saturday, which sold out first, welcomed some early sunshine. Since the festival’s inception, we couldn’t remember a larger turnout. Even with the large crowds, the festival’s amenities were constantly cleaned,  lines weren’t obscene, and the crowds remained civil. Laura Bell, a student at the University of Wisconsin, explained to us “People are so nice here! In Wisconsin, with this many people in one place, there would be fights. It’s probably because they drink more, and there’s a lot more smoking going on here.”

Photograph by Darryl Kirchner

It’s true—while big clouds of smoke loomed over Phish fans on Friday, and DeadMau5 on Sunday, there wasn’t a lack of other options. On Friday, indie synth pop group, Toro Y Moi, played an upbeat set that shifted between songs from the groups two recent albums, while also playing a handful of new tracks. While Sunday, hometown sensation, tUnE-yArDs, displayed an intricate set of layered drum loops, as lead singer Merrill Garbus belted commanding notes like a teacher dictating to her students. Many fans commented that Foster the People, who filled the Sutro field stage, deserved their own festival. STRFKR also drew a large crowd that danced and bobbed their heads to the catchy synth lines, while others listened to the dark soul searching lyrics. Before playing “Julian,” lead singer Josh Hodges made a tribute to his recently deceased grandmother.

But with little surprise (at least for us), the highlight of the festival was Girl Talk’s performance Saturday night. The mashup king, hidden in the shadows of the stage, played several new tracks to one of the largest audiences of the festival. Midway through his set, an overhang full of confetti dropped over the crowd of old and young fans dancing, their arms stretched high, and shouting along with the short familiar genre-blending snippets.

STRFKR at Outside Lans

Photograph by Darryl Krichner of STRFKR

As the festival drew to an end, with a full stomach, aching legs, and heavy eyes we walked away from Outside Lands, as per usual, satisfied, ready for the next year. Thanks again.