Comedian Aisha Tyler started her stand-up set at the Outside Lands festival by talking about how she is originally from San Francisco and that she moved to L.A. to pursue her career, but as soon as she left SF it got extremely cool. She went on to compare it to when you break up with a guy and he suddenly he gets his shit together. The fact is that San Francisco’s hip vibe oozed through every aspect of Outside Lands. From the digital detox camp where people needed to surrender access to their phones to the opposite side of the spectrum with the fest’s graphically gorgeous app and vendors that accepted PayPal; from bike-powered, beatboxing “Cello Joe” to the clown filled carnie sideshow; from sponsored DIY craft stations to live art creation; and the varieties of food and drink from Beer Lands to Wine Lands to Choco Lands to Bacon Lands and hundreds more. The entire festival screamed, “We are cool and fun and you can’t believe you’re here!”
Aside from being metaphorically cool, the Bay area temperature kept the fest brisk, as people dressed and redressed in various layers between various temperatures. The festival started out with heartbreak for many entering Golden Gate Park. Unlike most fests which have switched to RFID bracelets across the board, Outside Lands only gives wristbands to VIPs and those behind the scenes, which has led to massive amounts of fake tickets being sold on the black market. At the festival gates, one could see old ladies as well as parents surprising their children and then country backpackers having their tickets ripped up in front of them, shocked at the realization that they had been scammed out of hundreds of dollars.
For those that made it into the festival they were treated to amazing performances. Early morning started off with the Night Terrors of 1927 who drew a pretty decent sized crowd despite being at a confusing stage to reach. The Sutro Stage, which was primarily Americana for the day started out with Greensky Bluegrass who had a surprising number of fans in the crowd sporting the band’s merch. One man wearing a Greensky hat talked about how they were the number one band he looked forward to at the festival, while all his girlfriend cared about was the Arctic Monkeys. The stage also featured performances from Ryland Baxter, Phosphorescent, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, and Kacey Musgraves (who had the most girls singing along of any act that weekend).
Speaking of Nicki Bluhm and Kacey Musgraves both played covers of Janis Joplin along with Mary Bridget Davies in honor of the new Janis Joplin postage stamp which had its own booth at the festival. The only problem with the Joplin cover show was that the USPS spent so much time on their speeches promoting the stamp thaat many people got bored and left the stage. The only presenter at the showcase who didn’t lose people’s attention from rambling was Janis’s brother Michael Joplin, who even noted that his comments were going to be more brief than the others on stage.
Some other moments of note included Grouplove’s blue haired Christian Zucconi, going to the barricade and embracing the audience in the band’s second song. Mikal Cronin declared that his band’s new name was, “Snakes, with an exclamation point.” Then he, his bandmates and the crowd screamed SNAKES! throughout their entire set. During the beginning of Bleacher’s set, half the band’s sound went out without them even noticing. Assuming it was just a glitch in their monitors, a song and a half later frontman Jack Antonoff had to ask the audience, “Wait, could you hear me before?” to which everyone shouted no. Then Antonoff asked, “But you can hear me now?” which was answered with resounding cheers of “Yes!” At the Gastro Magic stage, a venue for music and/or comedy to mingle with food, Holy Ghost DJed as chef Donald Wressell built a chocolate sculpture and gold dancers handed out chocolate bars in the crowd. The day ended with Kanye West whose performance included a reverse silhouetting light show, and Arctic Monkeys whose greaser attitudes exuded pure sex as lead singer Alex Turner punctuated his lyrics with miniature pelvic thrusts.
Headlining the Twin Peaks stage, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had a message of “Same Love,” bringing out Mary Lambert to sing along on the smash hit she wrote for the hip hop duo, right after a same sex couple proposed on stage. Macklemore even stated how he has always been impressed by San Francisco consistently being at the forefront of equal rights for all of its citizens.
Despite these feel good vibes that ended the evening, the day started out with the receptionist and hostesses at the Esquire Network sponsored Sip & Shave tent being as cold as the shiver-worthy weather that day to a young pangender person named Step Mirsky. Esquire Network’s tent featured free haircuts on the first day for people of all genders, and those getting haircuts and their friends could enjoy free cocktails and water. Starting on Saturday though, the haircuts were for “Men Only.” Steph Mirsky looks more like a young man than a woman, and was allowed to wait in line to reserve a haircut, but as soon as she opened hir mouth, the receptionist quickly realized that she was born female and refused service. Mirsky quickly explained, “I affiliate as transgender.” The receptionist continued to say no, and two hostesses came over and offered Mirsky a free cocktail, but also said they would only be serving men. Mirsky continued to insist that she didn’t want a cocktail, just to have her haircut. At this point Mersky pointed out, “I use men’s products, I’m part of the demographic you’re trying to reach. I might have been born a female, but why does that change…” The employees of the Esquire Network’s tent interrupted her and continued to insist to the young transgendered person that this is for a television network which wasn’t a product for Mirsky’s demographic. Mirsky, floored, walked away. Talking with Mirsky after the event she commented, “I used to read that [Esquire] magazine…and GQ, and do [male] birchbox subscriptions. I’m very involved in this space and right now I feel like, ‘Fuck That.’ I’m not going to be part of that subculture anymore.” Meaning that the Esquire tent not only lost business for the brand’s network and magazine, but for other brands as well.
While Stephanie was having her gender identity stifled, Big Freedia was having her transgender self embraced by audiences throughout the festival. Freedia had three sets throughout the day—one in the Toyota tent, one on the Panhandle stage where she set up a ladder on which she twirked after unbuttoning her pants in order to let her ass jiggle with it, and did one extremely lively set at the Gastro Magic stage. Freedia’s Gastro Magic show was entitled the “Beignets and Bounce Brunch,” and involved the crowd shaking what their mothers gave them in exchange for Beignets as Big Freedia and her dancers shook even more on stage. At one point Freedia took the powdered sugar and shook it on her ass as she bounced. This whole performance was probably the most fun and unique event of the entire festival.
Duck Sauce also did a DJ set at the Gastro Magic stage as Brandon Jew cooked up inspired bites, but it’s hard for the DJ duo to put on a show at a small stage when their set is usually so dependent on spectacle. Armand Van Helden and A-Trak’s Twin Peaks show started late due to technical difficulties getting their giant duck to inflate, but once it was blown up the beat dropped. A-Trak acted as hype man getting everyone excited for his and Helden’s set even though the crowd was pretty hyped up without any prompts. About 10 minutes into Duck Sauce’s performance, stage hands came out and threw bags of duck noses to the audience as A-Trak screamed, “Happy Channukah!” Afterwards A-Trak and Helden put on giant duck beaks as well and took a selfie with the audience.
Around 4:30, almost all the festival goers were either at Haim or had crowded around the tiny Panhandle stage to give Vance Joy the largest crowd that stage saw the whole festival, but where everyone should have been was at the Barbary. Why the Barbary you ask? Well because the Improvised Shakespeare Company was performing at this comedy-centric stage. But why see comedy, even if it’s by a critically acclaimed Bard-inspired imprv group, at a music festival when last year’s break out indie lady rockers and this year’s up and coming Australian mellow jam singer are performing? Well, because the Improvised Shakespeare Company surprised everyone with their guest star Patrick Stewart. That’s right, Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise, or if you prefer CHarles Xavier himself was on stage pretending to be a drunk greek seducing the ladies in the one and only performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Shish Kabob!”
Other highlights of Day 2 included: Jagwar Ma finally coming into their own as performers, giving the intensity which sometimes has been lacking from their crowds they’ve been drawing; Christopher Owens rocking out with his soulful female background singers; and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performing a two-hour set, after earlier that week, after 37 years, finally having scored their first number one album on the Billboard 200, if you can believe that.
The final and only consistently warm day at the festival had everyone in the mood to dance, though due to hangovers, arriving a little later than intended. Not good for California rockers the Bots who opened to a smaller crowd than deserved, but was fine for anyone wishing to stick to the Lands End stage.
Entering the festival, there were murmers and grumbles of frustration echoing throughout the crowd, “Fuck this!” “Goddamnit” and “Are you kidding me?!” among the most common. This was because at the giant Lands End stage LED screens read, “CHVRCHES NOT PERFORMING.” While many audience members were crushed, this ended up being very good news for Flume. While Jenny Lewis still had a descent sized crowd for her rainbow-adorned badassness, almost all of CHVRCHES crowd abandoned Paolo Nutini’s pushed back set time to go see Flume, giving him the largest crowd of the entire festival, taking up the entirety of Hellman’s Hallow.
Lykke Li also benefited because almost all of Flume’s crowd stuck around for her before over half of them left to catch the Flaming Lips. Those that stuck around though danced on tables during Cut Copy and enjoyed a lively set from Gold Panda before Tiesto, despite Gold Panda having broken some of his equipment. Derwin Schlecker (aka Gold Panda) appologized for not being able to get his equipment to work, saying, “I can’t do about 40% of what I wanted to without it, so if this sucks pretend it didn’t.” And low and behold his beats pleased all.
The Flaming Lips continued to live up to their reputation for putting on a spectacular spectacle. Frontman Wayne Coyne started the set in his newly iconic, muscular anatomy bodysuit with sparkling streamers hanging from his genital region and a streamer jacket. He waved large balls of tinsel in the air and threw flowers into the crowd. The stage was decorated by fans in psychedelic garden outfits representing a rainbow, a patch of flowers and two mushrooms. After taking all but the patch of flowers off the stage, giant butterflies and a sun came on encouraging the audience to dance. Wayne kept dancing and hugging the sun, before he finally left the stage with the girl in the flower patch costume. When this happened he returned inside his giant hamster ball balloon wearing a silver bodysuit with colorful cotton balls where the glitter streamer was previously. Not only did he surf the crowd in his ball, but stood up near the sound board and sang from it.
The Flaming Lips and after them the Killers each peppered their sets with covers. The Flaming Lips performed the Chemical Brother’s Golden Path, and concluded with a surreal rendition of the Beatles’ Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. The Killers went through Creedence Clearwater Revivial’s Bad Moon Rising and Otis Redding’s Dock Of The Bay.
While The Killers played an invigorating set, much of the crowd left before the band concluded with When You Were Young, because everyone was exhausted from the entire weekend of music and revelry. It probably would have been much more exciting to be at The Killers warm up show the previous evening at San Francisco’s 500-capacity club, The Independent. According to those in attendance, the Killers entered to the theme song from Full House, covered Tommy James and the Shondells’ I Think We’re Alone Now and had Danielle Haim play drums as the band played On Top for the first time since 2009.
Although not everyone at the festival could be one of those lucky 500 at The Independent on Saturday, everyone who got to the festival early enough got to enjoy the fem-rockabilly vocal stylings of Dublin’s Imelda May who actually drew a larger crowd when her set was pushed due to CHVRCHES cancellation. After Imelda, those who hadn’t had their fill of females that make you wanna dance had to look no further than Lucius front women Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig who wielded their the crowd’s feet like they wielded their percussion instruments, with precision and not to excess.
Sunday also included chill rock sets from Courtney Barnett and Spoon, who used almost a third of their set to try out new material off of the band’s recent album, They Want My Soul. While the Gastro Magic stage didn’t feature any big name musical acts, and the Improvised Shakespeare in the Kitchen had no sign of Patrick Stewart, Craig Robinson did host a fun music and food themed Jeopardy game. What do you call a parody singer who wrote “Eat It” with ice cream? Weird Al A Mode. Actually, that would be an ampt name for the entire, weird, wacky, cool weather weekend of Outside Lands 2014.
Photos by Annie Lesser