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Outside Lands 2014: A big, stellar festival for bands, fans and foodies

This year's Outside Lands was a festival of big acts such as Arctic Monkeys but even smaller acts delivered in their performances much to the delight of the 200,000 festival-goers who attended over the three days in Golden Gate Park.
This year's Outside Lands was a festival of big acts such as Arctic Monkeys but even smaller acts delivered in their performances much to the delight of the 200,000 festival-goers who attended over the three days in Golden Gate Park.
Photo by Celine Teo-Blockey

The 7th annual Outside Lands Music Festival held over this last weekend from Aug 8 to 10 in Golden Gate Park was a festival where bands did what they did best for the 200,000 fans that turned up for the event. The Killers did big anthemic tunes sung to the throbbing sea of fans as far as the eucalyptus groves bordering the Polo Fields would allow. While the euphoric fans sung swathes of versus and chorus in unison back to frontman, Brandon Flowers proving the Las Vegas headliners popularity has not waned.

The Killers frontman, Brandon Flowers sing all their hits - opening with 'Mr Brightside' and closing the festival with 'When You Were Young'
Photo by Celine Teo-Blockey

Tom Petty & The Heatrbreakers’ old school rock of well-worn and familiar hits like “Free Fallin”, “Learning to Fly” and “American Girl” gave the thirty and forty-something’s the soundtrack to their childhood and elder-hippies a great blast further into the past. Arctic Monkeys’ tightly-wound Brit chip-shop rock now all grown up, sexy and loose surpassed their last Bay Area performance and gave no one present, any second thought about which act they wanted closing their first night.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis brought “Thrift Shop” dancers and even the now expectant ‘spontaneous’ same-sex marriage proposal to the Twin Peaks stage. While Kanye West of course, brought his ego-stroking of his own ego on a massive scale for all who had the stomach for it.

Many may have honestly preferred the antithesis of that – the more trippy spectacle that The Flaming Lips offered. Their own brand of psychedelic rock opera that saw Wayne Coyne gently escort giant rainbows off stage; wave goodbye to a children’s storybook-like giant butterfly; and roll around in his own giant hamster-ball over the crowd then back onto the stage. A humble, ‘communal freak-out’ as Coyne calls it but all the while bringing on crowd-pleasing hits such as “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”, “Do You Realise” and their Beatles cover of “Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds”.

Really to the credit of Another Planet Entertainment and Superfly Productions, all the bands they lined up at Outside Lands this year delivered. Except maybe synth-pop band, Chvrches who cancelled due to an airport mix-up and as frontwoman, Lauren Mayberry put it on her Twitter account - ‘a healthy dose of bad luck’.

Even early afternoon opening acts such as the newly-formed gothic-synth The Night Terrors of 1927; Rockabilly-Dubliner Imelda May; shoe-gazey Dum Dum Girls; and white-rap and reggae duo, Aer put it strong performances.

While Night Terrors did their Goth thing on the Panhandle Stage with their own moody weather, Aer took to the Twin Peaks stage with such good cheer that it was impossible to not throw your rap hands in the air. All the pretty young lasses in their floral tops and flowers in their hair greeting each other with customary squeals, big smiles and even bigger hugs were lovely to watch. All those good vibes in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s rock forefathers would have been proud.

Those who whine about a festival’s one distasteful headliner as a reason to not buy a ticket at all, is the classic case of cutting of your noise to spite your face. The line-up was full of formidable mid-tier bands from Death Cab for Cutie to Disclosure, Nicki Blume And The Gramblers to Mikal Cronin, Jenny Lewis, Lykke Li, The Kooks, Haim and Atmosphere. Besides, the festival is such a smorgasbord of bands that they are only too many eager music fans waiting to step in and snap up tickets. Little surprise the festival sold out so quickly this year.

The food, wine and craft beer aspect of the festival has become so much a cornerstone to Outside Lands that festival-goers didn’t seem to mind missing an act, if they were in Choco-Lands having “secret breakfast” a dreamy ice cream concoction of bourbon (yes, bourbon) and cornflakes; in line for a doughnut burger while Capital Cities took to the stage; or just holding a craft cocktail in hand while walking between two maybe three stages and finding they were all breaking out in spontaneous collective singing to Annie Lennox’s “Sweet Dreams” which suddenly boomed out from the Panhandle stage.

And in a real coup, this year, McLaren Pass Gastro Magic curated by Chef’s Feed truly teamed music with food for Beignets & Bounce Brunch with Big Freedia. It was mayhem on that small stage with twerking dancers, a big bass beat and the sweetest of eats. Other highlights include Chocolate Gold Rush with Holy Ghost and The Improvised Shakespeare Company in the Kitchen. The latter brought X-Men’s Professor Charles Xavier aka Sir Patrick Stewart to the Golden Gate Park woodlands. Next year, I am spending more time there.

Lindley Meadow the site for the comedy stage of The Barbary co-curated by SF Sketchfest, continued to uphold that long tradition of comedy and music. OSL was abuzz with the festival opener of Garfunkel & Oates and kept revelers going back to that laugh-a-minute nook all weekend where the last guests were fittingly Thomas Middleditch, TJ Miller and Kumail Nanjani from HBO series “Silicon Valley”.

All the corporate sponsors were out to help us have a better festival experience. For the third year, Paypal provided lockers (and guaranteed they would be safe overnight, yes!) and this year also a convenience store where you could do some craft braiding or get a handy tattoo on your arm of the day's schedule - while your phone charged up. The PR for PayPal, Gita Chandra said: “Every year we put out more lockers and every year we sell out faster. In the convenience store, you can buy festival essentials like lip balm, sunscreen, blankets and sunglasses with our app. We want to give festival-goers a better and more enjoyable experience.” And you do not have to worry about bringing any cash, as with the app you can even buy tacos from Tacolicious, bbq summer rolls from Freshrolls and a number of other food merchants. Plus they give $1 from each sale to charities such as Surfrider, Headcount, La Cocina and the San Francisco Rock Project – a non-profit music school.

Esquire also had an awesome service where hipsters could sit back in a barber’s chair for an old-fashion shave or just get their beard’s trimmed. Where was the manicure or bang trim for the gals, I say?

As someone used to living oceanside in The Presidio, even the weather I felt was charming. San Francisco in the summer is always shrouded in fog but Outside Lands this year brought a beautiful almost-full moon sunset evening on the first day. The usual cool temps returned on day two and three but there was enough sunshine again on Sunday that fans were opting to sit in the shade of trees while SF’s own lyrical poet Watsky did us proud on the Twin Peaks stage.

Visitors from out of town who grumbled that ‘it is summer?’ as they put on their down jackets should know how lucky they are that the fog wasn’t thicker and the wind not blowing a howling gale. Besides, that was the point of the merchandise stands and little wonder that the rather fetching grey sweater and OSL blanket was sold out by early Day 2.

But when all is said and done, my favorite Outside Lands moment were all music related – Day 1 was having Arctic Monkeys live up to high expectations. We can now unequivocally call Alex Turner, a rock god as he shimmied and swayed his hips singing grittier, dirtier, with authenticity and clearly, hardly any sleep. The outdoors seem to suit them better too. After “Knee Socks” I catch a couple in embrace, lip locking. This happens with different couples after “My Propeller”, “I Wanna Be Yours” and even “Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”. This music doesn’t suit the fresh-faced fan girls as much as the down-dirty couplings. And we like it!

After a slightly bumpy start to Day 2, watching Bay area’s own Finish Ticket take to my favorite stage, The Panhandle and sing the amazing “Pockets” turned my day around. On stage, frontman, Brandon Hoye reveals the song was written at a low point for them, when they felt slightly depressed that their hometown was not giving them a chance to make it. He adds: "But now look at us we have come home to play at Outside Lands.” Plus they have recently scored a record deal with Atlantic and are on tour. So nice to see a local band make good, and on their ascent.

Day 3’s highlight was a tie between Coyne gently coo-ing “…her name is Yoshimi, she’s a black belt in karate…” with the dulcet harmonies of fellow band member, Steve Drozd. It brought me to tears - those seemingly insane lyrics about evil robots that my young sons love to sing complete with karate chop sound effects. I don’t know… it was emotional. You feel the insight into its true message perhaps.

And of course when Australian, Courtney Barnett relents to the calls of fans after her excellent guitar-shredding set, and steps out of the backstage area to meet, greet and take selfies! The newcomer, clearly touched by the outpouring of fans who are a mix of Bay Area natives and Aussies living abroad say with the biggest most bashful smile, “I’m not really sure what I’m suppose to do now?” Those priceless, small moments, those are what made Outside Lands big for me.

More Outside Lands band interviews to follow in the coming weeks.