FESTIVAL RECAP: Outside Lands 2012

SUNDAY

Sunday involved a fair amount of racing around the park, in an attempt to take in as much as possible. The steady movement paid off quickly, as we stumbled into Jack White’s Third Man Records secret pop-up set in the woods with his all-female band and a special appearance by Tom Morello. All bets and better-laid plans were off for the time being and we were treated to “Hotel Yorba,” the new “Love Interruption,” and a Raconteurs’ cut “Broken Boy Soldiers.” All lucky enough to have stumbled upon this stealth set were asked to sit down so everyone could see the show. Watching White play in such a small setting followed by an appearance by Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) is a live music experience no one in attendance will ever forget.

After the special stop-in with White & Co., it was over for some Afro-pop with the decorous and golden spectacled Amadou and Mariam. The Twin Peaks area was the place to be on Sunday, and after Amadou there was modern festival staple Santigold – who’s beats-heavy and stylin’ funk, rock and reggae mix blew the crowd energy wide open. There are few performers today with a better stage presence and you can always count on Santi to kill it and bring something new to each and every festival set.

BOMBA ESTEREO

After the highly-anticipated and thoroughly delivered-on Santi set, things got even better at Bomba Estereo’s set, as Colombian flags flew around the Panhandle Stage and the ridiculously locked-in band laid down a thickly-layered, tropical wash of electronics and beat-perfect drumming for lead singer Lilliana Saumet to work upon, delivering a lively, yet too-short set that highlighted the festival’s final day.

Bomba Estereo @ Outside Lands 2012 || Photo by Jimmy Grotting

STEVIE WONDER

Only one dilemma met fans on the final night: choosing between joining in Stevie Wonder’s hit stream/singalong/covers parade or Skrillex’s of-the-moment dubstep beats on the opposite end of the park. For many, it was actually a tough decision. Stevie did a fair amount of preaching interspersed with some playfully biting humor amongst hits like the opening “Master Blaster”, “I Wish” and a surprising cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The man’s vocal range is as good as ever and a Stevie Wonder closing set sent all on that side of the park home with hearts full, helping blow out the candles on year five of Outside Lands with “Happy Birthday.”

SKRILLEX @ Outside Lands 2012 || Photo by Jimmy Grotting

THE VERDICT

While enjoying the final moments of the festival at Stevie Wonder, my buddy Thomas of FUTUREBIRDS remarked that Outside Lands was his favorite festival experience of them all, and, considering his band has now appeared at Bonnaroo, ACL, Lollapalooza and Forecastle over the last year, Johnson knows a thing or two about the modern festival landscape. It’s hard to disagree, even knowing that in-the-moment festival glow can make such a happening difficult to accurately assess. As life oscillates back to normalcy, one thing is abundantly clear: there is something enchanting and truly unique that makes Outside Lands and its host city San Francisco a must-visit and an American gem. Probably not telling you anything new on the latter. What a weekend, five stars across the board.

PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEKEND

(1) Metallica > Sigur Ros > Metallica
(2) Bomba Estereo
(3) Tame Impala
(4) Antibalas
(5) Santigold
(6) Reggie Watts
(7) Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Tom Morello @ Outside Lands 2012 Third Man Records Set || Photo by Wesley Hodges

Bonuses: Marvelous sets by FUTUREBIRDS and White Denim late night on Friday at the Brick & Mortar Music Hall. Catching a brief glimpse of California Honeydrops in the woods on Saturday night whilst drinking my first hot chocolate in over a decade. Tom Morello’s incendiary electric guitar solo during a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” lit a fire, lifting me from the doldrums of a strugglish Sunday morning.

FOOD / DRINK LANDS

Whole Beast Food Vendor @ Outside Lands – 8/12/2012 || Photo by Wesley Hodges

At a festival, you’ve gotta eat and if it’s your sort of thing, you should probably do some boozing at Outside Lands given the Wine and Beer Lands offerings. In the words of OL orientation director Reggie Watts, “that’s what a festivals for.” For decades, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has been the undisputed champion in the culinary department, but Outside Lands gives its lengthy reign a serious run for its money, by opening up the gates to allow vendors representing some of the best restaurants and food trucks around, and giving patrons an almost unlimited variety of options to choose from. The only thing that the food and drink options were lacking, is really anything remotely resembling a bargain / value option you’d be able to easily find at Bonnaroo or Jazz Fest. There were a few, but they were extremely few and far between. To be expected at a (i) gated music fest (ii) in San Francisco – a veritable double whammy for high prices.

MUST-EATS: Hawaiian Poke from Pacific Catch Tent, Fried Pickle Chips from Fabulous Frickle Brothers, a simply delicious and heady early grilled cheese and the undisputed heavyweight champion of festival pizza: Spicy Pie.
MUST-DRINKS: Pacific Brewing Labs Squid Ink, Black IPA, tasty hops-age and a cool name to boot.
JOLT: Plain ole coffee was in extremely high demand over the weekend. The lines at Philz Coffee were the longest I saw, building like clockwork once temperatures dropped.
HEALTH OPTIONS: Malaysian vegan nachos from Azalina’s were among the worldly delights and healthy alternatives to normal festival fare that were around every corner in Golden Gate Park. Spicy hot and actually a decent bang for your buck. No easy feat at Outside Lands.

See you in 2013!