This weekend marks the 8th annual Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival and expectations are sky high once again. Over the last seven years, Outside Lands has steadily asserted itself in the overcrowded festival circuit by developing a character and flavor all its own. This is a festival that is uniquely San Francisco, with an emphasis on quality food, wine, craft beer, art installations, and just plain weird sideshows that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It seems like every year new bells and whistles are added (for one, a mini-golf course with wine pairings will be debuting this year), and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the festival is held in beautiful Golden Gate Park, which allows locals to walk or bike to the festival if they are so inclined.
However, even with all of these things vying for one’s attention, first and foremost, of course, is the music. This bill is even more diverse than in years past, with an eclectic mix of elder statesmen (Billy Idol, Elton John), EDM royalty (Amon Tobin, Axwell & Ingrosso, Porter Robinson), and bands that will make you dance your ass off (Django Django, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Classixx, Hot Chip), not to mention acts touring behind some of the strongest albums of 2015 (Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar, Wilco). Since you probably already have an idea which of the headliners you’ll be seeing (D’Angelo, King Kendrick, and Sir Elton are no brainers for me), we’ve compiled a list of 10 reasons to get to the park on the early side each day.
Natalie Prass (12pm, Sutro Stage)
After being in the can for over 2 years, Natalie’s debut album finally dropped at the beginning of the year on Spacebomb Records, and she has been winning fans over with her sharp lyrics and warm voice ever since. The album features the same Spacebomb house band and production that made label founder Matthew E. White’s first two albums so impressive; in other words, plenty of lush horn and string arrangements. At the end of the day though, it is Natalie’s impressive songwriting and knack for melodies that carry the day; in fact, she has been compared to both Dusty Springfield and Harry Nilsson. She has the unenviable task of opening up the proceedings on Friday, but she’s definitely up to the task; if I had to guess, her October headlining gig at The Independent will be sold out before the weekend is over.
Jen Kirkman, Ron Funches, Joe DeRosa and Rory Scovel (1pm, The Barbary Tent)
Per usual, the great folks at SF Sketchfest are curating this year’s Barbary Tent comedy lineup, and it’s a doozy. I generally don’t keep tabs on the up and coming talent in the stand-up comedy world, but Jen Kirkman grabbed my attention in a BIG way with her recent Netflix special I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine). Her sharp, deliriously raunchy and biting commentary on turning 40, divorce, having kids, and relationships in general is spot on and she never goes for the easy joke either. On the other hand, Ron Funches’ calm and cool delivery had me cracking up the one time I saw him and Joe DeRosa was a writer for the excellent Wet Hot American Summer reboot on Netflix that just dropped a few days ago. This and Comedy Bang! Bang! with Scott Auckerman look to be the two can’t miss comedy affairs… if you can bear to tear yourself away from the music for an hour or two.
Leon Bridges (2:25pm, Sutro Stage)
This 26 year-old soul singer from Fort Worth, Texas has been building up an almost deafening buzz since he went on his first national tour earlier this year. Most often compared to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding in terms of vocal stylings, his decidedly retro-sounding debut album makes quite the statement, but his live shows are supposed to be a whole different beast entirely. The last time I heard this much chatter about an artist in this genre, it was the Alabama Shakes, and we all know how that turned out. Given all of the accolades being thrown his way, it’s no surprise that Another Planet booked him for one of their coveted Outside Lands late-night shows at The Independent — which sold out almost instantly, by the way. Don’t miss this one, folks.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2:05pm, Twin Peaks Stage)
In many ways, Unknown Mortal Orchestra could be considered Tame Impala’s psychedelic baby brother, kind of like New Zealand is to Australia. UMO is the namesake of New Zealander Ruban Nielson, a studio tinkerer who crafts songs alone in his basement, and then uses a full band to flesh the songs out live — just like Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. Ruban is known to be very meticulous and slave for months over his songs, so the end results are nothing short of astounding. UMO tours as a three piece, which means the songs are loose and there is plenty of space for them to breathe amidst assaults of synthesizers and guitar freak outs. UMO’s third album, Multi-Love, took the band’s trippy sound in a new direction by incorporating funk and R&B stylings into the mix, so it should be interesting to see how the new songs translate live.
Fantastic Negrito (2:55pm, Panhandle Stage)
This is the one local musician I’m mentioning, and it’s a doozy. Current Oakland resident and black-roots artist Xavier Dphrepaulezz, performs under the name Fantastic Negrito, and he has had a whirlwind 2015. He was hand-picked out of almost 7000 unsigned entrants as the winner of NPR’s Tiny Desk contest in February (which has also hosted luminaries like The Pixies, Cat Stevens, Wilco, Macklemore, and John Legend), and the buzz has been spreading ever since.
Beignets & Bounce with Big Freedia (3:10pm, GastroMagic Stage)
The GastroMagic stage was a new addition last year which basically posed a question that nobody asked: “what would happen if we took some of the best restaurateurs in the Bay Area and paired them with musical acts”? This led to some ingenious combinations: butchers paired with breakdancing, beignets paired to bounce music…and who better to represent a New Orleans delicacy like beignets than the Queen Diva of bounce music, Big Freedia herself?
This event was such a hit last year that it is back again for Round 2. Essentially, willing participants will twerk on stage while Freedia performs, and be rewarded with a delicious beignet for the efforts. If this isn’t your style or you’re feeling a bit shy, maybe Karl Denson’s revival of the infamous Sexual Chocolate paired with Guittard Chocolate Company will get you moving on Sunday.
Alex Bleeker & The Freaks: Play Dead (12:00pm, Panhandle Stage)
While it certainly won’t be the only Grateful Dead tribute set to be played in Golden Gate this summer, it might be the most interesting. When not blowing minds with his other band, Real Estate, bassist Alex Bleeker has now released two albums with his solo band The Freaks, which have an easy going Americana feel to them. Those tunes will be thrown out the window for this special occasion, and the Dead’s songbook will take its place — this is their 50th anniversary after all. Check out their Dead set from earlier this year at Brooklyn Bowl.
Allah-Lahs (1:00pm, Sutro Stage)
The story behind the Allah-Lahs is almost so cliche it’s unbelievable: three crate-digging music fanatics working at the Amoeba Records in Hollywood decide to start their own band in homage to the surf-guitar driven rock that they love so much. Well, cliche or not, they did a damn good job; their songs are dead ringers for tunes that could’ve been pulled off a SoCal 60’s surf-compilation, and they evoke everything that sound entails: sunshine, sand, waves, and beach bonfires. All of this makes them the perfect band for afternoon California vibes — let’s just hope Karl the Fog keeps his distance from this set.
St Paul and the Broken Bones (1:40pm, Lands End Stage)
If you were at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass last year, you probably heard people raving about some goofy looking white boy fronting a 7-piece soul band with some James Brown swagger and an incredibly powerful set of pipes. Well, that goofy looking kid is Paul Janeway, and he fronts one of the most-buzzed about bands on the circuit today. Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, this band is equal parts 60’s soul, gospel, and funk, evoking the sounds from a bygone era. The band is talented, but at the end of the day it is Paul’s voice and stage presence that really makes them a can’t miss act. Even rock royalty has taken notice; they were handpicked by The Rolling Stones to open for them for a few dates on their recent US tour. This is their first trip to the Bay Area since a sold out 2 night Valentine’s Day stand at the legendary Fillmore, and likely their last visit until they record a new album.
Benjamin Booker (3:20pm, Sutro Stage)
Benjamin Booker currently resides in New Orleans, but his sound owes more to the raw fury of the Detroit garage music scene and rollicking Chicago boogie-blues than anything else. Very much in the vein of The White Stripes or The Black Keys before him, Booker’s stomped out fuzz seems to have the primary aim of raising hell and taking no prisoners. After two and a half days of non-stop music, gorging on insanely delicious food, and downing craft beers, this amped up set might just be the thing to power you over the finish line.
So there you have it, a few reasons to get your butt over to the Polo Fields and hang out with Ranger Dave on the early side. Remember, the tradeoff for holding the event in such a beautiful setting means that the festival has to end by 10pm each night, so if you want to get your money’s worth, definitely do your best to get there before 3 or 4pm each day. It’s festival season, dammit, so no excuses: bring a smile, sunscreen, lots of layers to battle the inevitable fog, and play like a champion.