Spanning a thousand acres from Stanyan Street to the Pacific, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is seldom short on space. From the Japanese Tea Garden to Beach Chalet and the dual windmills reaching out to greet the sea, locals and tourists alike can stretch out across the park’s plethora of groves, trails, and meadows, affording a measure of peace and privacy seldom seen in America’s second-most densely populated city. But all that serenity gets trampled one waggish weekend in August, as 200,000 music fans, hundreds of performers, and dozens of wineries storm the park for some sounds and shenanigans. It’s Outside Lands!
An impressive array of world-class talent draws fans from around the world, while the mouthwatering grub affirms SF’s reputation as an elite foodie town.
Photo by Joshua Mellin
Topping the bill, the headliners delivered marquee performances. Kanye West leaned heavily on Consequence of Sound’s 2013 album-of-the-year, Yeezus, leading with “Black Skinhead” and closing with “Blood on the Leaves”. Tom Petty turned back the time during his ebullient and exuberant two-hour set. And The Killers, well, they killed it. Throw in some stellar sets from Mikal Cronin, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and HAIM, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a show.
But let’s not forget the food. From five-course bacon flights to doughnut cheeseburgers and Filipino burritos, the grub was a glutton’s wet dream. Feeling crusty? Esquire was giving away complimentary cuts and shaves. Just want to get away from it all? Camp Grounded has you covered, featuring a technology-free zone stocked with typewriters, board games, and a human-powered search engine. Outside Lands 7.0, here we go.
Best ’60s Throwback
Janis Joplin Tribute (Mary Bridget Davies, Kacey Musgraves, and Nicki Bluhm)
Photo by Joshua Mellin
Fifty years ago, a feisty Texan by the name of Janis left the Lone Star State for the swinging city of San Francisco. “I just had to get away from Texas,” explained Joplin. “My head was in a much different place.” Joplin’s unique vocal style landed her with local psychedelic rock outfit Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the rest is history.
Ever since Joplin first journeyed to San Francisco back in ’63, she’s held a special place in the city’s heart. So, to honor the “Queen of Psychedelic Soul,” Outside Lands lined up a tremendous tribute. Broadway star Mary Bridget Davies teamed up with singer-songwriters Kacey Musgraves and Nicki Bluhm for an exceptional homage to Pearl, treating early arrivers to a half-dozen impeccable covers.
Photo by Amanda Koellner
Bluhm led off with “Me and Bobby McGee”, sashaying around the stage in a skintight, white lace jumpsuit and turquoise-studded belt. As the chorus came around, Bluhm’s smoky voice grew thick with conviction: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to looo-hooo-hooo-zee!” Opting for a down-tempo ditty, Musgraves tapped “Mercedes Benz”, smacking her tambourine to the beat.
But despite strong efforts from Bluhm and Musgraves, Mary Bridget Davies stole the show. Davis, fresh off a stint playing Janis in the Broadway musical A Night with Janis Joplin, channeled the Texas singer’s quirks and flourishes to a tee. Harkening back to Joplin’s iconic performance at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival, Davis shrieked and screamed until her face turned beet red on “Ball and Chain”. –Henry Hauser
Most Heartbroken Festivalgoer
Photo by Jon Hadusek
Silvana Moiceanu was ready to see her favorite band. But like everybody else who made it to the main stage early on Sunday expecting to see CHVRCHES, she instead got the bad news that the band was stranded on the runway in Canada. Border-crossing/plane problems forced them to cancel, bumming out the large contingent of Chrvches fans who’d circled the set long before the schedule came out. Especially sad, Moiceanu toted this homemade sign of a squeamish Lauren Mayberry that read “#SadChrvchesFan”. “It was the one band I wanted to see this weekend,” she said. “But I know it wasn’t their fault. They’ll come back.” –Jon Hadusek
From beneath a neon trucker hat and black sunglasses, Matthew Houck gave a quick, humble nod to the crowd as he shuffled onto the stage. Houck, who operates out of Brooklyn under the moniker Phosphorescent, ushered some chill, pleasant vibes, inspiring fans to tuck away their cell phones and cut back on the chatter. Psych-folk tune “New Anhedonia” had Houck singing in a strained, fragile timbre, as the Eucalyptus and Monterey Cypress fluttered in the gentle breeze. On “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)”, the frontman sang of love lost and missed opportunities, purring: “I’m not so sorry for the heart-wreckkkk/ But for each season left un-bleh-hessed.” And “Song for Zula”, featuring a fulsome, robust organ, sounded both menacing and majestic. Finishing up with a slew of songs from 2013’s Muchacho, “Ride On/Right On” was a definite highlight, with Houck humming over a funky bass, fuzzy guitar lines, and a jangly tambourine. –Henry Hauser
Photo by Amanda Koellner
Kacey Musgraves is the most promising songwriter to emerge from mainstream country since Miranda Lambert, and she projected all her talent and showmanship during a Friday evening set at the Sutro stage. Her six-piece backing band was decked in Nudie suits embroidered with flashing X-mas lights, and they didn’t miss a note, playing the entirety of Musgraves’ Grammy-winning album, Same Trailer Different Park. “I’ve been to San Francisco a few times, never seen any trailer parks,” she laughed, acknowledging how far away she was from the rural Texas towns that provide the setting for her songs. It’s true: The Bay and the people who occupy it are far removed from Musgraves’ poverty-stricken South. But the audience swooned nonetheless, and there was the sense that she made many a new fan that night. –Jon Hadusek
Best Slide Guitar
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Photo via Outside Lands
Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, the Tedeschi Trucks Band has built a rock-solid reputation on the strength of its live performances. And the 12-piece ensemble that bandleaders Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi brought to SF certainly didn’t disappoint. Trucks, unleashing solo after solo of remarkably compelling Delta blues slide guitar riffs, showed fans exactly why Gregg Allman believes Trucks to be the reincarnation of his late brother, Duane. Trucks’ fluid, melodic slide guitar phrasing is a thing of beauty.
Throughout the set, Tedeschi worked hard to keep her resounding voice from getting swallowed up by the instrumental onslaught, maintaining a strong presence amongst a dozen dudes. Though each band member seemed set on outdoing his mates, no two instruments clashed. The band was perfectly in synch, tight, and transcendent.
Keeping things fresh, the band subbed in Mike Mattison on lead vocals every few tracks. Howling in defiance and dissatisfaction, Mattison blended blues and soul to evoke a sense of hopeless rage. Trucks slashed at his guitar with enthralling fervor, earning some hoots and hollers from the crowd before snapping a string during his final solo. –Henry Hauser
Youngest Band with a Greatest Hits Set
Photo by Amanda Koellner
One year after their debut, Disclosure’s show already sounds like a greatest hits set. Last year’s Settle is the most widely loved house music records in years, and they ran through the highlights: “F for You” – featuring pre-recorded vocals by Mary J. Blige – “You & Me”, the slow burn of “Help Me Lose My Mind”, and the set-closing “Latch”, which, two years after it was released, has finally become a Billboard Top 10 hit. The Lawrence brothers may lack a strong stage presence – both are rooted on stage, Howard on the drums and Guy on a laptop – but it was no matter. People love these songs, and they’ll move their feet without stop regardless of what’s on stage. –Michael Anderson
Most Enticing Aroma
Photo by Cal Bingham
The smell of sizzling bacon just may be the most mouthwatering aroma on earth. What could possibly top that? Answer: five different kinds of bacon simultaneously sizzling in an open-air tent. Enter BaconLand.
Featuring $10 bacon flights and bacon-laced grilled cheese, the trippy neon booth drew a steady stream of foodies throughout the day. According to the chirpy brunette taking orders, a few folks even came back for second helpings. One man allegedly had thirds. Paging the paramedics… –Henry Hauser
Photo by Ted Maider
If the early bird gets the warm, then what’s the early band get? Noon may have seemed like a pretty ambitious tee time following long Friday night sets by Kanye and Arctic Monkeys, but Mexicali blues band Nocona was up to the task and then some. They literally couldn’t wait to get started. Though it’s hard believe, the Los Angeles-based five-piece actually jumped the gun on the noon kickoff, starting their set at 11:57 AM. Frontman and lead vocalist Chris Isom was fired up on “Whites of Your Eyes”, as he rattled off lyrics atop a stand-up bass and Elan Glasser’s peeling harmonica. Navigating some tricky time signature shifts, the band was sharp and precise. “Hated”, a bizarre folk song that plays like a one-star album review, had Isom whining: “You can’t play guitar/ And your lines insipid, bay-bay!” But don’t fret, Nocona. After hearing your Saturday set performance at the Panhandle stage, we’ll think twice before writing anything nasty. –Henry Hauser