By Ariana Assaf, Daily Staff Reporter
Published August 20, 2014
I’ve always known that San Francisco is a special place. Besides the fact that my one of my best friends and a favorite cousin live there, the city has an ambience that’s a bit hard to describe but impossible not to feel. From the guy at Starbucks who welcomed me to the area to the nice kid in the Batman shirt who helped me navigate BART (the public transportation train system that runs through the Bay area), San Franciscans give a whole new meaning to being nice; sort of a midwestern hospitality meets west-coast cool.
Any Michigan student who’s heard the saying “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” knows that’s a load of bull. Nevertheless, partly cloudy and 60 is not the festival weather I’m accustomed to. There’s something about getting sweaty at a music festival that makes people go crazy in all the best ways. Some people bitch about it, and I don’t deny cheering like I’d just felt the Holy Spirit that one time a breeze somehow blew through the Sahara tent at Coachella. But at Outside Lands, where both the physical climate and social atmosphere are “hella chill," there’s much less need to scream … at least until Macklemore jumps on top of you, but we’ll get to that later.
I arrived in Golden Gate Park “ready to party” Tiesto-style, eagerly looking forward to his Sunday night set but also focused on enjoying Friday’s festivities. My weekend began with the classic music festival “to see or not to see” dilemma: sets by Chromeo and Grouplove tragically began within just ten minutes of each other at opposite sides of the park. A festival newbie might have sacrificed decent spots at each in order to at least see both, but what is “seeing” when you’re 1,000 feet away, staring at the back of some tall guy’s head and pretending like your new favorite group is killing it when really the acoustics are not doing them justice? Not my perfect idea of seeing Chromeo live for the first time, that’s what. There would have been plenty of sense in doing the festival thing, branching out and seeing a new artist (new to me, at least). Or I could have seen Grouplove (an old favorite) for the umpteenth time and loved every weird second of it, so I did. The unitard is to lead singer Hannah Hooper what the leotard is to Beyoncé. The band actually channeled their inner Bey with a cover of “Drunk in Love” midway through the set, and Hannah worked her unitard just like she worked the crowd into a perfect, giddy, sing-along frenzy. They looked totally thrilled by the crowd’s wild cheers at the end of their set, and totally exhausted after having just spent the past 50 minutes throwing themselves headfirst into the performance. Sorry Grouplove, but I do trust your happy songs.
Riding on a Grouplove high, I skipped my way to Disclosure and was amazed at how two such drastically different styles (high-energy indie rock vs. relaxed, easy-listening EDM) could take hold of a crowd in such a short amount of time. Fans were practically on top of each other as everyone made their way towards the stage (a good portion of them just waiting for Kanye to take over), but everyone vibed along to the duo’s cool musical stylings without too much pushing and shoving. Disclosure is really unlike anything in the electronic genre that I’ve come across. Save for a quick energetically explosive drum solo in the middle of the set, Guy and Howard maintained a steady, basic head bob throughout the performance. The crowd finally got jumping around when they closed with none other than “Latch.”
I’m sure I’ll get hate for this, but I’m not a Kanye fan, so naturally I saw the Arctic Monkeys (or the Ice Zebras, according to my musically naïve friend), and it was the sexiest performance I’ve seen in a long time. Or maybe ever. Alex Turner probably wouldn’t turn heads just on the street, but up on stage surrounded by smoke, dressed in a badass leather jacket and combing his perfectly gelled hair, he embodied every girl’s fantasy of running away with a boy their mothers would never approve of. And not only did he look good, he sounded dreamy. The guy actually sounded like he was singing even when he was speaking, making the whole crowd swoon. From the grad student who had driven down from Oregon with his girlfriend for the weekend to the 14-year-old girl with a bullring who had ditched her Yeezus-obsessed friends, everyone was absolutely loving it. The moon was out, lighters were up, and I’m in love. To put it simply, Turner played “I Wanna Be Yours” and I was like “Okay”.
The next day got started I bit later than I had originally planned, but fortunately we made it in time to see Capital Cities blowing the socks of the crowd. This wasn’t my first time seeing them live, and I’ve decided I get more participatory gratification out of their performance when watching from a distance. Space to move and groove is inevitably sacrificed the closer you get to the action, which normally I’m okay with. But normally bands don’t entice their followers to dance like human noodles, and noodles take up space. Capital Cities has taken to playing an ultra-hype version of “Safe and Sound” to close the show, and Ryan and Sebu love directing the crowd to take off sweaters, shirts... anything to wave around. Personally, I think the party-loving energy of thousands of people waving their clothes around is best felt when you actually have space to join them. Hands down the best way to start a Saturday.
On the same stage right after Capital Cities was Duck Sauce, a collaborative duo of A-Trak and Armand Van Helden. Honestly, they hadn’t really been on my radar and I was mostly sticking around to get a good spot for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, but I’m beyond glad I did. Watching the pair together is like watching a planet forming: fiery and rowdy and almost unexpected. They even threw out plastic duckbills for fans lucky (and aggressive) enough to grab one. The quack is indeed back. The following performance by Macklemore was good ol’ fun with a nice thought-provoking mix of the more serious stuff. He’s a total crowd pleaser, racking up three pretty successful stage dive attempts in a one hour and 15 minute performance. Other highlights included the engagement of two women who were obviously crazy about each other (no theatrics needed, everybody could tell just by the way they interacted), an appearance by the super-talented and absolutely adorable Mary Lambert, and a ridiculous but nonetheless entertaining mariachi costume. But besides just the entertainment value, I felt the sincerity in his set; it felt more like him telling his truth than a “performance”. Before Outside Lands, Macklemore to me was just that guy whose hit “Thrift Shop” was a total jam at every freshman year frat party. But seeing him live and watching him really put his heart into his songs made me gain newfound respect.
Waking up on the third and final day of the festival, I felt the familiar bittersweet feeling of an awesome weekend wrapping up . Ninety percent bitter because who wants to leave the land of free-flowing joints and snacks for real life, 10 percent sweet because my exhausted feet and legs that’s who. Watsky was first on my group’s to-see list. It was a great time, but not knowing much about the artist outside of friend’s comments and Google searches, I don’t feel like I can really comment on how this performance factored into his overall career. A San Francisco native, George Watsky started out performing slam poetry, became a YouTube sensation, and released his first self-titled album in 2009. Just this month, his third official album All You Can Do became the #1 hip-hop/rap album on iTunes in the US, UK, Canada, and Norway. He also seems like a really cool dude. We passed him a few hours later just walking through the festival, and he graciously accepted our “Awesome set!” compliment with kind smile and nod.
We then moseyed through Chocolands over to the main stage to see Spoon wrapping up their set, and I watched The Flaming Lips singer Wayne Conye take the stage dressed in an exposed muscle bodysuit. The setting was complete with a psychedelic light show and people dressed as cartoon rainbows and toadstools. As a huge Tiësto fan, I sacrificed seeing the end of this set to head across the park once more and ensure myself a good spot. I saw the end of Cut Copy with a nice view from the hill at the Twin Peaks stage, and it was great fun to watch Dan Whitford interact with the crowd while actually being able to see their reactions. Despite having a tiring three days behind them, everyone responded to his eccentric dance moves with just as much excitement and gusto as the very first day. Hits like “Hearts on Fire”, “Need You Now” and “Lights and Music” combined with Whitford’s non-stop stomping it out to the beat kept everyone engaged and just as energized as Whitford himself.
As the sun continued to set, anticipation levels continued to rise. I was lucky enough to have seen Tiësto close the show at Hard Summer the weekend before, and he absolutely killed it. Needless to say I was looking forward to his set, and he didn’t disappoint (does he ever?). With only seventy minutes to blow the faces off everyone at Twin Peaks, Tiësto got on stage with his perfect Dutch accent that makes him so endearing, introduced himself and made sure everyone was “ready to party” and got right down to it. Seamlessly moving through a bass-bumpers like “Heads Will Roll” on to the more heartfelt “All of Me” that got everyone singing along, and hits from his latest album A Town Called Paradise. He made sure to use every minute of his too-short set to the fullest. Tiësto doesn’t stop, and neither do his fans. No matter how hard the music blared, fans kept dancing, singing, jumping and clapping harder and harder.
Festival-ing isn’t always “easy” per se, but that’s what sets Outside Lands apart. Sure, it’s a little hard on the lower extremities, but this festival as a whole is just as fun as others while being significantly more laid back. It’s probably impossible to rid any music festival entirely of cliches like store-bought flower headbands and kids popping molly like M&Ms, but Outside Lands has done a spectacular job of cutting the crap and actually focusing on the music. It’s evident from the carefully curated lineup right on down to helpful Lost and Found workers making a real effort to get misplaced items back to their owners, and that’s the way it should be. Yes, the festival is a huge money-making endeavor for its organizers and the city in general, but nevertheless I got a sense that planning decisions were made based on what attendees really want, not just what they would accept. A stellar lineup combined with the city’s innate liberated atmosphere, work by local artists, and even organically grown food gives Outside Lands a unique back-to-basics vibe that can’t be found anywhere else.