Neil Young. Stevie Wonder. Jack White. Foo Fighters. Metallica. Beck. The variety was astounding, the weather was lovely (undoubtedly the least Summer-esque climate of any festival this season), and the performances were tremendous, meaning it was damn good to be outside in the cool ocean air when the fog rolled in and the 5th annual incarnation of the Outside Lands festival unfolded this past weekend in San Francisco.
With the three days drawing a total capacity crowd of over 200,000 total attendees, Outside Lands outdid itself by almost effortless design with an ever-shifting showcase of music that brought the metalheads, hippies and hipsters together in one beautiful cauldron in Golden Gate Park.
The pairings were designed to spread the options across the taste spectrum. Don't want to see Metallica absolutely crush their metal-hits-rich performance like men half their age? The simple solution was to head on down through the majestically-lit forest pathway to the Twin Peaks stage to be with Sigur Ros, and weep your damned eyes out to the sounds of heartbreaking Icelandic gibberish.
Not down with Stevie Wonder's classic, timeless beauty? Perhaps a play button and some terrible acne scars in a wash of dub wobble and bro-step with Skrillex across the way would suit you better. It all comes down to individual taste, and the options were in fantastic plentitude.
Day one brought a triple-shot of greatness from Beck, Foo Fighters and Neil Young, while day two's events included a beautiful blues experience from Alabama Shakes and a blistering set of rockers from The Kills, who have stepped into a new era of confidence and popularity in the past year.
Not to be overlooked either is a downright gorgeous performance from British soul-singing newcomer Michael Kiwanuka, who obliterated a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Waterfalls" while rolling through a thick selection of tunes from his debut album Home Again.
Speaking of covers, Portugal The Man dosed their main stage set with a wild and fantastic take on The Beatles' "Helter Skelter".
Portugal The Man
On day three, the focus was much more narrow on the musical pallette. Just before Canadian shoegaze heartstrummer City and Colour drove home an achingly beautiful performance on the Sutro stage, Jack White blew away fans by parking his mobile Third Man Records truck in the woods of Choco Lands, emerging with his all-female band to perform a quick pop-up style set. This was all before his main stage performance with his male backing band, which was as enthralling and powerful as we've come to expect.
Stevie Wonder, a living legend by all accounts, was the main-stage headliner on Sunday, but outside of opening with a flat-out spellbinding 12-minute version of "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), his set was almost entirely a miss. Even typically celebrated renditions of the Beatles' "She Loves You" and Smokey Robinson's "My Girl" were delivered almost halfheartedly, and those paying attention in the crowd noticed. Not enough to make us move down to Skrillex on the other end of the park, but all the same it was a disheartening experience from such a revered performer.
Whatever the case, Outside Lands is about so much more than the performances. It's an atmosphere and energy that doesn't line up at all with the rest of the Summer fests out there, a place where it feels that magic is just around the bend, whether onstage or off.
City and Colour
All photos: Johnny Firecloud