Tickets in hand: check. Place to stay in San Francisco: check. Ride secured: check. Last night for two hours I (legally) downloaded over 21 hours of tunes for the eight-hour car journey. Mobile music leading to artist enlightenment: check.
I’m all ready for the three-day Outside Lands Music Festival palpitating in the city’s 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park. I realize now that it’s been seven years (really, that long?) since I last saw the polo grounds out in the desert in Indio. I plan on Outside Lands being similar to my last Coachella experience.
Back in the day, this geographical area was literally named the Outside Lands and was U.S. government property until the city of San Francisco was awarded it in 1866. The city then turned it into park land. The festival itself has a rather short history, dating back only to August 2008. But it started strong with some 60,000 people per day in its first year, and has grown ever since.
Read about the first year and one gets an ache in their bladder thinking of poor crowd control, envisioning a lack of porta-potties. But it’s been two years, so the organizers must have figured things out by now.
After work today I’m hopping into Bones’s car – I mean Brett. I mention Bones now as if you know him; you will after seeing this video of the weekend (below). Be warned that there are a select few foul words.
But back to the car. I am itching to hook up my iPod to flood its confines full of the fest’s future sounds. "Music," "playlists," Erykah Badu – wait, what? A bit frantically I repeat the steps, going through my iPod’s menus. A realization: I've forgotten to transfer the newly downloaded music to my iPod.
Bones, the ever-mellow soul, smirks as he reads an arriving text. “There is no more space up here [San Francisco] to crash. This many people were not expected to come up for the weekend.”
Enlightening music: uncheck. Place to crash: uncheck. But we have our tickets, our wallets, one phone between the two of us (I misplaced mine last week), and the Toyota Scion is cruising at 70 miles an hour.
A brief search for accommodation ensues. No hostels are available. Hotel rooms range from $300 and up for the night. I have friends in San Francisco, but no numbers memorized.
After this reality sinks in, Bones and I meet eyes and non-verbally agree on what is happening: The adventure has begun. This weekend is about the music and everything else will fall into place. Or not. No worries.
Sleeping in a car allows you to wake up early. Very early. It’s now 7 a.m. and we need to find that eternal parking space – along with a makeshift shower of sorts. Enter NoPa (SF's North Panhandle neighborhood) and McDonald's.
I haven’t been to Mickey D’s since I was stoked on happy meals, but at this juncture finding a clean, secure bathroom with running water is a necessity. As I occupy the lone stall of the bathroom, someone enters the one-person restroom. I listen to the individual wash his hands, but then go back for more soap and reapply a few times.
Is this guy really using the sink to bathe himself? Wait, how am I judging – that’s what I’ll be doing in a few minutes. I silently crack up. At 8 a.m. we find that weekend parking spot next to a coffee shop that actually serves beer. Our luck is changing. We can feel it.
Outside Lands’ bands range from old-school John Fogerty to the Roots back to a Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (how is that “back to”?). In three days, over 70 artists play on four outdoor stages and in a dome.
San Francisco's Outside Lands Festival 2011: strange costumes, impromptu acts.
Acts start at noon each day and a consistent theme, for me, is thoroughly enjoying some of the earlier ensembles: On Friday The Joy Formidable, a three-person band from Wales, plays dynamically as obvious friends in front of a fairly small, involved crowd. On Saturday, the Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis own the main stage as recovering rapper Macklemore recites tales of drug addiction and how sincerely thankful he is to be performing.
Then there are the acts that overcome each of the 50,000 people watching. The Akron, Ohio boys (the Black Keys) kill the Polo Field stage with a football field full of people dancing.
On Sunday, Bones and I walk towards DeadMau5’s Twin Peaks stage. “Hey, there he is,” Bones points out. What? that’s a balloon in the shape of a mouse’s head hovering over the stage. Could it be? Yep. Fifteen feet above the stage on a lighted platform, the Canadian DJ electrifies a nonstop gyrating crowd with his energy.
Along with Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Beirut, these shows prove to be my favorites. But there are various other acts just as impressive. The festival's feel is one of mellow, flowing contentment.
Music isn’t all this weekend offers around the polo grounds: Korean tacos wrapped with seaweed pieces, an Aussie barbeque, Greek cuisine and the best empanadas I’ve tasted since making them myself down in Bolivia offer insight into Outside Lands' culinary aggression.
Those two Korean tacos can be finished in four bites and cost seven dollars, so it’s true that the venue’s tented food stalls aren't exactly Costco value. But wow – some amazing flavors are floating around these grassy festival fields. For a music fest like this, the prices are actually not too prohibitive. It takes me a day, but I finally find the large empanadas selling for four dollars.
Realizing that the vendor lady speaks Spanish, during one visit I detail my empanada apprenticeship as she looks at white boy (me) spitting out strangely accented Spanish. Maybe because of the Spanish, maybe because she's a sweetheart feeling generous, or possibly due to the fact that this is the tenth empanada I've bought over the weekend, the woman takes a dollar off the price and creates the ultimate best buy of my festival experience.
Sleeping in a car for two nights (on the third we splurge to get a few hours of true sleep) doesn’t lend us a lot of energy to walk 9-12 miles a day to, around and back from a festival. But Outside Lands doesn’t let us down. With the obvious musical options, the eccentric food, the sports bar tent, the comic-and-variety Barbary Tent showcasing acts like Gallagher, and the festival’s friendly vibe – just as important as anything else – we happily pull through the action-packed days.
At 9 p.m. on Sunday we get into the Scion for the last time in San Francisco and we (Bones) drive straight home, still riding the energy of the past three days. Thanks Bones. And thanks, Outside Lands.