Outside Lands: Day Three

August 26, 2008

I intended to write this post yesterday but the three days of fantastic music soaked up all of my energy. I still can’t quite get over how special this festival was and I’ll be amazed if they can get as impressive of a lineup next year (hopefully San Francisco won’t object to having the festival again either).

I busted my ass Sunday morning to make sure I had enough time to blog about Saturday and still be able to get to the park before ALO started at 1. I managed to get there around 12:30 which was early enough to land me a spot right up by the stage. I first saw ALO when they opened for Jack Johnson at the Greek Theater, same concert they filmed A Weekend at the Greek at. Based off of the audience participation and how many people showed up for the show it seems like the band is building a good fan base, including myself.

Next up was Stars. I haven’t spent much time listening to Stars but they were at the same stage as ALO so I figured I’d give them a listen. There was a bit of conflict inside me because The Mother Hips were playing at the same time and I’m a fan of them and their lead guy Tim Bluhm. The Stars show wasn’t bad but in hindsight I wish I would have gone to The Mother Hips. But I did head out a bit early to get to the next show, Bon Iver.

Bon Iver (french for “good winter”) is one hell of an artist and performer. He wrote and recorded most of his first album during a four month stay in a hunting cabin in Wisconsin and it generated a very unique and fascinating feeling for the album. His shows feature a massive amount of percussion, sometimes played by every member in the band. I was shocked at how big the crowd was for his show and even more shocked at how involved they were.  I’ve never heard an audience sing like they did during the song The Wolves, it was really very amazing and something that will be difficult to experience again.

Because of Bon Iver I wasn’t able to catch the opening of Andrew Bird which is a bummer but a conscious choice. I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird since the release of Swimming Hour. His music is probably difficult for most people to really get into but it is well worth the effort. At his shows, Bird plays both a violin and an electric guitar, mixing them together quite skillfully with a looper.

After the Andrew Bird show my day hit a bit of a Lull for a while. Jack Johnson was the closing act for the day and I’m such a huge fan that I couldn’t stand the thought of not having a good spot, this didn’t come without some costs.

I was going to miss out on most of the Broken Social Scene set as well as all of Wilco. I’ve seen Wilco a number of times so I was able to deal with that loss. So I headed over to the Lands End stage where Jack would be playing in 2.5 hours. I was actually able to get shockingly close to the stage, especially when the act before Jack started to play and people shifted around. That act was Rodrigo y Gabriela and honestly I could have done without them.

Their set started out quite impressive and it’s obvious that both of them are quite talented but in my mind their set lacked depth. It was just the two of them on stage with acoustic guitars and it’s essentially an hour long jam session between the two of them. It’s an impressive jam session but that’s all it was. No lyrics and highly repetitive. The crowd was the most energetic when Rodrigo would work in some familiar chords from popular songs. I’m not sure, but this might tell you something about what sticks with people and what they want to hear. But don’t get me wrong, I respect their talent, it was just a bit much for me after 30 minutes.

After their set we had a 45 minute break until Jack came on. It was so crowded up in the front that during this time I couldn’t sit down or really even move but somehow the time managed to fly by.

Anyone that knows my musical tastes probably knows how much I love Jack Johnson. I’ve been listening to him since the beginning of his career and no artist resonates with me more than he does. His music has this fantastic ability of being laid back while delivering an amazingly powerful message and that mood is paralleled perfectly in his live performances.

Jack Johnson breaking out the electric guitar

Merlo Podlewski doing some freestyle rapping

Merlo Podlewski doing some freestyle rapping

Zach Gill up front with his accordion

Zach Gill up front with his accordion

This mood makes for a show that has a hard time going wrong. During the performance on Sunday there was this spider on Jack’s microphone that simply wouldn’t go away and as you can imagine, Jack was finding it hard to sing into this mic. But instead of letting it bother him he simply shared with us (in the middle of a song) what he was seeing and we all had a laugh. Being this playful with the crowd really seems to get people involved.

This involvement is what makes the live shows so powerful. Everyone sings, even those that truly suck at singing and it’s great. To have that many people together singing songs about what’s gone so wrong in this world as well as all the things that are so right is something that I find so comforting that it’s hard to express in words.

For me this is what life is all about, weekends like this. Like so many other things in our lives, most days go by without leaving any imprint in our memory. They tend to blur together into a stream of events rather than individual moments. But it’s the points in life that are jagged that you can’t forget. Moments that break your cycle and put you somewhere totally different for a while. This festival is one of those moments and because of that it’s something that will stay in my memory for as long as I have one. Thanks to everyone involved in the festival for breaking my cycle and the tens of thousands of others that also attended.

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