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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Outside Lands: Day Two

August 24, 2008

For the last couple years I’ve been going to the Austin City Limits Music Festival and I’ve been fortunate enough to have my best friends there with me. So being at the Outside Lands festival without them makes me a bit sad, especially with the amazing lineup that they have.

The beginning of the day didn’t feature any artists that I was hugely familiar with so I decided that I’d do some live music browsing. This is one of the greatest things about large music festivals, with three bands playing at any given time you can sample a bunch of new artists and see what they are like in their element. I checked out a couple songs from Dredg then made my way over to long time locals The Coup. The Coup was playing at a stage right next to the festival merchandise area and I wanted to pick up one of the festival posters, so I ducked out a little early to go pick one up.

This is where I have my only complaint of the festival, merchandise. Tons of people want to buy t-shirts and other memorabilia at these festivals but it appears like they didn’t plan all that well for this one. Granted it is the first time they are putting on this festival so I will cut them a little slack, but there’s plenty of other festivals to model things after.

All I wanted was a poster, simple enough. I had seen them on Friday but got so annoyed with the people running the booth that I gave up and decided to come back early Saturday. I was shocked and very disappointed when I learned that the posters had already sold out! How could they be running out of things when it’s just a couple hours into the second day of a three day festival? I’m not sure but I wish it wasn’t the case.

Fortunately there is plenty of good music to cheer me up and I was going to go check out Liars. I listened to their opening song and honestly wasn’t feeling them so I moved on to see what Sean Hayes was like. Good choice on my part, Hayes was fantastic. He had a really playful and fun mood about him and it was clear that he was excited to be there.

M Ward was playing right next door after Sean Hayes closed his set so it was a no brainer to go check him out. His set was very easy to listen to, even if you aren’t familiar with his music but I only stuck around for the first half of it. Donavon Frankenreiter was playing shortly and I needed to be up front for that show.

Donavon Frankenreiter

Donavon Frankenreiter

I got to Donavon Frankenreiter’s set about an hour early and people were already starting to gather. Fortunately I was only a few feet from the stage and incredibly excited to be there. My best friend Alex turned me on to his music a few years ago and somehow I hadn’t managed to see him in concert yet, a problem that would soon be resolved.

During the 35 minute set he managed to play songs from both of his full length albums including two of my favorites “Free” and “Move By Yourself”. I love artists like Frankenreiter because they have passion for the songs that they sing and respect for the people that listen to them and it’s never more evident than when they are playing a live show.

About to hand the mic to the crowd

About to hand the mic to the crowd

On many occasions I’ve tried to explain to people why I love going to live shows where I can be right in the front of the audience, especially smaller venues and artists that aren’t mainstream. This show by Frankenreiter is the prefect example of why I am so addicted to these types of concerts. He closed his set by playing “It Don’t Matter”, not only is this a fantastic song, his performance was truly amazing. The chorus of the song goes “If it don’t matter to you, it don’t matter to me” and at the end of the song Donavon climbed down off the stage and into the crowd bring along the mic. He then gave the mic to the crowd and allowed us to sing into it. This was one of the greatest moments of my life because I was right there, singing the chorus into the mic at a Donavon Frankenreiter show. The trust that you have to have with your crowd to do that is something that you simply don’t find with larger artists. Simply amazing. I just hope our singing didn’t suck.

I was so excited that I immediately had to call Alex and share the experience with him while walking to the Ben Harper show. I’ve seen Ben Harper a number of times so I hung out in the back of the pack for the first few songs then made my way over to the Sutro stage because Cake was performing shortly. I became a Cake fan after the radio stopped over playing “The Distance” but I’ve also never seen them in live.

I got to the stage where Cake was playing early enough to once again be right in the front. Cake has such a deep bench when it comes to great songs to play and they had no problem filling the hour with a crowd pleasing set. They even took a moment during the show to give away a potted tree to a fan that was able to tell them what type of tree it was. In exchange for this tree, the person had to plant it and send Cake a picture of the tree to put on their website every couple years. I personally think this is such an awesome and creative thing for them to do.

The crowd was so pleased with the set that at the end of it almost nobody left. We all stood there cheering and chanting, trying to get them to come back on the stage. This almost never happens at a music festival because they have to adhere to such tight schedules and I think it made some people kind of nervous. Here we had at least 10,000 people all wanting the set to continue but the sad fact is that it can’t, and it didn’t. But it was still a fantastic show and a fantastic crowd.

The last act for the day was Tom Petty. I like Tom Petty but I don’t love him, I can listen to his music but I won’t buy any of it. Mostly because he’s too popular and that makes it really hard to get up close and interact with the performance. So with 30 minutes left of the set I decided to beat the crowds and head out early.

Even though I didn’t have my best friends around to enjoy such an amazing day, it was still exactly that, an amazing day. The only thing that I expect will beat it is day three: ALO, The Mother Hips, Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Broken Social Scene, Rogue Wave, Widespread Panic, Wilco and best of all Jack Johnson.

Outside Lands: Day One

August 23, 2008

Yesterday was the first day of the first ever Outside Lands music festival and so far I’m having a blast.

I talked Evan into joining me for the day so we left for Golden Gate Park around 4pm.  Given that parking around the park is hard enough on a regular weekend we figured it would be exceptionally painful for this event.  However, we easily found a spot just four blocks south of the park off of 19th street.  That left us with about 20 blocks to walk but I was honestly expecting things to be worse.

As soon as I took my bag out of the car I realized something, I forgot my pass! How could I do such a thing. I managed to remember sunscreen, a flashlight, a blanket, two cameras, extra batteries and a water bottle but not the most important item. At first I wanted to drive back to my place and pick it up but Evan talked some sense into me. We figured it would be better to just buy a new ticket for the day and not miss two hours of the festival going to get mine.

During our 20 block walk, we thought up a few other ideas as well. The show wasn’t sold out so maybe I could pick up a ticket for less than face value. It’s also a big park so maybe there is a chance that I could sneak in, after all it wouldn’t even be stealing. But before we tried anything the plan was to see if they could just reissue my ticket.  After about 30 minutes waiting in line, a new ticket was in hand. Smiles all around.

First up we caught the end of Black Mountain who I’d never heard of but was really quite talented so I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of them. Next up we headed over to check out Manu Chao, another band that I didn’t have a chance to check out beforehand. We stuck around for a while but cut out early because Lyrics Born was going to be playing at the stage next door.

I love Blackalicious and Lyrics Born has worked with them and others on many occasions so I was excited to check them out. The show was fantastic, loud, packed with people, very energetic and all around entertaining. I was quite pleased that we cut out of Manu Chao early to get a good spot.

Next up was Radiohead, the headliner for the night. I’ve listened to Radiohead off and on but have never called myself a fan. But when I learned that they would be at the festival I figured that I needed to really sit down and listen to their albums. In the process I found myself really enjoying a number of the tracks from In Rainbows so I was quite excited to see them in concert.

Because we checked out Lyrics Born beforehand, we weren’t all that close to the stage which is a bit of a bummer because it was a pretty cool show. But the biggest bummer was that during the performance the audio completely cut out, twice. I’m curious what the cause was but thankfully the problem was resolved both times and the show continued.

Overall day one was a ton of fun and I can’t wait to get there today.