Serious music lovers often equate a festival schedule with a tapas menu: scrumptiously delicious, but portions too small to satisfy. That's how the first-ever Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in Golden Gate Park left me feeling.
A festival experience is really about scale: The scale of a city you've never been to, guided by an overpriced and inaccurate tourist map where an almost 2,000 acre park is shrunk to the size of ten city blocks, which is only realized when suddenly you've walked ten miles and haven't even gotten to the park yet. The scale of 60,000 people and the eerie silence of such a large crowd that was heard when the sound system died twice during Radiohead, amplifying the shared experience to those it didn't annoy. As I waded through a sea of corn-based and fully-compostable beer cups after Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers left the stage Saturday night, the multitude of cups a visual hangover from the day.
The scale of the musicians' time slot is directly related to their font size on the official T-shirt. I tend to get most excited about smaller fonts-younger, hungrier bands like Bon Iver, who rip your heart out, letting the vibrations from the bass function for the missing muscle. However, smaller band, smaller font, means smaller portions. The average set time was 40 minutes and the tightly planned schedule left little room for expansion or encore. I would have loved a second helping of quirky Regina Spektor instead of the bored set from Cake which was the only major disappointment of the three days.
The scale of Golden Gate Park worked against us, with overlapping acts playing at opposite ends of the park, making our thorough pre-festival planning obsolete. Should I choose to see The Black Keys or Beck? (Black Keys) Primus or Cake? (Should've chosen Primus.) Fight the massive crowds funneling between stages to catch Mike Gordon, or stay happily squished by the audience at Wilco? There are several acts that I wished I had not missed (Nellie McKay, Andrew Bird, Rodrigo y Gabriella) but I also was delighted by bands I hadn't heard of before: the Benevento/Russo Duo, Two Gallants.
With the festival offerings bountiful in the Northwest throughout the summer beginning with Sasquatch and ending with Bumbershoot, how does one decide to make a trek down to Cali? Easy. Radiohead.
Despite the aforementioned technical difficulties, the British band put on an incredibly striking show. At 5'4" in a mass of six footers, I didn't quite get the full affect of the artfully done light and screen show, but the music itself was enough. What I could see of the overlapping images of the band abstracted by delirious bar codes of light fit seamlessly with the atmospheric intensity of Radiohead's groove, accented by the heavy fog that rolled over the park. Lead singer Thom Yorke had a sincerity about his performance, playing funny faces with the video cameras, and laughingly banging out chords on the piano as he messed up and started over on "You and Whose Army."
After three days of incredible music, my ears and feet sore, one would think I would be satiated. But instead I found myself checking out the Bumbershoot schedule and salivating.