San Francisco's Golden Gate Park hosted the First Annual Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival to much applause and yearning. With so much available open space, it's hard to imagine that there hasn't been a music festival that has rocked the park past sunset.
Saturday's festivities began at 1:00pm, and featured SF's lovely cloudy weather.
Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet Featuring Béla Fleck
I wasn't too thrilled about seeing any of the opening acts, but I'm glad I decided to see banjoist Abigail Washburn along with the Sparrow Quartet, who were joined by acclaimed banjo player Béla Fleck. The group had just come back from playing in Beijing for the Summer Olympics, and they were really jazzed about playing in Golden Gate Park.
The group's bluegrass music really matched well with the festival and its early easy-going attitude. The crowd was quite large, which surprised the group who were expecting a much smaller audience for the Sutro stage. But they didn't disappoint, especially with the Chinese folk songs they played like "Kanding Qingge" which Washburn cited as a favorite overseas.
They also played "A Fuller Wine" that she wrote after listening to Puccini Opera and Woody Guthrie back-to-back. The finale "Strange Things That Happen Everyday" was the group's attempt at breaking the festival's harmony with a dose of "death, doom, and destruction."
Los Angeles-band Everest was the next band I saw at the Presidio stage, and with the thirty minutes they were allotted played almost straight through with nary a word. Their mellow indie rock went well, with "Rebel In The Roses" being a stand-out performance.
Easily the best performance of the festival, indie rocker Devendra Banhart did well to match the festival's vibe with its brand of laid-back rock. The crowd was ecstatic with the cover of Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime."
Banhart had so much energy, complaining that since he was from San Francisco he couldn't get away with his crazy dancing. He danced anyway, but not with the robot that he mused about being one of his main moves. They hit the right chord of mellower affair like "Samba Vexillographica" with more body-moving tracks like "Long Haired Child" very well. The set was slightly shorter than advertised because the band really wanted to see Liars perform.
New York native and current SF resident Sean Hayes proved the perfect reflection of Outside Lands. "Alabama Chicken" was certainly his more amusing tracks, which Hayes described as what happens when you meet an Alabama chicken in Birmingham."
I'm more used to Hayes' more solo material, so it was a little weird to see him with a full band. One result was a more reggae tone to the otherwise up-tempo pseudo-blues number.
I only allotted twenty minutes for Oregonian M. Ward so I could get a good spot to see overlapping Nellie McKay. Like the earlier Hayes, I thought Ward would go a more solo route, but he also was accompanied with a full band, including two drummers. I guess I'm not too big a fan of his if that's his normal band.
"Post-War" was a standout performance, but unfortunately I had to exit his Sutro stage area which was unbelievably crowded (no doubt because Regina Spektor was scheduled to play after).
My previous decision to skip out of M. Ward early proved disastrous. Lupe Fiasco ran overtime at the nearby Twin Peaks stage which would have drowned out Nellie McKay's more intimate Panhandle stage performance. Unfortunately the official reason wasn't officially announced and twenty minutes would pass before McKay finally walked onto the stage.
Unlike other performers, McKay was delightfully animated and talkative, even improvising a few of songs with political and current event tidbits as in her satirical "David," "Sari," and "The Dog Song." At one point the SF weather became slightly uncomfortable for McKay who had to rush for a jacket, prompting an audience "aww" to which McKay replied "Cause I’m a bad motherf*cker!"
I guess I didn't realize how political McKay was until almost every other song was given a brief commentary about the country's current state, which leaned toward a more left sensibility. Although she teased the audience with what seemed to be a defense for John McCain until it was apparent she wasn't defending him: "It's not that McCain is too old (repeats)… it's that his policies are f*cked up!" The crowd laughed and enjoyed the extra twenty minutes that McKay took back for starting late.
In spending twenty more minutes seeing McKay, I wasn't able to rush to see Regina Spektor on time. I mentioned that lots of people were gathered to see M. Ward, and in fact there were tons more people to see Spektor play.
I wasn't able to get a good position, and I really didn't feel like weaving through people to get closer, but I was close enough to hear her well but far enough that I couldn't see her. I caught a few pre-Begin To Hope songs, but then I left and headed toward the CrowdFire tent which was televising that particular performance. I left and then heard a large applause, which only meant that Spektor was singing "Fidelity."
San Francisco duo Two Gallants was a different band that I was used to seeing at the festival with their blend of emo, indie, and quasi-punk music. "Despite What You've Been Told" and "The Hand That Held Me Down" were very good songs.
Singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson was enjoyably talkative too. There were undoubtably more females than males in the crowd, and it probably had something to do with Nathanson's good looks (I'm assuming).
His big hit "Come On Get Higher" was a huge crowd favorite. Being from SF, Nathanson was thrilled to be able to play and only spend ten minutes to get home. He remarked that the festival had an amazing renaissance fair feel with quips about horse-drawn carriages and references to his band mates as lieges.
He sang a song I think is called "Princess" that he wrote as a ripoff of Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl." He admitted it, even pausing from the song to actually cover and ask for audience participation in "Jessie's Girl." There was also a song about the Kardashian family and their reality television show, which Nathanson commented as a show about "rich people doing stupid sh*t."
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
I managed to get a better spot for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at the main Land's End stage. I was surrounded by many die-hard Petty fans who couldn't stop saying how much fun this festival was (which it was).
Petty and the band rocked the audience with "Free Falling" and the crowd-roaring favorite "Mary Jane's Last Dance." Petty mentioned the band's intention to cram as much music into the set before the curfew law set in.
I was already getting so sick of the cigarette and pot smoke blown in my face that when a technical malfunction delayed the performance for five minutes, I decided I had enough. Unfortunately for me that was only about a quarter or a third of the set, with the lone bright spot having a traffic-free exit from the festival grounds. I'll have to check back at AT&T's Blue Room for a videocast of the entire concert soon.