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.
I wasn’t able to attend Day Three (Sunday) of the festival because on Saturday I received a larger-than-expected barrage of cigarette and pot smoke, which irritated my eyes greatly. The eye drops I brought didn’t alleviate the redness or soreness, and after I woke up Sunday morning I could barely open my eyes.
I have been in places where I was around a lot of cigarette and pot smoke, but the mixture and dose of both affected me more than I thought would.
It’s unfortunate because I was really looking forward to seeing Nicole Atkins & The Sea, Stars, Vienna Teng, Drive-By Truckers, Broken Social Scene, Rogue Wave, Wilco, and Jack Johnson perform. I’ll have to settle for reading reviews and watching online streams.
Besides the music, there were other attractions that Outside Lands featured, many had to do with technology while others had to do with the Arts portion.
The highest touted event was Microsoft’s Crowdfire, which was sort of a mini-social musical network where attendees could upload photos and videos of the festival. You could do that anywhere, but users could comment and mix the media and watch their creations in real time via the many monitors that were set up in the humongous tent.
By Saturday, I saw roughly 300 multi-photo pages. There were many sofas that let festival goers simply lounge around and view them. You’d think this technology would benefit more established music social networks like Last.fm, but I think Microsoft wanted to promote their Zune music player and better diversify their marketplace with a test-driven feature to eventually serve as an alternative to Apple’s iTunes Store.
The tent also housed Intel’s presence with a few popular Guitar Hero stations. There were also a few laptops available for Internet access, which I never saw used for anything but MySpace profiles. There were a few televisions and screens devoted to live video for a particular performance.
Dell sponsored a tent (which should have been a lot bigger) for promoting some of its technology like its popular stitching machine that helped customize all kinds of clothing with any design.
The tent was also used to house interviews with a many of the festival’s musicians. The times often conflicted with performances I wanted to see. Fortunately, these interviews can be viewed at the Outside Lands page at Dell’s Summer Rocks. The tent was a small place to relax in the middle of the entire festival, which featured a few comfortable couches and a ping-pong table.
Outsider Art was a series of tents devoted to the many artists who help design and decorate the festival’s stages. I was surprised by how small the tents where and even though they were located near the middle of the festival for some reason they seemed be lost within the tent shuffle.
Visa’s Signature Lounge was a godsend, and welcome VIP treatment to the many long lines at either the portable toilets or the alcohol stands. It was underused Friday, and Saturday was overused with large crowds trying to buy cocktails and long lines trying to use the very private bathrooms. The one men’s trailer (the women got two) was extremely dirty by Saturday night. To be fair, there were plenty of portable toilets placed throughout the grounds so this lounge was more of a bonus or “privilege” than a “right.”
The lounge’s organizers also got hip to the notion that taking out your Visa card to get in was very annoying and soon had wristbands for the patrons.
- Of the five staff members I asked for directions to the press tent, the one person who pointed me in the right spot was the one person who was the most honest and upfront about having no idea where it was.
That shouldn’t have happened. If you’re wearing a “staff” t-shirt, there should be no reason why you wouldn’t know where anything anyone asks you is. That might seem like a lot to ask, but the tent is a stationary place and a popular destination, and I spent thirty minutes going in circles before I found it.
That brings me to another problem I had which was that the tent was very far away from the main festival grounds. Sure, interviews need quiet and artists want their privacy but there was plenty of staff checking press bracelets and tickets so security shouldn’t have been that tight as to make such a trek so time consuming.
Also, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who got lost trying to find the tent and ended up missing the media orientation. But there weren’t any postings that I could find that gave the day’s media events nor were there any staff members eager to help a seemingly ignorant and bewildered attendee.
I could have asked a few other members of the media or staff, but that would really delayed my otherwise somewhat carefully planned itinerary. And since no staff seemed to know anything otherwise I thought it best not to risk it and try to experience as much of the festival as possible.
- The festival’s map design was terrible. I know the organizers were constrained with the size and shape of Golden Gate Park, but the experience could have been much better. I was listening to Andy Hawk, a Sacramento DJ (KWOD), and he said the measurement from each main stage (Land’s End and Twin Peaks) was a mile.
If you look at a map, you could see all of the wasted and constrained walking space. The biggest grip I had was the path to get to the more intimate and greatly used Lindley Meadow (housing the Presidio and Sutro stages). On the map it looks small and in real life it was small.
By Saturday, many of the metal fences were either pushed back or strewn on the ground because so many people had a hard time getting to where they wanted to go without feeling bumper-to-bumper.
It’s ironic how constrained the festival seemed when so many of the tents and stages felt so scattered (with the exception of the Lindley Meadow section).
That’s a planning issue that really shouldn’t have existed. There is that alternate northern path, but that brings me to my third issue, which was the lack of readily available information.
- There were hardly any signs anywhere around the festival grounds. Heading there, I met five separate groups who had no idea where they were going. There were no signs, and the only map was the festival map but Golden Gate Park is incredibly large. I saw a few signs, which blended too well with the existing park signs for anyone to notice.
Even paper signs stapled to trees or taped to poles would have helped tremendously but nowhere around the neighborhoods could I find one. Did they expect non-residents to be able to find it that easily? There could have been a some staff members stationed at a few key entry points to the park to help direct and assist people, but I guess they were really needed on the main grounds.
- The size of the exits was also a huge problem. If you expect 60,000 people to attend, you should also expect 60,000 people to leave as well. Especially with the main shows like Radiohead, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and Jack Johnson — I don’t think the organizers realized how difficult moving so many people out of one area quickly, efficiently, and safely would be. Just ask Caltrans.
- While the other problems I had were more digs on the organizers and their lack of planning, I think this is more of a dig on people in general. Outside Lands was supposed to be a green event, yet by the end of Saturday there was so much trash on the ground that I think it surprised many about how ambivalent a lot of people were toward the environment.
Sure, many of the trash and recycle bins were far away from the stages but they had to be. No one wants to stand near trash, but that doesn’t give you the right to simply leave your trash on the ground.
In addition, there were countless cigarette butts all over the ground that the organizers probably second-guessed trying to ban smoking from the event. That probably wouldn’t have gone over well, with public outcry being the greatest and enforcement being the hardest. But that definitely needs to be addressed for next time.
While it might not have seemed like it, I did very much enjoy Outside Lands. There is such a ton of potential for OT to be a premier summer festival, that it makes you wonder why it hadn’t happened sooner. Designing such a big event isn’t easy and since this is the inaugural one, I’m going to give the Outside Lands organizers huge credit for both putting the effort and pulling it off.
I expect there will be an Outside Lands next year, and I hope that changes will be made. I anticipate organizers will work even harder since this year’s event was so successful.