I took my boys to San Francisco to attend the Outside Lands Music Festival this summer. It’s one of those Woodstock-like three-day music extravaganzas. There were several stages strewn around Golden Gate Park and, given today’s sponsorships there were all kinds of companies represented, big and small. Giveaways, prizes, PR of all kinds, and amazing food abounded, along with the unmistakable aroma of weed.
They sold out at 65,000 people per day. I suspect there were far more people present than “just” 65,000. It was a mass of humanity and it felt like I was the oldest person there, except for a few of the performers like Neil Young and Stevie Wonder. Most of the time, I got a kick out of the event, but other times I really felt my age and a little regret that these things were really “not my thing” anymore. Heck, I didn’t go to these festivals when I was that age.
Going with my boys was a mixed bag. Basically, I was their bank and driver. We stayed at a cool B&B that was a 20-minute walk from the festival grounds. When we went together – only the first day – we parted ways shortly after entering, since each boy wanted to rendezvous with friends. And, then I was there together with thousands of my closest friends.
Being the shy, retiring guy that I am, I used my GoPro video camera as one device to meet people. Often, I’d stand in the middle of multitudes of people walking from one place to another and hold my video camera in front of me. When a friendly face approached and they got what I was doing, more often than not, I’d get a big wave, a funny face, and a greeting. On one such occasion, a very cute blonde dragged me along with her saying I should join her at such-and-such a show. She was clearly stoned OUT OF HER HEAD and I went along with it for a few minutes until a friend of hers pulled her away. She looked over her shoulder wistfully at me and waved goodbye.
I looked at her departing figure and “wistfully” felt like her grandpa. During another one of my wanderings, I came upon some temporary sculptures that were sort of dome shaped, made of plexi-glass triangular mirrors. I walked up close and made a funny face at my reflection. I then walked around it and saw there was an opening and sitting space inside. Who was there? My older son’s ex-girlfriend, Ashley! We looked at each other in pleasant shock and then hung out together for a while. What were the odds?
Truly, it was the array of people that made the event for me. Yes, some of the shows were incredible as well, but the event was an event unto itself!
It also involved a LOT of walking. First, there was the three-mile round trip from our B&B and then, I’d guess, another three miles of walking while on the festival grounds. All that would’ve been fine had I not gotten a blister the first day. Consequently, I was sort of hobbling along the next two days.
Another big part of the festival was beer juggling. No, it’s not a new Olympics event, but it was remarkable to watch people try and hold two full glasses of beer while navigating the incredible crowds.
There were a few true highlights and one “defining moment” for me after three days and attending 16 performances. The Icelandic band, Of Monsters and Men, had the crowd and me completely enthralled. I don’t know what to call their music other than eminently enjoyable and joyful.
The Foo Fighters were great and Neil Young was weird. He chose to jam with his buddies – Crazyhorse – during every song for what felt like hours. More intriguing was his inability to end any song. Just when we thought a song was over, he’d continue playing one note, again and again and again…and again! The audience was dumbstruck. Was he as high as they were? Was it just old buddies having fun? Heck if I know, but I’d gotten up close and was jammed so tightly among the crowd that I couldn’t leave even though I very much wanted to. Standing like that for nearly three hours was torture. The music was worse torture, except the bones he through the crowd when he evidently reluctantly did a couple songs we recognized.
But, the “defining moment” for me was Tom Morello’s finale. He was formerly the lead guitarist for Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine. More recently, he’s joined Bruce Springsteen on his recent tour and added an incredible guitar solo to Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
Tom Morellos was AWESOME! Click on his photo to go to the video!
At Outside Lands, he closed his set first with a rendition of “This Land is Your Land.” He then stopped and spoke to the audience, inviting everyone to join him on stage. The security people were likely dying at this point as hundreds of people converged on the stage. Tom tried to direct them in an orderly fashion and pretty much succeeded. I was now pushed to within a three-person depth from the stage, holding my GoPro in one hand and my digital camera in the other.
Morello sees me and tells the crowd that I’m the designated videographer and everyone else should turn off his or her cameras, phones, and such and just be in the moment. He then led us in a group sing-a-long of his protest song, “World Wide Rebel Songs.” For me, it was the defining moment of the festival. The ground was literally shaking. Here’s the video:
Click on the photo above to go to the video!
My feet are still sore. I think I’ll watch Outside Lands on YouTube next year…
This woman saw Arnie and shouted “Arnie Sallan! I saw you at The Roxy with Chris Cornell” – what a cool coincidence!