In the months leading up to Outside Lands, it became clear that the three-day gathering in Golden Gate Park would not be just any old weekend in the woods. I think when my dentist told me she was buying tickets with her husband, that was a fair indicator of just how many people an event like Outside Lands can appeal to, and for a good set of reasons.
First, the location and the fact that it was not in the middle of the desert. To host a music festival proportional to Coachella in San Francisco is like preparing a pilgrimage for the hipster religion-and who better to guide lost souls to scenester salvation than Radiohead?
Day one was more or less a push-and-shove between stages as everyone attempted to capitalize on the best lineup that the weekend had to offer. Beck, The Black Keys, Manu Chao, Cold War Kids, and others gave fans incentive to show up early, but as it happened, I showed up barely in time to get my photo credentials. The rest of my day was spent in a full-blown sprint across the field as I attempted to navigate the borders of the grounds, photograph Beck, and get the best possible spot for the Oxfordshire chaps’ set.
This past weekend I had the chance to observe some of my favorite bands from almost every angle imaginable. Watching from 10 feet away, suddenly all the invisible and mysterious things about a band become clear. You can see the nods and smiles between them, the mistakes, the subtle communication, but what you see most of all is the isolation.
Up there, I may have been able to see everything, but I couldn’t help but feel removed from the music. There was no explosive joy upon recognizing opening riffs. And when I spotted a group of my friends dancing at the front of the crowd, it occurred to me that it doesn’t matter how close you get to the stage-the music is what you make it, not where you make it.
In the end, what happened in Golden Gate Park was either a huge failure or a miraculous adventure, depending on how you see it. Sure, it was overcrowded and cold, nearly all the bands were late, and the sound problems were simply unforgivable (Radiohead’s sound went completely dead in the middle of their set-twice). But, as I learned, the weekend wasn’t about getting from one place to another to get the best spot, or frantically dialing to find lost friends. It was about losing yourself in the music and simply being in the moment. And with that, I present a breakdown of the highlights-and lowlights-of 2008’s Outside Lands.
As the sun went down on day one, the main stage was the only place in the world anyone could hope to be. The curtain fell, the lights died, Radiohead played some songs, and people listened.
Well, some people did. For others, it seemed like the only time they noticed the music was when it inexplicably cut out during “Reckoner” and then again during “The Gloaming.” Frontman Thom Yorke was clearly frustrated with the whole ordeal, as the beginning of “Pyramid Song” erupted with him suddenly banging on the piano and then laughing at his own perfectionism.
It’s really easy to focus on the bad things (especially when they happen twice). It’s easy to get frustrated because the public transportation was poorly arranged and you got there late, and it’s not hard to get mad because people around you are trying to talk over Thom Yorke. But sometimes, you can take a look around and realize it’s a clear summer night, and Radiohead is playing right smack dab in front of you.
By Levi Michaels