outside lands

I've put off writing my recap of Outside Lands music festival not only because I've been a depressed and uninspired sop, but because I have conflicted feelings about it. It was, aside from the music aspect, nothing whatsoever like Bonnaroo. And I loved Bonnaroo. Which is not to say that OL didn't have its charms. It did, and I had a blast. But it was a completely different experience. And I can't say I wasn't warned that it would be, by the comparisons I'd read online beforehand. But my hopes and expectations for the fest were still, inevitably, Bonnaroo-shaped and Bonnaroo-stamped.

Golden Gate Park is beautiful, no argument. But it was effing cold. The fog rolled in on Friday and Saturday afternoon and my ass was freezing (Sunday was much milder). On Friday, I was even wearing a skirt (albeit with thick wool thigh high socks), because my iPhone lied to me about the weather, like a jerk. And it's really hard to get into the mood of dancing, drinking, drugging - whatever your thing is - when you're shivering. So there was that.

(Note the wine in the pic above, neatly contained. Five minutes later it had relocated to the front of my shirt.)

Then there was the matter of how congested and crazy it got later in the weekend. Again - beautiful venue. Truly lovely setting, and I enjoyed walking through the woods. But 60,000 people in Golden Gate Park is absolute chaos. There is no flow. Something about the layout of Bonnaroo gave it flow, and there were another 20,000 people there. But navigating Outside Lands, particularly on Saturday and Sunday when the most people attended, was like swimming upstream: an exercise in futility and frustration. The fields where the stages are get completely choked with multiple lanes of foot traffic, and it becomes a twenty minute ordeal just to get in to the area, much less near the music. I missed Alabama Shakes for this reason. My claustrophobia kicked in as I was worming my way into the meadow and I had to bolt.

Also, the sound on one of the stages (the Panhandle) was just awful. Unless you were extremely close and towards the center, the music was a poor simulacrum of what it should have been. For this reason, Washed Out was a huge disappointment for me. Another stage, Twin Peaks, had some sounds problems, too, which is not what you want when you're jamming out to Justice and Skrillex.

Finally, the biggest bummer - the festival vibe itself. Whereas Bonnaroo had such an intimate sense of community, stuffed as it was with dirty, sweaty, sunburned, but really joyful people, Outside Lands felt more like a scene. A place to be seen. The fact that there was no overnight camping at OL contributes to this largely, I know. But the crowd itself was very different. A lot more monied, a lot more self-conscious. People in meticulously constructed boho chic outfits who seemed more interested in who was checking them out than enjoying the music itself. I saw a fraction of the amount of unadulterated joy - dancing, singing, laughing, cavorting - as I did at Bonnaroo. And it seemed like people at OL were pushier, shovier, more impatient, less tolerant.

But, like I say, I still had an amazing time just doing my thing out there in the woods. Cue the highlight reel!

Music Highlights

This time around, I made it a point to be well versed in the music I was going to hear. I mean, I studied. I made playlists of all the bands on my schedule, and listened to them exclusively for the two weeks before the festival. This got me really, really excited about it. For this reason, in terms of the music, I got more out of Outside Lands than Bonnaroo. Where to start.

Of Monsters and Men. Can't even convey how powerful this show was, for me. I started out pressed up close to the stage, because this was my number one most anticipated show and I wanted a fully immersive experience. But holy hell was it packed in tight. And there was a baby hipster couple next to me, a gorgeous young girl and her neck-bearded boyfriend, whose nonstop kissing and cuddling were too much for my newly-single self to handle. After the first track, I retreated to a corner off the side where I could sit by myself and soak up the songs that, truly, have gotten me through some of the hardest moments of my life. And they sounded exactly like the album.

Explosions In The Sky. Have the chills just remembering this one. God, so good. I was in the front of the VIP section, had plenty of room to just shut my eyes and dance. Hypnotizing, amazing set. I was so charged up afterward that I plowed back through the crowd yelling "Yeessss!!! SO AWESOME!" and high fiving any stranger who seemed remotely amused by my enthusiasm (a total of two).

Geographer. This was suuuuuch a kick-ass show. The crowd was totally engaged and dancing, really into it, and he was an awesome performer. Every song sounded just like the album, and the energy was perfect for the late afternoon. I was off to the side alone for a while on this one, drinking wine and kinda half dancing half watching, but got sucked in to the crowd pretty quickly.

Animal Kingdom. Totally rocked. This group should be loads more popular than they are. His voice is so edgy and different, I love it. I actually laid on the ground for most of this show. Flat on my back, just drumming my belly to the beat.

Jukebox the Ghost. If there's one show I'm glad I got to be right up front for, it's this one. They were so, so fun and into it. Really animated performers, and they sounded awesome. They did a cover of I Wanna Dance With Somebody that was a blast.

City and Colour. Watched this with A. on Sunday, and it was a really nice moment. We sat off to the side, me in between his legs and leaning against his chest. It was extremely mellow and relaxing, and the music was fantastic.

Trampled By Turtles. Intense. Also watched this with A. People loooooove them some Trampled By Turtles. You haven't seen festival dancing until you've seen TBT fans stomping and whooping and flailing. I felt closer to A. than I had in ages which was a double-edged sword, obviously. Enjoyed the intimacy, but knew it was the exception, not the rule. Knew it didn't change where we were at (broken up and at the festival as friends). So, yeah. Intense.

fun. One of the best performances of the festival. That kid is a powerhouse, and he was ALL over the stage belting it out. I've been a fan since The Format, so it was a real treat to see him. He saved Some Nights for the finale, and I was a hollerin' those lyrics, oh boy.

The Walkmen. I liked the Walkmen before seeing them live - now I really have a true appreciation for them. Talk about a voice. Probably the best performance I saw all weekend, just from the perspective of pure talent - and I'm saying that about a group I barely knew at the time. If you like them at all and ever have the chance to see them live, don't miss it!

Wolfgang Gartner and Skrillex. They were right after one another and I was high as a kite. Danced. My. Face. Off. And met some fun people to party with during, too. Perfect ending to the festival on Sunday night (I was alone - A. had gone to meet a friend for drinks downtown).

Sigur Ros. I'm not a Sigur Ros fan, really, but wowww. The show they put on was jaw-dropping, what with the lights and effects. I can only imagine how it was for actual fans.

Other Festival Highlights

- I met some very cool, fun people on Friday night that I spent a few hours running around with. Two guys and a girl (yes, I know, I filled out the equation nicely). That girl had MAD wingman skills, I tell you what. She procured me for her friends in under thirty seconds, after seeing me near them at Washed Out. We drank together, lamented the horrible sound and our disappointment about that performance, and then ended up dancing and goofing around at Justice and Neil Young afterward.

- Dancing in the dark, steamy, packed Heineken dome. Getting so lost in the music and warmth and crowd and...other things, that I blew off a show to stay and dance. Ladies, should you ever find yourself lonely or bored at a music festival, get thee to a dance dome/tent. Good times.

- Dancing at the Digital Music Lounge, in broad daylight, a full, sober crowd watching the rest of make fools of ourselves in an attempt to win free stuff. Didn't win anything, but didn't stay long. Didn't like all the cameras (had spilt Pinot Noir all over my shirt just beforehand).

- Almost forgot this one: A. and I had one really lovely moment, on Sunday, right smack in the middle of Sutro field. Pople were swarming all around us, hurrying and pushing and streaming past on their ways to and fro. But he and I sort of just stopped and reclaimed a small space to be what we wanted: calm, happy, joyful - to be, honestly, like Bonnaroo, where people would suddenly start dancing or hula-hooping or kissing or whatever right in the middle of things, and it was not just accepted, it was approved of, mightily. And that's what we did. We just randomly stopped to slow dance for a minute, and to share a kiss. It was so nice. Sigh.

- Dancing late Sunday night in the woods of McLaren Pass to a folk band I'd never heard of (and didn't bother to learn the name of), but who were the perfect night-cap to my lingering, post Skrillex jumpies. (Read: I was still high as hell and needed to move.)

Here are some shots of McLaren pass, which had various specialty food vendors, carnival games, etc.:

- Had kind of fun moment when some guy made a very playful, very public ploy for my attention after one of the shows. I guess he'd seen me rocking out alone, oblivious and loving it, and dug the cut of my jib, because when I walked by him and his friends afterward, he made a silly but sweet scene of calling me out to declare his love. Is this braggy? "Ooh, I'm so hawt, strange drunk doodz flirt with me"? I don't know, don't mean it to be. It was just a fun moment, and it made me smile.

Non-Festival Highlights

- My very dear friend L. let me stay with him in San Francisco, which was perfect for multiple reasons. One - it was just so godamn good to see him. DO YOU HEAR ME, L?? IT WAS SO GODAMN GOOD TO SEE YOU. I adore him to smithereens and seeing him is sustenance for my soul. Heart bigger than the state of California and always chock full of the best advice. BFFs forever, L. Two - this was post/kinda during my breakup with A. and oh my god, there is no one you want more in your corner, propping you back up with encouragement, humor, and food/liquor, than L. Three - his gorgeous apartment is right smack downtown, just a block from the Civic Center where the festival shuttle picked me up every day. It coud not have been more convenient.

- On Monday, A. and I ate mushrooms (this was the first time for me) and wandered around the city all day and into the evening, before our late flight home. Holy shit. Holy shit. It was a) the best day I've ever had with A. (which, haha, let's just fuck with Ellie's mind, drugs! thanks!), b) the most enjoyable drug experience I've ever had by a factor of a hundred (suuuuuch a nice, mellow, upbeat and giggly high that lasts and lasts), and c) the first time I'd really spent any time in SF anywhere other than the wharf (I now get why so many people would kill to live there).

We had such an incredibly fun day, just lolling about the wharf, the piers, the gardens. Getting hypnotized by a statue and trying to climb it. Waxing philosophical about life while we looked at cars on the bridge. Staring, mesmerized, at a toddler playing with a puppy in the park. Bumbling around Chinatown, me feeling the sensation of shrooms for the first time, letting the positive vibes wash over me as we examine weird things in apothecary jars. Laughing so much our cheeks hurt. Later, we ate at RN 74. I was hesitant to go there at first, feeling sloppy in my filthy festival jeans. But I'm glad A. convinced me to go in, because it was great. We lounged in the bar on a couch and feasted and drank and talked. It was the perfect ending to the day and the long weekend.

And one last shot, which I got Sunday night after the festival was over and everything was shut down - I had been locked out of the main field along with everyone else...but my things were still in my locker. So I had to sneak back in, grab my stuff, and hightail it to the last shuttle. It was so eerie and awesome, seeing the empty venue, all foggy and deserted.