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OUTSIDE LANDS FESTIVAL 2008

It’s one of the most storied rock n’ roll cities in the world, and now San Francisco has a major music festival that does its history justice. One hundred fifty thousand people packed Golden Gate Park under mild, late August skies. The sounds coming from the six stages set on rolling grassy meadows in the middle of the woods varied from indie-rock to hip hop and jam bands to world beat. No matter what your ear – the Outside Lands Festival 2008┬áhad music to satisfy it.

Strategically placed gates meant to separate stages were no match for the stampede of stoned San Franciscans who made their own routes to and from shows. At times beer lines were longer than the cable car turnaround at Fisherman’s Wharf. For those with a little patience, though, Outside Lands had something for everyone – wine tasting, an art dome, a technology tent, even Major League Baseball batting and pitching cages. The ultra-eco friendly festival featured solar powered stages, a bicycle valet service and scores of compost and recycling bins – even the beer cups were made from corn. But it was music that made the world go ’round like never before in this magical setting. Jimi, Janis and the Dead have all graced this sacred ground, but no one had ever played Golden Gate at night – until festival headliners Radiohead, Tom Petty and Jack Johnson took turns revolutionizing the Polo Field.

Recognizing the importance of the weekend, Radiohead took the opportunity to soak in San Francisco. Three of the guys were seen cruising Haight Ashbury. They even ducked their heads into Amoeba Music – a record store staple in the city. The sighting only fueled the buzz brewing for the big show. Meantime, Golden Gate Park was preparing for the after work crowd – a stuffing of thirsty 20 and 30 somethings that consider lead singer Thom Yorke a genious and the band’s inefctious sound poetry set to music.

As dusk settled and the fog rolled in on Friday, a sea of spectators 60,000 deep roared like drunken tigers. “Reckoner” blazed off their guitars and Yorke crooned under a sea of cascading color. The Pink Floyd-esque light show boldly announced that this is the world’s greatest band. The frenzied fans got the message – too bad the sound guy didn’t. While Radiohead rocked and Yorke danced like his pants were on fire, the sound dropped off completely, twice. The band continued playing silently for a good chunk of two songs, and the crowd began to boo. After the kinks got worked out, a very angry lead singer apologized, “I don’t know what the ####’# going on, I’m sorry.” With $100/night tickets, they’re mistakes that shouldn’t have been made – but Radiohead killed it even harder earning every penny and even more respect.

Beck’s long, stringy blonde hair was crazier than Cheez Whiz, and his experimental, genre-bending music literally had people leaping in place. He mixed new stuff from his “Modern Guilt” CD with classics like “Loser” and “Devil’s Haircut.” Beck even through in a rousing version of Bob Dylan’s classic “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”

Ben Harper plucked his lap slide guitar into submission while effortlessly flicking his voice into falsetto. He opened with “Better Way” and that’s exactly the show he put on in San Francisco. His girlfriend, Laura Dern, kicked it backstage – it’s no wonder Harper looked like a million bucks in a sleek button down shirt and coat.


JB, lead singer for Widespread Panic, pulled out his mandolin and reminded us that life truly is grand. The band’s cult-like followers swayed to the music like Deadheads of decades past. Panic opened with “Climb to Safety” and welcomed Ann Marie Calhoun on fiddle for “Her Dance Needs No Body.” Calhoun stayed on stage for five songs mixing beautifully with Jimmy Herring’s guitar. The performance was a true gift to the thousands who batted beachballs in the sun and allowed the music to take them back in time.

Local boy Matt Nathanson sang ballads one minute and poked fun at pop culture the next during a very entertaining show. He parodied the Kardashians in a hilarious rendition of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” Nathanson also covered “Kids in America.” But the highlight was his breakout hit “Come on Get Higher.” The song is enjoying success on the pop charts and in country music circles after Sugarland’s live version of the song was released on their new album.

Donavon Frankenreiter brought new material and unique surf meets Johnny Cash type sound with him. Wilco, The Black Keys, Grace Potter, Primus, Cake, Regina Spektor and a host of bands from the Bay Area and around the world gave Outside Lands Coachella-like diversity with the prestige of Austin City Limits and a setting rivaling Lollapalooza.

Tom Petty flat-out kicked ass. He told the crowd from the start that the plan was to cram as much rock into Golden Gate Park before the curfew law went into effect. Petty and the boys did not disappoint with an 18 song set that mixed their greatest hits with an old Traveling Wilbury’s number and even a cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” Petty played “Free Fallin'” acoustically dedicating it to all the lovers.

Many couples kissed, others tried to dance but were either too intoxicated or too white. While the groovin’ was sketchy, the karaoke was in fine form. It seemed everyone in the entire place knew every word to every song, and no one was afraid to belt the lyrics out. When Steve Winwood joined The Heartbreakers on stage the crowd erupted. He shared vocal duties and tickled the ivory like only he can on “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Give Me Some Lovin’.” Tom Petty and company stole the show over the weekend delivering a performance that was both fun and epic.

Move over Johnny Depp, Jack Johnson’s in town. He’s the perfect combination of sexy and cool that had every lady loving him and every man wanting to be him for a day. Jack’s chill voice and the shrill shrieks of adoring female fans somehow blended nicely. But just a few songs into the show, Johnson froze. He stared at the microphone while the band kept playing “Taylor.” “There’s a green spider on the mic right where I put my mouth,” Johnson explained. “I’m tripping myself out.” Dressed in flip-flops, jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, Johnson serenaded the spider, refusing to kill it all night. He brought several guests on stage that played instruments ranging from ukulele to accordion. At one point, Johnson asked the JumboTron photographer to zoom in on a cute, little girl atop her daddy’s shoulders holding a sign that read “We Love U Jack.” – a statement that summed it up for everyone at the show.

Written by: Ben Bamsey

www.sfoutsideland.com

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