Outside Lands returns for its 10th year this weekend in Golden Gate Park, and there's no better time to take a look back at the past decade of music, fashion, and people. There's been some crazy sights at Outside Lands since 2008 — let's take a look back, shall we?
In short: 2008 was Radiohead's big year, when the sound famously went out mid-song. Broken Social Scene, Bon Iver and Lupe Fiasco were favorites, and Nellie McKay swore like a sailor when talking about John McCain's campaign against Barack Obama. Sharon Jones brought a guy from the crowd onstage and taught him how to bump 'n' grind. The Somali rapper K'naan played a transcendental set.
Most Memorable Moment: Early in the first day, a 22 oz. can of Budweiser fell on the ground at my feet during Manu Chao's set. Seconds later, another one came flying over the fence. Then four hands clutched the top of the fence, and the struggling faces of two hopefuls came into view. One guy made it over by sliding head-first into the grass, and the other guy threw himself over in a sideways roll. By that point, a small group of onlookers gathered, and they all applauded while the guys grabbed their cold ones and ran off into the crowd. It would be the first of many attempts — some successful, some not — to crash the gates at Outside Lands.
In short: 2009 was marked with sadness, as the Beastie Boys had to cancel due to Adam Yauch's throat cancer. Nobody I knew was happy about their replacement, Tenacious D. The Dead Weather and M.I.A. were both at the height of their powers, and Tom Jones proved an amusing and popular addition — a precursor to the festival's tradition of booking legacy acts.
Most Memorable Moment: Q-Tip's set had already been stellar, and when he started into old Tribe Called Quest favorites — "Scenario," "Oh My God," "Check the Rhime" — the crowd lost their collective mind. But that was nothing compared to what happened next, when he brought out surprise guest Phife Dawg — the two weren't on great terms in those days — for "Award Tour." Looking back on that moment now, with Phife gone, is pretty emotional:
In short: Ah, 2010, the year Al Green gave about 10 dozen single roses to ladies in the front row. Phoenix, the Devil Makes Three, and Garage a Trois were highlights. Nas, performing with Damian Marley, accidentally called Africa a "country." The Budos Band played in the KUSF tent and killed it.
Most Memorable Moment: Fifteen minutes late due to a late flight, Janelle Monae took to the stage in a black hooded cape, sang the hell out of her songs, danced up a tornado and defied normal human behavior. She even sang Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” probably the greatest song about depression ever written. When she ended with “Tightrope,” I walked around the crowd and came upon a dude who was doing backflips and smoking a joint at the same time. Amazing.
In short: 2011 was the year that Big Boi's performance was derailed by an unexplained problem with his laptop DJ, and so Dave Chappelle came out for two minutes and placated the crowd. Ellie Goulding was a lesser-known name in the fine print of the lineup, right on the cusp of superstardom. The Meters and tUnE-yArDs were superb, Major Lazer completely destroyed a record-breaking crowd, and Arcade Fire was still capable of generating mass excitement and uplift. For some reason, watermelon-smashing right-wing wacko Gallagher did a comedy set.
Most Memorable Moment: Definitely Erykah Badu. She opened with “The Healer,” dragging out the chorus at the end: “Hip hop / It’s bigger than the government,” and then led her band into Graham Central Station’s “Happy to See You Again” a capella. Later, they interpolated Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” and Afrika Bambaata’s “Planet Rock.” There were four backup singers, a flute player, a percussionist, the songs were all over the place, it was nuts. Badu herself hovered above, under, in and out of all of it, navigating the shape-shifting arrangements with ease. It was like some miracle from I don't know where.
In short: 2012 is when it really start to feel like a banner festival. The first few years of Outside Lands felt music-centered, but Outside Lands was an experience in 2012, a thing you and all your friends go to, a water-cooler discussion, an Instagram feeding frenzy. "Someday, Another Planet Entertainment may be able to sell it out without even announcing the lineup," I wrote at the time. Three years later, for early-bird passes, they did.
Neil Young played a long, maddening set with Crazy Horse, Reggie Watts amused a stoned crowd, and Sharon Van Etten was the year's best surprise. Even Skrillex was outstanding.
Most Memorable Moment: American treasure Stevie Wonder opened with Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is,” and then a few songs later did “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson. “It is time to give your love to those who are less fortunate!” he declared, during election season. “It’s time to re-elect Barack Obama!” “Master Blaster,” “Sir Duke,” “My Cherie Amour” and “Living for the City” gave way to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered," which was perfect in every way. He succeeded in uniting 40,000 people. It was the best way to close out the weekend.
In short: Paul McCartney played in 2013 and, in a backstage meeting with Mayor Ed Lee, agreed to play the final concert ever at Candlestick Park the next year. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails and Jurassic 5 brought back '90s vibes. Nile Rodgers showed up with Chic for a dance party.
Most Memorable Moment: Always doing things his way, Willie Nelson drove to the stage through the crowd in a white van, strapped on his beat-up guitar with a saxophone strap, threw his hat into the audience, and proceeded to play gorgeous song after gorgeous song to the most carefree, fun-loving crowd Outside Lands has seen. John Stamos from Full House stood to the side of the stage, making eyes and flirting with girls in the crowd before simply joining the band on congas. At the end, the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir joined in for a finale of "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die." Never seen a set at Outside Lands quite like it.
In short: Kanye West headlined in 2014 in darkness, with the large TV screens turned off. Haim and Atmosphere attracted giant crowds. Tom Petty returned, while Patrick Stewart showed up for an early appearance with the Improvised Shakespeare Company. And Big Freedia began an annual tradition of "Booty & Beignets."
Most Memorable Moment: Whatever intangible mixture Christopher Owens used to infuse his set worked beautifully. By far the calmest, most subdued performer all weekend, he also used his band — including an organist and two gospel backup singers — to reach ethereal heights and win over new fans.
In short: D'Angelo made his mighty return in 2015, while St. Vincent stole hearts. Billy Idol and Elton John held down the Generation X crowd, and a wild tribute to the band from Coming to America wore powder-blue tuxedos. Fantastic Negrito was detained by the zealous SFPD in a very sketchy situation involving allegations of scalped tickets. Nobody could resist Dan Deacon.
Most Memorable Moment: History will not be kind to the scheduling of professional Subaru salesmen the Black Keys on the main stage in the same time slot as Kendrick Lamar, on the second stage. Though insanely crowded, the whole we’re-all-in-tight-together thing just felt right. Kendrick turned in a festival-friendly set lopsided toward earlier hits instead of dipping deep into the highly politicized, musically experimental material from his just-released masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly. But as it stood, he did “i,” “King Kunta,” and for set closer “Alright,” Kendrick dedicated the song to a guy crowd-surfing in a wheelchair. It was Kendrick's year.
In short: The return of LCD Soundsystem in 2016, after just five years of being broken up, was a reminder that nostalgia ain't what it used to be. 1980s acts like Duran Duran and Lionel Richie were satisfying, as were newer stars like Kehlani, Chance the Rapper, Grimes and Lana Del Rey. Anderson .Paak stole the night from Radiohead, and E-40 played a jam-packed surprise set.
Most Memorable Moment: The hilarious 1970s band from The Muppet Show (with the help of operators beneath a riser) played a 25-minute set that could have easily been some kind of tech marketing ploy trading on nostalgia. Instead, it felt as pure as the original television shows and movies, with Janice, Dr. Teeth, Animal and the gang joking about operating an “illegal bed and breakfast” in San Franciso’s Haight Street heyday and bringing on the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir for a Joe Cocker-inspired version of “With a Little Help from my Friends.” After the smoke settled, the crew of Muppet operators emerged from beneath the riser to a huge burst of screams and applause.
Want more recent coverage from 2017 and beyond? See here.
Aaaaaaand... that's a wrap! I'll let local favorites Con Brio, from the finale of their 2016 set, play us off:
The 10th annual Outside Lands Music Festival runs Friday–Sunday, Aug. 11–13, in Golden Gate Park. Details here. Photos by Gabe Meline, Liz Seward, Estefany Gonzalez, Wendy Goodfriend and David Korman.
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