Outside Lands takes over SF once again with acts like the Strokes and Further -- but is it possible to build a better music festival?
MUSIC As summer fades, the Bay grows warmer, and full-fledged adult music circuses — a mixture of marquee names, garlic fries, sideshow stilt-walkers, and questionable street art — begin to arrive, it's time to ask: how does one go about building a better festival?
The Great Recession hasn't helped the foundering music industry. Entertainment Weekly has dubbed this the Summer of Sadness, with partial or total tour cancellations on the part of Lilith Fair, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, the Eagles, Jonas Brothers, and American Idol. All of which explains why Outside Lands, once three days strong, is now down to two, from Aug. 14-15.
"It's about the economic climate and who's touring," says Allen Scott, festival producer and Another Planet Entertainment vice president. Initially, he says, Another Planet conceived Outside Lands as a two-day festival for the first two years, with a third day being added the fourth year — this was before Radiohead agreed to play the first year on a Friday. But 2010 is a whole 'nother story: "Some artists, after last year when tickets weren't doing as well as they hoped, are choosing to take this year off," Scott says.
Where does that leave the sophisticated breed of music fan the Bay Area fosters — one who has made the effort to hoist him- or herself away from the laptop or TV on a regular basis and go out to seek new sounds? It takes a lot to make a slightly jaded, still passionate listener perk up and plonk down the much-sweated-over bucks rather than sitting on the sidelines and taking in the music from the meadow on the other side of the fence.
First-day headliner Further, featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, is obviously playing to "the jam band realm," Scott acknowledges.
"But they obviously have a deep history in San Francisco music," he continues. "Phil and Bobby, who are carrying the torch now, haven't played in Golden Gate Park since Bill Graham passed away and the Dead played free shows in Golden Gate Park in the '60S and '70s — it's more of a nod to that."
For Further, I'd expect — nay, I'd demand — an older, boomer crowd, one that can afford the capacious wine tent and booths helmed by upscale SF mainstays like Slanted Door. The food and wine aspect of Outside Lands does make it unique among destination music festivals, putting in a bid for a "sophisticated" audience, according to Scott, and placing it a cut above the ubiquitous free wine and food events in the region.
But how, exactly, does the Dead/Further audience mesh with Strokes fans, or My Morning Jacket, Gogol Bordello, Cat Power, Wolfmother listeners? Not well, one suspects, picturing the kind of audience switch-overs — and cognitive dissonance and cultural disconnect — that have accompanied odd clashes between Black Eyed Peas and Dave Matthews, Street Sweeper Social Club and Mastodon. "The Bay Area has a wide array of tastes, and we try to reflect those different tastes," explains Allen, who describes the scene as "niche." "Frankly, we tried to steer away from pop music this year. We didn't have it the first year. I think the taste of a festival-goer is less pop-oriented."
Outside Lands offers a few delights for the discerning, opinionated music lover: the right Reverend Al Green and Levon Helm have earned their statuses as legends; Janelle Monae and Nneka have generated press and acclaim for distinctive takes on R&B, rock, and hip-hop; and the Stanton Moore, Marco Benevento, Skerik, and Mike Dillon project sounds like a doozy. Yet Phoenix, Vieux Farka Toure, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Tokyo Police Club have already been through town recently — some at least twice — while some up-and-comers seemingly making the rounds of the nation's festivals, like Japandroids, have failed to surface at Outside Lands.