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Outside Lands @ Golden Gate Park, 8/22-24/08

August 25, 2008

Things I love about festivals:

1. The need for a mission: Save the Environment! Eat organic! Save energy! Register to vote! Safe sex!

Things I hate about festivals:

1. Everything except see above.

We’re not even going to talk about how I got sick and missed Radiohead on Friday.

Instead, we’ll start with Saturday at 5pm, when I am walking down one of Golden Gate Parks labyrinthian streets, wondering if I am going to reach an entrance. Besides a few unlabeled barricades, there wasn’t any indication that a festival was even going on in the depth’s of the park. Not one sign. As I’m walking, the street is littered with hoodlums and vagrants, having been kicked out of the park they were left to pester the concert goers. Many were jumping the fence into the festival, and I watched my $255 ticket price degrade with each one of them.

Luckily I came upon an entrance, were I went through a half-assed search. The scene upon entering the main field was both of wonder and disgust. There were a lot of people there (150,000? Sheesh.). A combo a drugs, dirt, and debauchery hung in the air, as the young and old stumbled around trying to find friends, look at schedules, navigate stages, and attempt to run from one stage to another. It was not a happy place.

I went to one stage and listened to Cake. I’ve seen Cake twice before and that was good enough for me, but I was too tired to walk the impossible distance to find something else. The lead singer does deliver some good deadpan banter. He gave away a tree to an audience member that could accurately name what kind is was (live oak) as long as they promised to take pictures of its growth over the years to send to the band. He messed up the words to a song and they had to start over. They did a cover of War Pigs, where the guitar solo was replaced by horns, which, in my humble opinion, is blasphemy.

Tom Petty started immediately after Cake- while the two stages were ‘next to each other’ it took forever to get to a place where you could even make out the jumbotrons. The festival was really set up like Vegas, where you’re tricked into thinking “that casino isn’t far, I can walk there!” and an hour later you are sweaty and pissed off. The festival was so on time that it worked to a disadvantage to all the concertgoers in that you could not get places fast enough because there were no travel times built in to the schedule.

Tom Petty sounded nice, but it was super cold. A fog lay over the field in an eerie, Friday the 13th sort of way. A 5 minute technical difficulty break, along with my general distaste with the situation and wanting to get out of there before the masses caused me to leave the set early. Then it was a stroll down a very dark and scary street back to the scooter.

Day 2, 3pm. After reaching the halfway point of the aforementioned unlabeled street to the entrance, someone graciously lets us know that that entrance was only for VIPs that day. So we have to back track and walk far around the other side of the park. Not cool.

The weather was much better that day, which made the hippie indie rock music seem appropriate. I listened to Bon Iver, Drive By Truckers, Broken Social Scene, Wilco, and Jack Johnson. I actually saw The Cool Kids, who I’ve seen twice before and love to dance to, and Rogue Wave, who were interesting though not my style. I just couldn’t figure out their aesthetic: the facial hair on half the band takes me to Village People, the hats were very Country & Western, and then the rest was indie rock.

So we’ll return to things I hate about festivals, this one in particular:

1. You can not say you saw a band if you were at a festival, the band was a speck on the stage, and you drunkenly talked shit about your friend to your other friend the entire time while someone walked around offering you ‘amazing weed’ and ‘chocolate*’. This is a lie.

2. If you are not sure you are walking towards an entrance to the festival and you are tired by the time you reach the entrance to the festival, you are probably not going to have a good time.

3. The schedule features bands that always play festivals, and thus you’ve ‘seen’ them already.

4. Technical difficulties. Over and over and over.

5. Lack of crowd connection, band inebriation, or overwhelmed by shear crowd size: I saw 9 bands, and at least 3 flubbed words to songs.

6. Food stands and restrooms- lines in some areas were crazy, and in others, nonexistent. Someone should have redirected people. I do love that you an bring your own food and drink (including alcohol, since they weren’t checking).

7. Sound was helped by the meadows that encased some of the stages, but the sound and lights tents- or whatever they were- in front of every stage were really off putting. If they really have to be there, make the covers clear so people can see through them.

So with that, Outside Lands, I will thank you for making me re-realize that I am not a festival goer. If you are around next year, have fun without me!

venue (Golden Gate Park): 5/10 (the park is a 10- but it was sunny everywhere but there!)
crowd/scene: 3/10
value ($255.00/ticket): 3/10
memorable: 4/10

*This must be code for something I’m too old to understand.


  1. I’m starting to lean your way on the festival setup in general (though specifically about your Vegas comparison. It was ridiculous!), but I think a good time can be still be had depending on the company you keep. Festivals can be a great time to hear great tunes, discover new music, hang out with friends, walk around, be outside and people watch. And let me tell you, there were some interesting people to watch. Only in SF would a hippie chick have a french pedicure…

    Mind you, if you’re bundled up because it’s 40 degrees at the end of August… that undeniably sucks.

    But yes, festivals just do not compare to the intimate focused setting of an indoor show at say… Mezzanine. I just have to show up with the right expectations. Though to be honest, I think Treasure Island Festival get’s as close as you can with an outdoor event. Looking forward to that one.

  2. You could have saved yourself a LOT of typing if you boiled your review down to: “I decided before the show that I wasn’t going to like it, and I didn’t.”.

    Most of your “review” seems to hinge on the fact that you don’t like festivals anyway. So why bother?

    And you were surprised that it was cold in Golden Gate Park in August? Not. A. Surprise.

    And complaining that a festival doesn’t offer the same experience as seeing band by themselves? Does anybody go to a festival expecting that?

  3. Yes, I said I didn’t like festivals. I was giving them another shot with this one because it was convenient to go to. It was poorly executed, thus affirming my distaste. It’s an opinion.

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