Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, California
You couldn't actually see the Golden Gate Bridge from the grounds of San Francisco's inaugural Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, but there was never any doubt which city was hosting. From the local acts peppered into a lineup starring Radiohead, Tom Petty, Wilco, Jack Johnson and Beck to the inclusion of a tent offering the finest Napa Valley wines, to the abundance of hippies, young and old, arriving on foot, by bicycle or bus, Outside Lands was rich with local pride. So even when the sound system cut out – twice! – during Radiohead's opening-night set, the 60,000 blissed-out concertgoers waited patiently rather than miss a single moment of a road-honed two-hour set including gorgeous reinterpretations of "Karma Police" and "Idioteque."
Outside Lands drew an estimated 130,000 over the course of its three days, during which 65 artists performed on six stages in the west end of the 1,017-acre park. The event's good vibes derived in part from the combined experience of two of the companies that produced it: Bonnaroo promoters Superfly and Another Planet, a Berkeley company helmed by Bill Graham protégé Gregg Perloff. "Bill taught me to always treat the audience with respect," Perloff said, stopping to point out a food stand where you could buy oysters plucked out of the water that very morning. "We're giving them fresh, organic foods produced right here in the Bay Area." The effort wasn't lost on the bands, who dined on one of the better backstage buffets of the summer. "Good food? That's the number-one thing you want out of a festival," said Cold War Kids' Nathan Willett, who chowed down after his L.A. band worked up an appetite with a set that was reckless in all the right ways.
"I wanna hear Tom Petty do 'Breakdown'!" Devendra Banhart declared from the stage during his early-afternoon performance the following day. Banhart got his wish, and Petty and his Heartbreakers offered plenty more hits – "Refugee," "American Girl," "Runnin' Down a Dream," "Mary Jane's Last Dance" – during their Saturday-night set, which featured special guest Steve Winwood sitting in on a soaring version of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" and an amped take on his Spencer Davis Group hit "Gimme Some Lovin'." "San Francisco was the first place I came to in America, back in 1968," Winwood said while hanging with the Dead's Mickey Hart backstage. "I came with Traffic straight from London, and it really was culture shock. I've had a soft spot for Northern California ever since."
On Day Three, Wilco burned up the distant Twin Peaks stage on the only sunny day Outside Lands saw. Even the normally deadpan Jeff Tweedy cracked a few smiles during the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-heavy set. As the sun descended into the orange western sky, Wilco closed things out with a gorgeous "I'm the Man Who Loves You." Nearby, singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver, beamed from ear to ear, squeezing in sidestage with members of Broken Social Scene and Black Mountain. "I'm a Wisconsin thoroughbred, but this city fucks me up," Vernon said. "I was blown away when I rode into the park this afternoon on a golf cart. I looked around and went, 'Wait, where am I? Why am I here?' It's truly a special thing."
This story is from the September 18th, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone.