Another remarkable Outside Lands wrapped up yesterday with a relaxed closing ceremony that saw an interesting crossbreed of musical genres while simultaneously getting back to the festival’s roots representing a cross-section of Bay Area culture and history. The festival launched in 2008 with an equal emphasis on music, food and wine. In the years since, beer, art and comedy have been added to the mix while the musical offerings have continued to expand.
Although yesterday’s headliner was a rock band that’s no stranger to anchoring major rock festivals – the Red Hot Chili Peppers – much of the day’s highlights came in the nooks and crannies elsewhere as the multiple stages and expansive layout allowed for a certain amount of choose-your-own-adventure. But regardless of what trip you were on, a couple acts had unanimous appeal.
Daryl Hall and John Oates were one of them. The duo brought their smooth sail-ready rock and soul to Outside Lands’ main stage for a nostalgic afternoon feel-good set. Never mind that most of the people in the 65,000-strong audience weren’t alive the first time around for hits like “Maneater,” “Sara Smile” and “Out of Touch.” With so many homogenous bookings at festivals these days, Hall and Oates were a refreshing coup for Outside Lands.
Along similar lines, when Willie Nelson and Family (including son Lukas Nelson on guitar) headlined the festival’s Sutro Stage on Sunday, it was immediately obvious that the country legend and American hero was misplaced – he should have been on the main stage and had a crowd to match. In a meadow full of people packed elbow to elbow inside San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Nelson took out some of his finest gems, including “Always on My Mind,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “On the Road Again.” His early evening set might have been more country than anything else, but there was a whole lotta blues to Willie’s singing and acoustic guitar work as well, the wayward timekeeping and slashing chords giving it a nearly rock edge at times.
Picking up where Soft White Sixties left off with their finale Saturday (a cover of Fleetwood Mac‘s 1969 blues-rock standard “Oh Well,” written by founder and original lead guitarist Peter Green), Camper Van Beethoven started their set early yesterday afternoon with another late-Sixties British hard-rock classic, Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” The real enthusiasm, however, was generated by “Northern California Girls,” which sparked plenty of genuine Northern California women in the audience to dance and squeal in appreciation. Camper can’t be accused of pandering to the local crowd, however; they’re a general northern California institution, even if they’ve dispersed to various other parts of the state and country since rising to indie rock prominence in Santa Cruz back in the mid-1980s.
Swerving between quirkily humorous rock, ska, and even a dub reggae passage with the finesse of a jam band, Camper wisely keep the lid on indulgent improv – they had to, given the relative brevity of their set. Jonathan Segal rivaled Wild Belle’s as the festival’s most adept multi-instrumentalist, effortlessly switching between violin, guitar, keyboards and miscellaneous effects, sometimes holding the violin and guitar (but not playing them) simultaneously. The hearty response to “Northern California Girls” indicated fans are up to speed with their latest album, this year’s “La Costa Perdida”; even their Eighties indie rock standard “Take the Skinheads Bowling” didn’t go over any better.
The day’s truest rock moments came from Red Hot Chili Peppers who, apart from some entertaining – if oddball and curious – banter from bassist Flea, kept mostly to a parade of hits and crowd pleasers. Of course they played “Under the Bridge.” Of course they played “Give It Away.” Of course they played “Californication.”
And while it may not have been intentional, the band even payed homage to an American legend who had the same slot on the same stage last year – Stevie Wonder – when they broke into their popular cover of Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”
Directly before the Peppers, on the main stage, Vampire Weekend made their Outside Lands debut with their own set of crowd-pleasers including some songs that referenced local towns and people. After playing “Step,” from Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij dedicated the song to “Bay Area legends” Souls of Mischief who, he said, inspired the lyrics. The band also played several selections, including “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” and “Hannah Hunt,” which were named after – and inspired by – local Bay Area residents.
If there’s one thing the Bay Area is known for musically, it’s the art of jam rock. Having been the cradle of classic rock in the 1960s, with bands from the Grateful Dead to Jefferson Airplane calling San Francisco home, there is a certain affinity for – and regularity of – all-star jams and spontaneous collaborations. Thus, Outside Lands 2013 came to a close in a most fitting way, with an official after-hours Super Jam at nearby nightclub, the Independent.
Hosted by Dumpstaphunk (featuring funk royalty Ivan Neville), the loose and rolling jam session included – at points – John Oates, Nicki Bluhm, Trombone Shorty, John Cleary and Lukas Nelson. Notably, actors Craig Robinson and John Stamos came onstage to introduce the evening. Funk was the name of the game and the revue weaved in loose and energetic versions of “Get Out of My Life, Woman,” “Everything I Do Has Got to Be Funky” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”
One particular highlight came when Nicki Bluhm – who rose to fame with a YouTube video in which she covers Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” while riding in her tour van – got to perform the tune alongside Oates himself. It was a fantastic moment at a fantastic show and punctuated yet another fantastic year for Outside Lands.