The A to Z of Outside Lands [Festival Review]

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Ben and Will Houston

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Will (left) & Ben (middle)

Written by Ben Houston & Will Houston

Photos by Will Houston & Co.

One festival….two brothers....twenty six letters….

How did Buzz Lightyear, Mustard, Clowns and Video Games each get a letter on this list you ask? Let's take a look at the A to Z of  San Francisco's eighth annual Outside Lands that made this year’s fest the best yet...

Alright

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(Photo by Will Houston)

A is for Alright

“We Gon’ Be Alright” was heard crashing through the trees at the back of the Twin Peaks stage as Kendrick Lamar finished off the most explosive and jaw dropping set of the weekend. He dedicated it to a homie in a wheelchair that was crowd surfing at the front and the audience followed his lead in letting the world know that Kendrick is here, he is legendary and he is definitely more than just alright. (Ben)

B is for Buzz Lightyear

There was a moment during Elton John’s performance of “Rocketman” where I looked off in the distance and saw someone released a Buzz Lightyear balloon during the epic chorus of the song. That person’s entire day was building to this moment, waiting to blow people’s minds into the stratosphere. Whoever you are, you are my hero. (Ben)

Clowns

C is for Clowns

I overcame my fear this weekend and interacted with the kilted cockney clowns that linger along the Choco Lands path. It wasn’t easy and I didn’t speak a word to them but I did it. The great thing about this fest is things can get dark; the weather, the music and even the entertainers. These paint faced, top hatted hipster hooligans had quite the spread this year with a carny hug and game booths and I even took a minute to listen to an amazing soul, gospel band that unassumingly rocked their skull adorned Hell Brew Revue Stage. (Ben)

Dancing in the Dark

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(Photo by Will Houston)

D is for Dancing in the Dark

The greatest dance party of the weekend was winding down, but Hot Chip wasn’t quite done with us yet. Our friend Andrew was praying to the festival gods that Bruce Springsteen would be the classic act before this year’s lineup came out. So when singer Alexis Taylor started their epic rendition of The Boss’s classic, his eyes bugged out like Doug the Pug and he led us in one of the best sing-alongs of the weekend. Hot Chip wasn’t the only act to treat their fans to the hits – sister sister act First Aid Kit brought out the “War Pigs”, Kendrick preached “Hail Mary” and Axwell^Ingrosso brought the lasers and super charge with “Enter Sandman”. (Ben)

E is for Eco-Conscious

Eat, Sleep, Rave, Reduce. That is basically Outside Lands message to its peeps and they did a Ranger Dave worthy job at making sure everyone’s carbon and trash footprints was at a minimum and their dancefloor footwork at a maximum. Everyone and their groovy mother took public transportation to get to Golden Gate Park and when you got in they had awesome programs like the Clean Vibes Trading Post that you could trade in cans, bottles and cig butts for eco-conscious rewards. (Ben)

F is for Fried Chicken & Waffles

The Food Lands this year had some real special treats waiting in the food truck and white walled windows including the Houston Bros. favorite Little Skillet’s fried chicken and waffles (with mac sal and a beer of course). I had bites of all sorts of delicious delights this weekend including Nojo’s spicy tater tots to Outside Lands OG Pica Pica’s arepas and plantains, solidifying that OSL’s food selection is above all other fests. (Ben)

Glam and Glitter

G is for Glam and Glitter

The vibe is often the vibrancy of what you wear at a festival these days but what I like about Outside Lands and the digs people rock is the effortlessness and the comfort factor. The weather is the only trend report you need to read up on before choosing what to wear, so people go for comfort over chic. You got hippies and hipsters, straight cozy flannels and denim jackets, face paint over flash tats, bedazzled faces to match Elton’s bedazzled jacket, hats, head scarves, hoodies, and the occasional #freethenipple advocate. It’s a great blend and you all looked fly as a Sugar Ray classic. (Ben)

HOT CHIP

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(Photo by Will Houston)

H is for HOT CHIP

Ben’s Takeaway: I expected these guys to be fantastic but what I got was life altering. They knew what they were doing opening with “Huarache Lights”, soaking the crowd in synthy waves until we were slip n sliding on the grass ready for the dance party of the weekend. Our group is huge fans of these legends and singing “I Feel Better” and meaning every word of it felt amazing. Not to mention going and dancing with giant bananas to the point where a couple came over and said they needed to be near our energy because we looked like kids locked in a candystore having the time of our lives.

Will’s Takeaway: Silent anticipations resonated among the crowd and photographers standing at the front of Lands End stage before the members of Hot Chip filed silently on stage. A white-shawled guitarist Al Doyle (once of LCD Soundsystem) walked up to the microphone, cupped his hand to his mouth and gave a silent scream. Next thing we knew, there was blast of groovy goodness straight to the face as “Huarache Lights” turned Lands End into the dance party Sunday deserved -- even a photographer said she couldn’t help but get down. And she did. Even better than the music was how seeing how much fun Hot Chip was having on stage, from the synchronized dance marching to drummer Sarah Jones’ gleeful smile as she laid down the beat. If I had to choose, keyboardist Owen Clarke definitely stole the show for best dance moves. Best song of the set was easily “Flutes.”

I is for Isam 2.0

Outside Lands 2015 was the world’s last chance to witness Amon Tobin’s geometric mind-warping masterpiece of a stage known as ISAM (then in its updated form, ISAM 2.0) before the Brazilian producer retired it for good. Blending Tobin’s industrial electronic dance jams and textural soundscapes with an array of astonishing visuals ranging from mathematical metropolises to what seemed like journeys through the trenches of the Death Star, the final act of ISAM 2.0 gave viewers a taste of everything good about electronic music. But rather than taking out his four-year stage companion with flashes, bangs and geothermal explosions, Tobin brought it back to the basics. Starting off as a simple, blocky Tetris-like grid of twisting cubes moving to the chilly sounds of a psychedelic guitar beat, the stage began to slowly ignite with orange visualized flames until only a few embers were left drifting away as the music faded. The stage went dark and ISAM 2.0 was given back to the world. (Will)

The Jets

The Jets 2

J is for the Jets

As the great Kirk Williams said, his favorite act at Outside Lands was his amigos. When you have all your friends serenading you during “Bennie and The Jets” there’s not much else in the world you can ask for. We conquered this year together - some of us for the first time, others past band members that have played the hits, and as always from year one, my brother Willy by my side. We all have our Jets and it isn’t a festival without each other to dance like synth soaked monkeys at Hot Chip, belt out the words to every song, arm in arm at Elton, do the Toro during “Say That”, finger point dance while sit-down landsing on the Twin Peaks hill, and crab-hands our way through the crowds with. Thank you from the bottom of my dancing shoes and heart and see you all in a year. (Ben)

King Kunta Kendrick

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(Photo by Will Houston)

K is for King Kunta Kendrick

Will’s takeaway: You could see it in his eyes. There was fire in them. Kendrick Lamar was going to give Outside Lands a show -- the show -- they’d not soon forget. Standing about 5 feet away from him in the photo pit and snapping as many shots of the rap legend as I could in my 15 minutes, I could see the giveaway signs that Kendrick was just as stoked to be there as his fans were. Sometimes it was the quick grin, other times he just wanted to kneel down and look the crowd straight in the eyes after a song ended. These small connections can be hard to come by and made Lamar’s performance one of the best, if not the best set, of the entire weekend.

Ben’s takeaway: Kendrick let us know what the yams were in a firepower set that could challenge a Russian war parade. The Twin Peaks Stage was packed to the back but no matter where you hung your hat the hood was coming with an hour worth of bangers that had the whole crowd giggin and singin. Having seen his first big moment coming out with Dre and Snoop to sing “The Recipe” at Coachella 2012 to what we experienced Saturday is truly overwhelming and a testament to the unobtainable talent he has. Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper alive.

L is for Lands

Thirsts were quenched, cheeses crackered, s’mores s’mored and bacon continued to reign supreme in the inner lands of Outside Lands. One of many factors that make this wonderful world so eclectic and unique is all these places to explore the best varieties of Northern California drink and noms. Chatting it up with local brewmasters and playing some putt putt golf paired with delicious central coast vino makes me realize how personalized the whole experience is and I wanna give a shout out to all you amazing people who showed us your goods. (Ben)

Mustard

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(Photo by Will Houston)

M is for Mustard

I dunno if you heard, but DJ Mustard threw the party of the weekend. My friends and I have this great spot we post up at on the left hill of Twin Peaks and watching the crowd bounce and throw their hands up to Mustard’s mish mash of legendary beats was every reason to go dumb as possible. We all looked at each other eyes wide, mouths screaming every word thinking: what the hell did we just walk into?! Well, he crushed it and even made amends with his LA heritage by dropping Mac Dre’s “Fellin’ Myself”. (Ben)

N is for Night Shows

This year’s Lands got out at a wholesome 9:30pm every night this year which gave everyone maximum potential to get out in the city and cause some mischief. After parties were stacked with DJ sets from Classixx, Toro Y Moi, Robert Delong, Win Butler, The Drums and lots more. If you were lucky enough to catch any of these cats on the ones and twos you are a lucky duck. My crew laid it all on the dancefloor in the festival and our high ambitions to make it out to an after show every night fell flat on its face. Maybe next year! (Ben)

Outside Lands 2015 Wins!

O is for Outside Lands 2015 Wins!

I know elections aren’t until next year but Outside Lands wins for President of United Festivals of America 2015. I’ve been to quite a few absolutely incredible ones this year, including the mighty Coachella, and without a doubt can say this was the best yet. When the lineup is condensed to 70 acts instead of 160 I think it lets the music breath, making those big moments really stick and giving the whole experience a more laid back feel. It was absolutely stacked back-to-back-to-back the entire time, unrelentingly fun and filled with the best kinds of people that were on the same level as you. Shout out to all the awesome people we talked to and took pics of and to Erin in the media tent for pouring us brews and being a great host to us all. (Ben)

P is for Psychedelic Daydreams

In their second Outside Lands performance, Tame Impala terraformed the cloudy skies of a San Francisco Saturday afternoon into a golden rainbow palette of whirling neon stratospheres as they dumped a bucket of psychedelia onto the Lands End stage. Having recently released their new album Currents last month, Kevin Parker and the gang let those Outsidelanders who saw them in 2012 know what they’ve been up to these last three years while also intertwining an interesting mix of songs off their previous albums Innerspeaker (2010) and Lonerism (2012) such as “Alter Ego,” “Elephant,” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”

Even though this is the third time I’ve seen them perform (second time at OSL), this year’s Outside Lands performance will be the most nostalgic as they still felt like that band I first heard during a San Diego summer in 2010 and thought were called “Tim and Paula.” (Will)

Q is Questions?

We asked festival goers what their favorite part of Outside Lands was other than the music and here’s their (and my) answer… (Ben)

Ranger Dave

R is for Ranger Dave

There was never a park ranger as down to party as Ranger Dave -- the stoic mascot of Outside Lands. Garbed in a khaki ranger outfit, sporting a thick mustache and some short shorts to show off that charming leg hair, Dave may not initially seem like the ideal portrait of a music festival icon, but damn do we love him. How can you not when he’s one of the first things you see when you walk into three days of fun, food, friends and music? With Outside Lands tickets also coming with a Ranger Dave patch this year, many festival goers chose to don Dave’s likeness and show that a man of the law can still boogie down. See you next year Dave. (Will)

Sir Elton John

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(Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

S is for Sir Elton John

Ben’s Takeaway: It’s not everyday that you get serenaded by a Knight. Sir Elton John, crusher of the ivory keys, Lord of the Lands, brought us all together for two hours of nostalgic blissful songbirding and blinding bedazzlement. Alongside his original guitarist and drummer, Elton played the hits and then some. I’ve mentioned a few moments already but I have to add singing “Levon” and “Daniel” with my family and friends hit the spot and misty eyes filled the fest when “Your Song” hit us all right in the feels. The man in the bright blue bedazzled suit with Captain Fantastic spelled out on the back was everything that is optimistic and free and beautiful about Outside Lands.

Will’s Takeaway: Elton John hasn’t lost an inch of talent in his 47 years of touring and made sure to let the crowd know that as he played a 10 minute jam of his rocking ballad “Levon.” Garbed in a sparkling blue suit with the Captain Fantastic album logo blaring red on the back, the 68-year-old rock legend closed out the festival with every tune we wanted and then some. The guy was so excited he kept hopping off the piano stool and pumping up the crowd with that big lovable gap-toothed grin of his.

I remember the first time hearing Elton John as a young kid, listening to “Your Song” on a WinAmp music player on the family Windows 98 computer. I listened to it over and over and over again. But to hear Elton John’s first single from the man himself was truly an unforgettable moment. The final singalong came with the closing song “Crocodile Rock,” with Elton leaving it to the crowd to hit the high notes as he listened on. Of the many classic acts that have graced that stage, Elton John definitely secured a top spot.

Totems

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(Photo by Will Houston)

Totems

T is for Totems

So this year’s winner for best totem was - a shoe. And it was the shoe the holder was (previously) wearing. That’s dedication and the embodiment of what a totem is - the guiding light in the dark, no matter what the circumstance and a reason to make people laugh. Anyone who has festivaled with me knows, I love totems. They come in all shapes and sizes, mine more often a bit more maneuverable and practical but the ones that stood out this year were faces and food. We had Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder alongside John Snow asking him to never go full deadtard, Donald Trump trying to steal the stage from Toro Y Moi, a giant jar of yams causing people to ask, “what’s the yams?”  and an even bigger bottle of ranch because who doesn’t love ranch. If you ever saw the giant bananas or the people walking doing crab hands then you saw us, hope we showed you the way to a damn good time. (Ben)

U is for Unknown Mortal Orchestra

I’ve listened to the dreamy, psychedelic Unknown Mortal Orchestra before on their past three albums, but had never expected to hear the pure, jazzy, psych soul of Unknown Mortal Orchestra that I heard at Outside Lands his year. From the ripping guitar solos from lead singer and guitarist Ruban Neilson to Quincy McCrary’s piano keys rolling off as cool as chilled Brita-filtered water, the American-New Zealand band was easily the biggest surprise set of the weekend. Overall, it just felt ... cool. Also surprising was how much Neilson likes to randomly sit down on stage in the middle of playing a song, but to each their own. (Will)

Video Games

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(Photo by Will Houston)

V is for Video Games

If you play a Legend of Zelda song during your set, you’ve already won me over. Porter Robinson had already given the crowd one hell of a show during his Friday set at the Twin Peaks stage, but when Zelda’s enchanting “Fairy Song” emanated from the stage it cast a spell of nerdy magic in the air. Even better than hearing video game music was watching Robert DeLong seriously rock the fuck out with his eclectic mix of instruments, which included a modded video game joystick. It was like watching a little kid at the Target electronics section with Robert Delong as he ran from instrument to instrument pushing buttons, wailing on the drum and lending his own voice to the mix. By the way his facial expressions morphed through each song, Robert DeLong not only played great electronic music, he was electronic music. (Will)

Where's Dre?

W is for Where’s Dre?

Guys, wasn’t it so sick when Dre came out at Kendrick? So dope, moment of my life. Wait, he came out right? Kendrick got us all hot and bothered for about five minutes hyping up the legend and his influence on rap, his career and all of us. The speakers buzzed, Dre’s ‘Compton’ album had just dropped, his words moved us building and building as we all looked at each other in disbelief of what wasn’t going to happen. Luckily the blue balls didn’t hurt that bad once he slapped us upside the head with “Alright”, making us remember we were still having a great time. I respect the goof, but still...kind of a dick move, bro. (Ben)

XX is Classixx

The only show I saw at Panhandle had to be for these legends of the dancefloor. We were all looking forward to a much needed flurry of footwork on Saturday as the day was stacked with more mellow, swaying varieties of mesmerizing tunage like Tame and Toro. When we arrived the party was already bumping and we danced alongside disco babes in match leather jacket, our cousins and amigos of the best variety. The energy at the show is seen in everyones smile and they definitely deserved a bigger stage to strut their stuff. In fact, I’m going to suggest that we just make that stage bigger and better in general. Get on it Dave, the acts have earned it! (Ben)

Young and Old

Y is for Young and Old

What I love about Outside Lands is it doesn’t cater to a certain age group. Sure, a lot of the bands are newer and the majority of the crowd is in the 18-30 range, but I can’t help but smile when I see a couple in their 50’s or 60’s jamming out to some of the newer groups. And us young folk give the love right back by boogying down to the classic acts such as Elton John, Billy Idol and the many others that came before. So whether you want to bring your family and post up with a blanket on the outer edges of the main stage crowd or impress your high school sweetie with those awkward teen dance moves, Outside Lands and its attendees welcome you. (Will)

and Z is for...

Zee you all next year. Peace!

Peace

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The only time Andrew wasn't pointing all weekend