“There’s no geofilter yet!” cried a bucket hat-clad bro after snapping a selfie on the dusty path leading down to Golden Gate Park.
The gates to the infamous Bay Area music and arts festival had just barely opened, but festival-goers were already eager to tell their friends and followers that they had officially arrived at Outside Lands 2015.
Now in its eighth year, Outside Lands has taken on its own unique identity amid the ever-growing music festival scene. Here in San Francisco, flower crowns are in low supply — maybe because the drought is making it hard to find fresh flowers — but Patagonia camping gear was prominent among other, more typical festival fashions.
In fact, the entire festival feels like a three-day summer camp, complete with blankets, booze and gourmet s’mores — sold for $8 a pop at Sharona’s Chocolate Shop in Choco Lands, of course.
And, just like the first day of summer camp, Friday was a sensory overload, with frenzied attendees fleeing through Polo Fields — home to the Lands End main stage and various vendors — scoping out all the best places to grab a beer, grab a bite and, most importantly, charge their phones.
But their relaxation was cut short upon the arrival of violinist Lindsey Stirling, who bounded across the stage with an amped-up violin.
“If you’ve been with us before, welcome back,” the YouTube-famous musician said. “And if this is your first Lindsey Stirling show … welcome to the family.”
Later that night, Mumford & Sons took to the Lands End stage for a much-anticipated headlining set. The quartet opened with “Snake Eyes,” off of its latest album, Wilder Mind, which was met with a mixed response until the band effortlessly launched into its hit, “I Will Wait.”
One family of Mumford fans brought their two daughters — both under 6 years old — to watch the set. And as Marcus Mumford sang the opening line to Babel’s “Lover of the Light,” the father grabbed his eldest daughter’s hand, his eyes swelling with tears, and the two began to sing the song’s definitive line to one another: “I’ll be yours if you’ll be mine.”
If not for the music, Outside Lands is known for its culinary fare, which is meant to showcase some of the best the Bay Area has to offer. Point Richmond’s Up and Under Pub and Grill served a choice of “waffle fries with crazy toppings,” with quirky names to boot.
“One ‘Hooker’ and one ‘Plain Jane,’ ” a customer giggled while ordering Parmesan garlic and plain fries.
“I’m the ‘Plain Jane,’ ” her friend interjected, bursting into a fit of laughter.
Beyond the food tents stood a series of murals that serve as the festival fences, done by artists who were commissioned specifically for Outside Lands.
“After doing this for a couple of years, I see what people really enjoy to look at,” said Bay Area sign painter Ken Davis, who was in the midst of completing a mural that read “Hey Beautiful” with a sleazy red devil tacked to the end of the phrase. “You take what you want out of it. I’ll take what I get out of it.”
Art influencing audience was a common theme throughout Saturday’s acts. The languidly charismatic Mac DeMarco performed to a surprisingly subdued bunch at the Lands End stage, and his storytelling, troubadour-esque style seemed to have a calming effect on the dense crowd.
At times, however, audience had just as much influence over the artist, such as when Berkeley-raised rapper G-Eazy performed in the coveted evening slot at the Twin Peaks stage just before Kendrick Lamar. G-Eazy funneled the audience’s anxious energy into his own excitement, asking to take selfies and Snapchats with the audience between songs. “I’m going to remember this day forever,” the local rapper said, reveling in the success he was finding on his home turf.
After a 20-minute delay, Lamar graced the stage as the restless crowd erupted in a frenzy. Lamar lacks a particularly captivating stage presence, but he does posses a certain kind of swagger that keeps fans coming back for more — such as when, during his final performance of “Alright” from the acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly, his tough-guy exterior cracked into an unabashed smile.
The sight of one fan in a wheelchair being lifted above the audience and pushed forward to the foot of stage caused the rapper to stop in his tracks. He pointed to the fan, who was supported by the weight of his fellow fans below him, and said, “He is proof that we’re all gonna be all right.”
Even with the onset of unavoidable festival fatigue, Sunday delivered one of the weekend’s most diverse, generation-spanning lineups, including Sam Smith and Sir Elton John — two distinguished acts from across the pond who represented the United Kingdom on American soil. Smith performed each of his smash hits with effortless release, transforming Polo Fields into a massive, drunken pub singalong, while John closed the festival with a nonstop two-hour set, opening with three back-to-back hits.
“Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone / Now, I think it’s gonna be a long, long time”: As John crooned the closing lyrics to his 1972 hit, a single astronaut balloon was cut loose from the crowd, floating toward the darkened moon. The thousands who had gathered for the festival’s finale let out a collective “aw” as they watched their rocket man float into space, doomed to not return for a long, long time.
Minutes later, a second balloon was cut loose, causing people to turn their heads in confusion.
“Wait, is that SpongeBob?”
The attention shifted to the opposite end of the night sky, where a mylar SpongeBob Squarepants glowed yellow among the fog-covered stars, turning an emotional, musical moment into a silly, shared inside joke.
Despite John’s desperate pleas during “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” the sun eventually set on Outside Lands 2015. Once-eager festival-goers shuffled toward the trees, kicking up dust while frantically checking to see who had viewed their Snapchat stories.
By this point in the weekend, a geofilter had appeared.
Rosemarie Alejandrino is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].