I moved to San Francisco a decade ago, and it’s taken me almost that long to start calling it my city. But after attending my first Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park last month, I finally embraced the fact that this is the place I now call home. It was an exhilarating weekend of music, food, art, wine, and community that sealed my sense of belonging to our gorgeous, passionate City by the Bay.
Maybe what moved me was the fog, languorously rolling in from Ocean Beach and over the jewel-tone-lit evergreen trees that circle Lindley Meadow. Maybe it was the throngs of smiling faces that poured into the park from all parts of the city and beyond, feeding into every green crevice from Stanyan Street to the Land’s End stage in the Outer Richmond, to hear their most beloved musicians perform. But it was mostly the fact that I could walk; yes walk, from my house in the Lake district right to one of the most impressive music venues of all time. Sure, it was a long walk, but it was worth it. This is my neighborhood, my city, I thought, sitting under the stars, just a couple dozen feet away from mesmerizing talents like Sir Paul McCartney. How lucky am I to be living here?
Well, nothing pulls a city together like music, and in the five years since its inception, Outside Lands has tightened the bond among San Franciscans. “People are just nicer during Outside Lands,” said Christine Rallo, who attends annually. She and thousands of others came to the three-day event to witness a dizzying array of fabulous acts, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Willie Nelson, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Band of Horses, Vampire Weekend, and Daryl Hall & John Oates. Those from the surrounding neighborhoods who couldn’t snag tickets came anyway, gathering on the curbs outside the entrances or on wind-cracked benches near Spreckels Lake, just outside the main stage. From whatever corner they perched, their reward was sampling muffled bits and pieces of their favorite songs, from the Chili Peppers bass-pounding California anthems, to Hall & Oates upbeat 1980s songbook. Some fans brought their kids, little concert rookies being initiated into the Outside Lands experience, even though their ears probably needed to be covered during Nine Inch Nails “Closer.”
For me, the pinnacle of the weekend was Friday night’s breathtaking performance by rock-and-roll legend McCartney. Almost half a century after The Beatles played their last concert in Candlestick Park in 1966, McCartney was back in town, and he cheerfully expressed the poignancy of the moment. “This is so cool,” he said, about performing to the massive crowd. “I just have to take a minute to take it all in myself, OK?”
During his brilliant three-hour concert, the music icon hit all the Beatles classics as well as the McCartney originals, from “Hey Jude” to “Band on the Run.” As a love letter to our city, he performed a cover of “San Francisco Bay Blues.” He invited the local Kronos Quartet to accompany him on a gorgeous rendition of “Yesterday” that brought many listeners to tears. Delightfully, he took every opportunity to woo the appreciative audience, telling jokes and dedicating songs to his fellow Beatles and to the loves of his life, even signing a couple of fans’ wrists in Sharpie, so they could turn his signature into tattoos. And if that weren’t enough, this age-defying 71-year-old ended his set with a climactic “Live and Let Die,” as fireworks exploded over the moonlit park, then drove the crowd wild with two encores, “Day Tripper” and “Helter Skelter,” before closing out the night with “The End.”
The rest of the concert was a beautiful melting pot of veteran and cutting-edge acts, including Brooklyn-based favorite The National, who were joined by a surprise local guest, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir; The Heavy, whose funk- and soul-fueled performance highlighted Friday’s festivities; Emeli Sandé, the Scottish songstress whose debut album has been rocking the international charts; and country legend Nelson, who proved that he can still draw huge crowds (and, for that reason, probably should have been given the main stage).
Besides the music, the all-green event featured Outsider Art, an outdoor gallery of local artists’ works, as well as a variety of scrumptious food and drink from our best local vendors. As concertgoers moved across the park among the various stages, they could stop for a taste at eateries such as Tacolicious, Woodhouse Fish Co., Luella, Rich Table, Straw, and Kara’s Cupcakes. Just when you thought the weekend couldn’t get any sweeter.