Outside Lands 2011 Day 1

Day One of Outside Lands 2011 is behind us. Here is a mini-review of our day in the park.

Transportation:

The esurance shuttle was well worth the $30 premium. The convenience of taking BART to Civic Center, walking a couple of blocks to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and boarding a shuttle that dropped us at the main entrance just south of the Polo Fields far outweighed the cost savings of taking MUNI. The organization and line control setup was handled very well and it was a pleasurable ride through town to start the day and end the night.

Food:

We ate some good food, one great food and some not so good food throughout the day. Outside Lands has an amazing sampling of local eateries, many of which we are introduced to by the yearly festival.

When we first arrived, we tried out American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. They weren’t ready to take orders yet when we arrived, so we stood patiently while the crew working their booth ate their lunches in front of us. Doors for the event were supposed to be at 11:00AM. They let us in after 11:30. Why wasn’t the business prepared to serve customers more than half an hour after the venue should have opened?

The Classic Grilled Cheese sandwich with tomato and bacon that we ordered ($9) was below average in taste. My wife and I both commented that we could make better grilled cheese sandwiches on our own. I did enjoy the smokey tomato soup in a cup ($5) we ordered with it.

Our next food adventure took us to Homeroom Mac + Cheese ($5), which serves, as you guessed it, macaroni and cheese. We had the Gilroy Garlic Mac + Cheese and it was the culinary best experience of the day. It was hot, creamy and fresh and had great taste. Homeroom were overprepared with line control when they didn’t have enough patrons yet, but that overpreparedness was a charm, not an inconvenience like we experienced at American Grilled Cheese Kitchen.

Later in the day, we journeyed into the Choco Lands and I was disappointed that Epic Cookies’ booth was closed. We ended up trying Straw Carnival Faire’s “Flying Saucer” ($5), which was a strange combination of peanut butter mousse, chocolate chunks, candied bacon and caramel. Their line control was a bit odd, but they seemed to know what they were doing. On first bite, I didn’t know if I liked it, but several bites in, I got just the right mixture of ingredients to have a good taste. Unfortunately, it was only good for that one bite. A “flying saucer” is a unique dish, but if I want carnival faire, I think I’ll just go for a funnel cake somewhere or something deep-fried in the future.

For dinner, we had a barbecue pulled-pork sandwich from Maverick ($10) with strawberry lemonade ($4). It was a perfectly edible meal, supplemented with chips and cole slaw as a topping on the sandwich. It wasn’t a huge WOW THIS IS SO GOOD experience but also not a bad experience like the grilled cheese earlier. The service was fast and with a smile at the busy dinner rush.

For dessert, we ate at Loving Cup, a small stand near the Twin Peaks stage. I had the chewy chocolate pecan with vanilla frozen yogurt sandwich ($5) and my wife had the vanilla/coconut rice pudding ($5). Outside of the cookie being hard to chew, my sandwich was a great dessert and just the sugary pick-me-up I needed to get through the last couple of hours of the day. My wife enjoyed her rice pudding, even though she doesn’t care for coconut. The service good, especially considering there was loud music blaring out of a fill speaker when I ordered both items.

Music:

We started out our sonic experience with New Orleans Klezmer All Stars on the Lands End Stage. They were great background music while we ate lunch and explored the culinary options on the Polo Field. They played all-instrumental Klezmer numbers with a wide variety of instruments. We didn’t really see the band at all, but they sounded good from our eating points.

The majority of our afternoon, we were entrenched at the Sutro stage, where the acts we had expected to see were playing. Sutro is located in Lindley Meadow and the stage setup was good this year.

Our first Sutro band was The Joy Formidable. I had listened to their albums and not really cared for their recorded experience. Live, they were a bit better. Their drummer put in an outstanding performance and was entertaining enough to carry the guitar/vocalist and bass player, even if they were stumbling with tuning issues and even if the songs weren’t otherwise noteworthy. I still wouldn’t seek out The Joy Formidable to see on their own, but as a festival performance, I was entertained and the music certainly wasn’t bad.

Up next was Phantogram. The placement of apple bongs and tall people around us and my earplugs being in a bit too tight dampened the performance for me. The outstanding part of their performance was their generous use of synthesizers. They were another female vocalist three-piece band and during their set, I thought a combination of the vocals and drums from The Joy Formidable with the synthesizer and bass from Phantogram would have been a much better show than the two actual sets.

So that brings us to Foster the People, who put on the show of the day. The six-piece band incorporates lots of percussion, keyboards, guitar and bass with catchy vocals and a ton of energy. The crowd showed up in huge numbers, so the secret is out and I don’t expect to see Foster the People in any smaller venue than The Fox in Oakland by the time they come back to the area in the future. Their cover of “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer, accompanied by the story that Rivers Cuomo taught Foster the song when he first moved to LA, and Weezer had begun covering “Pumped Up Kicks” was the highlight of their truly standout set for me.

I took a bit of a walk/water/bathroom break after Foster the People. I bought the refillable water bottle from the OSL tent ($15 with unlimited refills all weekend and future OSL events). I stumbled upon a K Flay show just starting at the Toyota Free Yr Radio booth and watched for a couple of songs. For just a girl with a laptop and a drummer, she was putting on a great show. I also liked the atmosphere. It was a tent with a disco ball going and a small stage with a small PA. Very intimate compared to the huge sprawl of some of the other stages.

When I returned to Sutro, Ellie Goulding was partway through her set. Ellie is a pop singer. Her set was very much a dancey pop set. Katy Perry did a soldout show elsewhere in the Bay Area. Ellie Goulding’s music is about on par with Katy Perry’s. I’m not interested in either, but I’m sure Ellie will do fine if her songs get regular airplay.

After a dinner break, we headed to the Twin Peaks stage to close out our night. We passed by The Limousines playing on the Panhandle stage. They had a good crowd and their performance of their big hit “The Internet Killed the Video Star” was good. I had heard a bit of MGMT from the Lands End stage while I was in line for water, and I’d say I have the same basic feeling for both MGMT and The Limousines. They are two bands who had popular singles that I just didn’t care about. Unfortunately, when you listen to the radio, you have to end up at least somewhat liking what you hear or else you change the channel. Live 105 does a great job of forcing these bands down my eardrums. I’d never pay to see either band. Hearing their music while walking through the park is just like listening to Live 105 on the radio. I don’t want to change the channel, but there is probably something better on another station.

We finished dinner and Big Audio Dynamite were already partly through their set on the Twin Peaks stage when we arrived. Mick Jones was already a legend as the singer and guitarist for The Clash before he formed Big Audio Dynamite. Even as a legend and reuniting with BAD for this tour to cash in on the 80’s nostalgia craze, Mick is taking things seriously. They had new material and played through their 80’s hits as well. The band seemed to have a great time on stage and definitely put the passion and energy into putting in a great show. I’m glad we got to check them out and glad Outside Lands was one of their destinations on their very brief US tour.

The lengthy break between Big Audio Dynamite and Twin Peaks Friday headliner The Shins was filled with us sitting at a picnic table and resting. A couple of guys sitting at the table noticed the girl from The Joy Formidable walk by and took off running after her. They were definite fans, both having on The Joy Formidable tee shirts. They ended up taking photos and a short video with the band. That’s a cool fandom tidbit for the night.

The Shins didn’t sound like they were half a band different than when we last saw them. They didn’t sound like they were doing their first show in several years. They sounded like The Shins. Their hits sounded like their hits. Their new stuff sounded like it was by The Shins. The very chatty crowd around us and the exhaustion that had set in, as well as my choice to not go deep into the crowd and make a quick exit after the set probably dampened the experience, but it was a good way to close out the night.

Something happened near the fill speaker we were standing near. A guy either fell or intentionally tried to take out the fence around it. Security got him up and away from the fence and put it back together quickly. No idea the fate of the guy that went down.

Our exit from the festival was a lot faster than I expected. We heard Phish’s jammy closing number that had a line that said “Whatever you do take care of your shoes” in it. Odd advice, but with rocks and foliage all through our shoes, it was good to stop and empty them out before our long walk to the shuttle.

Technology:

In this now high-tech world we live in, cell phone apps and connected smart phones are the norm. The Outside Lands Festival’s many sponsors have booths to try to connect you more to their products and are using social networking and apps to reel us in.

Foursquare is the app of choice for Intel. Visiting the Intel Cube and checking in got us a flash drive and a tee shirt. Probably the best technology swag available at the festival.

SCVNGR is the app selection by esurance, who seem to really only be giving out bandanas. Lame. The app is also lame.

Foodspotting seems like a cool app. I took photos of some of my food selections but I can’t say what I may or may not get out of it.

esurance also has a cell phone charging lounge but the stations were mostly full most of the day.

American Express is pushing their Serve (PayPal-like) program with a cool looking Barcade. I don’t want to sign up so I passed at the free tokens and $10 credit.

I bought a jammypack ($40) fanny pack with built-in amplified speaker. I wanted something almost exactly like that, and it had good build quality so I jumped at it even though I am sure it was a tad too expensive. (http://jammypack.com/)

Wrap-up:

Overall, Day One of Outside Lands 2011 was exhausting but well worth it. We had good experiences throughout the day and I have to hand it to Another Planet Entertainment for bringing together such a diverse set of artists, food vendors and a great atmosphere. They also contracted out to street artists to add to that atmosphere and it really helped with the experience as well. Outside Lands 2011 is already a winner in my books and we are only 1/3 of the way through it!

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