The festival was named after San Francisco’s far west region—the “outside lands”—as it was called before Golden Gate Park was built in the 1870s. Superfly Presents (Bonnaroo, Vegoose) and local promoter Another Planet Entertainment brought in the best international headliners available, featured a bevy of Bay Area talent on the undercard, and represented the region’s hallmark industries and culture by displaying cutting edge eco and technological innovations, and offering copious local wine and cuisine options. Primus, Cake, ALO, the Mother Hips, Jackie Green, Two Gallants, Howlin’ Rain, Rogue Wave, and many more represented the Bay Area’s notoriously diverse musical tapestry.
Best Overall Guitar PlayerBen Harper is one of those cats that can handle anything with strings. He demonstrated his versatility within the first three songs of his set. Harper played his signature Asher lap steel (placed on a stand), a vintage Les Paul Special, and a Weissenborn acoustic lap slide. He showed fine capacity and sounded splendid on all three—and later on traditional acoustic as well—but his complete command and singular tone on the Weissenborn was the real showstopper. The heavily amplified sound was thick, gooey, and distorted, yet it also packed a percussive acoustic punch at its heart. Harper manipulated a volume pedal with his right foot while intermittently pumping a wah with his left to create expressive phrases. He demonstrated real zeal via body slapping, string tugging, and leaning hard into his instruments. He also sang so forcefully at times on “Better Way” that I thought his head might explode.
Most Valuable PlayerNels Cline brought so much to Wilco’s Twin Peaks stage set on Sunday evening. Like Harper, Cline showed his capability on different instruments, including a lap steel, his trademark Fender Jazzmaster, and a Jerry Jones Neptune12-string. He hustled to switch guitars between songs like his life depended on it so as not to disrupt the flow of the set. Like Greenwood, Cline took his band’s music to an entirely different level via distinctive parts and wild effects, which he had placed on a table rather than on the floor. I appreciated being able to see him manipulate them. In fact, when I was watching Cline that evening it dawned on me—he makes Wilco the Radiohead of roots music.
True ProsMuch respect to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Radiohead for keeping cool in an uncomfortable situation. The power went out intermittently during both headliners’ sets due to an incompatibility between their respective mixing boards and the venue’s generator power with battery backups. Neither act threw a hissy. They just kept playing. When Petty had to take five to allow the crew to work on the problem, he prevailed by reappearing with Steve Winwood in tow.
Biggest SurpriseSteve Winwood is primarily known for his keyboard prowess. He’s played guitar for a long time, but not like this. Maybe reuniting with Eric Clapton for a few Blind Faith performances has rubbed off on the venerable Englishman because his guitar playing and humongous tone were surprisingly sensational at Outside Lands. Winwood also wins Best Sit-in Performance for his stint with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Winwood led them through an energetic “Gimmie Some Lovin’” and a beautiful rendition of “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
Most Bizarre PlayerLarry LaLonde from Primus wins this one hands down. At times, the sounds emanating from his PRS seemed like they were creeping over from some other band playing in some other key on a nearby stage. It was shocking to watch Ben Harper’s traditional mastery and then wander over to hear LaLonde, Les Claypool, and Tim Alexander tearing tradition to shreds at that opposite end of the park. Primus still sucks!!!
Real Guitar HeroJack Johnson is one of the most successful acts in an ailing music business, and the singer/songwriter/surfer is more than happy to share the spoils with fellow players as he simultaneously does everything he can to prevent people from spoiling the planet. Is there anything better you can do with your dough than start a label, put out music you dig by people you admire, and donate part of each record sale towards conservation? Johnson does just that with Brushfire records. ALO, Donovan Frankenreiter, and Rogue Wave represented Johnson’s Brushfire posse at Outside Lands. I originally thought it was going to be tough for Johnson to follow a bill full of heavyweight bands, but after three days and nights of trekking, I was ready to let relaxed Jack chill me out and take me home. All things considered, he was a fitting closer to a momentous event.
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