Outside Lands Music Festival lineups are always strong, but having Twenty One Pilots, Childish Gambino and Paul Simon closing each night was a huge privilege last weekend. The festival is also known for its many other entertainment options and activities, from wine and beer lands to Cocktail Magic, GastroMagic, the Barbary comedy tent and Grass Lands, where attendees could buy and consume THC products for the first time.
When RIFF’s editors asked me and Martin Lacey to photograph this year’s edition of the fest, it was an absolute “yes.”
The amount of space that Outside Lands takes up, with stages seemingly miles apart in Golden Gate Park, makes it quite hard to roam between them and arrive on time to enter the photo pit for our task.
Imagine that you are at the Twin Peaks stage and then you have to shoot at Sutro 30 minutes later. The two are are several city blocks away from each other. Then add the mass of human bodies between the two when the park gets crowded.
When someone asks me what shooting a festival like Outside Lands is like, the first answer is: exhausting! In the end, the amount of good experiences you have far outweigh the sore back and legs, however. I’m grateful to have a partner like Martin Lacey, who took the stages that I wasn’t able to get to because of time and space. It’s simply impossible for one person to bounce back and fourth between even the four main music stages.
We’re not here to talk about the difficulties of being packed into a sea of thousands of moving bodies, however. So without further ado, here are our favorite memories and moments from the weekend that was Outside Lands.
I’ll be honest here: I have never liked Blink-182. As a kid who grew up on hardcore and punk music, however, I was always surrounded by this band. I grew up in Chile and many of my friends, as well as a huge part of the music community in general, loved that band. I fulfilled my friend’s dream, let’s say. Although the show is not going to make me the biggest fan of the band, I can say that they changed my opinion about them. Maybe I no longer care about being labeled a “poseur.” Maybe the band is better with age. Maybe my tastes have changed. There was apparently no better time to rediscover Blink.
Mavis Staples is a living legend and my personal favorite of the acts I covered. Now 80 years old, Mavis performed with a simple set up of bass, guitar, drums and a couple of backing singers, delivering exquisitely crafted, timeless songs to an adoring public. She’s also a dream to photograph. Her facial expressions are as varied as her life history and she’s at ease hamming it up with the band during the instrumental breakdowns. I was fortunate enough to meet Mavis Staples a few years back and my first thought was to ponder all the things—musical and otherwise—that this incredible woman has seen in her lifetime. In person, she was gracious and generous with her time. Long may she reign.
This was the third time I’ve seen Yaeji perform but the first chance I’ve had to photograph her, although it wasn’t on RIFF’s plans for Friday. I always go against the authorities, so I decided to do it. She blends elements of house music and hip-hop with mellow, quiet vocals sung in both English and Korean, and she’s as much fun to photograph as to simple see her perform. If she was back in the Bay Area next month, I’d find a way to get there.
This was my first time to see CupcakKe live and I’m not sure sure if I was wildly entertained, traumatized, filled with admiration—or all of the above. Whatever it was, it’s permanently seared into my memory bank. CupcakKe’s lyrics are about as brazen as it gets, yet they don’t carry the sometimes sinister overtones of other artists’ less audacious prose. I suspect this is because she fully owns her image and words, and there’s a tongue-in-cheek feel about her delivery. Hordes of tweens were wildly singing along, having been granted permission to swear and scream dirty euphemisms for genitalia. Visually, CupcakKe is fun: She performed in a leopard-skin leotard, although she tended to stay on the mic and meander slowly around the stage which can make it an interesting challenge for photographers.
Wallows started their set with a cover of “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes and “Blackbird” by the Beatles. While singer-guitarist Dylan Minnette may be best-known as the star of TV show “13 Reasons Why,” there are more than 13 reasons to to see Wallows play, and that begins with the synergy among the band members. I won’t be surprised to see this band play a set later in the day, and to more people, at Outside Lands in a few years. Soundcloud rap is all the rage, but Wallows made me believe that guitar rock isn’t dead yet. Just don’t confuse this band with Gallows, another of my favorites.
Outside Lands was Altın Gün‘s last stop on their current U.S. tour. Billed as “Turkish psychedelic rock from the Netherlands,” Altın Gün had a mid-afternoon Saturday slot on the Panhandle stage. Merve Dasdemir and Erdinc Yildiz Ecevit (try saying that three times quickly) share vocal duties, and the band produced a tight, retro sound that’s reminiscent of, well, Turkish psychedelic rock from the Netherlands. Think Rush and Gogol Bordello playing late-night funk in a red velvet lounge in the ’70s. Altın Gün’s exotic instruments and nationalities created a visually interesting palette for us photographers, although next time I’d like to photograph them from above to get around the approximately 782 stringed instruments on stage.
I already said it: I don’t like to follow the rules, and even though Flume wasn’t on RIFF’s plans, I escaped from my schedule to see part of his set and it was worth it. You may say, “Oh, he’s just a DJ. What’s he going to do other than press some buttons?”
The Australian producer made his music an experience, with a full stage set of mirrors and visuals where you could see what he was playing, a kind of live artistic installation. These visuals helped careful listeners to understand what he was about. For a photographer, Flume broke the stigma that seeing and photographing a DJ is boring. Things have changed and Flume proved it.
One day, hopefully far in the future, I’ll be on my death bed and someone might ask me to recount the highlights of my time on earth. And I’ll say, “I saw Paul Simon sing “The Sound of Silence” at Outside Lands.” Simon’s musical career has spanned seven decades and he has a total of 16 Grammys to his name. We photographed his first two songs from the soundboard, and only those who had giant, expensive lenses probably got any decent shots. For once, I didn’t care (too much). I was happy to be in the presence of greatness, listening to songs that have provided the soundtrack for lives the world over.
Yes, I can be repetitive, but I must make it clear to the editors at RIFF that although I comply with everything they ask me, I will always go at least slightly against the current. Seeing that I had a small space in my schedule to see Anderson .Paak, I did not miss the opportunity and .Paak proved that it was definitely necessary. His joy radiated right off the stage, which made even me happy and fed me energy even on Sunday, when I was sore, tired and not wanting to go anywhere. [Editor’s note: We would have totally covered his set if we didn’t cover one of his shows earlier in 2019].
My final thought is not about an Outside Lands artist, but is rather a cultural observation. As a photographer, this is going to sound ironic and more than a little hypocritical. And it’s this: Stop looking at your damn phone. The action is right there in front of you, people! Awesome musicians playing awesome songs. The sheer number of people consumed with getting the perfect Instagram duckface was astounding to me. And let’s be honest, how many of those choppy videos featuring the back of your best friend’s head are you ever going to watch again? As a photographer, we try to look at a subject in many different ways. But the best way to experience a music performance will always be in the moment, taking in the sights and sounds of an artist in full flow.
All that being said, here are some more photos we took over the weekend that we had yet to share.
RECAP OF ALL OUR OUTSIDE LANDS COVERAGE
- Big Wild’s Jackson Stell expands into a new frontier
- Amsterdam-based Turkish group Altın Gün takes on first U.S. tour
- Electronic duo Bob Moses finds a bigger world in China and a new home in L.A.
- Fatai climbs through open window to get to ‘The Road Less Traveled’
- Navigating Outside Lands 2019: An hour-by-hour guide
- OUTSIDE LANDS: Denzel Curry, Lauren Daigle and 10 others you can’t miss
- Judah & the Lion circle the wagons and hit the road with weighty songs
- Delacey joins the ‘cool kids’ with solo career after writing for pop stars
- The Seshen’s Lalin St. Juste propelled by the need to help others
- Cautious Clay pursues happiness over purpose, finds ‘Context’
- Hozier, already working on next album, looks for hope in a wasteland
- Outside Lands Barbary comedy: Mike Birbiglia, Jimmy O. Yang and Dulce Sloan & Ramy Youssef headline
- ‘Bon Appétit,’ Puddles Pity Party and chefs top Outside Lands’ GastroMagic lineup
- Outside Lands announces daily set times
- Paul Simon adds Outside Lands night show in Oakland
- Wyclef Jean to headline House by Heineken
- BREAKING: Outside Lands to allow cannabis sales and consumption