Fire shot from the stage and Paul McCartney’s piano struck a deafening melody. I glanced at my compatriot, a childhood friend and concert cohort. His face was lifted towards the stage; the blazing inferno that erupted in front of us rendered him mute.
Outside Lands is a three day music and gourmet food festival in the heart of San Francisco. When 26th street dead-ends, a thick forest rises in front of you. We pressed onward through thick brambles, where eager crowds trod on dirt paths. Once through the exterior bedlam, a final knoll rose above us. Passing over its zenith, we were greeted by a great basin full of a series of pristine white tents. It was an immense field, capable of holding the grandeur of the impending festivities.
For three days, I braved this extensive cavalcade of culinary and auditory pleasures. Though Colligan, my childhood friend, enjoyed the music and the delicious food, he had an ulterior motive. Like most festivals, Outside Lands draws a crowd of eccentric and varied attendants. Between the ancients, the huggers, the painted men, the drummers, the fratters and those who heard it first, you also get a comfortable amount of the average and a few even bland individuals.
But among this varied throng there is one group which most fascinated Colligan. Always the helpless romantic, Colligan searched for his trendy alternative Princess. That combination of fur, feathers and flannel with which he could share a few fleeting moments of passion. Perhaps, they’d listen to the powerful beats of Rudimentals or the swelling folk of The Lone Bellow.
On that first night, McCartney ruled the stage. With the vigor of a man half his years, he played his raucous chords and reminded 65,000 people that The Beatles never died.
On the second day we rested. With music blaring in the background, muffled in the distance, I took advantage of the festival’s gourmet delicacies. I devoured a plate of porcini donuts lathered in a foamy cheese sauce while a bearded man spouted Foucault babble to everyone around him who’d listen. But in the meantime, I focused on how the cheese accented the doughy porcini-flaked morsels in such a way that, if sentient, your tongue would beg for 50 more savory morsels.
The dish was an experiment of Evan Rich, the owner of Rich Table, a San Francisco hotspot known for dabbling in bizarre but delicious culinary pairings. While I ate, I felt the sore of the festivities creeping into my soles. Like a Dementor’s kiss, the long hours of walking grasped at my ankles and sucked my energy into the floor.
We had just seen Zedd; an electro-house DJ who was a landmark on our musical odyssey. His instruments played with the pulsating joy expected of his craft but there was something disconcerting about a 20-something tapping on a laptop while the crowd writhed like some sort of hedonistic sun worship. He at least had the courtesy to jump up and down.
As our journey continued, our hands became filled with charcuterie and cheese. Though I’m sure I’ve been happier, I couldn’t recall when. The cheese was a medley of Humboldt Fog, Mount Tam Triple and a delectable Toma-Point Reyes.
While leaving the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, we stumbled on an unannounced performance of Daughter. They were playing in a small tent next to a oversaturated Fiat advertisement. Taken aback by the light attendance, I sat, content about being able to do so.
Turning away from Daughter’s limber strumming, I noticed a few graffiti artists performing their craft on large wooden slabs. In moments they had contorted their arms in a dance of painted expression. The remnants of their ecstatic self-exploration remained on the walls. As if by instinct, they had effortlessly vomited creativity into the communal trip. Images of exotic birds, monkeys playing ukuleles and shelties taking long drags on delicate pipes played across the grainy surfaces.
In three days I saw bands innumerable. I felt a crowd lift me from the battered earth and the stench of the mob enveloped my nostrils. I was dirty, with my Nike’s caked in red clay. I had drifted, like a scientist caught among foreign botany. The festival was a sensory clamor that, if one was not careful, could envelop listeners and trap them among the park’s historic branches.
At its close, we felt its tendrils slowly withdraw from our limbs. We reached the pavement and had to recall the people we had been. And did Colligan find his muse. Though she was neither alternative nor a princess, a buxom Australian lass named Elle crooned over his boyish curls. Pushing thirty, she did not bother with pleasantries, instead swept him into a moist kiss. Bouncing to the beat, they shared that charged summer air. They reveled in the atmosphere and maybe, for just an instant, made those around them feel a little more alive.
BEAUGART GERBER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org