Three years ago, during the first Outside Lands Music Festival, much was made of the fact that Radiohead would be rocking out in Golden Gate Park, for the first time in San Francisco history, long after the sun went down. Well, at least until 9:55 pm. I learned that this does feel late when you end up in the Outer Richmond, unsure how to get home and eating a calzone in an Italian restaurant run by Koreans. Did I eat anything at the festival? I honestly can't remember.
Oh, how three years can change things. Outside Lands has evolved from a music festival with a slight identity crisis ('90s rock tribute? Jam band base? Indie mecca?) in the foggy outer lands of the city to a full blown celebration of San Francisco: the best bands, new and old come together; comedy acts and art installations are spread throughout the grounds; and food has taken its rightful place as a main act.
Where better than San Francisco, champion of local sourcing and authentic ethnic cuisine, should a festival of music coincide with a celebration of food? Our chefs are rock stars, our food carts are Off the Grid, and as a city we cannot get enough of the new, the fresh, the porky and the fried.
The food selection at Outside Lands started stepping up in year two, most memorably with boxes of fried chicken and waffles from Farmer Brown's Little Skillet. My hands sticky with syrup, I looked up through the dusky twilight and streams of people migrating towards the main stage for Pearl Jam and thought, "this could not possibly taste better."
Arepas, maize'wiches, yucca chips and plantains at Pica Pica.
Farmer Brown is still going strong at Outside Lands, and has been joined by an enormous assortment of San Francisco food providers, with offerings from sit-down restaurants like Maverick and Straw to food carts like Senor Sisig and El Huarache Loco.
A food truck forest held court in the trees with the fairy tale-like Choco-Lands residing just up the hill, where you could find creme brulee pops, cupcakes and cookies. Philz Coffee fresh brewed by the cup, should you find yourself too drowsy after tastings in the wine tent. A gathering of farms selling enormous slices of melon and juicy-sweet tomatoes put many a farmers' market to shame.
And then, of course, there was the music: three straight days, artists to suit every taste, plus a number of nighttime shows at small clubs around the city. It was impossible to see every great band, just as it was impossible to try every delicious bite the festival had to offer. But, as one does at festivals, we crammed in as much as we could in three days.
We left with ringing ears and full bellies. And as I remember Arcade Fire's set closing the festival, I'll forever remember having a porchetta sandwich in one hand, a pernil maize'wich in another. And thinking to myself, "this could not possibly taste better."