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The 10 best things we saw at Outside Lands


The people-watching alone is worth the price of admission at San Francisco's Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park, but luckily, there's more on tap at this annual soiree than ubiquitous flower crowns and bombastic hipster getups.

Amid the insufferably huge crowds, loud radio rock and overpriced food, there were plenty of features at this year's Outside Lands that made the experience worthwhile.

Here are 10 of the best from the Aug. 8 to 10 festival:

1. Big Freedia's Booty 'n' Beignets

Outside Lands introduced the GastroMagic stage this year, pairing music and food together in interesting combinations: butchery and breakdancing, skateboarding and Skittles, and chefs reading their own bad reviews on stage.

But by far, the greatest combination came with New Orleans' booty-shaking Queen diva Big Freedia performing and tossing out beignets to the crowd. A nonstop dance party of audience members paraded across the stage amidst constant twerking and hyperactive Bounce music.

At one point, Big Freedia grabbed a powdered sugar shaker from the chefs to shower his own derriere mid-twerk, punctuating the uproarious fun of the wild performance.

2. Tom Petty's Garcia Tribute

Opening with “So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star” and breezing through a mix of new material and several hits (“Freefallin',” “Last Dance With Mary Jane”), Tom Petty seemed poised to turn in a trademark festival set.

That all changed when he noted that the date, August 9, was the day that Jerry Garcia died — 19 years ago. Dedicating it to Garcia, he and the Heartbreakers launched into a cover of the Grateful Dead's “Friend of the Devil.” It was a classic Golden Gate Park moment.

3. Haim's Stanky Bass Face

Haim is a band of three sisters from the San Fernando Valley who've more or less been playing the same exact set every night for the past year in support of their debut album Days Are Gone.

That's not to diminish their music — an infectious mix of 1970s rock and Fleetwood Mac-style melodies — nor is it any reason to miss their live shows. On stage, the trio is incessantly funny with between-song banter, and bassist Este Haim is so reknown for her “bass face” that numerous Tumblr and Twitter accounts have popped up just to post photos of her ridiculously contorted mug.

4. Ricky Watts' Art Everywhere

Okay, so it wasn't everywhere. But numerous works by the Petaluma artist, who recently completed a large-scale mural on the South wall of the Phoenix Theater, could be seen along the festival fences, in the middle of the Polo Field and throughout the entire VIP tent.

Working on a 28'-by-8' spray-paint mural with friend Sean Griffin, Watts said he enjoys the live painting experience due to the interaction with onlookers and the questions he fields.

“There are always a few who are just blown away by what we're creating with just spray paint,” he said.

5. Christopher Owens' Majestic Calm

As the leader of the San Francisco band Girls, Christopher Owens shot to mini-stardom for his catchy, Elvis Costello-like songwriting and, shall we say, intriguing pushing of the envelope regarding music videos.

He's since gone solo, and whatever intangible mixture he's used to infuse his new material is working. By far the calmest, most subdued performer seen all weekend, he also used his band — including an organist and two gospel backup singers — to reach ethereal heights.

If the set was any indication, his upcoming album A New Testament should be a revelation.

6. Kanye West's Reinvention of Performance Art

Love him or hate him, Kanye West delivered the most talked-about set of the weekend, which shouldn't be surprising. Shrouding himself in a chainmail mask and repeatedly interrupting his songs to demand that the audience make “circles,” West managed to antagonize and discomfort his own fans in ways that punk used to be able to do in the 1970s.

Performing basically a greatest-hits set, West caused ripples of excitement by announcing that wife and inexplicable celebrity Kim Kardashian was in attendance. All was forgiven by the set closer, “Blood on the Leaves.”

7. Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks' Communal Climax

Both Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks had already released stellar records and carved out sizable names for themselves in the blues-guitar idiom by the time they became an item.

Now, forming a blues-jam Voltron, the two perform together, and the success of their collaboration was on full display at the festival.

Midway through the song “Made Up Mind,” the duo traded scorching licks while the full band slowly built in volume and intensity; the effect was akin to a space shuttle taking off, and just as high-octane.

8. San Francisco's Foodie Phenomena

First it was everything-on-a-stick. Then is was everything wrapped in bacon. There seems to be an entire industry for selling gimmicky festival food, and it now has apparently decided to cram unlikely ingredients together over and over in a rotating hustle exploiting people's natural curiosity.

Nowhere was this more on display than at the long, long line for Rich Table's porcini donuts — essentially unsweetened funnel cake with dried mushroom powder — but it carried over into dishes like chicken curry nachos and “ramenburgers.”

Five pieces of bacon, marketed as a “flight,” cost $10. The whole spectacle was fun to watch, until you realized all you wanted was a regular hot dog.

9. Kacey Musgraves' Everygirl Charm

As the sole “new country” performer at Outside Lands, Kacey Musgraves faced a small but dedicated crowd. But anyone unfamiliar with her was quickly won over with twangy Nashville odes to trailer parks, condemnations of trash talk and even a well-placed Bob Marley cover.

After ending her set with an a capella rendering of “Happy Trails,” she left the stage and wandered out into the crowd to watch the next band. (Her version of Janis Joplin's “Mercedes Benz” as part of the Joplin tribute earlier in the day was a nice treat, as well.)

10. Golden Gate Park's One Water Fountain

Near the Panhandle Stage, a swarm of hundreds of people waiting in long lines provided a strange sight, especially since they were all waiting for the opportunity to pay for water. Criminally, Outside Lands doesn't officially supply free water like other outdoor festivals.

Attendees could either buy a $10 memento bottle and get free refills, or pay $1 to fill their own — but only up to 25 ounces.

The scene was especially amusing in light of the fact that around the corner, the good folks at Rock Medicine had free water in an Igloo cooler on offer, and about 100 yards away, the lone drinking fountain on the festival grounds seemed to be working. Ha!