My West Seattle neighbor, Barin Skyes, is quite possibly the best neighbor anyone could have. He loves rock n' roll and marijuana, has thousands of LPs in his basement, and makes the best mix CDs you've ever heard. A couple weeks ago, he went to Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco. When he told me he was getting there by train, I asked him to write about it. Here's the first installment of Skyes' Bay Area adventure...
"You cats got any rollin' papers" asked a dude in a fedora as we settled into the seats for the 23 hour train trip to San Francisco. We were heading south for the inaugural Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival. 65 bands on 6 stages in the great Golden Gate Park. We didn’t have any empty papers but informed our new friend that we had a heap of full ones and plenty of other provisions as well. “Oooo, whatchoo got” he said as he ambled over our way with a big ‘ol shit-eatin’ grin.
My concert partners, Mark and Eric and I booked this trip in March as soon as the bands were announced. Drive-By Truckers, Felice Brothers, Black Keys, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Steve Winwood and Tom Petty. Just those few bands made it a worthwhile adventure. Add to the mix a train ride, a handful of mushrooms, seven boxes of wine, many different green-herb baked goods, several dozen hand rolled fatties and one jug of whiskey and you’ve got the makings for one fine trip.Our new acquaintance was Rake, a smooth talking, bullshit walking, 65 year old ladies man. He rapped a few quick tales and spit out a few jokes all the while constantly thrusting his fist toward us for ‘knuckle bumps.’ He held court for about an hour then got up to leave, telling us “Rake’s coming back, I got many words for you.”
Several special cookies and a couple of boxes of wine later, into our car rambles Rake, sporting the first of his many outfit changes. He regaled us with multiple stories, lies, and facts and about the time we’d had enough, he would leave to “go make a phone call” and be gone an hour or so. Each subsequent entry into our car he’d have a new hat, shades, vest or some accouterment which provided him a different look and attitude to properly spin a new set of fish stories.
“You ever see that Corona commercial where they only show the hands?” said Rake as he proudly displayed his digits. “That’s right, that’s ‘ol Rakes paws on them bottles.” I didn’t have the fortitude to ruin his story by pointing out that those hands were most certainly Caucasian. Rake was now feeling the effects of our baked goods and his own whiskey and was primed for philosophizing. “It is our turn” Rake proudly proclaimed to me - followed, of course, by the knuckle bump. “Women have had it too easy and have been leading us around for too long. Time for us to man up, take control, wear the pants.” “In fact” whispered Rake as he grabbed my humerus to stress the importance of his statement, “Rake don’t go with any lady that refuses to wear a dress. I let her know that I’ll be the one wearing the pants in this relationship.” His philosophy and quips kept us entertained until he had to go off to bed at the bewitching senior citizen hour of 8pm.
With our master of ceremonies retired for the evening we needed new distractions and decided to hit the parlor car for a few drinks and maybe a song or two. I picked the guitar, Eric blew the harp and Mark provided the percussion as we sloppily hacked out a few ditties for the gang from our coach. By and by everyone was sufficiently sodden and it was time get some sleep.
After a fitful night’s slumber, it was time to detrain in Emeryville for the bus ride into downtown Friso. Rake, decked out in yet another outfit, strolled into our car to exchange parting words. He insisted we call him the next morning so he could show us a right time. There were promises of loose women, expensive whiskey and fine hash oil so we bumped knuckles and promised to stay in touch.
The rest of Thursday and the first half of Friday was spent walking numerous miles up, down and around the streets of San Francisco examining different dive bars, cocktail lounges and drinking establishments.
After spending the early afternoon in the Haight, we entered Golden Gate Park. This urban wilderness is over 1000 square acres and with no immediate signs guiding the way, we wondered in wander for quiet some time before we found the way towards the festival.
Outside Lands was set up with six stages, two at each end of large fields or meadows. There were to be three bands sharing the opening honors and we chose Howlin’ Rain over Steel Pulse or Carney. At 5:00 pm sharp at the Panhandle Stage in the Speedway Meadow Howlin’ Rain kicked off the festival. Starting their set with a major crescendo gave the crowd a quick jolt of energy that was sustained throughout their much too brief half-hour set. Their B-3 driven bluesrock style was reminiscent of the “Machine Head” era Deep Purple, posturing and soloing fully included.
Next up was Black Mountain. These cats from Vancouver B.C. lay down a very cool, bass driven psychedelic tripgroove that I really enjoyed but we had to leave after a few songs to catch the Felice Brothers a half a mile away in the Lindley Meadow.
I don’t think it is possible to not wear a huge grin while stomping your feet to the gritty sounds of The Felice Brothers. These boys from the Catskills are authentic American barrelhouse, good-time, hard drinkin’ entertainers of the finest order. Their raw, lowbrow lyrics of murder and infidelity, backed by their pounding rhythm, loose harmonies, fiddle, accordion and washboard, quickly won the crowd’s affection. I can think of nothing better than to share a bottle of ‘shine with these hooligans, get into a brawl or two, then spend the evening singing songs of women, guns, and liquor.
After the Felice Brothers criminally short set it was time to head to far end of the Speedway Meadow for The Black Keys. The power duo from Akron started their hour long set precisely at 6:50. Big lanky drummer Patrick sits down at his kit, takes off his glasses, and rests his head in his hands in what appears to be mindful meditation. Dan, the fully bearded guitarist, tunes up his Gibson Flying V and just before he hits the first chord Patrick’s head raises, his long arms flail skyward and his sticks violently crash the snare, right into and on the beat. He kicks his bass drum with such conviction that an extra set of sandbags had to be brought out mid-song and piled upon the drum legs. Dan was having trouble with the monitor mix and let the soundman know with a few choice words. Once he got his mix right he really wailed and the two started to gel. The crowd was really eating up their garageblues anthems (and rightfully so) but as a lover of all things bass, I think they could use a little low end on their live sound.
For the first time ever a band was going to play in Golden Gate Park after dark. That honor went to Radiohead and it seemed the majority of the attendees came for this historic event. Knowing next to nothing about these guys, this seemed the perfect time to check out their sound. I gave them more than a fair chance to gain my favor or at least hold my attention but they failed. 60,000 hypnotized fans at Friday’s closing show will vehemently disagree, but I found their set tedious, boring and unexciting. Hell, I even ingested a few extra pathogens to enhance their so called mind-altering music but still found them as bland as rice-flavored chalk. Instead of subjecting ourselves to this insipid geek-rock, we found our way in the CrowdFire circus tent in the far end of the Polo Fields and sat on beanbag chairs to rest and prepare for the long arduous journey back downtown.
After thirty packed busses left us stranded on Fulton, number thirty one squeezed us in and we made it back to the hotel three hours after the show ended.