Editor’s note: Yes, Potholes is still on hiatus, but writer Fred Castano was already set to review this year’s Outside Lands, so here we are. Hope y’all enjoy it and we’ll let you know when and/if anything changes on our site.
Second editor’s note: D’Angelo photos by Curtis Stankalis. All other photos by Daniel Ancheta.
Kendrick Lamar and D’Angelo
D’Angelo was powerful, his voice and presence belying his sabbatical and substance abuse. The Vanguard, performing cuts off Black Messiah as well as hits from D’Angelo’s past, let the funk ride out at the end of each song for several minutes, creating a celebratory atmosphere that was part family cookout, part revival. D’Angelo also acknowledged the victims of police brutality, making full use of his platform to reach the crowd gathered before him about the injustices by law enforcement on unarmed black citizens that are happening seemingly daily across the country.
Seeing D’Angelo and The Vanguard and Kendrick Lamar on back-to-back nights got me thinking about all the songs Kendrick didn’t perform. In fairness to Kendrick, not many songs on To Pimp a Butterfly are fit for a music festival like Outside Lands. The attendees, mostly late teen-to-early-20s white kids, want the hits from Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. They want to sneak shots from their smuggled plastic bag flasks to the hook of “Swimming Pools,” and Kendrick obliged. He did perform “King Kunta,” “i,” and “Alright,” the more single-esque pieces from TPAB, while pulling mostly from GKMC. It makes total sense from an entertainment standpoint. TPAB wasn’t made for this kind of setting; GKMC was. It’s not that Kendrick wasn’t energetic; he hit every mark for a professional and engaging performance. It just seemed tame in comparison to D’Angelo’s set, and even more so in comparison to what we know are Kendrick’s full capabilities as an artist at this point in his career.
The age difference between D’Angelo’s and Kendrick’s respective core audiences likely played a role. Shit, a lot of the kids at Kendrick’s set were products of their parents listening to Brown Sugar. An idea for future Kendrick appearances: perform TPAB with The Vanguard as his backing band. “Wesley’s Theory” by itself would burn the fucking house down. The Vanguard were outstanding in a festival setting with D’Angelo, and there’s no reason that it can’t work with an unleashed Kendrick in front of a more sophisticated crowd.
G-Eazy and DJ Mustard
G-Eazy did a fantastic job (editor’s note: ugh!) in that I remember nothing from his set besides appearances from Del and the Luniz. That’s a pretty solid strategy for life in general (editor’s note: that’s fair).
It was kind of funny to watch DJ Mustard play his hits from a laptop in the land from where he jacked his sound. The songs he played likely had ghostwriters and reference tracks. Either the crowd didn’t know, didn’t care, or both. They just wanted to shake ass. Sometimes that shit just doesn’t matter.
FUCK YES. BIG FREEDIA. Big Freedia had the best set at Outside Lands for the second straight year. Big Freedia’s dancers shared the stage with a deluge of festival attendees who learned twerking from Taylor Swift and sent their rhythmless asses packing with a beignet for their troubles. The Queen of Bounce deserves a bigger stage, and yet I hope she stays at the small, out-of-the-way setup that she was at the past two years. Her set is the hidden treasure of Outside Lands and is the only one I will stand at the front for.
Sir Elton Tha Gawd. Outside Lands’ best moves the past few years have been booking legends like Sir Paul McCartney and Tom Petty for extended closing sets. Watching masters of their craft at work make you realize your favorite could never compare. You could see Sir Elton shining in his sparkling blue suit from at least Oakland, and hear him from there, too. Like Sir Paul two years ago, he was effortlessly mesmerizing. After each song snatches your soul, they seem to smile and wink and say “You think that was something? Dig this,” and repeat the cycle for two hours until you’re reduced to a puddle of feelings and wonder.
Saturday Couples Fight
My friend and Beyoncé consultant Koryn and I are both single with poor taste, so seeing couples fighting warms our cold black hearts. As we watched D’Angelo and The Vanguard approximate a Parliament Funkadelic concert minus the Mothership and elaborate costumes, the young couple next to us got ugly. She was crying, he was pleading his case. “I don’t know why you’re mad! I didn’t do anything! Nothing happened!” Which of course meant she caught him cheatin’, creepin’, to-the- window-to-the-wall skeet-skeetin’. They walked off together after a few minutes; we kept eating our churros.
Sunday Couples Fight
We were sitting at a table eating pizza and discussing the abomination known as porcini doughnuts. A youth in front of us in the pizza line described them thusly: “They make you feel like shit, like regular doughnuts, and they taste like fake mushroom paste.” Hard pass. Anyway, so we’re eating pizza, and a mid-20s couple sits down at our table. The dude with the beard is picking at a burger, arranging the toppings. She has those nasty-ass porcini doughnuts. “I don’t know why you got that, I’m not eating that,” she says. He sighs, gets up, and throws the burger away. “WHAT THE FUCK, I WAS GOING TO EAT THAT!” she yells at him when he returns empty-handed. At this moment, he has an epiphany: he doesn’t need this shit. Without saying a word, he stands up and walks away. About five minutes go by and the blonde with the flowers in her hair realizes that the bearded, beaten-down gentleman isn’t coming back. She gets up and leaves a full tray of uneaten porcini doughnuts.
While fully cognizant of the fact that readers don’t want to read about the sausage-making of music festivals, it is important to detail how poorly planned Outside Lands was this year. Several staffers I spoke to at the grounds noted that this was the worst Outside Lands they had worked, with most having worked it the past three or four years. When asked if the media wristbands would work at the VIP entrance, as in years past, the answer was “Maybe. Depends on the scanner, it’s all fucked up this year.”
Exit routes that existed one night were not available the next, leading to bottlenecks in the two tunnels that lead outside the park. There were no clear exit routes for photographers exiting the photo pits. Following the Kendrick Lamar set, my photographer almost had his backpack, containing $10,000 worth of camera equipment, ripped off his back as he fought through the crowd. He could have gone through an emergency exit next to the stage, but was informed that there would be no re-entry to the grounds.
This likely could have been avoided if the hottest non-Drake rapper on the planet making his Outside Lands debut wasn’t relegated to an extremely narrow side stage while The Black Keys manned the main stage for their third appearance. In addition, this year the media tent was moved outside the VIP area. While the loss of VIP bathrooms was personally soul-crushing, the real issue is that non-media attendees, two of which I personally witnessed, hopped the sorry excuse of a fence in an area hidden from staffers and walked right into the tent.
Fortunately, they just wanted a better view of the stage and a beer and weren’t after the THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF EQUIPMENT IN THE TENT. Cameras, laptops, phones, backpacks full of designer hoodies and baby wipes, all available to the daredevils who hopped over a three-foot-high fence in a spot completely invisible to the three staffers standing near the tent’s entrance. But of course, the moment you light up a menthol, staff is on your ass because “there’s no smoking in the park,” as a cloud of Northern California’s finest agricultural product floats in from the direction of Slightly Stoopid’s set.
The lack of organization and concern for the safety of the photographers and their belongings was truly stunning for a festival that usually has its shit together. But I hear the VIP tents were very nice this year.
Oh, and here are two pics of SZA.