The Best and Weirdest Moments of Outside Lands

Ten Outside Lands have come and gone, and while it seems like a firmly entrenched moneymaking juggernaut, it’s worth remembering that festivals are actually very fragile things. Treasure Island is on hiatus until next year, while All Points West and Mile High debuted the same year as Outside Lands (2008) and never made it this far. As was the case with Coachella 2017, OSL’s footprint got bigger — and the organizers smartly added new paths connecting Wine Lands to the Twin Peaks Stage — even if a few things from years past quietly disappeared. (The tent where Griz played on Day Three last year when things got a little rowdy was as noticeably absent as A Tribe Called Quest or any female headliners whatsoever.)

Let’s start out with the plain ol’ crap. I’ve long since accepted that Heineken will dominate every festival worldwide, but my biggest grievance was the outsized corporate presence from gross brands like Subway and Barefoot Wine. Almost all food vendors are relegated to the edges, but apparently, shitty fast food and grocery-store wine deserve prominent places near the windmill — in this case, some kind of desperate millennial baiting photo-booth thing with free sandwiches (Subway) and a tiki bar that had virtually nothing tiki about it (Barefoot). It’s also not so much that I begrudge people the ability to eat what they want to eat as much as these national brands’ presence is a bit of a stick in the eye of all the local, gourmet stands and food trucks. Also, Subway is probably about to learn the same lesson as Applebee’s when it comes to courting the under-35 set.

Itani Ramen in a geographic cup. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

But as for good things, there was Itani Ramen — which was ladling out spicy and not-too-salty pork broth all weekend long. Sunday was the ideal day for a hot cup of nourishing soup, so I’m glad I went early in the day.

KoJa Kitchen’s Kamikaze fries. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

Under the “haute junk food” column was KoJa Kitchen‘s gut-busting kamikaze fries, which ounce for ounce and dollar for dollar, probably represented the best choice for fueling up for three long days. I’m really into that hot sauce, which is sweet without being ketchup-y. And every year, without fail, I queue up for Rich Table‘s porcini doughnuts with raclette sauce, which are nothing short of irresistible (and always fresh).

Look at that mortadella, dusted with just enough salt. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

Tartine Manufactory’s mortadella sandwich probably won overall. I don’t think I ate anything better all weekend, and it was enormous. Welcome to Outside Lands and never leave, Tartine!

The Brown Wolf, by The Alembic (Peter Lawrence Kane)

The best drink of the weekend was by far The Alembic‘s Brown Wolf, a mix of Hornitos Black Label, spiced pear liqueur, Nocino Amaro Lucano, mole bitters, grapefruit bitters, and a star anise garnish. (It’s based on another drink that used to be on The Alembic’s standard cocktail menu, only with bourbon as the base spirit.) At $15, yeah, you’re shelling out for premium prices, but the Nocino adds such a perfect roundness that you can overlook the plastic cup.

The war rig from Mad Max got a lot busier than this, pretty much all the time.

Have you ever seen the line for Del Popolo‘s pizza truck that short? Neither had I. For most of the weekend, its line merged with Señor Sisig‘s, which was stationed directly opposite. This is proof that I got to Outside Lands before 12:30 on Sunday.

Boyfriend, at GastroMagic (Peter Lawrence Kane)

GastroMagic was once again the epicenter of delightful festival weirdness. On Saturday, I saw New Orleans’ Boyfriend perform a feminist rant in a bridal veil and with oversized curlers in her hair — that were still there, hours later at the Battery afterparty — as a team from Guittard assembled a chocolatey sculpture behind her and her crew. There was a baguette, a few carrots, and what looked like popcorn all over the place, too.

A sign-language interpreter dealing with whole-animal butchery was the zenith of weirdness. Her facial expressions were everything. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

On Sunday at GastroMagic, two butchers from Belcampo Meats gave the whole-animal treatment to a couple of pigs while four B-Boys from Beatz N Pieces breakdanced in sync. That’s not especially strange, but there was an ASL interpreter signing for the hearing-impaired as DJ Qbert interviewed the butchers, and the look on her face as she conveyed the ins and outs of whole-animal butchery was pure Dada. (It wasn’t quite like the woman who upstaged Snoop Dogg that time, but close.) 

Hendrick’s Gin had a Grand Garnisher, a needlessly elaborate device for rendering cucumbers suitable for engarnishment. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

My animus toward corporate branding notwithstanding, Hendrick’s Gin did a pretty good job with its Grand Garnisher, a bicycle-powered cucumber-slicing contraption that’s wholly in line with its steampunk vibe. The actor who spoke in deliberately stilted late-Victorian diction kept it up even when I pummeled him with queries. They even let me and my friend take pictures while making lewd gestures with cucumbers, which was pretty nice of them.

(Peter Lawrence Kane)

So, like, what is going on in this mural? It looks like Shere Khan is about to pry open this woman’s buttocks with his claws while the gorilla has her distracted with a lotus blossom. I think that toucan is an invasive perv who needs a lesson in consent, too. Animals!

I was very happy to see this poster, which is not only better than virtually every right-wing sign in that all the words are spelled properly, but it’s more bittersweet than inflammatory. The bullet holes are just upsetting enough. The Who’s Pete Townshend referred to his instrument by saying, “This red guitar kills fascists,” but I like this better. (That guitar probably has never actually killed anyone, fascist or otherwise.)

And as for The Who, they were pretty middling, with a fair amount of padding to the set. (Did we really need to hear “Underture,” the lengthy instrumental track from the middle of Tommy? I know it was meant to give Roger Daltrey‘s vocal chords a rest, but still.) Even though it meant missing Solange — who truly is outstanding — I’m glad I saw them, because I never had before and probably never will again. But I was surprised to hear a 73-year-old man sing the line “Hope I die before I get old” (from “My Generation”) without any winks or self-awareness. That was pretty strange.

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