Phono del Sol: Music Festival Savior

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White Fence performing at Phono del Sol, where the livin’ is easy.

I enjoy Outside Lands every year, but, at the risk of sounding like a grumpus, the Summer of 2014 may be the season that music festivals jumped the shark. I say this in spite of loving the concept of music festivals. What could be better than listening to music while enjoying the great outdoors with delicious food and drinks? Particularly at Outside Lands, you descend into another realm free from the urban cyclone that whirls away just outside the park perimeter. You can wander through psychedelic circus-lit canopies holding a rice crispy treat the size of your face in one hand, a watermelon cocktail in the other, and end your journey with a pyrotechnic light show soundtracked by a Beatle, in person. If you live in the Outer Sunset, like this little lady, you can then stumble home in a haze of disbelieving glory and wonder aloud, “Was this all a dream?”

Yes, I drink the Outside Lands Kool-Aid every year, however that doesn’t erase my memory of the inevitable claustrophobic panics and the annoyance of youngins rolling on molly who indiscriminately pee where people want to sit. In many ways, it seems to me these big festivals have grown too big for their britches. Each successive year of Outside Lands becomes more corporate and crowded with people who are more drunk, more rude, and more oblivious to the music. Sadly, this is a recurring theme where music has become a secondary distraction at music festivals. Coachella broke Instragram this year when the barrage of blogging fashionistas, there to see-and-be-seen, all simultaneously uploaded photos of their outfits (#ootd). And if you’re an optimist willing to endure the downsides of large festivals, you’d best be quick to buy tickets because they sell out in a matter of minutes only to be found for sale on Stubhub at double the cost mere moments after they officially “sell out”.

The glorious antidote to these maladies is Phono del Sol, the feel-good festival that won’t tax your budget or your patience. Co-hosted by The Bay Bridged and John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone, this one-day, $25 event held on July 12th was just the right size–never overcrowded, always relaxed. It was held at Potrero del Sol, which is located a stone’s throw away from Tiny Telephone at the base of Potrero Hill, and includes a skate park that was packed for the entire festival. A hill in the middle of the park separated the two stages, and offered the best seats in the house. A mere pivot to either side of this hill gave you the perfect view of killer sets from Nick Waterhouse, which sparked an old-fashioned dance party near the stage; from Wye Oak, who showcased her flawless, bass-driven new sound alongside some old Civilian favorites; and from local favorites Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, who ended the day with their infectious indie pop. Phono del Sol also introduced many people to lesser known notables such as White Fence, A Million Billion Dying Suns, The Tambo Rays, and Tony Molina.

The success of Phono del Sol ultimately lies in its authenticity. The Bay Bridged is a nonprofit music blog devoted to covering and promoting Bay Area music, while John Vanderslice opened Tiny Telephone to give local, independent musicians access to affordable hi-fi recording. This dedication to local music was mirrored in the dedication of those in the audience who were as attentive to the musicians who played as they were respectful of their fellow listeners. We ate amazing sliders with garlic sweet potato fries courtesy of Voodoo Van, and sipped beer from a souvenir turquoise koozie–all with ample elbow room that provided maximum enjoyment. Compare that to a day at Outside Lands that begins with Esurance bracelets, drains your bank account and your faith in humanity, and then spits you out onto Lincoln Way to begin your arduous journey home. To me, despite my affection for Outside Lands, that’s Phono del Sol for the win.

 

Nostos Nic On Location

While at Outside Lands, I was approached by a lovely woman named Mai, camera in hand. She kindly complimented my outfit and then took some photos whilst inquiring into my fashion inspirations. I babbled out a few lines, which she recorded, and the interaction wrapped with her business card in my hand.

Nostos Nic at Outside Lands taken by Mai of Fashionist.

Mai is a busy lady who documents street fashion. Her site Fashionist has been capturing the scene from coast to coast since 2007, and if you go to it, scroll down to the entry for August 26th and you’ll find a Nostos Nic quote, some additional pictures to the above and some very kind words from a dedicated blogger who is an absolute gem for linking to Nostos Algos. Thank you, Mai: I hope this returns the favor!

P/S: As part of the interview, I should have credited the elder women in my life–particularly my dearly departed Grandmother for all her fashion advice and know-how, passed down literally and figuratively. The shirt in which I was photographed was hers, and the belt my mother’s.

Outside Lands 2013: A Remembrance

Double Exposed Gull, Main Stage
Double Exposed Gull, Main Stage taken by Nicole Meldahl

Living two blocks from Golden Gate Park, Outside Lands is well within the perimeters of my urban backyard. This was initially why I started attending the festival a few years ago, but now I go to escape the Normal. This is partially achieved by the way I revert to a gushy teen while watching acts for which my hipster-ass thinks it’s too cool (Red Hot Chili Peppers). The other part of the equation is they way OL transforms the Park into a carny fairytale filled with fine food and trees that are alive with color, as if their moods were on display in the night.

Outside Lands Tree Magic
Outside Lands Tree Magic taken by Nicole Meldahl

These moods were infectious, and the spirit of camaraderie and goodwill amongst the crowd was palpable. Heterosexual men approached my fella to compliment him on his majestic beard and give him free beer. We won free food, and happened upon a giant pouch of medical (yet illicit) substances on the ground. Old friends were found, and new friends were made with people and bands alike. My inner teenager was able to see Camper Van Beethoven, and I fell madly in love with Gary Clark Jr–our generation’s equivalent to Jimmy Hendrix.

Gary Clark, Jr. taken through binoculars.
Gary Clark, Jr. Taken Through Binoculars by Nicole Meldahl

When the tally was made the sum became a conglomeration of moments that will never be forgotten. This is what makes the price for entry worthwhile, the sticker shock recede. For a brief three days we were persons outside of ourselves: two souls wandering turf that many men and women had trod before, imprinting the land with another notch in a timeline that will carry on beyond our own. This fact was made clear to me while watching Paul McCartney–a piece of living history. His three-hour set included every song I NEEDED to hear, was peppered with deeply moving stories about John Lennon and George Harrison (Ringo got no play), and included fireworks. Positively breathtaking.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Close Out
Red Hot Chili Peppers Close Out taken by Nicole Meldahl

Thank you, Outside Lands. See you in 2014.

Not So Tame Impala

Admittedly, I’m late to the Tame Impala party.

Sometimes it takes a few listens to truly appreciate a band; this describes my relationship with Tame Impala. I first saw them at Outside Lands last year, and I blame festival fatigue for the delayed attraction. My Fella, however, was instantly entranced as was the rest of San Francisco, apparently, for their November 15th show at The Fillmore sold out clean. As for their current tour, the May 29th show at the Fox Theater in Oakland is also unavailable to we ticket purchase procrastinators. In fact, you’ll have to scroll three stops down the tour and travel to Tennessee in order to see them live.

Since our journey through the outside lands within Golden Gate Park last summer, Tame Impala has become the unofficial fifth member of our household and I was forced to love them. And I do, I really do. The aforementioned Fella sat me down for a listen to the song “Elephant” some months back, taking great pains to point out the ingenious word-play at 2:50 to 2:55 in the song. Yes, this is what we do in our free time. It’s driving rhythm evokes an early time when you could be chemically enhanced in public and no one would pay you mind. Come to think of it, that time is still alive and well in San Francisco.

Which brings me to the synchronicity of their show at The Fillmore, an essential landmark in the psychogeography of 1960s San Francisco. During this epic decade, anyone who was anyone in Haight Ashbury saw shows at Bill Graham’s nascent venue. Going to a rock concert at the Fillmore then was similar but different to what we experience now. Musicians played with their backs to the audience because they were not the visual component of the show. This makes sense since most of them weren’t much to look at (David Crosby anyone?) unless they had a lead singer like Janis Joplin, the spasmodic scene-stealer, or Jim Morrison, who always offered a potential pop of his manhood through those famous leather pants. Instead, concertgoers feasted their eyes on a psychedelic liquid light show produced by the Brotherhood of Light, which was formed by Brian Eppes, Brother Ed Langdon, Marcus Maximist and Bob Pullum in 1968.

These light shows attempted to visualize the music to further stimulate the crowd (not that many of them needed further stimulation). Using overhead projectors, a combination of color wheels, liquid dyes on slides, clips from 16mm movies and flashing still images, they created a phantasmagorical or horrific (depending on what drugs you took), constantly changing, “multi-sensory musical experience” behind the band. No two light shows were the same, just as no song is performed live the same way twice. During their tenure at the Fillmore, the Brotherhood of Light enhanced performances by legendary acts such as Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the Doors, among others.

Although this type of display is common in its digital form today, the first versions were innovative artistry that helped to define an entire genre of music. Watching the official video for Tame Impala’s “Elephant,” it’s easy to see how they fit into and extend this legacy with this “perfect song,” as it was dubbed by stoned You Tube commentarians. The Brotherhood of Light may no longer be a fixture at The Fillmore, but you do still receive the traditional free poster at the door when you leave the venue after the show. And in Tame Impala, whose lead singer performs shoeless, you get a fresh flick in the face of that sweet paint of the past.