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.