September 5, 2009

Outside Lands returns triumphant


I can think of much worse ways to spend an August weekend than in the heart of one of my favorite cities (San Francisco), seeing an eclectic lineup of bands both headliner-huge and quirky-small. Last year’s inaugural edition of the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival boasted a solid roster of national and local musicians, but was plagued by a few logistical snafus that ranged from the mildly annoying (no, you can’t go that way anymore, you have to walk all the way around) to the borderline panic-attack inducing (15′-wide gauntlets of death to walk through to get to Beck, crammed like a sausage with your neighbor who is pushing the other way). It made it hard, at times, to lose yourself in the music, as Eminem advises.

This year’s festival returned with with a shimmering bang last weekend, featuring an arguably stronger lineup than last year and straightened out details, continuing to play on the gorgeous natural setting with stages spread out amidst the cypress trees. The fest also showcased local wines and restaurants with some abnormally tasty selections for a festival, far better than your standard funnel cake (not that I have ANY PROBLEM with funnel cake).

Of course, as with any festival, when you take into account the human error fudge factor, heat and/or cold, interpersonal weavings, and the occasional Heineken, it can be awfully difficult to catch all the bands you wanted. But the happy flip-side of that is that you often end up stumbling into something even better.

My three days of musical happiness began with a band that is quickly becoming one of my very favorites – Blind Pilot. This Portland, Oregon band drew a huge crowd with their rich and bittersweet tunes layered with gorgeous instrumentation, and those rootsy leanings. Frontman Israel Nebeker’s evocative voice just keeps drawing me back, no matter how many times I see them live (this was #3 this year).

How I want that mystery / let me dive ’til I believe.”

Two Towns From Me – Blind Pilot



The only other time I’ve seen The National perform was at Coachella last spring, and it is a testament to this band and their potency that even in a festival setting, in broad daylight, they’ve managed to completely knock me flat in the best way possible. I can’t imagine what they’d do to me in a dark club. As I wrote about the Indio desert, “The National carved something out of me and put something back in, is the best way I can put it.” Their set was riveting, laden with songs that I could hardly have hand-picked better (except maybe, “Lucky You.” I’d add that one).

Matt Berninger looks every bit the refined GQ businessman in a large faceless city; gold wedding band on his hand, dark collared shirt, hair nicely trimmed. But with his baritone velvet voice, dark stories spill from his mouth of all the emptiest fears and the most acute longings that wake us in the night. The bright horns and the swells of melody twinkle and shine like a candle in a colander, putting a streak of beauty through the center.

Start a War, Mistaken for Strangers, the new Blood Buzz Ohio, Slow Show — and my favorite Secret Meeting… it was over far too soon.

Lucky You (live on Daytrotter) – The National




Next up in a magical bit of booking was Tom Jones, the Welsh crooner who can peel panties off people using only his cognac-smooth brogue. You would not believe the universal love that flowed from all sectors of the (hip-shaking) audience for his snappy set. All you need to know about the performance can be gleaned from these two pictures, and if you have more time to amuse yourself, my montage of Tom Jones facial expressions over on Facebook. As a friend texted me during his set, as I reported on the undies flying off 19-year-olds with dreadlocks and ironic t-shirts, “It’s like he went from cool to ironic back to cool.”

I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (Arctic Monkeys cover) – Tom Jones



Friday night ended as not the best of times for me, although I did try to rally and catch Washington D.C.’s Thievery Corporation, with their Brazilian-dub-lounge groove (it looked like this, and sounded numbingly good floating through the night and turning off my brain).


Saturday started off with a double-shot of global awesomeness from different corners of the world; it was bands like these that illuminated the fest for me. First up was Extra Golden, a combo of half Kenyan-benga music and half American-study-abroad-student rock. You might remember when I wrote about these guys a few months ago, I mentioned “the sound that cut through the din,”and also mused how good they might sound live. I am pleased to report that they both stopped traffic of folks walking by (with their tribal beats and African-laced rock), and also put on a superb set. I would absolutely go see them again; I kept laughing out loud from joy.

Anyango – Extra Golden



Immediately following Extra Golden, we dashed over to the Sutro stage to catch Nortec Collective’s Bostich + Fussible, on the recommendation of my friend Julio, who is much-more-savvy than this white girl when it comes to all things south of the border. I’d never heard any nortec business, but it blew my mind — the crashing together of the traditional Tijuana sounds with effortlessly cool dudes twisting knobs to make ridiculously danceable beats. My friend nailed it when he said they could occupy the stage in the back of any Quentin Tarantino movie scene — they were just that badass. Another band I would see again live in an absolute heartbeat. I mean listen to this:

Aka 47 – Bostich + Fussible



Next was Bat For Lashes (rad British chanteuse Natasha Khan), with a set that created more buzz than any other band I saw at the festival. Everyone was talking about her afterwards, and it was my favorite set of the weekend. I was only casually acquainted with her music before seeing her live, but her rich satiny alto voice flowed like a warm golden river through the middle of the sexy, synthy danceable creations. Where she was competent and confident in her stage presence, her band was amazingly kickass too, and I fell in love with both the drummer and the rainbow zig-zagged guitarist.

And: random celebrity sighting, Josh Groban totally digs Bat For Lashes; he was right by me for the set. YES, Mom, Josh Groban. Omg.

Pearl’s Dream – Bat For Lashes

Use Somebody (Kings of Leon cover, live on BBC) – Bat for Lashes



And: random fashion note, the girls in the band totally share clothes.


After wasting away some hours of the evening with folks like The Ice Cream Man and the Free Heineken Man, the only other set I participated in on Saturday (sadly! festival fail!) was the scorching set from Dave Matthews Band. I forget how much I do love Dave, and a sailor I met recently on my ocean sailing voyage has reminded me how many steps I may have also missed in Dave’s development through the years.

Musical hipsters like to look down our noses at plebian jam-rock like DMB, but dancing my ass off alongside fellow not-afraid-to-love-Dave-ite Nathaniel from I Guess I’m Floating to “Lie In Our Graves,” “Two Step” and a particularly passionate rendition of “All Along The Watchtower,” I was reminded how good it can feel.

Lie In Our Graves – Dave Matthews Band

(“and I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves wondering if we had spent our living days well/ I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves dreaming of things that we might have been….”)




After two sunny warm days, when Sunday arrived grey and misty like SF likes to be in the summer (or any dang time), the layers I had fastidiously packed came in handy. Worn out from the two days already, a third day felt simultaneously like a gift (yay! more live music!) and also an uphill climb. But arriving to the festival to the pleasingly dulcet sounds of local San Franciscan John Vanderslice on the Presidio stage, I forgot my still-tired feet and smiled a wide smile.

Vanderslice is someone I have been delving more deeply into since he wowed me in Chicago at that show with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Again on Sunday I was struck by how he could join a musical club with Nada Surf and Death Cab and they’d all nestle in perfectly side by side. It was pretty well-attended too for an early afternoon show on a second stage, perhaps due to the strength of his latest (great) album, Romanian Names.

Too Much Time – John Vanderslice


Whatever I needed to get my mojo back, I found it (of course, in droves) at The Avett Brothers fervent 3pm set at the other end of the meadow.

I had just seen the Avetts in both Boulder and Denver the weekend before (see pics and a video) and loved every raucous, earnest, sweaty second of it, but the recent satiation didn’t even matter when they took the stage before a very enthusiastic crowd. I had urged all the friends and acquaintances and other photographers I met at other shows for the first part of the weekend to make their way over to the Sutro stage at 3pm Sunday, and as I looked around, I saw an awful lot of smiles and the occasional yell-along. Their set was crisp and carried out beautifully over the meadow. They started with “Paranoia in Bb Major,” and then went right into the new “Laundry Room” and then “Die, Die, Die.” When they finished that triple-whammy, they moved into “Murder In The City,” and nearly killed me. Such a wonderful set from these brothers, in a near-perfect setting for their bluegrass punk.

Laundry Room (live on MOKB) – The Avett Brothers

PS – Get the full MOKB Laundromatinee session with Los Avetts.



Switching gears quickly from furiously-strummed banjos to yowling waves of rock, we headed clear over to the Twin Peaks stage to get in position to witness the detonation that is Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) and Alison Mossheart’s (The Kills) new band, The Dead Weather. This is the same second-stage I saw Wilco play on last year, and it was just as crowded – another act that could have/should have played the main.

Jack White coolly walked out behind dark shades and sat behind the drumkit at the far back of the stage and stayed there for the duration of the first three songs that we photogs get to have at it. Alison handily seized the mantle of being the face of the Dead Weather (fittingly), and paced and flailed and thrashed, leaning down in our faces and threatening to grab us by our hair, and hang us up from those heavens. For a small woman, she packs an intense punch — she was feral in an awesome, invasive way. All the members of this supergroup are mightily accomplished in their own rights, and together they are pretty amazing to watch, even on a bright Sunday afternoon.

Hang You From The Heavens – The Dead Weather




It’s not every day that a girl gets to see both Jack White and Jack Black in the same day, but before I did the Tenacious D rotation (and failed to get pics because I had the wrong lens), I danced as hard as I could muster to the third world democracy sounds of Sri Lankan supernova M.I.A., who puts on a marvelously enjoyable set. I saw her at Coachella last year — well, kind of saw her, whilst I was being crushed from the massive audience that poured into the smallish tent to see her. Her reputation preceded her.

This time around, after I shot the pics, I went to a vantage point where I could see the whole huge main-stage crowd dance and pump their fists in time to the three gunshot sounds in the chorus, and smile that she was finally on the larger stage she deserves.

Paper Planes – M.I.A.





So… in sum, a marvelous weekend.



August 26, 2009

Let’s go outside (I think I’m done with the sofa)


This weekend, the second annual Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival explodes into Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I was on the maiden festival voyage last summer, so to speak, and despite a few technical hiccups here and there I had an amazing time at this unique and distinctly regional fest.

Last year I shot photos for Stereogum (looked like this, and ha – I totally said this!), but for 2009 I am looking forward to going rogue, and the flexibility that implies. The plan is to minimize the number of bands I see that I know I love and have seen live before (The National, Blind Pilot, The Avett Brothers, Conor Oberst) and try to wander a bit, trust in kismet, see many bands I don’t know (thanks Ranger Dave!), and hopefully have a lot of fun new discoveries to report back. This year I am also bringing several sweaters, since I nearly froze to death during Radiohead’s jawdropping set last year.

If you’re coming or thinking of coming, here are some acts I’ve never seen live that I am hoping to wander into: Nortec Collective (Tijuana electronica?), Matt & Kim, Thievery Corporation, Extra Golden (Kenyan benga music + rock), Raphael Saadiq, Portugal. The Man, Bat For Lashes, SambaDá (Afro-Brazilian samba funk!), Lucinda Williams, Bettye LaVette, and holy lord definitely Tom Jones. Tenacious D (“the best band in the world“) closes out the fest on Sunday night.

What else should I be sure not to miss?

There are a few cool features this year for the fest, like Saturday and Sunday beach cleanups through The Surfrider Foundation and Save The Waves, and the KUSF Free Yr Radio stage with live broadcasts streaming over community radio. The brilliant artist-designed tshirts for charity initiative, Yellow Bird Project, will have a booth there that I’ll be stopping by – I have the shirt The National designed for them. My partner in crime has already downloaded the iPhone app, because he’s cooler than me, and there are a series of night shows at some of my favorite SF venues, since the festival ends fairly early each night (10pm! Home for Law & Order!).

Not coming to join me? You can stream the whole Outside Lands 2009 on YouTube. How ’bout that!

Game on!

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July 8, 2009

what might have been lost

The other night I was talking to my friend Mundi about seeing Bon Iver this Saturday in Denver, and as I told her about this moment above (the last time I saw him), I realized that my face was glowing from recalling what felt like magic.

Under the cypress trees of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, I saw Bon Iver for the first time at Outside Lands ’08, and on “The Wolves (Act I and II)” he invited the crowd to sing along with him — “What might have been lost.” This video is otherwise largely unremarkable but for the way it captures that moment around the 2:30 mark when (almost) everyone in the audience started singing wholeheartedly. For an acoustic song, he gets furiously powerful at the end, and I cannot wait to see it on Saturday. For Emma is still an album I think I will be listening to for, well, maybe the rest of my life.

I’m just newly committed to Outside Lands again this summer as well (thanks Southwest super air sale!) and am excited about many artists in the lineup, including The National, The Avett Brothers, M.I.A., Blind Pilot, The Dead Weather, Lucinda Williams, and The Beastie Boys (I think last time I saw them looked like this). Oh, and…Tom Jones? Bring extra panties, I suppose.

Single day tickets and passes are now available.

February 16, 2009

I’m in the middle of your picture :: Radiohead at Outside Lands


This weekend I was finishing my taxes and getting it back from The Man, whilst listening to Radiohead to make the undertaking a bit less tedious.

The recording of their live set from last August echoed through my kitchen, the show where I saw em for the first time at the Outside Lands Festival in foggy San Francisco. Photographing the band from that close (under a dazzling collection of cathedral-like lights) and the superb setlist makes me smile every time I think of it.


2008 was the first year of the Outside Lands Festival, and it was a bit of a clusterfuck at times. The sound went out twice during Radiohead’s set, in one of the most surreal moments I’ve had at a concert. Imagine the most sublime wall of sound you’ve felt in years, vibrating all around you — and then complete silence. I watched the band furiously playing on, while all around us the absence of music felt thick like cotton. I joke that for a second I thought it finally happened, I finally went permanently and irreversibly deaf from all the concerting.

After the first burst of silence, Thom jokes about someone putting beer in the plug; when it happens again two songs later, a wave of discontent ripples through the crowd but then we all rose up to sing at the top of our lungs (in an excellent concert moment that still kinda warms me):

You are all I need…you’re all I need. I’m in the middle of your picture, lying in the reeds…

I was packed there into the masses singing along in the fog, thin sweater wrapped tight around me under the cypress trees.


August 22, 2008 – Outside Lands Festival
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
15 Step
There There
All I Need*
Talk Show Host
National Anthem
The Gloaming
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Karma Police
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Exit Music (For a Film)
Pyramid Song
You And Whose Army?
Paranoid Android
Fake Plastic Trees
(this still kills me lately)
Everything In Its Right Place

*Sound cuts out during Airbag and All I Need


[thanks to the original taper! I took all them pics, and love 'em, especially that abstract one with the heart, taken as I looked at the crowd behind me during Radiohead's set. Yep.]

August 31, 2008

Grace Potter interview :: Turn the radio up high, and grab the first guitar you see

Grace Potter can electrify a stage with her fearless and excoriating guitar solos, light up a room with her thousand-megawatt smile, and shoot an arcade-game basket from fifteen feet away. In heels.

In addition to possessing one of the most honest, immense, and soulful wails I’ve heard from a female vocalist since Janis Joplin, Grace is a stellar songwriter and rocks the B3 Hammond organ, among other instruments. At only 25 years old this Burlington, Vermont native leads her band The Nocturnals with some serious rockability, and can beat them at many backstage arcade games. At least that I’ve seen.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Grace Potter and The Nocturnals live for the second time this summer while I was in San Francisco for the Outside Lands Festival last weekend. Around this time last Sunday I was sitting in a tent with Grace for a few questions before we all loaded up and shipped out. Being that it was the end of a long and festive sunny day for both of us, we started the conversation with Grace confiding in me that I wasn’t the only one that’d been drinkin’ since half past noon. “I have a good liver,” she said to me in a lowered voice as she leaned close and spoke into my hair. “It’ll process it. But we’ll be okay — you and me, we’re gonna throw it down.”


HB: The question I am most interested in asking you stems from my own experiences being a female blogger in this crazy rock world — I’m wondering if you feel that there’s any kind of double standard when it comes to being a woman in the music industry, as opposed to a guy doing the same things that you’re doing?

GP: I personally think that there’s positives to it, and obviously there are negatives. I actually hate girl musicians — for the most part I tend to really dislike them. But I’m not saying that I’m like, the Savior Girl in rock and roll. I make mistakes, we all make mistakes. Still, I’m not gonna throw a fit, I’m not gonna be a diva… I’m never gonna make a big scene if somebody didn’t bring me my fucking champagne. Today they were apologizing for not having a mirror where I was backstage but — who cares?! What’s most important to me is that we’ve got an environment where we can create great music, and I’m more interested in if my amps work or my gear, or if there’s a string broken, or if the setlist isn’t quite right. I would way rather talk about that than what outfit I’m gonna wear. Of course it is fun being a woman, and I’m glad to be a woman. But what I’m most fascinated by is a woman artist who can speak realistically, from her soul, and not be bullshitting.

The music industry is a hard place to live in, but I love my guys in my band, being in a band with guys. They seem to have more of a sense of team and camaraderie that’s ingrained in them that I also feel I’m lucky enough to have. If I didn’t have that, I feel like I would have been Gwen Stefani-d a long time ago. I’ve toured with other women in the band and in the crew and there’s definitely a challenge I have of being “the boss,” so to speak, but not wanting to be the Snow Queen, not wanting to be the bitch. I kinda cater to the Katharine Hepburn mentality, which is “be as wonderful as you possibly can be onscreen, and as edgy and cutthroat as you can be off-screen.”

Do you ever feel like women who front bands are treated as a novelty?

I would SO much rather it go in this order when people walk by our stage — listen: ‘Wow, that music sounds amazing. Look at that bass player, he’s awesome — this band fucking rocks! . . . Oh my god, there’s a girl singing, and she’s pretty good on the guitar, or she’s pretty good on the B3.’ And then maybe, ‘Oh, she’s kinda pretty’ –  instead of the reverse. I mean however you look at it, I feel very lucky to be where we are. I am a 25 year old girl who isn’t afraid to wear a short skirt or to have fun and be myself. Someday I’m going to chill out and be more like Emmylou Harris or Bonnie Raitt or Lucinda Williams and get into a more humble state of mind and a more… subtle state of fashion, but for now this is who I am.

Are those musicians who you mentioned some of the women you admire?

YES. Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt, in that order — my idols. I’ve met all of them, but have never sang with any of them. I almost asked Lucinda on a song, and I almost asked Emmylou, but I just couldn’t work it out at the shows. Bonnie is actually a really good friend of the band, she’s been very supportive, given us quotes and mentioned us from stage . . . one time she was playing in front of 3000 people in my hometown of Burlington, Vermont and she actually talked about me onstage. She was talking about the local music scene and how hard it is for local artists to get off the ground, and bands who have really been able to do something and she said my name. I mean — I lost my shit.

I’d heard that you guys were heading back into the studio later this year. On your last record This Is Somewhere you’d tried to capture more of a live feeling in the studio. Will you continue with that aim this time around?

I think we’re going to relinquish all desperate attempts to capture a live sound because it’s two very different things. Being in the studio last time we realized that you have to let them be different – you can’t force a live sound from a beautiful studio. I mean, we were in a gorgeous studio in LA and we kinda mistreated it, in that we were constantly trying to force something out of it.

I think this time around, depending on where we record and what kind of songs we’re writing, it’s gonna become whatever it needs to become, and we’re gonna pick the studio accordingly. We are thinking of going back into the studio in February or March to make a new record and who knows when that will come out . . . but hopefully a little bit of a quicker turnaround than last time because it took us like eight months from the time we finished recording it for it to actually be out.

Are you happy with the ultimate result on the last record with that struggle between live and studio sound?

I am proud of it. I would listen to it, I would. But I don’t listen to it. Jeff Tweedy from Wilco told me that one mistake you can make is to overlisten to your own [recorded] music. Just let it be what it is. Just leave it alone — record your record and let it be a moment in time because that’s exactly what you sounded like. Be honest with yourself. I mean, be the best version of yourself –don’t underedit, don’t sell yourself short– but pick the best parts of yourself, put them out there, and then forever from that moment on recognize the fact that that was back when you recorded it, in . . . November of 2006 or whatever, and that that’s not who you are now, and that’s okay.

Yeah . . . Jeff Tweedy gives good advice.




[top image credit Kim Hutchens]

August 26, 2008

My Outside Lands coverage on Stereogum

Check it out: Outside Lands 2008 In Photos! I’ll be posting some more thoughts, but am trying to reassimilate into civilized (aka work) life, running on minimal sleep. Hooray for a sensational weekend!

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June 23, 2008

New bands added to San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival in August

It’s looking like the next festival on the Fuel/Friends docket is the inaugural Outside Lands Art & Music Festival at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in August. As a native from the Bay Area, I am looking forward to returning for a festival of this magnitude, quality, and scenic placement (akin to Treasure Island in terms of taking advantage of the local environment).

Check the full lineup, with some new additions announced today (and relevant links to Fuel/Friends content to entertain you while my server is down and Monday Music Roundups languish):


*FRIDAY AUGUST 22* (starts 5pm)
Manu Chao
The Black Keys
Cold War Kids
Steel Pulse
Black Mountain
The Felice Brothers
Howlin Rain
The Dynamites

*SATURDAY AUGUST 23* (starts 1pm)
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
Steve Winwood
Lupe Fiasco
Café Tacvba (so much fun at Coachella)
Regina Spektor
Galactic’s Crescent City Soul Krewe feat. Dirty Dozen Horns
M. Ward
Devendra Banhart
Matt Nathanson (always a riot)
Two Gallants
Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet feat. Bela Fleck
The Walkmen
Kaki King
The Coup (these guys blew me away in 07)
Donavon Frankenreiter
Nellie McKay
Sean Hayes
Rupa & The April Fishes
Everest (hot tip!)

*SUNDAY AUGUST 24* (starts 1pm)
Jack Johnson
Widespread Panic
Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Broken Social Scene
Andrew Bird
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Drive-By Truckers
Toots & the Maytals
Rogue Wave
Jackie Greene
Mike Gordan
The Cool Kids
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Little Brother
Bon Iver
The Mother Hips
Nicole Atkins & The Sea
Back Door Slam
Culver City Dub Collective

Tickets are on-sale now (single day or 3-day passes). This one won’t have camping, but I’m stoked to festivate again!

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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