I woke up abruptly and early on August 9th, 2013. I was staying at a hotel somewhere off the highway south of San Francisco and the room above me was inhabited either by a touring polo team running early-morning practise or a group of immigrant workers from a local steel-toe work boot factory putting in some overtime testing their products.
Either way, I got an early jump on the drive to San Francisco.
I was headed for the Outside Lands Festival, a three-day multi-stage event held every summer in Golden Gate Park, the largest urban park in America. Then in its sixth year, the fest pulls out the heavyweights: Phish, Metallica, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Radiohead are all past OL alumni; this is no small affair.
I parked in a spot that I would eventually learn was unprecedentedly close to the festival entrance, repacked the car to make it look less like it contained everything two people needed to continue their three-week concert trek across North America and hit the entrance gate.
We got in easy-peasy and after a walk through the woods we ducked into a little tunnel and were quickly thrust into the main stage area which – being a polo field – was very large and completely flat. Band of Horses was onstage closing out their set with their hit The Funeral. Both sides of the field were lined with ample beer tents and the most interesting conglomeration of festival food stalls you could imagine: pork bacon chilli, griddled French toast, fried plantain and fajita burritos, Asian chicken wings, barbecued shrimp, fried chicken & waffles, Hawaiian poke; everything a festival goer could possibly hope for.
I grabbed a few beers and passed the time idly watching The National while my crew steadfastly tried to cling to our blanketed real estate in front of the soundboard. There was not a lawnchair to be seen but the crowded grass was a patchwork of blankets and tarps. People stood on their rugs and owned them.
The National’s set was made vastly more interesting by the inclusion of Kronos Quartet. The world’s leading small string ensemble, Kronos was based out of San Francisco and have forty albums to their credit. These guys have played with everyone and I suspect they don’t come cheap. They were onstage for at least half of the set and were even joined by a couple of brass players for a few tunes.
When Bob Weir ambled onstage for the last number my attention was piqued, but his unsmiling handlebar moustache was his most noticeable addition on this day; Bobby just hung on the sidelines and added mostly redundant and barely audible chordwork on his subtle guitar. It was still nice to see him, and it proves how special it can be to attend shows in San Francisco. I was happy to notice that Bobby went straight to the Kronos Quartet after the set and walked offstage deep in conversation with the violinist. Dude knows quality when he hears it.
And then it occurred to me: I had just seen a member of The Grateful Dead open up for a member of The Beatles. Whoa.
Yes, I was there to see Sir Paul McCartney. Soon the screens lit up with his elongated introductory video montage and the crowded area up front started to get serious. We had a pretty good spot; fairly close to the stage and a bit to the left. It got increasingly difficult to secure our area which was okay by me until I got crowded by a very spun-out dude named Brian who obliviously and consistently banged into me. Thud, thud, thud, over and over. “Hey man, you wanna keep it down a bit?”
“Oh, sorrysorrysorry, please tell me if I do it again…”
Dude, if you were so sorry you wouldn’t take drugs that cause you to lose control of your ability to not constantly bump into other people and then go stand in a crowd. Ah, well. In the end I tucked my sturdy poster tube under my arm to create a little barrier and he soon decided to move up to a closer spot, which worked out better for both of us.
Then out He came. Sir Paul McCartney. Still looking, sounding, and obviously feeling great. He ran his stellar band through 200 minutes of some of the finest music in pop history before a crowd of perhaps 40,000 adoring fans. The older kids were singing every word while the younger kids awed at the inclusion of a Guns ‘N Roses song in his set – m’lady actually overheard a girl tell her friend that Live and Let Die was a G’n’R song – while pyros and fireworks burst through the air.
Looking up at the display I actually caught what I thought was a pyro ember in my right eye. Blinking, rubbing and tearing up for the next few songs I was worried that I was going to have to sue Sir Paul (“We award you 1% of the royalties that Sir Paul has received since I began speaking this sentence. You and your injured eye can now retire for life!”).
By the end of the set I was blissed out with the great music and the happy vibes emitting from the thousands of happy people behind me, and my eye was back to its regular condition which, to be fair, isn’t so great.
And then Sir Paul McCartney encored with Yesterday on acoustic guitar tuned down a full step, accompanied by the Kronos Quartet.
What. A. Treat.
Two beers and a Paul McCartney concert will leave you sober no matter how you slice it, so I was happy to walk out and find the car in basically the same shape that I left it.
On the way to our friend’s house we made a small detour past 710 Ashbury only to find it scaffolded up. The former home of the Grateful Dead was obviously undergoing some sort of renovation but it was fun to have seen Bob Weir play music such a short stroll from his former digs.