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Outside Lands: A grand fifth birthday party
August 13, 2012, 01:00 AM By Julio Lara, Daily Journal Staff

Matt Maniego/Special to the Daily Journal Stevie Wonder performs at the Outside Lands music, food, art and wine festival in San Francisco.

When the music lineup for the 2012 version of Outside Lands was announced, it read like the guest list for a very lucky, very spoiled soon-to-be 5-year old's birthday party -- wait, you're having Foo Fighters, Neil Young, Jack White and Metallica? Skrillex, Beck, Norah Jones and Stevie Wonder are showing up, too?

Geez San Francisco, your parents must really love you.

Alas, it almost seems way too perfect that Sunday night Wonder himself, as the festival's final act, after smoothly playing his way through almost two hours of music, capped the three-day music, food, wine and art extravaganza with a rendition of "Happy Birthday" -- a packed polo field serving as his back-up singers, with the melody of 50,000 birthday wishes rising high into the San Francisco night. A fifth birthday isn't supposed to be this epic -- but apparently it's now Outside Lands' mission to prove it's no longer just a dot on the summer music festival calendar.

If 2011 was a watershed year for Outside Lands then 2012 has to go down as its greatest and most complete version yet. How many other festivals can say that Stevie Wonder, along with 50,000 other people, serenaded it when it turned 5?

Probably not too many.

The fact is, Outside Lands version 2012 was full of great music that included your awesome-out-of-nowhere acts, your fairy-tale-comebacks acts, your can't-miss ones and perhaps one of its most memorable and downright insane, we'll-be-talking-about-that-one-for-a-very-long-time headliner sets ever.

A ton of credit here goes to the festival's organizers, Another Planet Entertainment, who decided that although 2011 was a great, transcending peak for the festival, 2012 had to push the envelope and carry Outside Lands to rarified territory. Momentum is a great thing, but it can also be a bad one if you do nothing with it. And by booking acts like Young and Crazy Horse, Wonder, Beck, White and the Foo Fighters, organizers were aggressive and basically bullet-proofed Outside Lands for 2012. San Francisco and the Bay Area agreed whole-heartedly, selling-out the festival before the gates officially swung open on Friday -- an estimated 190,000 fans left foot imprints on Golden Gate Park during the festival's three days. And in return, the park served as the perfect backdrop for one hell of a fifth birthday party.

Friday got the festivities started right. Of Monsters and Men, performing from the Sutro stage, was Outside Lands' first great surprise — with the buzz lasting all the way though Sunday. The same can be said about Wallpaper., a definite crowd-pleaser from the Twin Peaks stage.

 But falling under the "can't miss" category of the day (and festival) were the Foo Fighters, rock n' roll royalty that could have easily been a main headliner but instead gave way to Young on Friday. The Foo Fighters played every bit like a headliner from the Lands End stage, roaring through hits like "Learn to Fly" and "Best of You," while adding a little something special with "Aurora" -- a song they've long said is one of their favorite records. Day one couldn't have ended any better with Young and Crazy Horse on one end and Justice on the other.

Saturday had more than its fair share of awesome. Talk around the park revolved around Alabama Shakes, the folk-country quartet, and their performance on the Sutro Stage. Passion Pit received the same kind of attention after an hour-long party from Twin Peaks -- like Of Monsters and Alabama, Pit's performance was a topic of conversation and amazement among festival goers long after the final chords were played.

Without a doubt, one of the day's best and most satisfying sets came courtesy of Big Boi, one half of the acclaimed Outkast. The spotlight shined heavy on him when the 2012 lineup was announced given the technical fiascos surrounding his appearance in 2011. Big Boi returned to Golden Gate Park and confronted that elephant head-on, ripping through 50 minutes of hip-hop excellence and completely redeeming himself to the Bay Area crowd in the process.

Yet, Saturday will be known forever as the day Metallica owned Outside Lands. The truth it, it'd be an injustice to try and describe the heavy metal band's set in musical terms. Metallica's performance was much more than just two hours of epic rock n' roll -- the band opened a dark abyss and sucked San Francisco into it. What Metallica did Saturday night has to go down as one of the most memorable acts in Outside Lands history.

And if that's the case, how do you possibly top that?

Well, Sunday was no slouch by any stretch of the imagination. Acts like Columbia's Bomba Estereo, with the lively and powerfully pint-sized front woman Liliana Saumet, were downright delicious from the Panhandle stage.

And while moving around and catching as much music as possible is a must at Outside Lands, Sunday was the perfect day to sit in front of Lands End and enjoy solid sets from Franz Ferdinand, Regina Spektor and then White. As the night approached, fans split about 70/30 between Wonder and Skrillex, who closed the night and festival from Twin Peaks with a laser show that could be seen from the park's opposite end.

But if you stayed for Wonder, awe is exactly what you got. "Overjoyed," "Sign, Sealed, Delivered," and even covers of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel," and John Lennon's "Imagine" were served up by the charismatic Wonder. His nearly two hour set culminated with the aforementioned "Happy Birthday" -- a too-perfect ending to another version of Outside Lands.

So, yes Outside Lands. Happy Birthday.

Now close your eyes and wish for another five festivals just like 2012's.

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