By Rahim Ullah
Through a series of unfortunate events and typically Daily mishaps, the Managing Editor of Photography, was the only editor from The Stanford Daily to score a media pass to Outside Lands, the annual three-day music festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park taking place this weekend, August 7-9. This would normally be okay, but since our Managing Editor of Photography is unfamiliar with 98 percent of the names on the Outside Lands lineup, often complains about photographing any band that’s not Siberian Front and has never written an article for The Daily before, it’s easy to imagine a better situation.
That Managing Editor of Photography happens to be me.
For my first written piece for The Daily, I thought it might be a good idea to enlist a little help from my friends, and ask them what bands they’d be most excited to see if they were going to Outside Lands. Ben Sorensen ’18, our music editor, will talk about the new wave of old soul music in the lineup. Alice Dai, one of our summer interns, will go over this year’s mainstream headliners.
Benjamin “Soul Man” Sorensen –
If you count yourself as a fan of the musical stylings of bygone Southern stars like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Lead Belly or Robert Johnson, well then, unfortunately all of your favorite singers are dead. But I’ve got good news. In the past few years, traditional soul and blues music has surged back to prominence with the emergence of acts that are new in name but old in spirit. Check out the handful who are bringing their nostalgic craft to Outside Lands.
Let’s start with St. Paul and the Broken Bones, a group faithfully built to evoke the 1960s Stax-Atlantic sound with an old-fashioned rhythm and blues band and a lead singer who drips equal parts sweat and soul. Like many of their forefathers they’re from Alabama, and they even recorded their first record, “Half the City,” at the state’s legendary Muscle Shoals FAME Studios. They’re led by the inimitable Paul Janeway, a man with the looks of Drew Carey, the footwork of Joliet Jake, and—perhaps most surprisingly of all—the thundering voice of Otis Redding.
If you want to cool down after St. Paul’s fiery set, look for Columbia Records rookie Leon Bridges, who opts for the more soothing sounds of Sam Cooke with a similar wistful flair. His debut album, “Coming Home,” is a polished effort washed deeply in nostalgia, and while he often seems to cross the line from invocation to imitation, his gentle personality manages to shine through the forced likeness. And Bridges goes farther than most to honor his musical heroes, applying ample doses of vintage aesthetic to his dress and presentation. If there were a way to perform live shows in black and white, I’m sure Bridges would be the first to know.
But both the Broken Bones and Bridges are modeled after a more sophisticated strain of soul, characterized by tender love songs and neat suits. Where can we get more grit? More blues?
Look no further than Oakland’s own Fantastic Negrito, also known as Xavier Dphrepaulezz, also known as the recent winner of NPR’s inaugural Tiny Desk Contest Concert. Fantastic Negrito’s sound comes from the raw roots of the Delta, and he evokes the spirit of troubled times gone by without any hint of artifice. He’s been to hell and back, and along the way he’s developed a spirited incarnation of the blues. I’d highly recommend reading through the biography provided by his website to get a better picture of who you’re dealing with.
Lastly I’d recommend Benjamin Booker, a young singer whose fiery blend of garage rock and blues sounds like a young Howlin’ Wolf leading a punk band. Not many can match his onstage energy, marked by rapid strumming, Hendrix-like mastery of feedback and a bronchitic rasp, and even fewer have his ability to pour that same raw spirit into soft, heart-wrenching ballads. He’s the rock star of the lot, no question.
My Take: St. Paul’s and The Broken Bones is essentially all I’ve been listening to since Ben told me about them a month ago. The last time I got my soul fix from modern, non-dead, artists was when Amy Winehouse released her second album “Back to Black.” And then…well let’s just say things mostly went back to the way they were. I’m glad to see acts at Outside Lands channeling this old-school tone.
Alice “The Intern” Dai –
For those less inclined to seek out the niche indie bands, Outside Lands heralds its fair share of rising stars and famous artists that, chances are, you’ve heard on the radio one too many times.
For those gravitating towards the crowds, make sure to grab front-row spots for these Daily-recommended live performances from pop culture’s royalty.
- Sam Smith: “The Breakout”
After a staggering four-Grammy sweep during last year’s awards ceremony, Sam Smith has rocketed into the music industry’s A-list. Smith is headlining on Sunday with chart-topping singles and soulful numbers from his album, “In the Lonely Hour,” in tow. Fans and newcomers alike won’t be able to resist Smith’s powerful Adele-reminiscent vocals and emotionally complex songs about love, heartache and moving on.
- Elton John: “The Living Legend”
This one’s for all ages. One of the most successful musicians of his time, Sir Elton John will be performing with his band featuring Nigel Olsson (Drums), Davey Johnstone (Guitar), Matt Bissonette (Bass), John Mahon (Percussion) and Kim Bullard (Keyboard). John has released over 30 albums in his career, and his single “Candle in the Wind 1997” is the best selling single to date. “Tiny Dancer,” “Your Song” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” are only three of John’s timeless classics in his extensive repertoire. John’s performance on Sunday is projected to accrue an immense crowd. Will you be there?
- Lindsey Stirling: “The Youtuber”
Lindsey Stirling is a star in the Youtube microcosm. Classically trained in violin, Stirling has amassed over 1 billion views and almost 7 million subscribers on her eponymous Youtube channel. Stirling has collaborated with artists such as Grammy-winning a capella group Pentatonix and celebrated pop singer John Legend. From popular covers to original scores, Stirling is blazing an instrumental career with a bedazzled violin by her side. Outside Lands is just one stop in her national tour.
- George Ezra: “The Old-Time Romantic”
Newcomer George Ezra, known for his single “Budapest,” could well be the next heartthrob of the folksy-pop genre. The English native released his debut album “Wanted on Voyage” in 2014 and has steadily made a name for himself. After performing a solo set at Chicago’s Lollapalooza music festival on Aug. 2, Ezra will head to the Bay for Outside Lands. At just 21, Ezra’s alluringly mysterious demeanor and bluesy voice make him a standout amongst Friday night’s performers.
My Take: As a live music photographer, it almost matters more to me how much energy each band brings to the stage, rather than how well its music plays to my tastes. This is why I’m definitely going to be covering Elton John and Lindsey Stirling. Just check out this clip of Stirling rocking out on the violin and you’ll see what I mean. And while Elton John’s performance at Outside Lands might not be as flashy nor as glittery as his performance on the Muppet Show in 1978, it’s Elton John, so you have to go.
Stay tuned for my daily coverage of the event, where I’ll be posting plenty of photos and share a couple words about each of the bands I get to see. As for which bands I’ll be covering, check out the approximate list below. Also be on the lookout for blog posts on The Stanford Daily’s Lomita Blog, where I’ll be showcasing some of the restaurants and food trucks at Outside Lands.
- Leon Bridges
- The Revivalists
- Lindsey Stirling
- The Drums
- D’Angelo And The Vanguard
- Longhorne Slim and The Law
- Fantastic Negrito
- Cold War Kids OR Django Django
- Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals
- Kendrick Lamar
- St. Paul and The Broken Bones
- Benjamin Booker
- Sky Ferreira
- Sam Smith
- Elton John
Contact Rahim Ullah at rahimu ‘at’ stanford.edu, Benjamin Sorenson at bcsoren ‘at’ stanford.edu, and Alice Dai at alicettdai ‘at’ gmail.com.