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Rocking out in Golden Gate Park: a Sacramentan’s view

It was the largest multi-day Bay area music gathering ever last weekend in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and a decidedly green one at that. By all accounts, the three-day Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival was a major success, with an estimated crowd of 130,000 attending the three-day historic extravaganza that featured some of the top musical acts in the business, such as Radiohead, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Beck, Wilco, and Jack Johnson.

And while the 65 or so musical acts appearing on the six stages were the definite draw, festival promoters Another Planet Entertainment, Superfly Productions and Starr Hill Presents (in a partnership with the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department) took an environmentally conscious approach, which has seemed to have paid off. They urged concertgoers to forgo cars and use public transportation or bicycles. They also put a huge focus on renewable energy usage. Recycling bins were everywhere as organizers shot for a 75 percent waste diversion rate. Other green touches included a solar-powered main stage, compost dumpster, and locations to charge up cell phones using solar or wind power.

The main hub of all of this green focus was PG&E’s Eco Lands tent’s interactive green experience, which featured booths staffed by members of environmental organizations like Planet Green for Global Inheritance, Trust for Public Land and Golden Gate Conservatory, as well as booths to help concertgoers identify and reduce their carbon footprint. There was also an organic farmers’ market and coffee bar, in addition to wine tasting booths and food unique to the Bay area scattered among the dozens of vendors present.

Another added touch to the overall experience of Outside Lands was CrowdFire, created by Outside Lands and Federated Media, and presented by Microsoft. CrowdFire was touted as an online destination where technology enthusiasts were able to upload their audio, images, video and text to the CrowdFire online community. AT&T also sponsored its Blue Room, where several acts throughout each day of the festival – including Sacramento’s Jackie Greene and Cake, as well as other top-notch acts like Broken Social Scene, Stevie Winwood, Alo, and Jack Johnson – were broadcast live in entirety both at the event and over the Internet with very high-quality sound.

While green was in at the festival, music is what brought most of the huge throng to Outside Lands, which was the original name of Golden Gate Park. Spread out over a large expanse of three connecting fields – the park’s Polo Fields, and Lindley and Speedway meadows areas – the goal of the festival was to give the Bay area its own Bonaroo (Tennessee), Coachella (Palm Springs) or Lollapalooza (Chicago, this year) type event.

When Radiohead took the main Lands End stage promptly at 8 p.m. the first night of the festival, it marked the first time a musical event had ever (knowingly) taken place at Golden Gate Park after dark. Considered by many as one of the current top acts in the business, a good portion of the late-arriving crowd (Friday’s show had the only 5 p.m. beginning; Saturday and Sunday started at 1 p.m.) came just to see Radiohead, and a crowd estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 packed the grass area in front of the stage, by most accounts, the largest single-show attendance of the festival. Unfortunately, Radiohead’s well-received set was marred by not one, but two complete sound-system meltdowns (solar panels, perhaps?), lasting more than a minute each and obviously upsetting the band, which had continued to play throughout the outage.

Friday also reportedly featured the worst traffic congestion problems, both for those arriving and departing because of the compressed times of the event. Those arriving after the 5 p.m. start time without tickets in hand endured line waits at the main entrance gates of more than an hour, both at Will Call and to purchase tickets. Vacant cabs were just not found, and with the huge crowd at Radiohead for the most part staying until the end, the extra buses lined up to accommodate the hordes waiting along Fulton Street to catch something heading towards Market and the closest BART station just didn’t solve the problem. It wasn’t uncommon for those waiting to see at least 20 buses as tightly packed as imaginable rumble by without stopping before one stopped with a few available spots, hours later.

With the earlier 1 p.m. start times the next two weekend days, and public transportation beefed up considerably, many of those problems were lessened, and the crowd seemed more spread out throughout the day. Now, the first multi-day event in memory held on San Francisco Recreation and Park Department property is history and already plans are in place for Outside Lands being an annual event. Despite the noise and traffic complaints from the nearby Sunset and Richmond District residents one would expect from an event this size, San Francisco officials seemed ecstatic in the days following Sunday’s closing by Jack Johnson that problems were so minimal.

San Francisco, it seems, may indeed have its own Coachella for years to come.

Steve Martarano worked in the communications shop for the Dept. of Fish & Game for 11 years. He recently took a job with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Sacramento.

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