As breaks from the monotony of Netflix and meals at home go, the two day Inside Lands virtual festival came off fairly well, and included some live performances that made it feel like a special gift amid an otherwise pretty dismal August.
I've only tuned in to a handful of live, local shows on Twitch and Instagram in the five months since the pandemic began, but they've included the drag funeral for The Stud on May 31 and a couple of Drag Alive broadcasts since then. And the key to success in these livestreams seems to be a mixture of polished live performances, recorded material, and off-the-cuff banter that creates a late-night/public-access TV vibe.
The two-day Inside Lands broadcast included all of this, in addition to brief segments that wove in aspects of the Outside Lands festival experience like Wine Lands and the GastroMagic stage, which amounted to a variety show with surprisingly high production values. And while festival organizers at Another Planet certainly had a reason to keep fans interested in the event and hopefully buy tickets this far in advance for next August's, hopefully semi-normal return to Golden Gate Park, they didn't have to go this far.
Inside Lands could have easily been just a rote series of replayed bits of footage from past festivals. But instead, fans were treated to special live performances by both well known (Brittany Howard) and up-and-coming (Drama) acts — some performing live in San Francisco at Saint Joseph's Arts Society in SoMa — as well as interviews with performers and host segments with Lyrics Born, a.k.a. Tsutomu "Tom" Shimura, who hosted the show both Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. until after midnight.
The live sets were just announced last week, some less than a week before the Inside Lands broadcast, suggesting that this was all something that came together fairly quickly. An initial announcement earlier in August had suggested the virtual festival would mostly be some greatest-hits clips strung together on Twitch — though some live sets and interviews were mentioned — but obviously the organizers and the bands themselves were eager to give us a bit more, and most fans were likely grateful for something both new and intimate to watch this past weekend. (The Chronicle reports that while total viewership hasn't been tabulated, Another Planet says the broadcasts received unique views in "the millions.")
It wasn't anything like the dynamic and often thrillingly busy three-days of running around Golden Gate Park with friends and listening to artists both well known and unknown. But it wasn't half bad getting to take a year off and take in this variety show, complete with great music, while cooking dinner and lounging on the couch.
Highlights included moving live sets by Brittany Howard, Tycho, Madeline Kenney, Sharon Van Etten, and Nathaniel Rateliff, and awesome, lively performances by Tokimonsta, Drama, and the always alive Sofi Tukker. And an interview with Hamilton Tony-winner, Oakland native and Blindspotting star Daveed Diggs.
Seeing Haim perform at Oustide Lands in 2014, long before they took on the polish of an established pop act, was cool. And it was fun on Saturday getting to re-watch Elton John's energetic headlining performance from 2015.
There were also chef segments with cooking demos featuring local chef Chris Cosentino and Portland chef Naomi Pomeroy, a virtual wine tasting featuring festival wine curator Peter Eastlake, and plenty of shout-outs to social justice groups, local nonprofits, and voting drives.
"In the spirit of Outside Lands, we hope you continue to support small businesses, local artists, non-profits, social justice initiatives, local restaurants, wineries and breweries as we all get through these tough times," the organizers write in a Facebook post thanking people for watching.
And amid all the sameness and screen fatigue we all feel, nearly six months on — even if some of you are out there taking road and plane trips and heading out to the park as if things were pretty normal — Inside Lands was a welcome reminder that surprises can still happen, and artists are still there to help us get through and make sense of this shit.
Here's to cheers-ing with overpriced beers at next year's Outside Lands, and running to catch a few songs by someone your friend said was good before Lizzo goes on.