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Curtis Cartier ventures north for San Francisco's Outside Lands festival.

By Curtis Cartier

Who would have thought 150,000 people could look so good? Surrounded by massive eucalyptus trees, eerily lit in the fog and standing among five stages where some of the best acts in music would perform, the screaming hordes at this weekend's Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park were simply beautiful.

And while the event itself was not without its faults, the idea to have a grand music festival in America's most beautiful park proved brilliant.

As the latest multiday music festival to spring up in the United States, Outside Lands was conceived by Another Planet Entertainment and featured three days of music by more than 60 bands, along with technology, art and ecology exhibits. And as the first night concert in Golden Gate Park and the largest music festival in the city's history, Outside Lands had a lot to prove.

Radiohead, one of the most storied bands in history and the crown jewel of the festival's lineup, headlined the first night, and despite two unforgivable power outages that cut the volume during the show, the Oxford quintet once again proved why it's the world's greatest band. The two-hour set featured a majority of songs off the band's newest disc, In Rainbows, along with some scattered older gems like "Just" and "National Anthem," and since nearly every live song is tweaked and changed by the ever-restless troupe, die-hard fans could still count on plenty of new sounds.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Jack Johnson closed down Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively, and offered solid performances (along with more technical difficulties at the stage) including a memorable duet by Petty and classic rock icon Steve Winwood.

It was the smaller side acts away from the main stage, however, that defined the festival. Artists like K'Naan, bringing his distinct brand of Somali hip-hop-laced world beats to the tiny Panhandle stage, and Taiwanese piano darling Vienna Teng serenading from the Avenues stage are what showed the festival's true pioneering spirit.

The chilly fog that dominated Friday and Saturday's show forced a lot of concertgoers into their sweaters but also created a ghostly haze that lit up the park better than the biggest smoke machine. On Sunday the fog lifted, revealing a beautiful sunny day that warmed the grounds. Dozens of crafty concertgoers infiltrated the miles of fencing surrounding the event by sneaking under or just pushing down the fences. Eventually security guards were placed strategically in the woods and mounted police officers were called in to patrol the demilitarized zone between the outside fence and the wonders within.

The ever entertaining and never classifiable Primus was a festival favorite, with Les Claypool's rambling yarns and crunching bass lines exhilarating the giddy crowd. Canadian supergroups Stars and Broken Social Scene provided a rotating cast of jazzy indie-rock harmony, while folk experimenter Wilco played an extended set of heartfelt numbers.

By avoiding trend-of-the-month artists and shallow pop acts, Outside Lands showcased true talent that gave the attendees songs to sing along to as well as fresh sounds to hear first. And by the time the last note on Jack Johnson's acoustic guitar wavered into silence, the prevailing agreement among the exiting crowd was "I can't wait for next year."

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